This is a fascinating story about of a scalawag who was ahead of his time. Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr McFadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad and the Ultimate Starvation Diet, by Mark Adams tells the story of an incredibly successful entrepreneur and health advocate who lived at the turn of the 20th Century. He promoted fasting and vegetarian diets long before it was cool. Additionally, he opened workout centers and used a publishing empire to promote a healthy lifestyle.
What makes this story interesting are the questions it stirs up about the diet and supplement industry even today. Largely unregulated, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty over the validity of many supplements sold and the health claims they make. McFadden was a master salesman – dispensing theories and ideas about health and wellness based on a lot of health sounding, yet confusing language. They were his theories, gathered from practitioners of the past, focused on extreme behaviors that required a teacher (McFadden) to follow “correctly.”
Think Kevin Trudeau. McFadden was the forefather to this slick talking scoundrel who is highly skilled at overwhelming listeners/viewers with words and benefit claims. They usually hit hard and fast, by the time anyone figures out that the supplement was junk, it has already been pulled from the shelves or morphed into another product with millions of dollars of PR behind it. If you watch the supplement industry, it is in a state of constant flux – products come and go with great frequency. Some claim this is due to advances in nutritional science and the discovery of new compounds. Others believe it was a scam to begin with, like the snake oils sold off the back of carts in days past, filled with false promises and intended only to separate suckers from the cash in their wallets.
Ultimately, the moral of this story is the same for all claims of health and fitness. Always ask, “cui bono? (Who benefits?). Claims are made, some are true, many are not. Do not believe any one person entirely, especially if they are selling you the product. Millions (billions) are earned each year off consumer ignorance. Too many supplements, in the wrong combinations or of poor quality equal money spent without the desired gain.
Bernarr McFadden is a prime example of a man who took some good ideas, then exploited, inflated and bastardized them for his own egoistic and financial gains. This is common in all areas of personal growth and wellness. Many claim to be guru’s and demand absolute trust and compliance. Any such demand should be rejected completely.
Instead, each of us should gather information from a variety of sources, educate ourselves and learn to discern fact from fiction. No one diet, exercise regime or relaxation technique is absolutely right. What works for you may not for me, either in total of in combination. The better versed you are regarding diets, nutrition, exercise and health the better able you will be to formulate a plan that is unique to your needs and desired outcomes.
Bottom line, Bernarr McFadden was a boisterous, ego maniacal entrepreneur who used fitness as his device in gaining wealth. Like religion or politics, we must be careful in whom we place our trust. Be watchful of their motives and actions (as they align with their professed principles) and be willing to freely seek other ideas, perspectives and opinions. Do not be enticed (seduced) by a single source of information or guidance, doing so creates vulnerabilities and opens one to exploitation.
To read Mr. America is to understand that there is truly nothing new under the sun. The scams of yesterday seem ridiculous, but the techniques persist even if the production vales have increased.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.