There’s nothing funny about fad diets. Unless you’re a food editor watching your email inbox burble and churn as people attempt to cash in on New Year’s Resolution season.
Take the Morning Banana Diet, which essentially involves eating a banana in the morning, and then eat whatever you’d like for lunch and dinner. I first learned of it last year from my sister, who lives in Osaka, Japan, where the fad got its start: “I can’t get any bananas anymore,” she wrote me one day. “There’s this crazy diet taking over the country!”
Being something of a collector of crazy fad diets, I was delighted to hear of it. And sure enough, only a few days later, my email started overflowing with an increasingly outrageous assortment of pitches.
Dear Editor: Have you ever heard of the Morning Banana Diet? Dr. Seymour Cash, as seen on the Making You Anxious in the Morning show (with celebrities!), wants you to know he’s available to talk to your readers about the radical change that can come over them if they simply set to eating bananas as the sun rises. . . .
Dear Editor: Are your readers on the Morning Banana Diet? Nutritionist Ima Workingit, of the Far Away Desert Place Where Everyone Is More Centered Than You, wants your readers to know about the innovative recipes she has invented so you might eat a banana more interestingly in the morning. For instance, fashion edible staples from finely whittled strips of apricot that have been dried to a crisp in a food dehydrator. Then, staple turkey bacon carefully around the perimeter of your banana. . . .
Dear Editor: The new Morning Banana Cookbook is perfect for your readers who want to go beyond stapling turkey bacon to the outside of a banana. For instance, did you know a simple pastry bag can be used to stuff a banana with another banana? More ambitious homemakers will be delighted to learn how eight bananas may be strung inventively into a Alexander Calder–like mobile so that the whole family can have fun eating their morning bananas. . . .
Dear Editor: Are your readers frustrated with bananas exploding all over the interiors of their briefcases and purses? Leading executives agree that mashed bananas have no place on a lovingly crafted PowerPoint presentation. That’s why Pixelated Plastic Products is proud to announce an innovative banana-saving device crafted from the finest future plastics currently known to mankind. Buy one for your briefcase, another for each child. . . .
Dear Editor: Are your readers destroying the earth with plastic banana holders? Thoughtful consumers agree: Eco-friendly carbon-neutral banana holders crafted from bamboo nurtured by Ayurvedic swamis in reclaimed Tibetan greenfields are the only reasonable choice for Morning Banana dieters. . . .
Dear Editor: Are your readers sick of Morning Bananas? Of course they are! The Mango Fruit Corporation wants your readers to know that mangoes can easily be substituted for bananas in almost every situation. For instance, Bananas Foster, banana milkshakes, banana pudding — who died and made bananas king? No one, that’s who. Mangoes can go in a blender, and don’t believe the unholy alliance of banana profiteers who would have you believe otherwise!
Dear Editor: The president of the International Banana Council fiercely decries the bad publicity of persons supposedly injuring themselves while slipping on carelessly placed banana peels, and wants your readers to understand that slipping on a banana peel is easily avoided, and that cities currently considering anti-banana legislation are falling prey to the naked commercial gain of a dark company suspiciously quiet on the subject — yes, the Mango Fruit Corporation. . . .
Dear Editor: Are bananas the same as tuna or salad? Doc (No medical school training implied! Just a fond nickname!) Seymour Cash, as seen on television, stage, screen, and on Twitter with over 25 quintillion followers, says: No! Why not? Tune in to Dishin’ With the Doc (No medical school training implied! We already said! Keep your uptight judgments to yourself!) tonight for a live webcast on the correct way to eat a banana, and the right order in which to eat bananas and tuna (the answer may shock you! It might shock Brangelina, Obama and naked Paris Hilton! Not that we put naked Paris Hilton in here to optimize search engines! Not at all! But in a comprehensive list of people who might be shocked, we would be less than honest to leave out naked Paris Hilton!). So tune in tonight. . . .
Had enough of the Morning Banana Diet? No problem. What I’ve surmised from long experience is that you can easily create your own fad diet with whatever you like or happen to have on hand.
Here’s one: It’s called the Hot Fudge Sundae Diet, and it involves waking up, eating a hot fudge sundae, buying a tiger, and letting it chase you till you fall over. In no time you’ll be dropping weight like Elvis in his prime.
Speaking of Elvis: Did you know he had a diet that involved having a doctor put him into an anesthesia-induced coma and staying under for three days? That’s the legend, anyway. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to me — how much exercise can you get under anesthesia? On the other hand, coma does seem like a rock-solid excuse to skip unpleasant appointments.
If the Coma Diet seems the height of decadence to you, please know that there’s essentially no concept or object you can’t add to the word “diet” — Elvis biographers documented his experiments with a Sugar-Free-Jelly diet. The poet Lord Byron may well have killed himself on an improvised Vinegar Diet. There’s even an Air Diet: The general concept is that any time you get hungry you simply hyperventilate till the hunger passes. If you happen to fall over and bash your head on a radiator, so much the better: Who can think of food at a time like that?
Of course, the great thing about crazy quick-fix diets is that they all promise almost instantaneous results: Go on the Coma Diet and you’re in a coma, no ifs, ands, buts about it — and no frustrating mornings of exhausting exercise followed by your pants still not fitting the way you want.
On the other hand, real, meaningful changes — like eating more greens, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or try-try-trying till you find an exercise program that works for the as-you-are-today you — offer mere slow-and-steady results. Who has time for slow and steady when New Year’s is staring you in the face, with its challenge to go big or go home?
I think my own New Year’s resolution is going to be all about Morning Banana diets and their associated madness. I resolve to never forget real life and common sense, two of the many gifts bestowed on humankind from on high.
I resolve to remember that the various things that fad diets are meant to wish away, like the omnipresence of appetites and the sturdiness of human bodies, are some of the very things that have made humans so strong and successful. Above all, I resolve to greet quick fixes with skepticism — and real change with the patience it deserves.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a celebrated food and wine critic. She is the winner of five James Beard Foundation awards — the Oscars of the food world. Her new book is Drink This: Wine Made Simple (Ballantine, 2009).