If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Fruit Salad—just Ask Scarsdale Diet Inventor Dr. Herman Tarnower
"The gimmick is simplicity," admits Tarnower, whose low-carbohydrate, high-protein regimen (things like roast chicken and pot cheese) offers a two-week menu with each day's fare carefully spelled out. There are no restrictions on quantity, but sugar, alcoholic beverages and oils are verboten. Among the thousands who have tried the Scarsdale Diet are House Speaker Tip O'Neill (who lost 40 pounds), Today Show's Jane Pauley and Gloria Steinem. Even Britain's Queen Elizabeth was rumored to be devaluing her pounds the Scarsdale way.
"I never sat down to create a great diet," maintains the Manhattan-born cardiologist. "It just became one." He bridles at being labeled another "diet doctor." Tarnower devised his plan 19 years ago, primarily as a guide for his patients, then mimeographed it. Copies soon made the rounds of country clubs in affluent Westchester County.
Scarsdale did not go national, however, until last year, when a publisher encouraged Tarnower to put his ideas into a book. The doctor reluctantly agreed—"no doubt as part of an ego trip"—and teamed up with writer Samm Sinclair Baker, a specialist in co-authoring self-help books. So widely has the phenomenon spread that markets have taken to putting up signs like "Get Your Scarsdale Medical Diet Celery Here." Restaurants offering Scarsdale meals range from Beverly Hills' ultrafashionable Ma Maison to the New York area's Zum Zum fast-food chain. At Goodman's Restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, owner Bob Goodman and his partner-son Steve both went on the diet and liked the results so much they put it on their regular bill of fare.
Tarnower, the son of a well-to-do New York hat manufacturer, interned at Bellevue, then studied in England and Holland to become one of America's first cardiologists. He hung out his shingle in Scarsdale during the Depression, concentrating at first on family practice rather than specializing, because "at the time there were great limitations in what you could do for cardiac cases."
After 20 years in a small office-apartment, Tarnower in 1959 set up the Scarsdale Medical Center with four other doctors. He still sees about 20 patients every morning there before making the rounds as attending cardiologist at White Plains Hospital. Then in good weather he heads for the Century Country Club and 18 holes of golf. An avid traveler and sportsman—he is especially fond of salmon fishing in Iceland—Tarnower shares a rambling modern home in Purchase, N.Y. with a European couple who do the gardening and cooking.
To be sure, Tarnower is no spartan himself. He generally consumes about 2,000 calories a day—twice the number Scarsdale dieters should average. "My cravings are not for Big Macs," he explains, "but, fortunately, for low-calorie Italian white truffles." The 5'11" doctor weighs himself twice a day to make sure he stays at 174 pounds. "I diet," he shrugs, "when I have to."
Tarnower is convinced his weight-loss plan is not a fad—"It's been around 19 years, after all"—but admits that its chic namesake has been a help. "It would hardly have been such a rapid success," he smiles, "if it had been called something like the Staten Island Diet."