An Upscale 1970s Weight-Loss Camp As Seen Through The Eyes Of A KidS

It's clear from incidents like Karen Klein's and that mom who put her 7-year-old on a fucking diet that fat-shaming isn't going anywhere, and this is emphasized even more by the occasional lovely story like this one. A nuclear family goes to fat camp and reconnects... in the 1970s. Is it possible that our society has actually regressed re: weight issues? (Yes.)

New Yorker Dawn Lerman, now a nutrition and wellness consultant, wrote a column for The New York Times about her first experience with conditioned weight loss at age 10—not hers, but her overweight father's. In the summer of 1974, her dad, an ad man responsible for creating slogans such as "Leggo My Eggo," was up for a promotion, but his bosses were concerned that his weight would negatively effect their image. They sent him on a six-month paid leave to attend a Duke University "fat farm," where Dawn, her younger sister and her mother (an aspiring actress who generally ate one small meal a day) joined him once summer break began. By the time they made it down to Durham, North Carolina, he had lost over 100 pounds.

The facility was high-end, attended by showbiz people and businessmen, and Dawn was duly impressed. "It was the fanciest place my sister and I had ever been to... Every meal was a special occasion. Three times a day, people dressed as if they were going to an event." But once night fell, it was depressing to watch the hungry dieters desperately attempt to maintain their self-control. One such man, a famous comedian, swapped apple juice for urine in the nightly specimen containers they had to provide each night.

One of the rules of family accompaniment in a strict dieting facility is that they must show their support by eating in the dining room with the other dieters, and that's what they did all summer, which one would think sounds like absolutely zero fun for a child in the summer:

Breakfast was a bowl of white rice with either a piece of canned peach or pineapple. With lunch came a bowl of white rice with three ounces of dry chicken and a little bit of stewed tomatoes. Dinner consisted of - you guessed it - white rice and three ounces of fish with no seasoning.

But surprisingly, the summer the Lerman women spent supporting their father was one of the best Dawn had ever had. With the help of the nutritionists, she figured out that she had an iodine sensitivity and would adjust her diet accordingly for the rest of her life, not to mention inspiring her future career in nutrition as an adult. But the best takeaway was that her family had the chance to sit down three times a day and eat meals together, something they'd never done before since her father was constantly working.

Upon returning home, things returned basically to the status quo. The Lerner sisters' mom, horrified that she had gained 10 pounds from all this healthy eating, returned to her one meal a day and their father eventually gained his weight back. But Dawn and her sister made a promise: "We pinky-swore that when we were grown-ups, we always would eat with our children - seated at the table."

'Going To The Fat Farm With Dad' [NY Times]

Image via olly/Shutterstock.