President William Howard Taft lost 60 pounds in four months on a low-carb diet during the early 1900s. Unfortunately, Taft regained 100 pounds just three years after his stunning weight loss.
While rampant obesity is common today, it wasn’t prevalent a century ago. Nevertheless, Taft struggled with weight his entire life, underscoring how little progress we’ve made toward ensuring permanent weight loss.
“People today may be surprised that patients were seeking care for obesity as early as the beginning of the 20th century,” historian Deborah Levine told USA Today Oct. 14.
Levine, an assistant professor of health policy at Providence College in Rhode Island, uncovered Taft’s weight struggles in a series of letters between the late president and his doctor. She published her findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Low-carb diets (like Atkins, which Kim Kardashian is following to shed her baby weight) weren’t popular during the early 1900s as they are today, but Taft followed what has become known as the Zone diet, whose celebrity adherents include Jennifer Aniston.
Taft’s diet consisted of about 30% of calories coming from carbohydrates; 30% from protein, and 40% from fat. He corresponded with London-based physician Nathaniel Yorke-Davie for 10 years, documenting his exercise routine and daily diet in a food diary.
The 6-foot-2 Taft lost 60 pounds on a low-carb diet between December 1905 and April 1906. Taft, then 48, slimmed down from 314 pounds to 255 pounds by eating 2,000 to 2,100 calories a day, consuming mostly lean meat, fish and vegetables.
He avoided butter, gluten, sugar and sweets, worked out with a trainer several days a week, and weighed himself every day. According to his food diary, Taft’s daily menu looked like this:
8 a.m. Hot water with lemon, to be sipped slowly.
Breakfast – 9 a.m: Unsweetened tea or coffee, two or three gluten biscuits, six ounces of lean grilled meat.
Lunch – 12:30 p.m: 4 ounces of lean meat, 4 ounces of cooked green vegetables without butter, 3 ounces of baked or stewed unsweetened fruit, 1 gluten biscuit, and 1 of the recommended “sugarless” wines.
An afternoon cup of tea, coffee, or beef tea (beef broth) without milk or sugar was advised.
Dinner – 7 p.m. to 8 p.m: Clear soup, 4 ounces of fish, 5 ounces of meat, 8 ounces of vegetables, 4 ounces of stewed fruit, plain salad. 2 gluten biscuits, if desired.
Taft’s dramatic weight loss in 1906 was short-lived, as he regained about 100 pounds over the next three years. By the time he was inaugurated as president in 1909, he tipped the scales at 354 pounds — 40 pounds over his pre-diet starting weight.
Medical experts say if Taft were alive today, they would probably treat his obesity with weight-loss surgery. Taft’s weight fluctuated over the next few decades until he died in 1930 from heart failure at age 73. He weighed 280 pounds at death.