Garrett W. O'Brien, a contributing writer for the Fifteen Minutes magazine, attempts to execute the meal plan presented in a book called "The Harvard Square Diet."
Garrett W. O'Brien, a contributing writer for the Fifteen Minutes magazine, attempts to execute the meal plan presented in a book called "The Harvard Square Diet." By Ryan N. Gajarawala

Veritas Meets Diets

I don’t think this diet is for me — the 1980s, it seems, were a time more conducive to spontaneous aerobic dance.
By Garrett W. O’Brien

Do you want “to fit into that slinky velvet dress again… to show everyone you’re not so bad looking when you don’t have that roll of fat around your middle?” Or perhaps, your goal is simply “to sit down in your favorite slacks without fear of cutting blood circulation in both thighs.”

Regardless, “The Harvard Square Diet,” a 1987 book written by Frederick J. Stare, the founder of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, and Elizabeth M. Whelan, the director of The American Council on Science and Health, contains the solutions you seek. Chapters range from “Understanding the Harvard Square Diet Formula” to “Planning and Soul-Searching.” I, a student living in Harvard Square who “wouldn’t be caught dead having Jerry Football-Hero or Cindy Sleeksnob see [me] looking this way” at my five-year high school reunion, set out to squeeze the eight-week long diet into just five days, in the interest of investigating this seemingly untapped facet of the Harvard brand.

Despite the title’s explicit invocation of Harvard, just seven pages into the book, the authors devote an entire “disclaimer” section to explicitly announcing that the book is in no way connected to the University. But the writers argue that the book “does have something in common with Harvard University, something that few diet books can claim to have.” Like Harvard, this book’s motto is “veritas.” This is the first lesson I learn on this diet — “truth” evidently means eating one chicken parm sandwich instead of two.

To mentally prepare for my five days of “girth control,” I turn to chapter three, “Day One: Planning and Soul-Searching.” The book highly recommends seven days of preparation but concedes that “if you are impatient, of course you can do all this in one day and start tomorrow.” Overcome with excitement for and impatience about beginning my Harvard Square diet — plus a deadline hanging over my head — I did exactly that.

Like many diets, this one requires its disciples to limit caloric intake, choose healthier options, and exercise. The book doesn’t ask me to “cut out” anything from my diet but, rather, “cut back.” No more popcorn chicken bowls as a side dish.

I start day one by following the book’s suggestion of planning my meals. I stand in Annenberg and visualize what a half-portion of usual dinner would look like. As I load three-quarters of a slice of barbeque meatloaf onto my plate, I glance at the soft-serve machine in the corner of the dining hall, close my eyes, picture the cover of the book, and feel emboldened to shout, NO!

This was all easy in the moment, but a few hours after my half-dinner, I begin to consider the allure of the Twizzlers hidden under my bed. The authors did not seem to account for the ingenuity of college students when it comes to procuring late night snacks; perhaps the 1980s were a darker time for those with Twizzler habits.

Up next is the exercise portion of the diet. The authors suggest “aerobic dance” as the most effective calorie-burning option. This category includes, but is not limited to: “the hora,” “Latin dance,” and “the Irish sword dance (a somewhat refined version of the jig).” The book has obviously failed to consider the realities of living in Harvard Square surrounded by fellow Harvard students:I simply cannot perform any of these options in a public gym around people I know, and people I will maybe one day want to earn the respect of. Instead, I opt for the “Weight Watchers Pepstep Program.” Every night for five days I vigorously sprint up the five flights of Weld Hall five times, which is moderately less embarrassing than dancing a jig in a corner of the MAC.

I don’t think this diet is for me — the 1980s, it seems, were a time more conducive to spontaneous aerobic dance. At the very least, perhaps I’ll try to grab a protein bar next time I’m at CVS, instead of my usual six cups of instant ramen: my own personal Harvard Square Diet.

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