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Donald Trump’s absurd, smart Mar-A-Lago Diet

Donald Trump, with Sarah Palin in New York City in 2011, eating his pizza with a fork. It’s one of the tricks he uses to maintain his weight.
John Roca/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Donald Trump is known for his bombastic, sometimes racist, and often untruthful statements.

But there may be one unlikely subject area where the reality TV star turned Republican presidential frontrunner actually makes some sense: health.

At Vox, we read Trump’s 12 books on politics, policy, and business. Amid his musings on foreigners, women, and making deals were pearls of wisdom — about everything from handshakes to managing your weight. Some of them, accidentally or not, also align with the science.

1) Don’t shake hands unless you want to get sick

Trump making a special exception to his no-handshake rule with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images

Much of Trump’s health advice comes from books published during his self-help guru phase, which coincided with The Apprentice's time on air. In How to Get Rich, published in 2005, Trump describes his approach to greeting people. It does not involve shaking hands:

"Some business executives believe in a firm handshake. I believe in no handshake. It is a terrible practice. So often, I see someone who is obviously sick, with a bad cold or the flu, who approaches me and says, ‘Mr. Trump, I would like to shake your hand.’ It’s a medical fact that this is how germs are spread. I wish we could follow the Japanese custom of bowing instead."

While this may sound extreme, Trump is actually onto something. As I’ve written before, handshakes are a filthy, disease-spreading tradition. Of all the different kinds of greetings — high-fives, fist bumps — the shake is the worst offender when it comes to passing around bacteria and viruses. That’s why health officials have advised against handshaking, particularly during outbreaks. Turns out Trump is in line with them too.

2) Eat like you’re at a spa, preferably with the help of a personal chef

The Mar-a-Lago Resort, after which Trump has named a diet.
Mary Jordan/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In 2004’s Think Like A Billionaire, Trump outlines his secret to health. "You can’t just think like a billionaire; you have to eat like one, too."

Indeed, wealthy people are generally healthier and live longer than their poorer counterparts. So if you can get rich, you’d have a better chance at longevity. 

Also, eating processed foods or restaurant dishes, instead of your own home-prepared meals, is associated with weight gain. A lot of people feel they don’t have the time or the knowhow to cook. Trump has an answer: Hire a personal chef.

When he wrote Think Like a Billionaire, his chef at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, was Gary Gregson. Back then, Gregson cooked for Trump and kept him on a strict diet. "We call it the Mar-a-Lago Diet, and if I didn’t adhere to it from time to time, my waistline would be an absolute disaster," Trump writes.

A personal chef is not within reach for most people. Even so, the Mar-a-Lago Diet actually sounds like an eminently reasonable and accessible approach. According to Trump, it amounts to a wholesome diet, replete with a diversity of fresh and minimally processed foods:

"Breakfast might consist of an egg-white omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and a little feta cheese, a small cup of tropical fruit, and a mimosa made with freshly squeezed orange juice. Lunch could be a small portion of tilapia and steamed vegetables with fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil, served with yogurt sauce on the side, iced tea with lemon, and fresh blueberries for dessert."

Trump also doesn't fall for or endorse silly fad diets, or calling off particular foods, demonstrating that he understands what many of us fail to: there's no one special diet that works for everyone.

"Gary believes it's ridiculous to think you can enjoy life without carbohydrates and sugar. Everyone's avoiding bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes these days. Next month people will probably be swearing off fruits and vegetables. You have to satisfy your appetite and stay balanced. It's as simple as that."

He apparently has a refined palate, and writes that he often prefers lemongrass-infused salmon, yellow heirloom tomato gazpacho, and lingonberry sorbet.

"To summarize the Mar-a-Lago Diet:
1. It has to be served in a fantastic setting.
2. It has to look fantastic.
3. It has to taste incredible.
4. It cannot make you gain weight.
If you eat the best foods and watch your waistline, you’ll begin to look and feel great in no time."

The logic of the Mar-a-Lago Diet, as outlined in the above summary, may not be easy to follow. And, to be clear, there's no evidence that this particular diet does what Trump suggests.

In general, however, an eating pattern filled with fresh, wholesome foods is what nutrition experts — and evidently Trump — recommend for health.

3) Eat pizza with a fork

Trump eating steak with a fork. He also eats pizza with a fork.
Stephen Lovekin/WireImage for Hill & Knowlton

In addition to spa eating, Trump also fights weight gain with all sorts of little tricks.

He mentioned one of them in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough. Rather than shoveling down pizza slices with his hands, he writes:

"I got criticized because I ate my pizza with a fork. (The truth is, I know how to eat pizza but I was trying to eat as little as possible because I hate gaining weight!)"

This is not a bad idea at all. Health experts, like Cornell’s Brian Wansink, recommend using similar tricks — using smaller plates, keeping junk food out of the house, and making fruits and vegetables more prominent — to avoid overeating. Trump strikes again!

4) Avoid booze

A small amount of alcohol — no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men — seems to be associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and a higher life expectancy. But more than that can be harmful, especially if there’s a history of alcoholism in the family, and many people fail to appreciate how calorie-laden booze is.

Not Trump. As he writes in 2004’s Think Like a Billionaire:

"If you’re a drinker (which I’m not), enjoy a glass of fine wine, but don’t overindulge in alcohol. It can be a high-calorie and dangerous habit."

Trump says he was turned off booze because of his late brother Fred’s alcoholism. Fred, who died at the age of 42, warned Trump never to drink. And Trump claims he’s never touched an ounce of the stuff. He also doesn’t smoke or use drugs. The virtuous Republican frontrunner is really looking like a health star.

5) Be skeptical of doctors

Trump didn’t write about exercise, and it’s hard to find photos of him when he’s not wearing a suit — even on a golf course.
PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images

Trump isn’t just skeptical of doctors — he downright scorns them. In the only endnote in 2005’s How to Get Rich, he explains why:

"I think that, generally, they are a bunch of money-grubbing dogs. I can tell you about countless instances when doctors have ruined people’s lives."

He goes on to recount a tale that may sound familiar to many Americans: A friend had a foot injury that, by Trump’s medical estimation, "should have healed naturally." Instead, doctors operated, leaving the friend hobbling around after a year. "This is one of many bad doctors I know of — there are too many others to name," Trump writes. "I just can’t stand the bastards."

Now, that’s harsh — doctors definitely aren’t "bastards" worthy of hate. But Trump is getting at another truth many people can relate to: Many of us have been disappointed by doctors and the health care system at some point or another.

Being skeptical and asking questions is a good approach. The world of medicine is filled with dubious claims and vested interests. Doctors are human and frequently err. And there is definitely a tendency among some of them to do something, rather than nothing, even when that something (such as an operation) isn’t necessarily helpful. So once again, Trump’s call for caution has some merit.

There may still be one doctor Trump likes and trusts, however: his personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein. When Bornstein assessed Trump's fitness in a letter made public by Trump's campaign last year, the doctor wrote, "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

After reading Trump's books, we may know why. Or maybe it's a reminder that Trump, and the people he surrounds himself with, are full of hyperbole and lies.

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