email a friend iconprinter friendly iconHigh Performance: Bernarr Macfadden
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Experiment No. 3: The Raw Truth

Macfadden often prescribed his "natural food" diet for patients who were stressed out and had trouble sleeping at night, a situation I found myself in after falling more than a year behind schedule to finish my book. (He also felt it promoted vigor and tried, unsuccessfully, to get President Theodore Roosevelt to adopt it for Army troops in 1908.) The strictly vegetarian natural diet consisted mostly of uncooked fruits and vegetables and raw nuts. I soon learned that while apples and walnuts are fine additions to a bowl of oatmeal, they grow tedious pretty quickly as staples of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

South of my taste buds, however, my body was definitely taking to the natural diet. Morning runs that had been drudgery felt great, easy, and fast. I decided to stick with the program a second week. On day eight, I noticed that a fruity smell, like strawberries or freshly chopped cilantro, seemed to be following me. Only after a long, sweaty workout did I realize that the odor was me, or rather my perspiration, which had changed chemically. I felt better rested on less sleep. And my skin cleared up and took on an eerie, youthful suppleness.

It’s not necessary, or even advisable, to undertake one of Macfadden’s regimens that echoes the bleakest passages from The Worst Journey in the World. The lesson I took from my time with Macfadden is to resist temptation—not that of Twinkies or Grand Theft Auto—but rather the seductive call of the latest fitness fad. This year’s South Beach Diet is last year’s Ab Blaster class is next year’s Bikram yoga. If you’ve ever grabbed a banana and set out on a hike with no goal beyond taking a walk in the woods, you already know as much about fitness as you need to. Whether you choose to continue on all the way to Pittsburgh is up to you.

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  • I very much enjoyed reading your book and want to try the regimens you outline in the appendix. Can …
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