After more than 70 years of operation, The Rice Diet Program has officially closed its doors and mothballed its website. Based in Durham, North Carolina, the diet program was the first celebrity endorsed weight loss “miracle,” when stars like Buddy Hackett, Shelley Winters, and Lorne Greene were all singing its praises in the 1940s. But that was a three-quarters of a century ago, and as the diet craze turned hot and became watered down, the Rice Diet simply got overcooked.
Founded in 1939 by Dr. Walter Kempner—a man known to wield a whip used to spank his patients—the program was affiliated with Duke University and was originally designed to treat people with kidney and heart problems. When overweight patients began to shed the pounds, Kempner saw dollar signs and experienced great success for decades. However, the tenets of the diet were not sustainable.
The Rice Diet was basically a strict starvation diet—about 1,000 calories allowed per day—and guess what you get to eat? Unsalted rice, fruit, vegetables, and cheese and nuts if you make it past the first few weeks. On such a low caloric plan, weight loss is basically guaranteed. But the Rice Diet was no match for more liberal diets that allowed red meat, salt, and dairy, and for the longest time, the only way to partake in the diet was to travel to Durham for a retreat, which insurance rarely covered.
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