Once considered the first celebrity weight loss program (attracting such stars as Lorne Green, Buddy Hackett and Shelley Winters), Dr. Walter Kempner’s Rice Diet was founded in 1939 as a method of treating high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney problems and diabetes using a nutrition plan based on rice and fruit.
The diet, which was low in saturated fats and salt typically called for patients to to eat 1-2 dairy, 3-5 fruits, 4-6 vegetables, 6-11 starch, and 1-3 ounces animal protein plus 0- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided over three meals per day.. is low-sodium and low-saturated fats including low-protein, with a focus on moderate portions and “becoming a more mindful eater.”
Kempner came to the US from Germany in 1934, settling in North Carolina. He began operating the Rice Diet from Duke’s medical campus five years later. He remained there for many years before moving to a separate facility, running it like a “boot camp” and proving himself to be an exceptionally harsh task master where his patients were concerned. In fact, one former patient, Sharon Ryan, went so far as to allege that Kempner beat her bare buttocks with a riding crop when she “violated his strict rules by gaining weight.”
In turn, Kempner stated in a deposition that he “thought the risk to his patients’ lives was so great that if they deviated from his regimen it warranted harshness.”
Duke eventually severed all ties to the Rice Diet in 2002 (5 years after Kempner’s death), when it was taken over by Robert Rosati. Rosati had been working with the program for 20 years at the time. His wife, Kitty Gurkin Rosati, also wrote several books based on the program.
The Rosatis, however, have since found that they are no longer able to compete with more modern treatments, including gastric bypass surgery and other dietary plans. Unable to find a buyer, they say they have no choice but to close the center, once the best known diet mecca in the nation.