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Hermien Lee dies at 92; no-nonsense nutritionist to the stars

Hermien M. Lee, a Beverly Hills nutritionist who taught her no-nonsense approach to eating right to a variety of stars including Ann-Margret, Joan Lunden, Suzanne Somers and Robert Wagner, has died. She was 92.

Lee died of heart failure June 18 in Nashville, where she had been recovering from a Christmas Eve fall in which she broke her hip and elbow. She had traveled to Nashville to spend the holidays with her daughter, Jane, and remained there in rehab and at an assisted-living facility after undergoing surgery following her fall.

For decades, Lee advised the rich and famous as well as businessmen, housewives and children how to lose weight by eating right. She was called a "food Nazi" and a "dietary drill sergeant," but also provided a firm hand with her well-balanced, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. She suggested small portions, noting that most people eat more than they need to maintain fitness.

From her Wilshire Boulevard office, Lee -- described as a 4-foot-11 1/2 -inch, rock-hard ball of energy -- offered 14-week courses on how to eat for people that one Times writer called "the obese, the cholesterol-blocked and the nutritionally challenged."

She was no-nonsense, telling clients what they had to do. And if the clients showed they were not prepared to follow her regimen, she would tell them not to waste her time.

"I'm very rigid," she unapologetically told a Times writer in 2001. "I can't fix people. They have to fix themselves. If you are big, something has to absolutely change forever."

As a former sugar addict, Lee had heard all the excuses herself. She had gone from 170 pounds and size 20 during World War II to a wispy, 104 pounds and a size 4. She did it with diet and exercise. The key, she said, is BMV: "Balance, moderation and variety."

"Most people want magic," she said. "I tell people, there ain't no magic. Life isn't fair. The fair is in Pomona."

She was born in Clinton, Ill., on Jan. 8, 1917. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in chemistry and nutrition, she worked for two years at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

In 1942, she shipped off to the South Pacific on a medical convoy. After the war, she married Ernest Lee, a senior aide to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, and had four children.

His death in 1965 at 52 ended her life as a housewife and thrust her back into the world of nutrition.

She moved to Southern California in the 1970s and began preaching her mealtime mantras. Her book "The Spot Reducing Diet" was published in 1983. Her conversation was dotted with favorite phrases like: "He who indulges, bulges," she told a Times reporter in 2001. "He who stuffeth, puffeth."

Lee remained vital and active -- retaining her office and nutritional counseling practice -- until her fall in December.

She is survived by her children, Bill, Dwight, Jane and John; and seven grandchildren.

A private funeral was held in Indianapolis, where she was buried next to her husband.

jon.thurber@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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