It’s not that Bloomingdale’s really objects to selling you a size 12; it’s just that the chic store thinks you’d look so much more, well, fashionable, in a size 6. And remember a size 6 costs no more than a size 12, so thinner is better all around. Which may be why Bloomingdale’s, a cultural landmark on Manhattan’s East Side, with 13 branches around the country, has lent its name, prestige and promotional clout to a new diet book, The Bloomingdale’s Eat Healthy Diet, by Laura Stein (St. Martin’s Press, $15.95).
Bloomingdale’s took the rare step of endorsing the diet book for a very good reason. Thirty of its own executives had tried the diet—with spectacular success. Among them, they dropped a quarter ton of executive love handles. Stein, 40, an admirer of diet guru Nathan Pritikin’s, believes that along with exercise and eating right, appetite training is the key to keeping off the poundage. “If you don’t eat it, you don’t crave it,” she says. The things you shouldn’t crave include sugar, salt and caffeine—and the sugar substitutes and diet colas that, she says, only keep alive the craving for sugar.
Stein was a Manhattan marketing consultant and free-lance writer when she wrote an article, “The Purification Diet,” for the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1983. Encouraged by the deluge of mail, she enrolled 10 friends as a “living lab” to expand her diet theories, then started a series of profitable Eat Healthy diet workshops. One of her first successes was Marge Piatak, a Bloomingdale’s exec who peeled off 35 pounds at her workshop. Her feat led to a stampede of well-dressed chubs and chubbettes from the giant store’s corner offices, including Marvin Traub, Bloomie’s chairman, who says he “dropped one size, two inches.”
Traub had the workshop incorporated into the store’s benefits package for executives. Besides lending its name and advertising resources to the book, Bloomingdale’s has opened a tasting bar of Eat Healthy foods in its Manhattan store, and Stein is planning to open workshops in Bloomingdale’s other major branches across the country. Before the launch of the book earlier this month, Stein had to survive a court challenge from nutrition expert Dr. Sami Hashim, who wrote the preface. In a dispute over compensation, Hashim claimed he did not authorize the use of his preface and applied for an injunction to halt the book’s publication. The court denied Hashim’s application, but the case is on appeal.
The 5’5″ Stein, like many with a weight-loss mission, is a former heavyweight herself. As a teenager in New Haven, Conn., she got up to as much as 150 pounds. She dropped out of Bard College in her freshman year to marry a Yale architecture student, but the marriage ended after a year. Her second marriage, to lawyer Gerry Schwartz, lasted a decade, from 1968 to 1978. They are still on good terms; in fact Schwartz is the lawyer for her Eat Healthy firm. Now she lives in Manhattan with 57-year-old Gene Wolsk, a former Broadway producer (Man of La Mancha), who was one of Stein’s original volunteers and is now CEO of her diet company. He isn’t the man he used to be. At 5’10” he’s down to 170 from 196. “My doctor is delighted,” he says. Stein’s accountant is probably smiling, too.