When Low-Fat Was King

In the early 1990s, George H.W. Bush was President, the Soviet Union had just dissolved, the World-Wide-Web was an infant, the first Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) had started and low-fat diets were the "cat's meow" of weight loss. Not only was low-fat a huge fad, it was also the diet that doctors loved the most (at least for their patients). I was one of those doctors.

In the decades since then, I think we physicians have grown to take a more balanced view of weight loss diets (I know that I have), but back then, coaxed along by the Framingham Heart Study, low-fat diets seemed the obviously and only sensible approach to dieting for weight loss. I'll cover the science of all this in a later post, but for the purposes of this little missive, I'd like to take a less cerebral and more humorous look back at the days when dietary fat was public enemy number one.

Susan Powter: 1990's low-fat guru
Susan Powter

To left is, of course, the unforgettable Susan Powter whose infomercials were a staple of late-night television in the early 90's. Ms. Powter, perhaps more than any other person, served as the public face of the low-fat diet craze. She was beautiful, thin and incredibly passionate about dietary fat. She converted millions of Americans to the view that fat and not calories per-se was the cause of their obesity and many of their health problems. And she was right of course, if only partly right.

Covert Bailey 1990's video-grab
Covert Bailey

Covert Bailey was a nutritionist with a degree in biochemistry from MIT who wrote a book called "Fit or Fat" that became, during the 1990's, along with it's many spin-off titles, one of the best selling weight loss books in history.  He graduated from authorship to infomercials where he sold a fitness product called the "Health Rider" for several years. Oddly, he appears to have vanished during the last ten years. A Google search of his name reveals almost nothing of his whereabouts or whether he is even alive today. He has no Wikipedia entry and the only mention made of him by his "former associate" (who appears to run a business promoting his 'plan') is that "Covert Bailey has Retired"

Dr. Dean Ornish

Dr. Dean Ornish
To be fair, Dr. Dean Ornish was never a part of any fad. He is a serious and brilliant medical scientist who advocated for very low fat diets long before and ever since the 1990's. Still, his work and his books helped to add real credibility to the fat-free movement of those days. He really deserves to be first on my list, but let's face it, he's not quite as sexy as Susan Powter. At any rate, unlike Ms. Powter and the enigmatic Mr. Bailey, Dr. Ornish is still very much a vital contributor to the scientific and cultural understanding of the role of diet in human health. He remains a hero of mine.

Healthy Choice and Snackwells

Healthy Choice brand frozen meals
Both of these are brands that exploded in popularity during and because of the low-fat craze of the 1990s. Both remain very popular brands today.