CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

Popular Diet Tips from 100 Years Ago

Getty Images
Getty Images

For the past century or so, the human race has been struggling to undo the millennia of genetic programming that tells us to eat. Eat what you can, take pleasure in your food, for it may be weeks before you stumble across another wounded aurochs. In the early 20th century, concerns about obesity, mostly cosmetic, resulted in the creation of libraries of diet literature. While most advice had the familiar and reasonable refrain of "eat less and exercise," there were occasional divergences into the maniacal that gave weight-loss advice of this era a memorable, frightening charm.

Are you fat?

The first question you must ask yourself is, "Are you fat?" If you are unsure, Mrs. Annette Kellerman, in her 1918 book Physical Beauty, How to Keep it, has devised a number of tests to reveal your condition. Now get naked.

Here are a few tests to determine how much of you is real woman and how much is just plain fat. In the first place stand before your mirror nude and look yourself over…Now bend over in various attitudes. Are there unsightly wrinkles and rolls of loose flesh? Lie down on a bed or couch on your back…With your free hand grasp the loose skin and flesh that lies above these muscles… if you are too fat there will be big rolls of loose flesh above the tightened muscles. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

Also, check for loose busts.

The woman who is too fat will frequently, though not always, have loose busts. She is likely to have excessive hips. Her knees and ankles, instead of being trim and shapely are likely to be soft and puffy. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

If you're still wavering, another method of determination is presented by the anonymous Countess C__, in her 1901 book, Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful. Your general form. Is it human-shaped? Or do you look like someone mated a manatee with a rodeo monkey?

A very thin woman is not beautiful, but she can be graceful even to a remarkable degree; but what shall we say of an old woman, overflowing with fat, no longer possessing a human form, much less the form of a woman, always gasping, sweating, and breaking out into redness at the slightest movement, looking, in short, vulgar, ridiculous, and half-bestial. [Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful]

Still don't know? This last test will cinch it. Ask yourself, does your flesh escape you like filthy secrets hidden in a pudding bag? From The Woman Beautiful, an 1899 work by Helen Follett Jameson:

[The fat woman] gets into clothes that are skin-tight, and she draws in her corset string until it snaps and gives at every breath and sneeze, and even then she does not look graceful and pretty, for the fat — like secrets — will out, and it rolls over and around like the little bumps and humps in a pudding bag. [The Woman Beautiful]

Napping makes you stupid and fat

Oh dear, dear Pudding Bag, how did you let this happen? Of course overeating can lead to obesity. But did you know naps, or even eight hours of sleep a night, can also pack on the pounds? The experts agree.

Mere napping about for those who already have too much rest and luxury is suicidal to both mind and body. Oversleeping at any time makes one stupid and logy, yes — fat. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

Sleep must be limited to seven hours, and daily naps are strictly tabooed. [The Woman Beautiful]

And if you can't force yourself out of bed, get a much less comfortable bed.

If she cannot give up all that gratifies her palate but produces flesh...exchange her soft and downy bed for a harder one and reduce her sleep by two or three hours daily. [Beauty, Its Attainment and Preservation, 1892]

Basically, too much peace and comfort in life, the very thing our ancestors fought to obtain, is now the offender. Get up, Puddin'. Nap time is over.

First, as regards repose, all soft habits of laziness, long since contracted, must be given up. Bed must be lain in for as short a while as possible, and only entered for sleep; much exercise, even violent exercise, must be taken. [Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful]

Water, the silent enemy

There was once a pervasive belief that water was fattening. The "science" behind it seemed to have to have something to do with water interfering with "gastric juice." If the gastric juice is allowed to attack solid food unimpeded, then...something something…weight loss could occur. This was the theory put forth by Thomas King Chambers in 1852, in his essay Corpulence: Or, Excess of Fat During Pregnancy. He extrapolated his theory that pregnant woman should be denied water to all those who were too stout. His work was supported by some of the era's most respected not-remotely-doctors who wrote medical advice for women.

Said Jameson:

Do not drink much water. A little lemon juice added to it will make it less fattening. [The Woman Beautiful]

The Countess C__ agrees:

First and most important, drink very little, as little as possible, and only red or white wine, preferably Burgundy, or tea or coffee slightly alcoholized. [Beauty's Aids; Or, How to Be Beautiful]

In America the number of fat people is growing larger every year and the suffering endured by this usually good-natured class of people is tremendous. As a matter of fact, a great deal of this discomfort might be avoided if people would not drink such an inordinate quantity of ice water and could be made to understand that thirst does not lie in the stomach and that it is not satisfied by pouring down water by the glassful. [Beauty, Its Attainment and Preservation]

The internal fatbustion engine

Nothing combats excess weight like an active lifestyle. Most diet books of the day strongly encouraged walking, riding, and even swimming. Just not for the reasons you would expect. You see, oxygen burns fat. Literally. You just have to breathe fresh air, and all that nasty fat goes up in smoke. It's just science.

Lina Cavalieri explains in her 1914 My Secrets of Beauty:

Fresh air is a destructive agent to fat. Oxygen burns carbon. To make this clear, let me ask you if you have noticed how a dying fire flames up when a draught of cold air is turned upon it? That is precisely what happens when a woman who is too fat goes out for a walk. Carbon, which is in the great folds of flesh that lie upon her abdomen and blanket her hips, is also a component part of the coat. Oxygen acts upon this as a burning match applied to paper. [My Secrets of Beauty]

Ms. Jameson supports Cavalieri's theory:

Oxygen destroys or burns out carbon, and carbon is fat. The more exercise and fresh air, the more oxygen, and consequently destruction of fat by the one healthy means of remedying obesity. [The Woman Beautiful]

True, human fat contains carbon, but that's because most fat people live on Earth, where all organic life is carbon-based. And oxygen is used in the conversion of fat to energy, but oxygen is used by humans for everything. It is the physical effort of exercise that taps the fat reserves, not air you breathe while doing it.

The porpoise is NOT a slender animal

Outdoor exercise is preferable, but if you are simply too much of a loose-busted corset snapper, there are other, less public options. Cavalieri insists that the stout woman begins her day by doing stretches in front of an open window. Sensible enough. Then, onto the rolling!

Banish all thoughts of going back to bed. Instead begin your rolling. There is no mystery about rolling. It is simply what the name indicates. Down upon the floor you go and roll over and over swiftly, not slowly as a porpoise rolls. The porpoise, you will observe, is not a slender animal. Roll over as a puppy, tingling with the joy of life, rolls in the dust when at play. Roll quickly. Make at least 80 revolutions before stopping. [My Secrets of Beauty]

Jameson can offer you an option even kinder, if you can't exercise your own body, have a machine do it for you!

To those who prefer, mechanical massage can be given, and this will take the place of long walks, although they are really preferable, as the fresh air is necessary. [The Woman Beautiful]

As for the "mechanical massage" that can consume that carbon-y fat just nearly as well as walking,Collector's Weekly has an excellent, horrific collection of what Ms. Jameson might be referring to.

And finally, my little Pudding Bag, if you needed any more motivation to lay off the tap water and get yourself strapped into a mechanical masseuse, this selection from Nathaniel Edward Yorke-Davie's 1889 Foods for the Fat: A Treatise on Corpulency and a Dietary for Its Cure will surely be the inspiration you need.

There are many other evils beyond corpulence that result from excess in eating, and a badly arranged dietary. Among them may be mentioned a deranged digestion, a loaded tongue, an oppressed stomach, vitiated secretions, a gorged liver, plethora and its consequences, a sluggish brain, with horrible dreams during sleep, and depression when awake. [Foods for the Fat: A Treatise on Corpulency and a Dietary for Its Cure]

I don't know what most of those conditions actually are, but they make for some fearful wicked poetry. This little porpoise has some tingling puppy rolls to do.

More from The Week...

6 Long-Term Effects of the Government Shut Down

*

Watch the Chinese Military Attack Giant Wasps with a Flamethrower

*

How Diet Affects an Animal's Chance of Becoming Roadkill

nextArticle.image_alt|e
The Ohio State University Archives
arrow
Excerpt
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Art
Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios