Everyone of a certain age has heard of “The Drinking Man's Diet.” But what do you know about it? I asked a friend recently if she knew what kind of diet it was. She shrugged and said something like, “It’s a diet in which you drink alcohol?” I said I thought so too, but we both missed the gist of it. It was the first (modern) low carb diet!!! And at 60 grams of “carbos” a day, it was pretty low carb! It might even be called a Very Low Carb diet.
First published in 1964, in 2 years “The Drinking Man’s Diet” sold 2.4 million copies at $1 apiece. On the jacket of the 50th Anniversary Edition, it proudly proclaims, “THE ORIGINAL LOW-CARB DIET.” The subtitle is, “HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT WITH A MINIMUM OF WILLPOWER.” These are still both accurate claims!
On the occasion of the publication of the 40th anniversary edition (2004), Forbes Magazine did a column on the book and its author, Robert Cameron. Forbes described Cameron (who wrote using a nom de plume), as a San Francisco bon vivant whose brilliant title explains the book’s success, as well as how we were misled by it. The drinking aspect of the contents and title was just a gimmick. The diet works just as well for “teetotalers.”
The following quotes are taken from “The Drinking Man’s Diet,” 50th Anniversary Edition:
“This really is a simple diet. It can be summed up in one sentence: Eat no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates a day. That’s all there is to it.”
So what is a carbohydrate? As you will learn in this book, “Carbohydrates are concentrated in starches and sugars. They are almost absent from hearty foods like meat, fish, poultry, cheese and salads (yes, even the usually forbidden salad with Roquefort dressing is okay.)”
“Now, is it hard to count grams of carbohydrates? No, with the aid of tables at the back of this book you will find it very easy. The tables are derived from publication (sic) of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.”
“What makes this kind of counting more enjoyable as well as easier than calorie counting is that most of the things you like best don’t have to be counted at all: steak and whiskey, chicken and gin, ham, caviar, paté de foie gras, rum and roast pheasant, veal cutlets and vodka, frog’s legs and lobster claws, all count as zero.”
“Remember, you must count everything. A few innocent-looking dates or raisins in the afternoon can fill up your quota for the day. A slice or two of French bread might make your daily carbohydrate ration, but half a dozen slices would be a disaster. But with the great bulk of your diet – the meat and fish, the eggs and fats – counting at very close to zero, you really shouldn’t have much trouble keeping the total down around sixty.”
The Forbes piece recounts how Dr. Frederick Stare, who in 1942 founded Harvard’s School of Public Health, had decried Cameron’s diet as unhealthful –calling it “mass murder,” which he later retracted. The accusation, however, ran everywhere on Page 1 and, as Forbes quipped, “…the drinking man’s goose was cooked.”
Robert Cameron wrote this pamphlet nine years before Dr. Robert Atkins’s (in)famous, “The Diet Revolution.” Atkins faced similar charges from the public health establishment. The American Medical Association, in public testimony at a congressional hearing, ridiculed and humiliated him, calling his diet “a dangerous fraud.”
But the diet worked. In two months, Cameron says he lost 18 pounds, “…was never hungry, and never missed a martini.” Cameron wrote, “Most everyone has a drink now and then,” and “alcoholic beverages such as gin, whiskey and vodka do not contain carbohydrates. Therefore, it allowed them to lose weight without giving up a daily cocktail.” Thus his 1964 pitch: “Did you ever hear of a diet that was fun to follow? A diet that would let you have two martinis before lunch (how 1960s!), and a thick steak generously spread with Sauce Béarnaise?”The carb tables in this book, like the word “carbo,” are dated and unreliable, but the principles are still good.