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Dr. Lulu Peters invents modern dieting

Updated on September 1, 2013

Dieting to lose weight is a relatively new concept, and there weren’t really organized diet programs, outside of health spas. So people were sort of on their own when it came to losing weight. That changed in 1918 with the publication of a book called “Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories.”

Lulu Peters was the first diet book author to specifically mention counting calories and she is still having an influence on the diet industry today. The California physician was the first person to tell readers to count calories and only consume up to 1,200 calories per day. Standards of beauty had changed around this time, with thin being the ultimate goal and corsets were going out of fashion so women really needed to lose weight.

Dr. Peters had been a heavy child and weighed 200 pounds when she became an adult. She developed her own weight loss methods to get to a healthy weight and shared her tips in a newspaper column before she wrote her book.

She recommended starting the diet with 3 days of living on 12 dates a glass a skim milk per day, which no one would recommend today. The calorie restriction of 1,2000 per day is also considered unsafe and ineffective today. But she does still have an influence on the diet market today, even though she died just a few years after her book appeared.

LILY LANGTRY (with corset)

1920'S BATHING BEAUTIES (no corsets)

Dr. Peters recommended the ideal weight as 110 pounds for people with 5 feet of height, then add 5 ½ pounds per inch about 5 feet. In addition to dietary restrictions, Dr. Peters recommended daily exercise and cold baths. I’m not sure what a cold bath would do for you but exercise is recommended in most diet programs today.

However, her diet program is out of date as regards calories. Besides being too restrictive, her diet doesn’t recognize that there are different kinds of calories. She does recommend fresh fruits and vegetables, but doesn’t state that some are better than others. For example, the diet says potatoes are fine, but many of today’s diets restrict them due to how the body digests them.

So the diet itself isn’t really reasonable, but her ideas of calorie restriction are still followed in many diets and her emphasis on self-control is a good message. In the newspaper columns written during WWI she said a diet was patriotic, that the uneaten rations could be saved for hungry children and that losing weight would show the Kaiser the strength of Americans. Many of the extreme diets that came after Dr. Peters are based on calorie restrictions but they emphasize or forbid certain different foods.


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