Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, the ‘Queen of Calories,’ wrote a breakthrough diet and fitness book nearly 100 years ago

Peters compiled the latest dietary research from a wide variety of sources and set about putting it all into layman’s terms. Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories was released in 1918. Amazingly, her nearly 100-year-old advice is not too far off today’s best-practice weight-loss methodology. Simply put, her plan was successful because it was based on the tried-and-true wisdom that in order to lose weight or maintain it, calories taken in must never exceed calories burned. She devised a fairly accurate way to determine the amount of calories in food, as well as a method for calculating one’s ideal weight very similar to today’s body-mass index standards.

Interestingly, Diet and Health was geared almost exclusively towards women in the way it was conceived and written. Part of the reason Peters’ voice appealed to so many was that she took a subject that had until then been considered dull and relatively clinical and somehow turned it into a great read filled with wit, humour and general wisdom.

MEET MRS. IMA GOBBLER

Peters infused her text with fictional dieters sporting names like Mrs Tiny Weyaton, Mrs Natty B. Slymm and Mrs Ima Gobbler. She also had her nine-year-old nephew do all the illustrations. Women found they could relate well to Peters, who’d struggled with her own size, admitted to frequent chocolate binges, and truly knew the pitfalls of dieting and understood the self-control required to lose weight. The book also discussed many previously unspoken-of psychological aspects of weight loss, such as jealous husbands and passive-aggressive friends rooting for the dieter to fail.

The good doctor had an innate understanding of what made dieters tick. Though much of her advice was practical – she included lists of 100-calorie portion sizes of common foods, and put forth a carefully thought-out regime of physical activity – Peters also seemed to embody a somewhat prescient weight-loss philosophy: “How anyone can want to be anything but thin is beyond my intelligence… if there is anything comparable to the joy taking in your clothes I have not experienced it.”

Now, nearly a century later, hopeful dieters still repeat the mantra that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.

BEST-SELLING BOOK

Thanks to its chatty style — and the effectiveness of the diet — Peters’ unassuming little book slowly began to garner a following. Diet and Health climbed non-fiction best-seller lists across North America and there it stayed for more than four years. It all came as a huge shock to the author, who’d moved to Bosnia to work for the Red Cross immediately after she finished writing it. When Peters returned to the States from the Balkans two years later, she was shocked to find her book a best-seller and herself somewhat of a celebrity.

Peters seems to have laid out all the good and bad points about weight-loss and fitness a century ago. The good: Treating weight loss and fitness as a problem that is solvable with the application of achievable and moderate techniques. The bad: The religious zeal about weight loss and fitness.

Losing weight and getting fit can be transformative, not because of the physical transformation itself but because it’s difficult to do, takes a long time, and relatively few people manage it. If you succeed at something like that, then you’re likely to emerge as a changed person. But you’ll still have all the problems, virtues, and flaws that you had before the change. You’ll be different but the same. I’m having difficulty articulating what I’m trying to say here.

And failing to get thin is … well, it’s not failure. Eat better, lose some weight, move more, and you’re better off than you were before, even if you never hit your goal weight. Or hit it and gain some of it back.

Also, mad props (as the young people no doubt are no longer saying) to Lulu for being a successful physician at a time when women didn’t have a lot of career options.

Long-term weight loss ‘nearly impossible’? Pfui!

I was discouraged by a Cory Doctorow blog a few days ago pointing to a CBC article that concludes weight loss is “almost impossible.”

But I finally read the article and came away with a different conclusion.

The article describes research showing only 5% of people who try to lose weight succeed. The article suggests — but does not actually say — that the researchers define success as keeping the weight off after 5-10 years.

Every fat and formerly fat person reading this is now shrugging and saying, “Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.” Everybody already knows losing weight is hard.

The article (and possibly the researchers) make the mistake of conflating statistics with destiny. And it’s true that some statistical outcomes depend on luck. You can’t do anything about those. But other outcomes depend on individual choice.

The lotery is an example of an outcome dependent entirely on luck: Only a tiny sliver of the population ever wins the lottery. And there’s nothing you can do to improve your odds. The books and people who try to tell you which numbers to pick based on psychic powers are peddling lies. You can’t buy enough tickets to influence the outcome because the number of tickets sold is so vast. Buy one ticket, buy a thousand tickets, your chances of winning are pretty much the same. Indeed, statisticians say your chances of winning the lottery if you buy a ticket are about the same as your chances if you don’t buy a ticket.

On the other hand, the chances of a middle class or poor kid getting in to Harvard are also pretty slim. But it’s possible if the kid works hard and gets scholarships. So it’s worth a try.

Successful weight loss is more like getting into Harvard than winning the lottery.

The headline on that CBC story stinks. Because losing weight isn’t nearly impossible, Five percent success doesn’t say “nearly impossible.” It just says “very difficult.”

The article and the research do touch on a couple of interesting questions: Why do so many people fail at losing weight? It’s not will power. Fat people hold down jobs, raise families, and do all the things requiring will power that thin people do. Fat people have just as much will power as thin people have.

I think part of it is environmental, which explains the global obesity epidemic. My current pet theory: Farmers feeding antibiotics to livestock.

Another cause of obesity is how our brains are wired for food. When I hear recovering alcoholics talk about their relationship to alcohol, it’s like how I feel about food, particularly high-fat, high-salt, high-carb, high-sugar foods. Most people can have a handful of M&Ms and say, well, that was lovely, and move on. Not me. I can eat a one-pound bag of M&Ms and then start looking around for a one-pound bag of mini-Snickers to chase it down.

The other interesting question raised by the article is whether healthcare providers should be presenting alternatives to weight loss. Given that 95% of fat people are going to stay fat, should healthcare providers concentrate on getting them to eat well and be active, making them healthier fat people?

I wrote about this earlier: Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Cory, the researchers, or the guy who wrote the CBC article, all of whom are doing great work — Cory, in particular, is someone I admire a great deal. Also, Cory lost about 70 pounds and has kept it off far longer than I’ve kept off my weight, so he certainly has every right to weigh in on this subject. So to speak.

Image: Annals Of Weight-Loss Gimmicks: From Bile Beans To Obesity Soap

Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible

Cory Doctorow blogs about research showing weight loss comes back in 5-10 year.

Sobering news for me — I’m only three years into my own weight loss success. I went from a peak weight of about 276 in 2003, to 266 in 2008, then down to 176 in January, 2011, and finally lost another 10 pounds this year. As of Monday I was in the high 160s.

I tend to put on weight when I travel, which is a problem because I’m traveling more this year. I eat a lot of crap when I travel: Candy from hotel minibars,  pastries from the snacks they put out at conferences, fried food, desserts, the same stuff that made me fat to begin with.

Cory describes how he lost 80 pounds 2002-3, and kept it off. Our methods are similar in that we require constant vigilance. I log everything I eat, and weigh and measure it when possible. Corywent for a low-carb diet where I’m counting calories (and probably reducing carbs as a side-effect — I don’t keep track of that).

It’s not a huge deal, but it limits choices. For one thing, Julie and I almost never eat out anymore, which is a shame. I miss going out to eat with Julie. One recent weekend morning Julie suggested spontaneously that we go out for breakfast, and I had to say no. My meals are almost always planned in advance, and the prospect of changing those plans was overwhelming (particularly on an empty stomach, ironically enough).

I’m curious how Cory manages his weight when he travels, which he does a heck of a lot more than I do.

Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible – Boing Boing.

Feeding antibiotics to livestock might also feed human obesity

Other contributing factors: Government collusion with Big Food and the lowfat fad.

Also: “The national focus on diet, diet foods and exercise” exacerbates the obesity problem rather than making it better. I can see intuitively how that might be true though I can’t explain the reasoning.

An unexpected reason Americans are overweight