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The Downton Diet

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Some enterprising writer must do a book titled "The Downton Diet." It would explain how to get and stay slim without moving a muscle, as the aristocratic women in the wildly popular British drama series demonstrate.

Furthermore, they appear to eat three squares a day, plus tea with nibbles. Judging from the bowls of eggs and cream Mrs. Patmore is perpetually beating in the kitchen, the gentry at Downton are not exactly being served Lean Cuisines.

Some of the older men may grow portly and the women matronly, but no one is really fat. And the young ones are slim as snakes.

There must be a good explanation for the phenomenon, which is not entirely a fantasy. English aristocrats are notoriously thin. Perhaps it's extreme portion control. One spoonful of trifle here, two forks of roast beef there. I leave the details to whoever writes "The Downton Diet."

The great thing about eat-anything diets is their cheating-of-the-gods quality. We found that in the very successful advice book "French Women Don't Get Fat." The message was a sound one, but there's always room for new messages. After all, here we are again in another post-holiday panic, seeking a no-pain means of shedding extra pounds.

Which brings us to the federal fraud charges recently slapped against four companies selling phony weight-loss products. One marketed a potion promising the loss of a pound a day by putting two drops under the tongue.

I know that the Federal Trade Commission is only doing its job, but you wonder how much the government can do to protect people who buy into such ludicrous claims. Perhaps they don't buy into the promises as much as use them for a source of hope. Then it's more like religion than it is science.

An accused company selling a powder to put on food advertised, "Get a gym body without going to the gym." A lawyer might argue that some people at health clubs just sit around drinking smoothies. Couldn't we refer to their physiques as gym bodies?

The FTC said the four companies will pay $34 million in refunds to consumers. The companies neither admitted nor denied guilt in the matter. And so it goes.

The company selling that powder, Sensa, charged $59, plus mailing costs, for a one-month supply. A co-owner and inventor of the powder, one Dr. Alan Hirsch, is author of "Dr. Hirsch's Guide to Scentsational Weight Loss." It's about using smells to suppress appetite.

There may be something to that, but note the book's promo: "The dismal truth is, diets don't work. What's more, most people don't know that their failure to lose weight and keep it off is not their fault." Golden words for the desperate.

Anyhow, Hirsch had already appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Good Morning America" and other big media outlets, selling his expertise. The powder ads noted that.

Speaking of gym bodies, no one at "Downton Abbey" -- upstairs or downstairs -- has ever been caught "working out." There are some sporting activities. The servants do physical labor. The lords and ladies occasionally take walks to survey their lands.

But the higher you are in the hierarchy the less body movement. There are stairs to climb in a stately manner, but that's about it. If you are Lady Mary or Lady Grantham, you don't even lift a hairbrush. The only character getting regular exercise is Isis, the yellow Lab.

If mental distress burned fat, that would clear up the question. (But note that Mary was already skinny before her grievous loss.) Dressing down a servant who ruins a favorite frock doesn't torch many calories.

Someone has to write the book.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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