As consumers of pop culture, it’s easy to follow celebrity fad diets and trends as opposed to dedicating ourselves to a regimented, personalized diet plan. Fad diets have that name for a reason: They’re here, they fail, and they’re gone. Unlike transient dieting trends, there are a few time-tested dieting strategies that function more as a lifestyle than a fleeting mode of eating or exercising.
Certain people throughout history have made it their life’s work to conquer the body and mind through exercise and physical fitness. They advocate for their method of eating or exercising over the course of many years. From completely abstaining from carbohydrates to running 80 miles each week while consuming sugar-laden junk foods, the diet and fitness experts featured in the following slideshow achieved guru status in a variety of ways. The question that begs an answer is: Was it worth it? Can foraging for your food or rejecting processed foods help you live a longer, healthier life?
These gurus all believed that their method of healthy living was best. In terms of contributing to longevity, however, you’ll see that some of the following lifestyles appear to have worked better than others.
Daisie Adelle Davis, born in February of 1904, championed the belief that processed food is detrimental to our health. We didn’t listen to her: More than half of the American diet is currently made up of "ultra-processed foods." Her nutritional ideas, such as eating 100 percent whole-grain breads and cereals in addition to eating liver at least once per week, appeared in multiple books from the 1950s through the early 1970s. She also advocated for the proper balance between potassium and sodium, and she urged us to consume large quantities of choline. In 1974, at the age of 70, Davis died from multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood cancer with unclear causes.
You may remember Euell Gibbons from a 1974 Grape-Nuts commercial in which he said the cereal “reminds me of wild hickory nuts.” Before reaching fame by penning books on foraging, Gibbons had worked as a cowboy, a union leafleteer, a boat-builder, a surveyor, a merchant sailor, and later, a professional beachcomber. Often carrying no solid food and no hunting or fishing gear, Gibbons thrived on finding and consuming wild greens, nuts, honey, and seeds. His books provide recipes for casseroles, muffins, salads, and more, all from ingredients found in the wild. He died in 1975 at the age of 64 because of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, but there was plenty of buzz saying that he had poisoned himself while living off of the land.
Are you an avid proponent of leading a yoga lifestyle? If so, you may owe some thanks to Robert Bootzin. Lovingly called Gypsy Boots, Bootzin dropped out of high school in 1933 to live off the land in California with a gang of bearded, carefree companions. They eventually became known as the Nature Boys. His close connection to nature, fitness, and nutrition paved the way for the healthy, meditative lifestyles that many of us know and love today. Bootzin was a strict vegetarian, never consuming meat while also abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. He pioneered all-natural, organic, sugar-free “Boots Bars” which sound like something you could find at Whole Foods today. They were made from Medjool dates, kyolic garlic, spirulina, and wheatgrass. While the cause of his death at the ripe old age of 89 in 2004 wasn’t documented, one thing is for sure: “Don’t panic, go organic; get in cahoots with Gypsy Boots” is a slogan that humans and the planet can equally benefit from following.
With unofficial titles like “the godfather of fitness” and the “first fitness superhero,” there’s no way of denying that Jack LaLanne knew a thing or two about exercise and nutrition. Born in September 1914, LaLanne opened one of America’s first fitness-based gyms at the age of 21. He invented many exercise machines that are commonplace in gyms today (e.g., pulley systems and leg extension machines), and he advocated for both women and the elderly to start exercising.
LaLanne’s personal diet varied from three meals of meat, vegetables, and fruit daily to a pescetarian lifestyle and even vegetarianism. He avoided all manmade and processed foods as well as coffee. He also ate plenty of eggs and regularly supplemented his diet with vitamins. His diet and exercise regimen were undeniably successful: At 54 years old, LaLanne beat then-21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger in an exercise competition. He also lived to be 96 years old, dying of pneumonia-based respiratory failure in 2011. If you’re looking for a guru-inspired longevity recipe, the LaLanne plan could be for you.
The original modern organic food advocate, Jerome Irving Rodale was truly a staunch proponent of sustainable agriculture and organic farming. In fact, Rodale is said to have helped make “organic” the widely used, popular term that it is today. Born in August 1898, Rodale suffered a heart attack at the age of 72 while participating as an interviewee on “The Dick Cavett Show.” Prior to suffering his heart attack, Rodale had proclaimed that he’d never felt better in his life, saying, “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way.” He was previously quoted saying, “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver.”
At the young age of 35 years old, Jim Fixx was unhappy with his 240-pound frame and his two-pack-a-day smoking habit. He decided to quit smoking and to get in shape by running. By the time of his death at age 52, Fixx had successfully turned his life around and become a verifiable running guru. He changed his lifestyle after picking up the sport, and he even authored a best-selling book called “The Complete Book of Running.” While running up to 80 miles a week and appearing to be in incredible physical condition, Jim Fixx continually ate fast food and junk food. He’s also rumored to have often consumed excess amounts of sugar. After having gone out on a run one day in 1984, Fixx was found dead. His autopsy revealed large amounts of plaque buildup in his arteries, leading to speculation that no matter how much exercise one does, nothing can make up for years and years of smoking and eating poorly.
If you guessed that Joseph Pilates had something to do with the controlled movement-based exercise program Pilates, you guessed correctly. Pilates (the man), born in Germany in 1883, suffered from asthma, rheumatic fever, and rickets as a young child. He made it his life’s mission to control his body through fitness, working as a gymnast, bodybuilder, self-defense specialist, circus performer, and boxer. He created the Pilates program to improve posture while strengthening muscles and improving both flexibility and stamina.
Pilates was an advocate for eating healthy, nutritional, proper foods, getting plenty of sleep, and matching your caloric input to your caloric output. This is commonly referred to as calories in, calories out. After picking up a cigar smoking habit, he died at the age of 83 from emphysema. His obituary stated that he was “a white-maned lion with steel blue eyes (one was glass from a boxing mishap), and mahagony [sic] skin, and as limber in his 80s as a teenager.”
The Montignac diet, a predecessor of the more widely known South Beach Diet, was originally designed to help its creator, Michel Montignac, lose some weight. Montignac, a French nutritional advocate and author, suggested that one didn’t need to reduce calories to lose weight. Rather, he suggested a non-restrictive diet, focusing on the glycemic index (separating unhealthy bad carbs from healthier good carbs) and using it to work in your weight’s favor. His diet stores sold foods such as chocolate, foie gras, beef, and cheese — foods that contain very few of what Montignac labeled as bad carbohydrates. He died at the age of 66 in 2010 of prostate cancer, a form of cancer that hasn’t been concretely linked to diet.
Nathan Pritikin, born in 1915, was a college dropout who eventually made millions developing patents. In 1957, Pritikin was diagnosed with a heart disease. He made it his mission to find a treatment and, after researching primitive cultures that had little to no instances of heart disease, he championed a primitive vegetarian lifestyle. This lifestyle, known as the Pritikin Diet, combined healthy, unrefined carbs with a moderate aerobic exercise program. After suffering from a few years’ worth of pain related to leukemia, Pritikin decided that a life without health wasn’t worth living and committed suicide. He was 69 years old.
The famous Atkins Diet was created by physician and cardiologist Robert Coleman Atkins. It was inspired by a suggestion its creator received from one Dr. Alfred W. Pennington. In 1963, Dr. Pennington told Atkins (who had recently gained a good amount of weight due to poor eating and stress) to remove all starch and sugar from his diet. Atkins took this advice and turned it into a global dieting enterprise, making his money from producing books, meal plans, and actual foods that promote his ketogenic dieting style. The death of Robert Atkins is a curious one: He died at the age of 72 in 2003 from what was reported to be a blunt impact injury of the head after having slipped and fallen. When he was admitted to the hospital, he weighed roughly 195 pounds. At the time of his death (after being in a coma for nine days), Atkins reportedly had gained an astonishing (and almost unbelievable) 63 pounds (totaling 258 pounds) from water retention. It was discovered that he had a history of congestive heart failure, heart attack, and hypertension. There’s still debate as to what really killed the man.