Last Updated on June 30, 2020
The Fitness Fads that Fueled the 1960s
The 1960s was a far-out time; we’re talking way far out. Between hippies, the free love movement and the Vietnam War, it was a decade of dreams, controversy and paradox in American culture. And the ways people practiced their fitness were pretty far out, too.
No aspects propelled the 1960s fitness scene more than gadgets and fad diets. Machines, new diet products and a change in the so-called “beauty standard” made the 1960s a pretty wild exercise ride. Before the 1960s, voluptuous women were considered the ultimate in beauty. Curves ruled. But with the waifish English model named Twiggy entering the fashion scene, America’s idea of beauty began to change.
Thin became the new gold standard, and a slew of new gadgets, products and programs were ushered in with that goal in mind.
Popular fitness machines of the 1960s
The exercise machines of the 1960s didn’t require a ton of work on the exerciser’s part. Instead, the machine supposedly did the work for you. Talk about a dieter’s dream. Here are a few of the fitness machines that shaped America during the 1960s.
The Jiggle Machine: A belt massager that was supposed to jiggle fat away, this large machine consisted of a platform you stood on and a belt that was wrapped around your lower back and hips. The fast, jiggling motion was designed to dissolve and eliminate the fat, thus helping you lose weight—hypothetically, at least.
Hot Pants Sauna Suits: These rubber suits were designed to be hot—really hot. Supposedly as you sweated from the heat, you burned off calories and lost weight. An iconic I Love Lucy episode showed Lucy using a sauna suit to shed enough pounds in a few hours to fit into a dancer’s costume for a show in Ricky’s nightclub. Needless to say, she didn’t reach her goal.
Let’s Twist Again: Chubby Checker’s “Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again” were hot on the charts, and the corresponding dance was just as hip. Teens twisting on the dance floor quickly gave exercise designers an idea. Enter the Trim Twist, which was designed to be an easy, fun way to trim your waist area. People stood on a rotating board that moved as you twisted your midsection. The Trim Twist promised to give you a “trimmer figure, better posture and poise” in just a few quick minutes a day.
The most popular diets and food fads of the 1960s
Although the popular machines of the 1960s might be quickly forgotten, at least one diet launching that decade is still on the world’s radar.
Weight Watchers: In 1961, housewife Jean Nidetch had a weight problem. In trying to find a solution, she invited friends over to her apartment in Queens, New York so they could hear each other’s ideas and provide group support. That meeting sparked a revolution. Weight Watchers became public entity in 1963, and over the past 50 years has helped millions of women all over the world lose weight through healthy food choices and positive motivation. Today, popular celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Oprah Winfrey have served as Weight Watchers spokespeople.
A Man’s Diet: In 1962, Robert Cameron self-published a new diet book. Despite being just 50 pages long, the book made a statement, asking, “Did you ever hear of a diet that was fun to follow? A diet that would let you have two martinis before lunch, and a thick steak generously spread with Sauce Béarnaise, so that you could make your sale in a relaxed atmosphere and go back to the office without worrying about having gained so much as an ounce?”
A predecessor to the Atkins Diet, The Drinking Man’s Diet was one of the original high-protein, low-carb weight management programs. The fad diet stated that eating “man-type” foods like seafood, beef, pork and butter would help men shed pounds rapidly. Keeping carbs under 60 grams a day, Cameron’s plan even allowed for drinks with dinner. The book didn’t come with any warnings, though, about the potential damage of a diet laden with fat and alcohol. Still, the diet was a certifiable hit, with the book selling 2.4 million copies in two years and countless devotees adopting the drinking man’s approach to weight loss.
Sweet and Low: One of the first artificial sweeteners on the market, Sweet and Low was made from saccharine, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, all with no calories. Diet sodas entered the market in the 1960s, allowing you to have the sweet taste without the calories of sugar. Diet Coke, Tab and Diet Pepsi sales soared. Saccharine was banned in the United States in 1981 but has been reconsidered as of late, as new studies show that no harmful effects were observed when people consumed 5 grams of the sweetener daily over 5 months.
Diet Delight: This low calorie canned fruit used cyclamate—a synthetic, artificial sweetener that was only 30-50 times sweeter than sugar. In 1969, cyclamate was shown to cause bladder cancer in lab rats and was eventually banned in the U.S. The sweetener is still used in 55 countries worldwide, though the Diet Delight heyday has long passed.
Nearly 60 years after the 1960s, we now know that we need to do the work to achieve the weight loss we’re seeking. But it’s still fun to take a trip down memory lane and wonder how The Jiggle Machine and the Drinking Man’s Diet ever got so big.