Before there was a book club, before there was a white-hot magazine, before there were presidential pit stops, there was this: A newly svelte Oprah Winfrey prancing around in a skinny black turtleneck and size-10 Calvins. On Nov. 15, 1988 — after four months on a liquid diet and rigorous exercise regimen — the talk-show queen unveiled her new bod in a show dubbed ”Diet Dreams Come True.”
”This has been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life,” Winfrey told a cheering audience. ”Not one single thing I have ever done has measured up to this kind of accomplishment.” To dramatize her weight loss, Winfrey went on to wheel out a wagon containing 67 quivering pounds of animal fat (”Is this gross or what?” she cracked) before detailing how she did it: The self-proclaimed food addict ingested nothing but Optifast (a protein powder mixed with water) five times a day, every day. Though she admitted to cheating once — secretly gobbling a bacon-avocado cheeseburger while on vacation — she stuck to the medically supervised program, worked up to running six and a half miles per day, and lost a total of 30 inches from her bust, waist, and hips.
The show — which also featured a congratulatory call-in from Winfrey’s beau, Stedman Graham, a video clip featuring Shirley MacLaine, and testimonials from other successful dieters — remains the highest-rated episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show to date. And the response to the broadcast was as frenzied as Richard Simmons sweatin’ to the oldies. Novartis Consumer Health, the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of Optifast, saw an estimated 20 percent sales spike, and, on the day the show aired, its 800 number reportedly received more than 1 million calls for referrals to hospitals or clinics with Optifast programs.
But health care providers — including even the makers of Optifast — are still concerned that Winfrey’s dramatic loss sent dieters the wrong message. ”It’s not a quick fix,” says Novartis spokesperson Malesia Dunn. ”People are looking for a magic bullet, and if Oprah [uses] it, they think it’s an instant thing — and it’s not…. If you don’t modify your life, [you] could go into relapse.”
And, indeed, Winfrey has continued to wage a seesaw battle with her weight in the years since that show. ”There’s a tendency for people to [forget] that, because Oprah is who she is — one of the wealthiest, most successful women in the world — that she’s human,” says Gail Weaver, president of the San Diego-based Lifetime Health and Nutrition Center (a longtime Optifast provider). ”She still has the same struggles and realities as the rest of us.”
Time Capsule: November 15, 1988
At the movies, Mystic Pizza, featuring a little-known actress named Julia Roberts, is hyped as ”America’s No. 1 romantic comedy.” On TV, audiences tune in to Part 2 of Herman Wouk’s epic miniseries War and Remembrance. In music, the soundtrack to U2’s film Rattle and Hum begins a six-week run at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. And in the news, a week after his election, President-elect George Bush taps John Sununu for his chief of staff, and Ronald Reagan says his administration’s biggest regret was having failed to reduce the deficit.