Thursday, October 24, 2013

It Never Gets Old...

The season of reality shows is coming back in full swing. In many ways these are a guilty pleasure for me. Partially they are a sense of escape and partially they reaffirm that, yes, at least my life is not like THAT, nor would I ever go through that exposure just for fleeting fame. Sadly, a lot of these shows involve many people from my homeland of Staten Island. All I can say to that is: You can't blame that much on editing.

Of course, a lot of makeover shows are on nowadays including weight loss programs. I know a popular one is The Biggest Loser. I admit I do tune into that one, now more than ever in Streamlined times.  I don't really need to reaffirm what many people think about this show. I won't even link to those posts, because they are everywhere. Suffice to say that I do feel it is presenting a very unfair view of weight loss and the idea that "failures" on the show are only losing 2-5 lbs. a week....well, it's just bad. It reminds me of one of my previous attempts at weight loss a few decades back. I managed to lose 25 lbs. and reached a tableau. And I felt like a complete failure.

Because I. Only. Lost. 25. Lbs.

Sigh. I'm glad that mindset is over. 

But this also brings to mind the endless attempts at dieting and the yo-yo effect that can have on someone.

But this is nothing new. I've already mentioned some of the old diet and cookbooks I own. Now how about a old time "reality show'?

This fascinating paper on President William H. Taft's correspondence with a doctor about weight loss had me hooked. Taft certainly cut a prosperous figure:


But he had concerns about his health. The prescription for weight loss reads remarkably modern (without the "fads"): reasonable amounts of food, exercise and daily logging of weight. There are some historically unique aspects to the plan (Taft's exercises including horseback riding, as opposed to something we might now consider more rigorous), but the gist is very much the same as today.

There's even the other aspects here which show how little things have changed. Taft was a celebrity that was publicly ridiculed for his weight. He tended to report a higher weight loss than he actually managed to achieve. He did lose a lot weight but gained a lot back when he stopped dealing with his physician. This was also not the first doctor and weight loss prgram to which he subscribed. And this particular doctor also used his work with Taft to promote his own diet business, cashing in on this celebrity diet.

When Taft passed away he was about 70 lbs. less than his highest weight, but still considered "morbidly obese" by today's standards.

Taft's legacy as President and as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is quite varied (He is the only person to hold both positions). But sadly he's probably remembered more for being the fat president. 

Strange to think that dieting and celebrity is more embedded in our collective mind than governmental and judicial initiatives still in play. 

Maybe we should elect Snooki to the Supreme Court. But first I need to go track down some of Taft's doctor's books to add to my collection.


Deborah I. Levine; Corpulence and Correspondence: President William H. Taft and the Medical Management of Obesity. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013 Oct;159(8): 565-570.

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