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.
Rice Diet’s and Duke University’s relationship grew sour in 1993 when a woman sued Kempner for harassment (see: spanking). Dr. Robert Rosati took over ownership of the program after Kempner’s death in the late 90s, and 2002 saw Duke severing its ties with the embattled clinic.
With no money coming in, Rosati had been trying to sell in recent months but was unable to negotiate a deal. John Aycoth, a man who lost 130 pounds at Duke Diet Center, is trying to buy the property to implement a new program under Rice Diet’s same principles. Further details on the sale are unknown, though Aycoth will reportedly call his new venture the Rice House Healthcare Program.
One-third of Americans are obese, so there will always be a market for new diets and even health retreats. In this day and age, it remains to be seen whether or not the public still desires a program as limiting and rigorous as the Rice Diet, but unlike many flash in the pan diets, this one at least has 70 years of bland, tasteless proof.
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