Hay's approach was based on the idea that eating certain foods together will yield improved digestion and that certain foods are simply "incompatible" with one another. He categorized foods as protein, neutral, or starch and urged people to eat proteins and starches separately, although neutral foods could be eaten with either group. Hay believed that, according to the "immutable laws of chemistry," mixing the food groups led to incomplete digestion, which would then lead to the accumulation of toxins (for which a daily enema was also recommended) and weight gain. Digestion would be affected because the action of ptyalin and pepsin would be stopped and because the environments for digestion differed (alkaline environment for starch and an acidic one for protein). Hay also advocated eating more vegetables and fruits instead of carbohydrates and proteins, believing that these acid-forming foods led to a chemical imbalance caused by decreasing alkaline reserves in the body.
Critics of the diet pointed to the fact that many nat urally occurring foods already combined starches and protein and that the diet actually encouraged weight loss only by encouraging calorie reduction. To date, no scientific evidence has proven the theory of food combining; however, Hay's approach was very much in line with the general notion of food as a means of purifying the body. Like his contemporaries, he saw this purification as a return to the "natural" as well as a rejection of the mechanistic nature of contemporary life. His was, in this sense, a very American approach to food, "for we are becoming a nation of vegetable and fruit-eaters, while the Englishman is still content with his gooey puddings and his afternoon starchy teas" (Hay 1933: 34). This shift in diet was necessary for America to become great as many Americans are suffering from an "individual and national fatigue," which is "making us a near second class nation" (Hay 1933: 65). As "the causes of fatigue are the cause of disease," a new diet will eliminate much illness and increase longevity and productivity (Hay 1933: 69). Indeed, all death can be attributed to bad diet, "there is no natural death; all deaths are the end-point of acid accumulation" (Hay 1933: 71).
In his interest to improve national health and decrease mortality, Hay became more interested in natural medicine. He resolved, "to take such things as he believed were intended by nature as foods for men" after he cured himself of Bright's disease (now known as nephritis, or kidney disease) (Hay 1933: 13). He also lost weight by changing his diet, and "at the end of three months he was able to run long distances without distress. His weight decreased from 225 lbs. to 175 lbs; years seem to fall away from him, and he felt younger and stronger than before for many years" (Hay 1934: 14). He accomplished this all by eating foods in their natural, unprocessed state and not eating to excess: "Proportion the amounts to the real desire at the time; do not try to eat the whole because it is offered; a mistake that is often made by those following suggested diets" (Hay 1934: 158). In addition, he believed that exercise is needed "to keep us clean inside, and to enjoy all these periods as only one can do who is giving to each his due need" (Hay 1934: 174). He documented his belief in the necessity of exercise in widely popular publications, including Health via Food (1929) and A New Health Era (1933). In Health via Food, Hay picked up a thread of argument that has its roots in the very earliest reaches of Western dieting. Based on the experiences of World War I, he saw poor diet as the reason that "half of these young men [called to duty] . . . were unfit to serve her in an emergency." They had "poor teeth, poor eyesight, weak arches . . . deficient chest expansion . . . things that make a man unfit to . . . stand the rigors of a campaign" (Hay 1934: 20). Unhealthy young men were thus poor citizens and rather poorer examples of what "real men" should be, but he was also concerned about the poor health of women, who bear listless children and nurture them poorly as they themselves are deficient (Hay 1934: 62). His argument about the causes of poor health and high mortality was not those of the classic prohibitionists against "tobacco, whiskey, tea, coffee . . . [or] jazzy parties." Instead, he focused on poor nutrition and argued that the "compatibility" of foods will revive America and make for stronger men and women, each to fulfill their own role in a healthy society (Hay I934: 25).
Hay pursued his diet through professional organizations and activities. He was a member of the American Association for Medico-Physical Research, and merchan dized his system when in 1927 he became director of the Sun-Diet Health Foundation (he would later become its president). After purchasing the Pocono Hay-ven resort in 1932, he became the Medical Director of Hay System, Inc. in 1935. As a result, the Hay diet was popular in the early 1930s, with Hay-friendly menus at many restaurants and followers of the system, including Henry Ford, who called themselves "Hayites."
Since then, there have been regular revivals in the Hay diet, resulting in publications by others about their advice and experiences regarding food combining. For example, the acid base diet, which claims to restore body chemistry to proper balance, is very similar to Hay's original diet. In addition, actors Koo Stark, Helen Mirren, Liz Hurley, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Sir John Mills; television personality Jill Dando; and Princess Diana have all supported food-combining diets.
SLG/Dorothy Chyung See also Celebrities; Detoxification; Diana; Kellogg
References and Further Reading
Anon. (2005) "Pioneers of the North American Natural Health Movement," Alive.com, available online at <http://www.alive.com/2541a8a2.php> (accessed February 19, 2006). Anon. "What is the Hay Diet?" Vitamin U.K., available online at <http://www.vitaminuk.com/pages/articles/ whatisthehaydiet.htm#WhatistheHayDiet> (accessed February 19, 2006). Bailey, Eleanor (1998) "Have These Dieters Got Their Combinations in a Twist?" Independent On Sunday, January 11.
Fishbein, M. (1938) "Modern Medical Charlatans,"
Hygeia 16 (February): 113-14. Hay, William Howard (1929) Heath via food, East Aurora, NY: Sun-Diet.
-(1933) A New Health Era, New York: Hay System.
Jackson, Donald Dale (1994) "The Art of Wishful Shrinking Has Made a Lot of People Rich," Smithsonian 25 (8): 146. McKeith, Gillian (2006) "Six 2ist-Century Diets and What They Claim to Do," The Independent, February
Thomson, Peter "Why Science and Medicine Support Food Combining: History of Food Combining." Available online at <http://www.peter-thomson.co.uk/
foodc/_why_science_and_medicine_support_food_ combining.html> (accessed February 20, 2006).
Wolberg, Lewis Robert (1938) "Hay Food Fantasy," Hygeia 16 (April): 311-13 and 372.
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