Nothing makes me happier than debunking the ridiculous. With that in mind, I spent 75 cents on a copy of The Diet Principal, a diet book written by Victoria Principal in 1987. (You may know her as Pamela Ewing from the television program Dallas.) While I certainly didn’t think she would advocate the merits of cocaine, Tab cola, and Virginia Slims for weight loss, I did expect the advice to be incredibly outdated and hilarious now that we are living in a more civilized time of fitness apps and Whole Foods.
Parts of the book were indeed funny. Principal says she wrote the book after getting “fat”—she guesstimates that she put on some 40 pounds during some dark, dark days, but we’ll never know for sure. She refused to get on the scale at her heaviest. With pain comes knowledge: She apparently learned that, much like cancer and car accidents, weight gain can happen to the best of us. “Anyone can gain weight. It doesn’t happen only to the rich or poor, or only to brunettes, redheads, or blonds,” she writes. As an old person, I can attest that, even in the 1980s, those were stupid sentences.
Concerned about her weight, Principal talked to nutritionists, doctors, and folks at the Food and Drug Administration and devised a diet for life. (She thanks all in her acknowledgements. She also thanks constant cowboy-hat-wearer/celebrity hair stylist Jose Eber “for doing more than my hair!” So many questions!)
Do not get Principal started on cheese: “If you insist on eating it, you might as well spread it on your thighs.”
Principal states several times that she’s against crash diets. She doesn’t advise things like writing down every single thing you eat, counting calories, or weighing food. “I use the word ‘diet’ to mean a nutritional way of eating,” she says. She tells readers to get realistic about weight-loss expectations and what losing weight will really mean. “Losing weight will make you a healthier person; it will most probably make you more attractive to yourself and others. But it will not make you a millionaire; it will not solve all your personal problems; it will not create relationships where none exist,” she writes. She later goes on to say, “Never try to look like someone else. Know your own comfortable and healthy body weight. Don’t decide that because your best friend looks great at 105 pounds, this is the ideal weight for you.” (She does not say to ditch the 105-pound friend. But that is another option.)
The diet itself is pretty standard. Principal advocates for a diet rich in fish, chicken, and vegetables. She urges folks to drink eight glasses of water a day. She is a fan of exercise. It’s interesting to note that after 27 years, with all of the technological and scientific advances, not much has changed. Sure, recent studies suggest that daily coffee and wine—two things Principal advises cutting out—are maybe good for you in moderation, but most of the food choices are things that people would advise today.
One thing: do not get Principal started on cheese. “If you insist on eating it, you might as well spread it on your thighs, because that’s where it will surely show up anyway, sooner than later,” she writes. Pardon me for a moment. I absolutely insist on eating it, so I need to take a moment to spread some on my thighs right away.
The book is filled with charts chronicling the good, bad, and OK foods, tons of recipes, and tips like “no eating after 8 p.m.” and “don’t eat in front of the television.” It’s all fairly reasonable, good-ish advice.
That’s why the appearance of “The Bikini Diet” is so jarring. Principal begins the chapter with this: “Let’s get it straight right up front—I do not believe in crash diets.” She explains that this seven-day diet is designed “only for those times in your life when you must take off 5–10 pounds in a short time.” (She does not specify when that could possibly be.) Principal warns that she never does this diet more than twice a year.
Principal warns never to do this diet more than twice a year. I know why: You will starve to death if you do it a third time.
I think I know the answer why: You will starve to death if you do it a third time.
Good people, I wanted to do The Bikini Diet for you, but I could not. The diet is basically dry toast, steamed vegetables, chicken, tuna, prune juice, and a slice of turkey here and there. Principal says that she doesn’t believe in counting calories, but I would estimate that a few days come in way fewer than 1,000 calories. And while I would love to starve myself for you and the bathing-suit-viewing public, I am training for a marathon, so I really can’t make that work.
I did attempt several of the recipes, however, including a chicken salad made with plain yogurt and curry. (It also called for apples, but I hate fruit.) It was pretty easy to make, but my co-workers did not give it high praise. Comments included: “It wasn’t offensive.” “It’s fairly tasteless.” “The apples might have added something.” (I should also note here that I am a terrible cook, so it may not have been Principal’s fault.)
So is the book worth your time and the 75 cents it costs on amazon.com? Sure. It’s a fairly easy read, and it did make me more thoughtful about what I was eating, even if it didn’t stop me from ingesting bad things.