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Obituaries

Judy Mazel, 63; wrote controversial bestseller 'The Beverly Hills Diet'

October 26, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Judy Mazel, author of "The Beverly Hills Diet," a 1981 bestseller that helped jump-start the age of the diet book even though its pineapple-heavy regimen was dismissed as nonsense by mainstream nutritionists, has died. She was 63.

Mazel, a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades, died Oct. 12 of complications from peripheral vascular disease at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, said Victoria Marechal, a close friend.

Although she had no formal training in medicine or nutrition, Mazel became interested in weight loss while recuperating from a broken leg and reading books on nutrition. After studying for several months with a Santa Fe, N.M., nutritionist, Mazel came up with a theory about food enzymes and the digestive system that she formulated into a complicated weight-reducing plan.

"The Beverly Hills Diet" had more in common with a cave dweller than a habitue of Rodeo Drive: Based on a concept of eating one type of food at a time, as did our prehistoric ancestors, it avoided combining carbohydrates and proteins in the same meal and called for eating fruit exclusively for the first 10 days.

Tired of drifting from one cult diet to the next, Mazel tested her dietary theory on herself and claimed to have lost 72 pounds. She had remained a "svelte 108" since, according to her website.

The book -- written while the self-styled diet counselor practiced in a Beverly Hills clinic -- was a runaway bestseller.

The book's jacket included celebrity endorsements from actress Linda Gray of "Dallas," singer Engelbert Humperdinck and actress Sally Kellerman. The author become somewhat of a celebrity as a frequent guest on TV talk shows.

When California's first lady, Maria Shriver, was asked how she lost 25 pounds while trying to break into television, she told People magazine in 2005: "I couldn't get a job, so I went on the Beverly Hills Diet, where you ate watermelon one day and cheesecake the next. It worked. That was the last diet I ever went on."

Response from the scientific community was not so kind.

Medical experts took issue with "major misstatements of scientific fact," derided the book as fiction and said the diet preyed on humankind's age-old desire for a quick fix. Diet followers took off pounds because the program was low in calories, experts said.

The book made nutritionists' lists of top 10 classic fad diets and drew heavy criticism from medical experts who protested a sequel even before it was published, The Times reported in 1982.

"Not only is there no scientific evidence to support this diet plan, but it also contradicts established medical knowledge about nutrition," a study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. concluded in 1981.

Mazel said she did not create the book for the scientific community.

"I wrote the book so that the 'yous' and 'I's' of the world can understand the process the body goes through" in digesting food, Mazel told The Times in 1982.

Born in Chicago in 1943, Mazel was the youngest of three daughters and "the only overweight child in a family of thin people," Marechal said.

A former secretary, Mazel moved to Los Angeles to break into acting but had little success and struggled to keep off weight. Unable to get help from the medical establishment, Mazel said, she decided to devise a plan of her own.

In a 1981 feature on "Hollywood's Diet Gurus," Newsweek magazine called Mazel "the showbiziest of the bunch."

She told the magazine that she was inspired to become a diet counselor in 1974 when a disembodied voice told her to leave the freeway and buy cashews, a trip that led her to a health-food store and an old book on food combinations.

For a time, she counseled as many as 250 dieters a week at the Beverly Hills clinic she ran.

She went on to write several more diet books, many of them based on her original work. With John Monaco, she wrote "Slim & Fit Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Fast-Food World" (1999).

The idea for the book came from Monaco, a critical-care pediatrician who wrote to thank Mazel after he lost 20 pounds in 35 days following "The New Beverly Hills Diet" (1996).

Mazel is survived by her sisters, Carol Friduss of Chicago and Ann Manaster of La Jolla.

A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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