The Claim: on average our grandparents and great-grandparents had smaller waists and weighted significantly less. Could it be that even with all our modern exercise and nutritional science, we have overlooked something from yesteryear's simple principles of dieting? The Diets That Time Forgot is a six episode miniseries that originally aired on British television. It is presented as a little experiment to see what would happen if you put nine modern day, overweight people on early 20th century diets and exercise routines.
Sir Roy Strong serves as the host of the show and acts as the director of the Institute of Physical Culture--a fictitious fat camp of sorts where people go to be immersed in early 20th century British diet, exercise, and culture. The contestants consist of three males and six females that range in age from 21 to over 50.
They are divided into groups of three and each group is placed on a different weight loss plan. The first group is placed on the Victorian diet, which is similar to the low carb diets of today in that it consists mostly of meat, however many of their meals come from uncommonly eaten parts such as tongue and kidneys. The next group is given a low calorie diet from the 1920's. Much to the dismay of this group, their meals are usually bland, made mostly of vegetables and fruits. The final group is put on the intriguing and surprisingly effective Edwardian diet. This bizarre eating plan allows you to eat whatever you want with only one hitch: you must chew each bite 32 times.
The original Edwardian rule forced the group to not only endlessly chew each bite into a sloshy froth, but tilt their heads back and let the remains ooze down their throat. Whatever didn't fall down their throat without swallowing was to be spit out. After a few meals of this humiliating display, the contestants cried foul to Sir Roy Strong who relented and altered their plan to allow them to swallow all the food after the 32 chews. There is no real science behind this diet outside of common sense. It takes a while for your body to acknowledge that you are full--usually well after you have devoured a full plate of food. This method of eating allows your body more time to signal when it's satiated from the meal and stave off overeating. Plus, chewing each bite 32 times would probably force you to stop eating out of sheer boredom.
What makes this miniseries successful is the great cast. Between the quirky group of contestants and the hilariously proper and fussy cast of institute employees, there is rarely a dull moment in any episode. Candice, the youngest female contestant, receives perhaps the most screen time. She is usually scheming some way to cheat on her Victorian, low calorie diet along with her oft partner-in-crime, the truck driving tomboy, Nikki. In later episodes, the antics of the middle-aged father, Dave, who can't help but sneak off to the pub for some beer and pork scratchings, steal the show. You can almost see an angel and a demon pop up on his shoulders, arguing their cases, anytime he's faced with the temptation of a splurge. This is a man who lives for his treats and beer. The expression of pure bliss that spreads across his jovial face as he's breaking the rules by indulging on a forbidden fruit is infectious. You laugh and then you, yourself, are faced with the desire to graze your cupboard for some delicious fare.
The contestants are not only put on early 20th century diets, but they are made to dress in clothes appropriate for that era and exercise proper manners and posture. Nikki especially struggles with this portion of the show early on. Her boyish looks, bad posture, and lack of self confidence are a huge obstacle that she struggles with and must overcome. They are also put on old time exercise plans. Any exercise is better than nothing, but this is one area where modern, more efficient exercise routines of today would have been beneficial. That would ruin the premise of the series, however, and the results of the "experiment" are impressive nonetheless.
There are a couple of scenes with full nudity--both female and male. It's brief, but there. There is also an absolutely disgusting scene where one of the aids examines the contestants' excrement. Contestants who show signs of constipation are sent out for a colon cleansing, which is shown in full detail. Combined with the frequent use of swear words by the contestants, this series is not for younger viewers or those who can't bear the sight of human poo.
Audio: The series is presented in 2.0 stereo sound. As a reality television show, there are few, if any, scenes where a more robust 5.1 mix would have proven beneficial. The audio transfer is functional for what it is.
Video: The visual quality of this series is barely above what you would find on a standard definition cable channel. The picture is 4:3 full frame and there a lot of issues with pixelization and other compression artifacts. It's watchable.
Final Thoughts: The Diets That Time Forgot, while based on a bizarre premise, is an entertaining little British reality show. I'm not sure that it's entirely motivating though. The contestants got so much joy out of cheating on their diets, that I only fancied a beer and pork scratchings even more while viewing each episode. Maybe it is the way the contestants lovingly utter the word "delicious" with their English accents as they devour the beer or junk food that they nicked while the host wasn't looking. The production qualities of the DVD set are lacking, but if you enjoy reality shows or get a kick out of British humor, then this series is worth a go. Recommended.