Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bonus post! The New "1400" Diet, Women's Day January 1954

This is the cover of the January 1954 issue of Women's Day magazine.

It's straightforward.  A woman in a flattering and sensible ensemble surrounded by delicious looking homemade meals.  (Meals as big as our sensible lady it seems.)  No modern day celebrities flaunting their new "hot beach bods" and no trashy (yet tempting in a train wreck sort of way)  stories about the pictured celeb's secret wedding/surprise pregnancy/rumored break up/botched plastic surgery/$10,000 shopping spree.  Inside this magazine the only celebrities are in ads selling soap, toothpaste and lipstick.   Things were a lot more quaint in 1954.

The article begins with Mrs. Mary Evelyn Dempsey, a 46 year old housewife, weighing over 200 pounds at 5'0".  Her motivation for losing weight was to ease her aches and pains and be able to take care of herself.  She says that her husband and children had to take care of her "as they would a much older person." In fact someone once mistook Mr. Dempsey, who is a bit older, for her son.   If that's not motivation enough the article includes the now well known Metropolitan Insurance Company weight tables.

According to this chart Mrs D, wearing 2 inch heels and assuming she has a large frame,  should weigh 124-135 pounds.

I don't know if Mrs. Mary Evelyn Dempsey really exists but it doesn't matter so much.  She could be a composite typical of middle aged women with whacked out hormones and thick middles.  She represents the struggle we all feel to make healthy choices in a world of readily available nutritionally void junk.  Granted there was less junk food back then but the premise remains the same.  If you eat too much your body turns the extra food into fat.  And if you're a middle aged woman your metabolism slows down and you don't need a lot of food to keep it going.  Frustrating?  Yes.  But that's just the way it is.  Sorry.

Anyway, back to our dear Mrs. D.   Mrs. Dempsey's doctor refers her to Cornell University's experimental clinic where she partakes in a 1400 calorie a day diet developed by Dr. Margaret A. Ohlson of Michigan State College.  (This is before Michigan State is a university.)   She is referred based on the diagnosis of "obesity", a term she hates.  Doesn't everyone?

I have not tried this diet myself but on the surface I like it because it's based on real food.  No "diet foods" or eliminating any food group, except sweets.  Also it allows for limited full fat foods to keep the dieter fuller longer and meat for the same reason.  Vegetables are divided into 2 categories so the more nutritional veggies are eaten more often.  Fruits are allowed twice a day and one must be citrus.  It's just so simple.  No trying to make cookies out of hand milled almond flour and flax seed egg substitute.  It sounds a lot like the Weight Watchers plan I remember from the late 1970's, before they wanted to sell you boxes of chemical tasting GMO filled diet "food" before every meeting.  Here are the details:

There aren't any recipes except for salad dressing, jellied tomato juice (gag!), and cafe au lait.  (This is the pre-Starbucks era.  One must improvise. )  Meat, fish and poultry may be "roasted, broiled, simmered, stewed, steamed, or pan-broiled with no flour or fat except 1/2 teaspoon fat for liver, chicken, or fish."  (Personally I think if one is eating liver 4 tablespoons of butter should be allowed.  I'm clearly not a liver lover.  Apologies to those of you who are.)  The directions go on to say that it is not necessary to remove the fat from meat.  Nothing is noted regarding chicken skin.  This is before the days of boneless and skinless so I'm assuming it stays on and that dark meat is allowed.  (Par-tay, Mrs. D!!)  More notes are given.  Click on the pic for details.  I love the simplicity of the diet.  It assumes the dieter knows how to cook.  And again, there's nothing to buy except food.  Real food.  The 4 weeks of daily menus even make use of leftovers.  So you eat less and save food for another meal.    How 1950's is that?

Here are some typical meals on the diet:

Mrs. Dempsey lost 69 pounds and is thrilled to buy stockings in "regulars" versus the "outsized" she purchased prior to the diet.  She still looks a bit matronly but she's a lady of her time I suppose.  The article didn't say if Mrs. Dempsey kept the weight off longterm but she says her appetite changed.  She occasionally has dessert but not regular treats every morning with the ladies in the neighborhood.  Instead Mrs. Dempsey has her cafe au lait at their morning visits.    I'd like to think Mrs. Dempsey kept her weight off and died happy and fulfilled and at her goal weight of 135.  There's also the chance she's alive and kicking at age 106 drinking her cafe au lait.  In either case I appreciate her sharing her story.

Here's to you, Mrs. Dempsey!


Mrs. Mary Evelyn Dempsey:  Before (right)  and after (left, looking in mirror).


  1. I have that one! I posted some of those recipes on my blog last year. I have another Woman's Day right next to me that I'm using for a recipe that also has a 1,400 calorie diet. I agree that they are similar to the 70s Weight Watchers diet.

    1. Too funny. First the dish towel and now this! Between the two of us we've got all the good vintage house-wifey stuff from the '50's. Ha ha.

      My guess is WW modeled their program based on this 1400 calorie diet.


    2. I know, right!? : ) I have other dish towels I'll post sometime- maybe you have them, too!