The Mad Men Diet

I’ve been a big fan of Mad Men since it started. I have no idea why–the first season was as slow as molasses and the reality was just too bizarre for me since I’m a 1980’s baby. But for some reason I love it and keep watching. Maybe because it’s a glimpse into 50’s and 60’s when it was the norm for women to be barefoot and pregnant, men getting drunk in the office and everyone smokes cigarettes everywhere they go. It’s fascinating.

In this season, Betty Draper (ex-wife of Don played by Jon Hamm) has gained quite a bit of weight. The actress is wearing a fat suit, which in the first episode of this season tricked me! It was so good I thought she had really gained weight.   Betty’s storyline this season is about her struggles with weight gain, dieting, emotional eating and depression.

Betty - Before
Betty - After

In one episode she sat in front of a TV in a MuuMuu eating an entire bag of Bugles with the shades drawn. Clearly it was depression. She was refusing to go out socially and was embarrassed by how much weight she’d gained.

In a recent episode, Betty joined Weight Watchers. It was 1966, and in articles I’ve read about it, it was a very different version of the program. It was fascinating to watch.

There were several scenes in the episode that I wanted to talk about. The first one showed Betty weighing and measuring her food. Breakfast was one piece of dry toast, half a grapefruit and what looked like cubes of cheese. There was barely anything on her plate. At the end of the episode, they are eating Thanksgiving dinner and Betty’s plate is meager at best. She has one Brussels sprout, one scoop of stuffing, one spoonful of cranberries and one small piece of turkey. It was painful to watch her starving herself.

The next disturbing scene was a Weight Watchers meeting. The whole process made me cringe. The weekly meeting was in a room with a big scale in the front of the group. Everyone took turns weighing in in front of the group and their weight was announced. Talk about horrifying! Public shaming as a motivation for weight loss? Good god!

Words cannot express just how much anxiety I HAD simply watching the process.

The final scene I wanted to discuss was one that really struck a cord with me. Betty went to her ex-husband’s high-rise apartment in Manhattan to pick up their kids and came face to face with the new wife. She was pretty and perky and young and Betty obviously felt self-conscious and embarrassed about how she looked. The second she got home she went straight to the fridge and sprayed whipped cream right into her mouth.

She quickly realized what she was doing and with a mouthful of whipped cream, ran to the sink and spit it out. She’d turned to food in her emotional distress. I could totally relate to that as I had turned to food for so long in my life. Depression, anger, sadness, every emotion made me go straight to the freezer for a carton of ice cream that would soon be gone.

Even as far as I’ve come since the old me, every once in awhile I have a trigger that fills me with those emotions and habits I used to have. A really bad day can  lead me to the soothing effects of chocolate, which I immediately regret. Those old habits may not be there all the time, but they haven’t completely vanished. I’ll be honest, watching Betty in turmoil and turning to food did evoke an emotion in me. I know it’s just a TV show, but I could still relate, and I haven’t been too excited about the number on my scale lately, either.

The progression of this storyline will be interesting to watch. I truly hope the story turns out well, and not leading to the topic eating disorders like it’s hinting at.

QUESTION: Did you see the episode of Mad Men? What were your thoughts?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and

19 thoughts on “The Mad Men Diet”

  1. I felt so bad for Betty especially at Thanksgiving. That wasn’t nearly enough food. No wonder she looked murderous most of the time; I would too on that little food.

    I can totally relate to her turning to food as comfort. I’ve regained all the weight I lost and am trying to figure out where to go from here, so I can understand.

    I also hope that it doesn’t go down a dark road of eating issues, especially for Sally to witness or emulate.
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  2. I actually just got into the show and am on Season 1 still, though I expect to be on Season 2 by the end of the week. So far I love it- especially the clothes! Oh to have a closet full of those dresses!
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  3. I love Mad Men! I remember my mom joining WW way back in the 70’s and her little plastic food scale. She didn’t last long, it seemed so much more daunting than it is now. I remember lots of cottage cheese and pineapple in her diet.

    Back to Mad Men, Betty’s food issues were foreshadowed in a previous season, I remember her going to the fridge late at night and scarfing down fried chicken. She’s just such an immature character, hard to like. I feel sorry for her but I hate how she treats her kids so it makes me less sympathetic. It’s not entirely her fault though, Don really screwed her up. Being so attractive and trying to be a good wife only to have your husband constantly cheat, then go marry a younger woman? That would send anyone off the deep end.

    I think she’ll be back to her old self by the end of the season. On a side note – I’m still hoping Sal comes back!!!

    1. I wonder if the Weight Watchers back then used points or if it was calories?

      I agree with your opinion on Betty. I never liked her during the other seasons. I thought she was kind of a bitch. And she’s definitely mean to Sally. And to her new husband!

      I liked Sal too! Why did they write him out?

      1. I’m not sure – I think his story line just played out but now that they have a new agency and Lucky Strike is no longer their client, there’s no reason he can’t come back. The creator hinted around that it might happen. I would love to see what his life is like; is he with a guy now? Is he still playing straight?

  4. I haven’t gotten past the first season of Mad Men, but interesting how you take take Betty’s behaviors and they could be anyone’s today.

    Weight Watchers has gone through so many changes. It used to be a very strict program. I remember when it used to be food exchanges and you checked off little boxes for protein and fat and carbs. That was a mess trying to figure out something like a casserole. Then it was all about counting fiber grams and fat grams. Then the points system. Lots of changes. WW has never really been about counting calories yourself, but it really boils down to that.
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    1. It sounds like the early stages of WW was way too complicated. Honestly, that was one of the things that deterred me from trying it. I didn’t want to count my fat, fiber, carbs and calories. Calories was enough for me.

  5. I was RIVETED watching the Weight Watcher’s scenes…and also laughing out loud! I can’t believe how they used to run meetings – and it definitely gave me some anxiety to think about! I thought the handling of her weight on the show has been very true to Betty’s character. There are so many nights that I would run to food as a comfort after being in a rough situation, so her whipped-cream moment absolutely struck a chord. The part that really got to me was when she takes the bite of steak and says she’ll “count it” toward the next day….such WW mentality! I thought the whole thing was fantastic.
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    1. It struck a chord with me too. I had done exactly what Betty had done many times. And there was also a time in my journey where I started rationalizing late night eating as “not counting” or counting for the next day’s numbers.

  6. Yeah – while the WW program was REALLY different in the 60s, it was never like it was portrayed in the show. Never has WW publicly weighed people or announced their gain/loss. It’s even more private now, though, and obviously the way we eat on the program is MUCH more nutritious. So don’t let that show give you the impression that WW is really like that 😛

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