( Originally Published 1929 )
WHEN Pandora opened her mythical box she is commonly supposed to have set loose in the world a thousand woes. Not least among them was the amazing swarm of obesity fallacies.
Politics is beset by controversy and religion by prejudice, but I sometimes think that weight and its reduction is America's greatest subject of conversation. Half the dinner talk of America and nearly all of its feminine luncheon talk is devoted to the efficacy or to the failure of this or that method of reducing.
Some of the reducing diets which patients have shown me are as ridiculous as they are unphysiological and yet perfectly intelligent people who would no more have their Pomeranian treated by a piano tuner than they would have their Rolls-Royce fixed in a Ford service station will placidly accept and abjectly follow a facetious diet, dispensed at a lavishly appointed beauty parlor or at a church picnic by an irresponsible traveling sales-man. Let us glance at some of the fallacies:
Facts cannot overcome the popular notion that all fat people are good natured and jolly. Of those who hold a jovial expression before the world many inwardly suffer and are peculiarly susceptible to mental depression. The feeling of being awkward and conspicuous emphasizes in their minds the hardships of their physical handicaps.
The feeling of depression is materially enhanced in many cases because of a well-defined toxic condition.
Standing After Meals
One of the relatively harmless but superlatively idiotic notions is that if the obese person will re-main standing for a quarter of an hour after eating his meal, he will secure a substantial reduction in weight.
The sheer bunk of this device should brand it as among the most cardinal fallacies. It should appeal only to that class of citizen who believes that porcupines actually enjoy their reputed capacity for throwing quills at their pursuers and that snakes by their seductive eyes charm winged birds until they have stricken their prey. All such notions should be relegated to the limbo of nature fakirism.
"Tape Worm Cure"
Not long ago a buxom, belligerent woman demanded the tape worm cure! When I expressed my ignorance of this method she scornfully told me that I was not up to date—that several of her friends had received the treatment from a doctor abroad. She said it was a marvelous cure because you could eat as much as you wanted to, and the tape worm did the rest. Query: does the worm get fat?
The publicity given to a reduction cure indulged in by some prominent person leaves a tremendous amount of invalidism in its wake. Weak human nature is extremely susceptible to suggestion and if the suggestion has the authority of the printed word behind it many will leap to acceptance.
Lady Fisher crashed the headlines of the daily papers with the "liquid diet." Thousands of people without the slightest knowledge of their medical needs adopted it. At least half a dozen people have since consulted me for alimentary complications resulting from this type of diet, to which they had foolishly subjected themselves during the few hectic weeks of Lady Fisher's unfortunate dietetic prominence.
Beware of widely advertised reducing foods. No matter how many countesses and leading notables in the highest social circles have endorsed such concoctions, beware of them.
No foods are reducing foods, in the exact scientific sense. The extract of the thyroid gland actually reduces body weight. But foods are "reducing" only in the sense that some of them sup-ply less energy per unit of weight than others do. Take lettuce for example. In one hundred grams of lettuce there are twenty calories. In the same weight of sugar there are 41O calories and in the same weight of butter there are about 75O.
Bread and potatoes have been singled out as the chief devils of obesity. No one has yet had the hardihood to offer a special type of potato for reduction purposes but there are many well-advertised breads whose manufacturers claim for them magical reducing properties. One of these advertises "Three slices a day helps reduce your weight in Nature's way." This is ridiculous. A food is helpful in reducing only to the extent that it replaces other foods of higher caloric value. No food can actually "help reduce your weight."
Lazy women and tired business men, when they are overweight, often turn hopefully to the professional masseur. But massage is no substitute for honest exercise.
Only in rare cases can massage be employed as a reducing factor. The metabolism of the masseur is benefited to a vastly greater extent than that of his patient.
It is absurd to try and reduce fatty masses by massage alone. True, the masses may decrease some in size but this is due merely to the temporary squeezing out of the fluids between the fatty cells.
D. Heckel, a French authority on obesity said, "It must be understood that for women leading sedentary lives, massage is actually fattening."
But do not misunderstand me as condemning massage. On the contrary, massage may play an important part in treating the complications attendant on obesity. Liver congestion, distension of the abdominal veins, atonic constipation, lymphatic and venous stasis in fatty masses, may all be relieved by scientific massage. The hands of a skillful operator can do more toward relieving distension and congestive pain and producing relaxation, than perhaps any other single method.
Fatty tissue is often sensitive and painful. A definite inflammation of the tissue cells may exist. This may be cleared up after a few massage manipulations. But massage is only an accessory treatment, not a specific. And it must be remembered that there are many kinds of massage, each condition responding best to its specific type.
In uncomplicated obesity massage is definitely unwise, because it salves the conscience and is accepted as a substitute for active exercise.
Obesity is not increased by the moderate drinking of water by the average man in good health. It is only when there is an excessive production of Beta-pituitrin by the pituitary gland or when the heart or kidneys are diseased or where salt is taken to excess that the excessive drinking of water is harmful and conducive to obesity.
It should be noted, however, that the drinking of water to excess usually induces the average per-son to eat more food. The explanation is simple and is grounded in the natural reaction of the system to water which serves to enhance the taste of other foods.
The normal use of water is not only harmless but its withdrawal operates directly to injure many types of people, particularly those who are gouty, hepatic and renal because if the system be denied ample quantities of water the principal solvent upon which it relies has been removed. It is known, too, that a drastic thirst regimen is directly responsible for a type of neurasthenia which frequently follows in the wake of severe intensive, unscientific reduction.
Pills and drugs advertised as obesity cures should never be taken except upon the advice of a physician. We are beset on every side by ingenious quacks. When I read there advertising I some-times ask, parodying Bruce Barton, "What can a fat man believe?" For example there is an advertised cure which contains desiccated thyroid in combination with a laxative. It is taken by women who do not understand the potency of thyroid. I have seen numerous cases of harmful thyroid intoxication resulting from the use of this and similar drugs.
You cannot cure obesity by medication. At the risk of repetition let me add that health-giving weight reduction can come only through treating ascertained characteristics with scientific cures which consider and avoid every danger. Many "cures" are often nothing less than depletion plants. The common denominator of practically all reduction cures is diet. When you take your reduction course by mail or by swallowing pills, you will always find in some part of the accompanying "literature" a modest little note telling you to refrain from eating such and such foods.