The Rice Diet Program, formerly a part of Duke University’s medical center, has officially closed its doors after 70 years of operation. The diet was founded in the 1930s by German immigrant Dr. Walter Kempner. Dr. Kempner stated that his original goal was not to create a diet program, but instead to create a regimen that would combat high blood pressure and kidney disease. However, the program went on to have the positive side effects of treating angina pectoris, heart failure, diabetes, hyperchlosterolemia, and obesity. The rice diet’s success toward fighting obesity became the program’s selling point, though. Many actors and actresses during the time heard about the effects of the rice diet and sought out Dr. Kempner’s practice in Durham, North Carolina. And, as life goes in American culture, the average citizens followed their idols footsteps in waves.
One woman who took her struggles to North Carolina after hearing the success stories of celebrities was Jean Renfro Anspaugh. Based on her experiences and others, she wrote the book Fat Like Us. According to Anspaugh, the center was run like a military bootcamp: “One ate rice and fruit and walked. The staff didn’t care what you thought, only what you ate and how often you exercised.” The center was run so strictly by Dr. Kempner, in fact, that it was the subject of several lawsuits in 1993, one of which even claimed that the patient was whipped with a riding crop whenever she deviated from the diet or gained weight.
Despite the boot-camp-esque qualms, the rice diet did achieve results. The program was so successful that it allowed Duke to open the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and to become one of the top science universities in the United States. Shelly Green, the president of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, stated that visitors to the center accounted for $80 million of revenue each year.
So why did the center shut down after 70 years of success? One would have to believe that the recent trend of diverse and ever-more intense diet fads have simply pushed the old-school rice diet out of the way. While the rice diet does reduce the amount of calories one eats per day, it is very carbohydrate heavy. All the diet trends today seem to be more protein heavy (such as the Atkins and South Beach), ensuring that people have a feeling of “fullness” while still reducing the amount of calories they consume.
Drs. Robert and Kitty Rosati, the couple who was running the center when it closed, are not going to allow the Rice Diet to completely die-out, however. Since the doors of the center in Durham closed, the Rosatis have started leading rice diet retreats. This past December, the couple led a rice diet retreat in the Smokey Mountains and have intentions to lead another retreat in Italy soon. (How one can eat just rice and fruit in Italy, I will never know…)
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