Jean Nidtetch the founder of Weight Watchers has died peacefully at her home in Florida aged 91.
She founded Weight Watchers in 1963 and turned worrying about weight into a multi million dollar industry, providing help and inspiration for millions of people struggling with obesity.
Jean Nidtetch (Slutsky) was born in Brooklyn in 1923. As a child, she was overweight and by the time, she reached High School she had already tried and failed at dieting on numerous occasions.
Describing herself as a fat housewife and weighing 214lbs with a 44ins waist, she had a compulsion for cookies. A chance encounter with a neighbour who asked her when her baby was due, led her to finally take action.
She attended an Obesity Clinic in 1961 run by the New York City Board of Health. She later summed up the advice in four words, ‘Drop the Damn Fork’ but tips included no skipping meals, eating more fruit and veg, eating fish five times a week and two pieces of bread a day.
Although the Clinic was the start to her weight loss, Jean Nidtetch was frustrated at the lack of support it provided and still struggled in secret with food cravings. While she was attending the course, she gorged on chocolate-coated marshmallows (Mallomars) which she hid and ate at night in the bathroom.
She started a weight loss group in her living room where she and six overweight friends would meet, swap stories about food compulsions and their dieting stories. They started dieting together and pledged mutual support and within weeks over 40 women were attending the meetings.
Jean Nidtetch reached her target weight of 142lbs in October 1962, going onto found Weight Watchers in 1963 with her overweight husband and an overweight couple she had helped called Albert and Felice Lippert.
By 1968, five million had enrolled and Weight Watchers went on to spawn thousands of franchises and with millions of members around the world. Weight Watchers came to encompass group therapy sessions, summer camps, TV programmes, magazines and many other enterprises across the USA and the UK.
The original Weight Watchers diet was based on the common sense advice from the Obesity clinics. The vital factor though was physcological.
Food diaries, mutual support, realistic diets and targets are still features of Weight Watchers and it is this aspect that makes the difference between this and other weight loss programmes.
Jean Nidtetch kept to her aim to never exceed 150lbs throughout her life. She never lost her enthusiasm and zeal for healthy eating and weight loss and never stopped spreading the Weight Watchers message.
In an interview with the Sun Sentinel of South Florida in 2011 she said,
We ourselves hold the instrument that makes us fat. I just shake my head when I see someone eating cake and saying, ‘Oh, I wish I wasn’t heavy.’ But they keep eating the cake!
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