The Grind Aerobic Tapes
From 1992 to 1997, MTV had a dance show called The Grind. It was a simple show which featured lots of pretty people dancing to pop song, club hits, and remixes. It wasn’t the most interesting show to watch, but it made for great background noise while cleaning your room or doing homework.
MTV realized The Grind name had some value so they used it to release a single album called MTV Grind 1 that was similar to the MTV Party To Go series. I’m guessing MTV Grind 1 didn’t sell all that well, because it MTV never released a follow up.
MTV seemed to have more success with releasing their own series of workout tapes under The Grind brand. They released five all together: Hip Hop Aerobics (1995), Fitness with Flava (1995), Strength and Fitness (1996), Fat Burning Grooves (1997), Dance Club Aerobics (1998), and Tai Funk Aerobics (1999).
Eric Nies was a former Real World contestant who found himself hosting quite a few of the workout tapes and by hosting, I mean saying supportive things while the real instructor runs the tape.
Exercise tapes were huge in the 90’s, and MTV decided to take the sterile, monotonous tone of most exercise tapes and infused a lot of fun. The tapes are more laid back, play pulse thumping hip music, and everyone actually seems like they are enjoying themselves. It sure beats the hell out of what you’d get watching Buns of Steel.
Reebok Step Aerobics
In the late 1980s, a woman named Gin Miller injured her knee. Her orthopedic doctor recommended that she strengthened the muscles supporting the knee by stepping up and down on a milk crate. Ms. Miller decided to take things one step further (no pun intended) and invented step aerobics. Reebok was one of the first large scale producers of the Step (an adjustable plastic block for stepping onto) and in 1992 they released their first step workout video hosted by Gin Miller called Step Reebok The Video. Reebok decided to forego the generic smiling faces and bright neon colors that most workout tapes had and instead went for a dark, gritty look that really stood out on the shelf.
The tape itself was also different in presentation. It still had a supportive instructor leading the way, but the tape featured a live band with lots of drums and was filmed with off center camera angles that 90’s music videos were known for. It was hip and modern, and broke the mold for which workout tapes were made from. Young people weren’t ashamed to pick up Reebok Step and Stepmania seemed to sweep the nation.
Reebok continued to make Step videos for years, and Gin Miller continued to release new Step videos into the 2000’s.
In 1992, Nabisco released Snackwells, a fat-free line of cookies that cashed in on the dietary guidelines of the early 1990s that suggested Americans reduce the amount of fat that they eat. They were immediately a huge hit and thanks to some clever marketing became a household name.
Like most “diet” type cookies, Snackwells were more expensive than your standard cookies, and were known for being quite dry. I think everyone who was a kid in the 90’s got to try Snackwells at an aunt or their grandmother’s house, but despite the enticing looking images on the front of the box, Snackwells didn’t taste all that great. People who bought Snackwells (as well as other low calorie snacks) tend to eat more Snackwells (or low calorie cookies) than regular cookies thus offsetting any potential benefit of consuming the lower calorie snack. This phenomenon was labeled The Snackwell Effect.
With the rise of low carb diets in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the high carb Snackwells fell out of favor with the diet crowd. Since then the brand has been sold a couple of times, most recently in August 2017 where it is now owned by B&G Foods, Inc.
I didn’t realize that Snackwells were still around, and hadn’t thought about the brand in years. After discovering that Snackwells are still produced, I decided to go out and give them a try.
At my work’s gift shop they sell Snackwell’s Vanilla Crème Cookies. I picked up a pack and actually thought they were quite decent. The cookie itself was a little hard and it's not the most flavorful filling, but for a quick snack it wasn't bad at all.
The most popular product, and that one that is most remembered, are the Snackwell Devil Food Cakes. I went to my local grocery store and was shocked to find them sold out. It took me a few days but I eventually came home with a box and decided to give them a try after dinner.
Similar to the Vanille Creme Cookies, the Devil Food Cake was good, but not great. Actually, after I ate the first cake I was ready to dismiss them completely, but I had a second and found it to be "not bad." Sadly, not only are their rather medicore, but you don't get much bang for your buck. My four dollar box contained a measily twelve cookies.
Obviously fat-free diets are no longer popular and because of this Snackwells suffers. The entire brand was built around being a "fat-free cookie" and no one cares about that anymore. The Devil's Food Cake ran 50 calories with 12g of carbs and 7g of sugar. This very reasonable for a cookie and I feel like the taste matches up well with the nutritional facts.
I won't go out of my way to hunt down any of the other Snackwell products, but I'm glad I can say that I've finally tried them.
I’ve been focusing mostly on 90’s fitness and diet products, but I thought I’d reach back and take a look at Coca-Cola’s first diet drink, Tab.
Tab was created by Coca-Cola in 1963 after Diet Rite was introduced by RC Cola and did extremely well. Tab is named as part of their marketing for people who wanted to “keep tabs” on their weight. At the time Tab and Diet Rite were the only diet sodas on the market.
Tab was Coke’s best-selling diet soft drink until the introduction of Diet Coke in 1982. Some controversy arose in the 1970’s when the artificial sweetener saccharin was shown to cause bladder cancer in mice. The FDA required companies to place a warning label stating that it contained a product known to cause cancer in lab animals, but despite this Tab still remained the best-selling diet drink. At one point Coke decided to use Nutrasweet instead of saccharin but consumers were not happy with the taste change (similar to what happened to Diet Pepsi in 2016 and 2017 when they changed from aspartame to sucralose). Over the years, no further link between saccharin and cancer in humans was found and it was delisted in 2000 and removed from the hazardous substances list. Still, you’ll find people online who swear drinking Tab gave their mother/father/brother/sister cancer.
Over the years Tab was sold in different flavors and even colors. Flavors such as Lemon-Lime, Black Cherry, Root Beer, Ginger Ale, Orange, and Strawberry were all sold in the 70’s. In 1983, a Caffeine Free version of Tab was released. In the 1992, a clear version of Tab was sold (no doubt because of Pepsi Clear).
As recent as 2018, I was still able to buy Tab at Target stores in North Carolina. I purchased it a few times and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’m not a fan of cola’s all that much, and prefer Diet Mountain Dew or Diet Dr Pepper, but Tab exists in this weird realm that is quite flavorful and sweet.
I purchased a twelve pack once I began diving into vintage diet products since I haven’t had Tab in a year or so. I popped the top and instantly remembered how much I enjoyed this drink. I wish they still sold a caffeine free version, because I could see myself drinking this all the time if they did. I’m really glad Tab is still around and there is a reason it’s been around for fifty-five years, it’s actually good!
Update: As of December 2020, Tab is no longer being produced by Coca-Cola. I had my final Tab while visiting Seattle. I found a can at a local grocery store and sucked down the sugar-free goodness. After that last Tab in May 2019, I was unable to find it in Target or anywhere else for that matter. Then, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coca-Cola finally laid Tab to rest in December 2020.
In the early-to-mid 1990's the dietary fad was low-fat. All the latest research pointed that the less fat you took in, the less fat you'd retain. So, you couldn't walk through a grocery store without seeing "NO FAT" or "LOW FAT" printed across a good majority of the products on the aisles. Sadly, these options were usually not better for you, since the manufactures simply replaced the fat with sugar or carbs.
In 1998, Frito-Lay decided to introduce a line of chips called WOW that promised to taste just like the fatty options by using a fat substitute called Olestra. Frito-Lay wasted no time introducing WOW chips under the Ruffles, Doritos, and Tostitos brands, and in the first year they sold over $400 million dollars’ worth of sales. It seemed like Frito-Lay had captured the healthy conscious audience and had a home run on their hands.
Then came the bad news. It turns out that Olestra, the fat substitute, had some side effects like abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and anal leakage in some people. Frito-Lay was forced to label their products with a warning that said, "This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added." Sales dropped to $200 million just two short years later.
Eventually the WOW line was dissolved and the chips were labeled light, but even today people still like to make anal leakage jokes when referring to certain brands of chips.
Fen-Phen was a weight loss drug that was huge in the 1990’s. The fen referred to fenfluramine, an appetite depressant and the phen referred to phentermine, an amphetamine. Getting a prescription was as easy as walking into a pop up doctor’s office, watching a five minute video, and having some quick bloodwork. For around $130 you could walk out with a prescription.
Fen-Phen was all the rage. It was effective at stimulating weight loss and it seemed everybody wanted to get their hands on it. The hype that surrounded Fen-Phen is not too unlike the hype behind medical marijuana here in 2018. However, like medical marijuana, no long term studies had been conducted about the possible side effects Fen-Phen could have, and after several years on the market, the FDA pulled the drug because a study was done that showed the Fen-Phen may have caused heart defects in nearly a third of the patients who too it. Over six million people took Fen-Phen almost soley off the results of a single study with 121 participants.
Weight loss clinics popped up like marijuana dispensaries in strip malls and anywhere cheap real estate was available. Doctors set up shop in cheaply run offices just to hand the pills out. This was during the rise of HMOs and doctors saw it as a way to supplement their incomes.
One of the biggest issues with Fen-Phen was that it was never tested or approved for long term use. However, doctors were giving refill after refill and unfortunately it was destroying the hearts of many of the patients who took it. The FDA was reluctantly to approve it, but with obesity being a nationwide epidemic, one doctor who supported the drug argued that solving the obesity problem was more important than any possible side effects.
By 1997, Fen-Phen was off the market, but doctors were still working on putting together their own new concoctions that could stimulate weight loss and tap into the very lucrative market that is dietary supplements.