NEW YORK—While dieters are accustomed to exercises of will, a new English translation of Germany's most popular diet book takes the concept to a new philosophical level. The Nietzschean diet, which commands its adherents to eat superhuman amounts of whatever they most fear, is developing a strong following in America.
Fat Is Dead, proclaims the ambitious title of the dense, aphoristic nutrition plan, which was written by Friedrich Nietzsche in the late 1880s and unearthed three years ago. After reaching bestseller lists in Europe, the book was translated into English by R.J. Hollingdale and published by Avon last month.
"One must strive to eat dangerously as one comes into the Will to Power Oneself Thin," Nietzsche wrote. "What do you fear? By this are you truly Fattened. You must embrace your Fears, as well as your Fat, and learn to Laugh as you consume them, along with Generous Portions of Simple Salad. Remember, as you stare into the lettuce, the lettuce stares also into you."
First formulated by Nietzsche, who felt lassitude and weltschmerz overcome him after a steady diet of Schopenhauer, the diet retains elements of that philosopher's "The Fruit Bowl As Will And Representation," but adds a persuasive personal challenge.
"The basics of the Nietzschean regimen are simple," Hollingdale wrote in the book's foreword. "The dieter exercises a painful amount of self-honesty in order to identify the primary object of his or her deepest human dread as personified by a wide-ranging group of foodstuffs. Once the dieter's Fear has been identified, he eats that food exclusively, in unlimited amounts, until the food no longer appetizes or frightens him. Having completed his gorge and transcended his fear, the dieter fasts for 20 days on water and Simple Salad. The dieter also engages in moderate metaphysical exercise, drinks eight brimming bowls of water every day, and 'opens the Gates of Dread and Fiber that remain closed to him in his Mundane Life' by taking fiber supplements."
"By conquering your Fear, by eating it in Heroic Portions, by laughing at that Fear which you have eaten, one avoids the Eternal Recurrence of cyclic 'Yo-Yo' Weight Loss and Weight Gain," Nietzsche wrote. "And in so doing, one transcends Thinness. One discovers that he need not dwell forever on the chill, Wind-swept Borderland between Thin and Superthin."
Fat Is Dead is selling briskly, as are the accompanying recipe pamphlets Beyond Food And Evil; Human, All Too Fat A Human; and Swiss Steak Zarathustra. Dieters report that they are reveling in the powerful Nietzschean weight-loss message of self-realization, transcendence, and the personal freedom to eat certain foods which are not allowed on the Atkins and South Beach diets.
"The Carbohydrate is Evil—all the wisest Men in Weight Loss have told us this," the 398-page book notes. "Oh, Fools who would run from Evil! What you say is true! But Only in Evil, and the passing of Evil, does a Dieter find his Strength! Only by eating of the Pasta and the Bread are we free! For the Greatest Evils are necessary for Man to achieve the Weight Loss of a Superman! As are Fasts and Fiber Tablets."
Many Nietzschean dieters are reporting success, although some complain of side effects.
Kansas City's John Mencken started the diet in January. He lost 35 pounds, eight inches from his waistline, and many of his slave moralities. He also lost the love of his life, Marissa Hapsgood, who walked out on Mencken after discovering his involvement in a romantic triangle with a poet and a sculptress.
"What makes one skinny?" Mencken said. "To contemplate as with one mind two things: great fear and great hope. For when seen through a vitamin-fortified protein shake, are they not the same thing?"
"What do you call 'bad'? Eating restricted amounts of that which shames you. What makes one most human? To spare shame to oneself," said Pete Hundmuth of Chicago, whose health and potency were severely shaken before he found the diet. "But where is your greatest danger? In pity and in sugar. By consuming pity in the form of a raw cookie dough, I am transformed."
"Behold!" Hundmuth said, casting off his bathrobe and stepping out into the cold light of his garret. "I have rid myself of your mundane, earthly, narrow concept of Love Handles!"
The Nietzschean diet has its critics. Detractors say the diet's actual nutritional requirements are vague, that it provides no concrete plan for progression toward weight-loss targets, and that the book consists mostly of unclear and unusually harsh sets of inspirational logical lacunae.
"Those on Nietzsche's diet must remember that, while discipline and mastering one's fear are desirable, the specter of a man striving willfully and joyfully against a frigid universe while drinking deep of 'life's bitter broth' will not precipitate weight loss," nutritionist Dr. Frank Stearns said. "A few more non-allegorical recipes would have been nice, too."
Stearns said it was worth noting that Nietzsche died depressed, delirious, and overweight in Zurich after 10 years of near-catatonia.
"Those wishing to begin a diet, let alone a highly moralistic pre-Freudian diet, should consult with their physicians," Stearns said. "Otherwise, they run the risk of long-term health problems—not to mention the possibility of their diet being misinterpreted by a rabidly cuisinophobic nationalist sect and used to justify a world takeover by diet Nazis."