The problem with diets is that sometimes we forget that we are on one—oops! No recovery after that 1200-calorie slice of cheesecake, is there? Of course, we can always go back on the diet, but why when there’s still so much cheesecake?
Some diets should be adhered to, but—as The Diets that Time Forgot proves—maybe it’s a good thing some have been forgotten. This British documentary follows nine volunteers over the course of 24 days, as they engage in dietary styles from three different historic periods. Under the leadership of the inflexible Sir Roy Strong, the nine have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. The concept is that going back in history when people were thinner and lighter and replicating how people ate will produce an answer to why we’re so fat now (although “instant self-gratification” is a pretty big hint, in the introductory episode).
The three diets followed are the Victorian (primarily meat), Edwardian (whatever you want, each bite chewed 32 times), and a calorie-counting weight loss diet from the 1920s (1200 calories, or one slice of that cheesecake, per day). For those of us who find that eating is more than just a function to keep us alive, these diets pretty much amount to torture. But do they work?
The metabolic age of the nine candidates is figured, and nearly every one of them has a body that is roughly 15 years older than his or her actual age. Sir Roy Strong, on the other hand, is a septuagenarian with a metabolic age of someone in his 50s.
The participants (“residents”) chosen were transported to a recreated “Institute of Physical Culture,” a place to “lose weight and stay in shape.” Their first meal is met with giggles, looks of astonishment, and raised eyebrows. By the end of the 24 days the viewer will have seen tears, frustration, and anger.
The Edwardian group, which has no dietary restrictions, actually suffers the worst diet. They must chew each morsel of food 32 times with heads tilted forward, then tilt their heads back, allow the masticated mess to drip down their throats, and whatever remains in their mouths must be spit in a bowl. And you thought the Edwardians were so meticulous! This group (Kristy, Sophie, and Daniel) immediately find that they have lots to eat, but cannot eat much in the time provided for meals. At the end of the first day, they revolt.
“Revolting” might be a good work to describe the breakfast the Victorian group (Dave, Tricia, and Suzy) receive their first morning—cold lamb, a rusk (cracker), and tea or coffee; while “disappointing” or “inadequate” might be the word the 1920s team (Candice, Vaughan, Nicky) choose for their first morning breakfast consisting of two apples and coffee or tea, no sugar or milk.
Residents wear period dress and must adopt long forgotten philosophies of health and fitness. The results? In the first four days, every member lost weight, ranging from one to ten pounds.
The Diets that Time Forgot is an intimate look into the emotions of these nine residents as well as a chronicle of their experiences. It is immensely appealing, partly due to the period re-enactment aspect of the show. Watching the participants—outfitted in appropriate attire and deporting themselves as proper ladies and gentlemen of bygone eras—share their very 21st century reactions, provides the audience with an audio-visual smorgasbord of contrasts.
We sympathize with them as they experience ice cold baths and showers, meals that sometimes resemble too closely the animals they once were (birds, pig heads), and grueling exercise. Even worse are the temptations that are set before them on the “table of shame.”
Keeping in mind that all the participants volunteered to take part in this experiment, one still feels revulsion at the meals they are served, particularly when their daily regimen turns to offal (yes, awful!). Certainly there are people who enjoy liver, kidney, sweetbreads, and tongue, but there are millions who find these dishes disgusting. Could you eat them if they were all you were offered?
When one resident departs, we are disappointed but empathize. Watching the residents suffer through meals that at best were nauseating, unfamiliar exercise, and strange outings and activities, we understand their dismay and discouragement. Understanding or not, we can’t take our eyes from the screen, and—like addicts—we must watch every moment of the nearly five hours of the series (although you will be forgiven for turning away from stool samples and pig entrails—I couldn’t look at all when the gastroenterologist explained the digestive process, and other bowel related details; beware, also, of the rabbit-skinning).
History of exercise and diet trends is presented throughout The Diets That Time Forgot in small doses. The program is so entertaining, one tends to forget that it is a reality show. Exactly how good is it? I loathe reality shows, but watched all six episodes in one sitting (talk about no self-discipline!).
There are no extra features in this two disc set; viewers are cautioned that there is nudity, coarse language, and “medical scenes.”
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream The Diets that Time Forgot? Definitely. It’s both absorbing and entertaining.