If You Can't Lose Weight During Sex, Try the Bronx Diet—the Same Zany Mind Dreamed Up Both

UPDATED 05/28/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/28/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

When Richard Smith wrote The Dieter's Guide to Weight Loss During Sex he wasn't aiming for the ring of truth but the zing of laughter. He had tried every sort of diet himself, including one that called for drinking safflower oil, and had decided "It's all ridiculous, because it's not me." He was walking across Central Park one day when an idea popped into his balding head. "Every diet book gives caloric counts for things like sewing or ironing shirts," he realized. "Wouldn't it be funny to adapt that to sex?" So, with tongue in somebody else's cheek, the 38-year-old author compiled a bawdy list of ways to burn up calories: preparing the bedroom (42), changing sheets if someone extra special is coming (4 more), scrubbing the ring from the bathtub (11), hiding other toothbrushes (1), listening to Wagner in bed (248), the actual seduction (5, if you're rich; 164, if you're poor). According to Smith, removing a partner's clothes uses up 12 calories with his or her consent, 187 without; unhooking a bra with two calm hands, 7 calories; with one trembling hand, 96.

Smith's engagingly erogenous paperback (Workman, $2.95) has been a best-seller for almost a year and is now in its 13th printing (420,000 copies). It is being translated into seven languages including Flemish and already has been reprinted on toilet paper, selling for $3 a roll at such fad emporiums as Bloomingdale's in Manhattan. The book has earned Smith more than $100,000 and given his new paperback, The Bronx Diet (also published by Workman), an instant following and a first printing of 100,000.

A parody of the Scarsdale diet developed in a town to the north, the Bronx diet promotes a radical concept: "To lose weight, eat less; to gain weight, eat more." It is heavy on pasta and beer (Smith himself drinks at least four bottles daily), light on cottage cheese and grapefruit. "I eat one meal," says the author, who weighs 198 pounds, 67 pounds lighter than he was in 1971. "I can do without breakfast and lunch as long as I can look forward to dinner."

Smith once consumed an entire Italian feast for eight after a storm prevented the other guests from joining him. Now he is more temperate. On a recent solo book tour he ordered lunch for only three in his room—two hamburgers and a grilled Reuben—explaining, "That's just an adequate amount of food—room service always sends small portions."

Four years ago Smith decided to drop out of the secure world of the weekly paycheck to become a freelance writer. At the time he was making $23,000 a year as publicity agent for a men's clothing association. "I found I was no longer capable of writing a serious release," he says. "I hate facts." For six months after quitting, Smith admits, "I was so scared about what I had done that I just drank wine and watched television." He finally wrote a one-page proposal for the dieter's guide to sex. "I went to see three agents," he says, "and all of them said humor doesn't sell unless you're Woody Allen or Erma Bombeck." The idea languished for 10 months while Smith churned out funny articles for Cosmopolitan ("How to Fail in Bed")and other magazines. Finally a friend put him in touch with agent Dorothy Pitt-man. "It took Richard eight months to put together a 20-page proposal," she recalls. "He's a little nutty. He thought of himself as a writer of articles, which was causing an identity crisis and writer's block."

Smith grew up on his parents' 150-acre farm in the Catskills. "At the age of 7," he says, "my father taught me to drive a tractor." A lackluster student, he tried Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y. before drifting through a series of jobs—driving a truck for Pepsi-Cola, buying women's underwear for Alexander's, checking letters of credit for Barclay's Bank and writing catalogue copy for Montgomery Ward. "I have seven suits, 50 dress shirts and 12 pairs of shoes I haven't worn in four years," says Smith, who now favors jeans and T-shirts. One comfort during his job-hopping days was a six-year marriage to child psychologist Anne Berger, who catered to his passion for Italian food. They were divorced in 1968.

After retiring from the work force, Smith grew accustomed to frugal living (he has a studio apartment in Manhattan), and his new affluence won't change that much. "The money from my books has gone to my feet," he jests. "I want to buy the perfect Oriental rug and a new stereo, but so far I've only hired a $40-a-month maid. This summer I may take an eating tour of Italy," Smith concedes. "I'll ride around in an open car and they can fling the specialties of the region into my mouth as I drive by."

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