PORTRAIT OF DR LULU HUNT PETERS (1923 PRESS PHOTO OF THE PIONEER DIET DOCTOR)

This press photo features Lulu Hunt Peters (1873-1930), an American doctor and diet expert. She began by writing a featured newspaper column entitled “Diet and Health”. Her column appeared in more than 400 newspapers around the United States. She then wrote a book entitled “Diet & Health: With Key to the Calories” (1918). Dr Peters was the first person to popularize counting calories as a method of weight loss. She educated her readers about the concept of calories and urged them to think of food in terms of calories.  In other words, women should say “I ate 100 calories of bread” and not say “I ate a slice of bread”. Peters also taught her readers how to calculate their ideal weight. Peters maintained a strict diet of 1200 calories a day. Her book was the first weight-loss book to become a best seller. It was among the top ten selling non fiction books from 1922 through 1926. In 1918 the book sold two million copies, and spread the word that “thin is in”. Amazingly, Peters nine year-old nephew was the books illustrator. Peters was born in Maine and moved to California. She received her MD in 1909 from the University of California (Berkeley). Dr. Peters was very aware of obesity having grown up with a weight problem when at one point, she reached 220 pounds. Interestingly, during World War I, Peters considered her diet solution to be a form of patriotism. She viewed dieting as absolute self control and suggested that women organize “Watch Your Weight Anti-Kaiser Classes” to reach their goal weights. In addition, Peters believed that dieting would make war rationing easier and leave left over rations for children. Dr. Peters also supported the suffragist movement. She believed women needed to take better care of their health, exercise, and become more self-sufficient. It is clear that there were some problems associated with Dr Peters weight loss philosophy. Coupled with the fashion industry of that era, the communicated message was that all women should strive to be thin. Dieting was equated with being beautiful and having self esteem. Peters also believed that people who lacked self control over their weight were exhibiting poor morals. She contended that to be thin, women must be strong enough to resist temptation which she described using concepts such as sin, punishment, and redemption. After publishing her book, Peters went to Bosnia where she worked with the Red Cross. Dr Peters book remains in circulation today. In many ways she deserves credit for being a pioneer in the weight loss industry. On the other hand, she also advocated a philosophy that creates shame for those that are overweight, and worse yet, spawns eating disorders.

 

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Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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