Weight loss pioneer: 'Drop the fork!'
Fifty years after starting the diet that changed her life, Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch reflects on weight loss.
Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch is shown in her home in this June 17, 2011 file photo. (Michael Laughlin, South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Weight loss pioneer Jean Nidetch, who once weighed 214 pounds, founded the Weight Watchers organization in 1963 after following an eating regimen prescribed by the New York City Board of Health. Now 87, she’s living in a senior community in Aston Garden, Florida, where she will happily pick up the phone and and reminisce about the diet that changed her life, nearly 50 years ago.
Q: What’s the key to weight loss?
A: Overeating is an addiction, like alcoholism. You need the companionship from other people to help. You can’t do it alone. If you listen to friends who are doing the same thing or going to a meeting or doing something where you’re involved with others, then you’re going to make it.
Q: You tried many fad diets before losing weight; what ultimately worked for you?
A: (At the New York City Board of Health) I asked the girl at the desk where I could get help to lose weight. She said, "You want the ‘obesity clinic.’" I’ll never forget the name. I walked into this room, sat in the back row and the woman next to me said, ‘don’t believe anything they tell you.’ We just sat there, negative and not really enjoying what we were hearing. Then I decided – I still don’t know why – to move up a row because I couldn’t hear the speaker. When I began to listen, she made sense.
Q: What was the solution?
A: In those years it was a very simple diet. Drink skim milk, eat fish five times a week, eat cottage cheese. So I decided to follow her program. I don’t know why I believed in (the NYC Board of Health speaker) but I followed what she was saying and I began to lose weight. I lost 72 pounds and my life changed because I realized if you want to accomplish something, you can do it.
Q: Did you exercise too?
A: When you’re overweight you don’t think about exercise, you’re ready to get to the food table. So I never exercised. I walk a little, I manage to get around and I’m healthy. I don’t exercise but I walk from my apartment to the dining room in another building twice a day and that’s about it.
Q: What’s your day like?
A: I don’t eat breakfast because I sleep past it. I get up around 10:30 a.m. I shower, dress and make it to lunch at noon. I eat lunch every day, usually fish. For some reason, I don’t eat meat anymore; I just don’t want it. I eat fish, vegetables, enjoy my meal. Today I played poker all afternoon; now I’m just relaxing, waiting for the evening to begin.
Q: Did you eat differently when you were younger?
A: My eating habits never really changed. I still loved the same foods and I still don’t eat desserts.
Q: Did you ever use the point system?
A: The point system came up long after I started Weight Watchers; I don’t even understand it. I don’t get involved with points but I still eat properly.
Q: Do people recognize you? A: A lot of people come over and tell me their sister did so well on Weight Watchers or they lost weight and are happy now and used to be size 'X' or whatever and they say thank you for starting the whole thing. But I like to share what I know with everyone, like I’m doing with you. I always did.
Q: Do you give advice? A: I don’t tell them anything. If you gain weight back, you’re the one in control of the fork, spoon, utensils. You have the decision to make. If you gain it back, you picked up the utensil and put the food in your mouth. You can’t blame the waiter. You can’t blame anyone.