How Samuel Got Thin 100 Years Ago

Here's the continued excerpt from "The Fun of Getting Thin", a book written by Samuel G. Blythe about a hundred years ago (and now a Project Gutenberg eBook). It's interesting to read one man's personal weight loss story and how he went on to lose fifty pounds way back then.

See the previous and first chapter here.

Broadly speaking, the methods of fat reduction most in vogue are
divided into four classes--mechanical, physical, medicinal and dietary.
The first two are not worth considering by a man who has anything else
to do. I do not doubt that a man who could devote his whole time to
the work could, by means of some of the appliances offered--from the
apparatus in a gymnasium to rubber shirts, get off fat--nor do I doubt
the efficacy of exercise and its accompaniments in the way of sweating
and baths and all that; but when a person has a living to make these
methods are useless, not through any demerit of their own but because
the man who is fat hasn't the time or opportunity and, more than all,
soon fails in the inclination to use them.

If you can tell me anything more ghastly than taking a system of canned
exercises in the morning or at night in one's bedroom or bathroom, or
elsewhere, with no other incentive than some physical gain that, when
you come to sum it up, is largely fictitious in value--or comes
inevitably to be thought so--I would like to have you step forward and
name it. I have been all through that phase of it, and I know; and I
also know by heart the patter of the persons who recommend it.
Further, I know the person round the forties doesn't live who enjoys
this sort of thing--no matter what he says about it; and without
enjoyment exercise is of no use or worse than useless. It can be done,
of course; and lumps of muscle can be stuck on almost any part of the
body--but what's the use to the person who has to make a living? Then,
too, I am speaking now of methods that can be used by men and women who
are no longer young. A young man can and will do stunts in physical
culture that an older man cannot do, either satisfactorily or

So far as the medicinal or drug method of fat reduction is concerned,
any fat man or woman who takes drugs to reduce flesh, or to help,
deserves all that he or she will get--and that will be plenty. There's
no need of saying anything further on that subject. Then there remains
the dietary method--the old familiar friend, diet. Starting with
William Banting--maybe it didn't start with William, but before
him--but, starting with Bill for present purposes, there have been more
systems of diet invented and promulgated than there have been systems
of religion--and that means about one in every hundred has evolved a

You can get them of all sorts and all sure to do the work, ranging from
an exclusive diet of beefsteak and spinach to desiccated hay and
creamed alfalfa. There are monodiets, duodiets, vegetable diets,
fruit diets, nut diets--all kinds of diets--each guaranteed to take off
flesh if you have too much or to put it on if you have too little.
Basically, however, the antiflesh diets are about the same. You are
told to cut out everything you want to eat and exist on triply toasted
bread and the white meat of a chicken, or string beans and sawdust, or
any other combination the sharps say will not produce fat, but will
sustain life in a lingering form. They surround these diet talks and
presentments with a lot of frills about proteins and calories and all
that sort of guff, and make it as difficult as possible. Now, mark
you, I am not saying diet--scientific diet--is not a good thing, a
magnificent step forward in the progress of this world; but I am saying
that the average fat-reducing diet is impossible to any but a man or
woman of the ultimate will-power, and is a hardship that need not be
endured. I have tried these diets, and I know! They may help reduce
flesh, but they are not easy to follow and they do not contain things
that any person wants to eat or is accustomed to eat, or will eat, to
the exclusion of things that person does want to eat and will eat. It
can be done. One of these diets can be followed if the will-power is
there, and the flesh will come off; but the method does not conduce to
the best results--the physical force is reduced, and there is a much
easier way.

I have one of these diet lists before me now from the highest-priced
flesh-reducing specialist in the world, who claims to have taken
mountains of flesh off mountainous men. In the beginning, for example,
it says: "You will understand, of course, that sugar is entirely
debarred. Also, that fats, milk, cheese, cream, eggs, and so on, are
cut off for the time being. Also that bread and farinaceous foods are
all cut off. In place of bread or toast you must use gluten biscuits."
For breakfast, in this dietary, one or two gluten biscuits are allowed
and a cup of unsweetened coffee. Also, six ounces of lean grilled
steak, chops or chicken, and any white fish--or the whites of two eggs.

This is about the layout for luncheon and dinner. It is all about as
exciting and appetizing as that. The proposition is, of course, that
you are not taking food which will make fat and you must, therefore,
inevitably lose flesh. So far so good; but the difficulty is not in
the system, but in the hardship of carrying it out. You can't have
anything to eat that you want to eat. You torture yourself for a space
and lose some flesh; then when you do go back to your normal method of
eating the flesh comes galloping back--and there you are! It is the
same with exercise. You can take off fat by exercise; but, once you
begin, you are doomed to everlasting exercise, for the minute you stop
back comes the fat--and more of it than you had before you began to

It is a tough game, anyway you play it, if you are disposed to be fat.
No man living, who isn't a freak, can persist always in one diet. Nor
can any man who has anything else on his mind be always
exercising--especially after he has reached forty years of age, when
there are so many better things to do and time is valuable, and the
real idea of how to live has just begun to percolate. Also, until one
is forty, if reasonably healthy, flesh is a joke, and not so much of a
burden as it becomes later. I haven't a thing in the world against any
or all of these methods. I have tried most of them and know most of
them are bogus; but I am not trying to dissuade any person from taking
off fat in any way that suits any individual fancy or the fancy of any
reducer into whose hands the victim may have fallen. If you have a
good method go to it--and more power to you!

My idea is this: I am setting down here a record of my own experiences,
and that is all. Every person who does not like what I have to say is
cheerfully advised to lump it. Any person who is as fat as I was and
who wants to get thinner is at liberty to follow my method. If
circumstances are similar results will be similar. If not there will
be no results. I am not advising or urging or putting forth any
propaganda. Here is what happened. It may suit you or it may not.
Either way I am indifferent. In the words of the coon song: "I've got

I hope I make myself clear. I have no mission or message or any
flubdub of that kind. I am not one of those boys who urge you to do
this for your own good. I have read a ton of literature put out by
persons who found something that agreed with them and immediately
started out to reform the world along that line. Your reformer,
anyhow, is a person who wants all the rest of the world to do as he
wants the rest of the world to do, not as the rest of the world wants
to do. And the reason reformers get past so numerously is because our
society is so constituted that we spend every one of our brief years
doing what other people want us to do and tell us to do, and never do
anything we ourselves want to do. Once I got seventeen pounds of books
telling that the only way to cure everything was to fast. I knew a man
who tried that. The results were grand. He fasted a long time and
cured himself of what ailed him. Only, unfortunately, just before the
last vestige of disease was removed the fasting killed him. I contend
that man might just as well have died of what ailed him originally as
to cure that disease and die of the cure. It seems to me it is as
broad as it is long.

However, have at this fat-reduction process of mine! You must bear
with a few personal reminiscences. I was a big, husky brute of a
boy--thick-chested, broad-shouldered, country-bred and with an appetite
that knew no bounds. After I got going at my business, when I was
twenty-five or so, I was pinned down to a desk for about ten years. I
worked hard in a most exacting place. I was so healthy it hurt. I had
just as much appetite for food as I had ever had; but I didn't get a
chance to bat around as I had been accustomed to do and burn up that
food. The result was inevitable. I began to get fat. I had a big
chest--forty-six inches--and the fat filled in underneath. That big
chest, combined with my broad shoulders, concealed the size of my
paunch, and I didn't realize I was accumulating that paunch until it
was soldered, riveted, lashed, glued, nailed and otherwise fastened to

When I got my growth I weighed about one hundred and eighty-five pounds
and was a pretty formidable physical proposition. When I woke up to
the fact that I was getting fat I found I weighed two hundred and
twenty pounds. That extra thirty-five pounds was mostly fat--excess
baggage. Still, it didn't bother me any. I had the strength to tote
it round and had the shoulders and the chest to conceal it. I didn't
show any bay window, as most fat men do. As they used to say: "You're
big all over. You carry it all right."

All this time I was eating three or four times a day and eating
everything that came my way. Also, I drank some--not excessively, but
some whisky and some beer, and occasionally some wine and
cocktails--about the average amount of drinking the average man does.
I thought I was getting too fat, and I wrestled with a bicycle all one
summer, taking long rides and plugging round a good deal. I did some
centuries, but continued eating like a horse--naturally because of the
outdoor exercise--and drank a good deal of beer. As will be seen, all
the fat I had was legitimate enough. I put it on myself. There was no
hereditary nonsense about it. I was responsible for every ounce of it.
The net result of that summer's bicycle campaign was a gain of five
pounds in weight. I was harder--but I was fatter, too.

When I was thirty-five I began to experiment. I then weighed two
hundred and twenty-five pounds. I went to the canned-exercise, the
physical-torture professor, the diet, the salts, and all the rest of
it, taking off a few pounds but putting it all back again--and more--as
soon as I stopped.

These attempts numbered about two a year. Between times I ate as I
wanted to and drank as I pleased. Things ran along until the first of
January, 1911. I knew I was getting fatter, for my tailor told me so
and my belts and old clothes all proved it. Still, I didn't bother
much. I thought I was lingering round about two hundred and
thirty-five--too much, of course; but I got away with it pretty well,
except in hot weather and when I went up in the high mountains, and I
was reasonably content. I was fat, all right. My waist was only two
inches smaller than my chest and that meant my waist was forty-four
inches in girth. As a matter of fact, being scant five feet ten and a
half, I was bigger than a house; but I deluded myself with that stuff
about my broad shoulders and my deep chest, and thought it didn't show.
It did show, of course. I was a fat man--a big fat man--carrying forty
pounds or more of excess weight.

I had dieted and quit; exercised and quit; gone on the waterwagon and
fallen off; had fussed round a good deal, spending a lot of money in
the attempt, and I was getting fatter all the time. I hated to admit
that fact. I tried to fool myself into the conviction that I wasn't
getting any larger--and all the time I knew I was. I even went so far
as to stop getting on the scales; and when anybody--as almost everybody
did--said, "Why, you're getting bigger, ain't you?" I always replied:
"No, I think not. I stick along about two hundred and thirty-five

A year ago last summer I went up into the mountains, where I usually go
for my fun. I had noticed a shortness of breath and a wheeziness in
previous summers, and had felt my heart pounding pretty hard; but that
summer I noticed these things acutely. I couldn't get any air to
breathe. My heart pounded like a pneumatic riveter. Any little
exercise tired me; and when in the lowlands in hot weather I was the
perspiring marvel and the most uncomfortable as well as the sloppiest
person you ever saw. It was fierce!

I was doing a good deal of walking in those days--had to burn up the
fuel I was taking into my body. Also, I noticed it was mighty hard to
keep awake after dinner unless I got out into the air and kept moving.
I felt well enough and the doctors said I was organically all right. I
kept informed on those points--but I was fat! Also, though I lied to
myself, I knew I was getting fatter.



On New Year's Day, 1911, I weighed myself. I don't know why, for I
hadn't been on a scale for two or three years. I set the weight at two
hundred and thirty-five and it bounded up like a rubber ball; so I shoved
it along to two hundred and forty and it still stayed up in the air.
When I got a balance I found I weighed two hundred and forty-seven
pounds. I was amazed! Also, I was scared; for it instantly occurred to
me that if I had gone up to two hundred and forty-seven in two or three
years from two hundred and thirty-five I should keep on going up if my
manner of living didn't change--and that presently I should weigh three

That two hundred and forty-seven pounds was a facer. I was forced to
admit to myself that I was fat, disgustingly fat--too fat; and that I
should get fatter! So I sat down and looked the situation in the eye. I
recounted all my former efforts to get thin and discarded them one by
one. I knew myself, and knew the ordinary diet proposition and the
ordinary exercise proposition were not for me. I knew I was wheezy and
that my heart was getting choked with fat; that there were great folds of
it on me, and that it was up to me to get rid of it or quit and wait for
the inevitable end. If it kept on I knew I should blow up some fine day.
Besides, I was uric-acidy, rheumatic and stertorous and clumsy. I had
about fifty or sixty pounds of poisonous junk wrapped round me, and I
knew I should suffer for it in the end, though I didn't feel it much and
carried it with a fair assumption of lightness.

I was not an amateur at the game. I had been through the mill. I spent
several days in going over the whole matter. It was reasonably simple,
too, and needn't have taken so much of my time; but I was protecting
myself, you see, gold-bricking myself--trying to find a way out that
would not deprive me of things I liked to do, of pleasures I wanted to
enjoy. It was pure selfishness that dominated me and made me do so much
figuring on a proposition I knew was contained in a sentence; but I did
fight to hang on to the old way of living.

After each session of false logic and selfish hypothesis I invariably
came back to the same proposition, which is the only proposition--and
that was: What makes fat? Food and drink. How can you reduce fat? By
reducing the amount of food and drink--that is all there is or was to it.
The only way to get rid of the effects of overeating and overdrinking is
to stop overeating and overdrinking.

I went over my food habit. I was accustomed to eating a big hired-man's
breakfast--fruit, coffee, eggs, waffles, hot bread, sausage, anything
that came along; and I heaved in a lot of it--not a little--a lot! I
didn't eat so much at luncheon, but I ate plenty; and at night I simply
cleaned up the table. I wasn't so strong on sweets and pastry, because I
usually drank a few highballs during the day, and highballs and cocktails
and sweets do not go well together--that is, the man who takes alcohol
into his system usually does not care for sweets. Beer was one of my
long suits too--Pilsner beer. I did like that!

I looked this food habit squarely in the face. I impaled the drink habit
with my glittering eye. I knew I was eating about sixty per cent more
than I needed or could use, and that I was drinking a hundred per cent
more. I knew that nothing makes fat but food and drink. I knew excess
of food will make any animal fat and I saw I had been eating freely of
the most fattening kinds of food. I knew beer and liquor were made of
grain, and that grain is used to fatten steers and cows and pigs. I
refused to adopt a diet like any of those unpalatable ones I had
experimented with, but the remedy was as plain as the cause. It was
simple enough if I had the nerve to go through with it.

Inasmuch as an excess of food and drink make an excess of fat, it follows
that the reduction in the amount of food will stop that fat-forming and
give the body a chance to burn up the excess fat already formed. That
was my conclusion. Mind you, I reached that conclusion before I made any
of my arguments; but I didn't want to admit it as reasonable or logical,
for I hated to give up the pleasures of the table and the sociability
that came with the sort of drinking I did. I was trying to find a way
out that would be easy and comfortable. And all the time I was getting
fatter! The scales told me that.

This backing and filling and argument with myself lasted all through
January and part of February. It took me six weeks to get myself into
the frame of mind where I admitted the truth of my conclusion. I was no
hero. I didn't want to do it. I loved it all too well. I was as rank a
coward in the beginning as you ever saw! It appalled me to think of
restricting myself in any way, for I liked the pleasures that I knew I
must forego. However, when I got up to two hundred and fifty pounds I
sat down and had it out with myself.

"Here!" I said to myself. "You big stuff, you now weigh two hundred and
fifty pounds! In another year or two you will weigh two hundred and
seventy-five pounds! You are uncomfortable and heavy on your feet, and
you are gouty and wheezy; and it's a cinch you'll die in a few years if
you keep on this way. You know all this fat is caused by an excess of
food and drink, and you know it can be taken off by a reduction in those
fatmakers. Are you going to stick round here so fat you are a joke,
uncomfortable, miserable when it's hot, in your own way and in the way of
everybody else, when, if you've got the will-power of a chickadee, you
can get back to reasonable proportions and comfort merely by denying
yourself things you do not need?"

All the old arguments obtruded. See what I should lose! Life would be a
dull and dreary affair--a dun, dismal proposition. I admitted that. On
the other hand, however, life would not be a wheezy, sweaty,
choked-heart, uncomfortable proposition. I finally decided I would go to
it. And I did.

My method may be utterly unscientific. I suppose it hasn't a scientific
leg to stand on. Still, it did the business. And I maintain that
results are what we are looking for. The end justifies the means. I
didn't figure out a diet. I had a dozen of them at home that had cost me
all the way from two dollars to two hundred and fifty dollars each. I
didn't buy a system of exercise. I read no books and consulted no
doctors. What I did was this: I cut down the amount of food I ate sixty
per cent and I cut out alcohol altogether! I carried out my argument to
its logical conclusion so far as it concerned myself. I didn't give a
hoot whether it would help or hurt or concern any other person in the
world. It was my body I was experimenting on, and I did what I
dad-blamed pleased and asked no advice--nor took any.

Instead of a hot-bread--I have the greatest hot-bread artist in the world
at my house, bar none!--waffle, sausage, kidney-stew, lamb-chop,
fried-egg and so forth sort of breakfast, I cut that meal down to some
fruit, a couple of pieces of dry, hard toast, two boiled eggs and coffee.
I cut out the luncheon altogether. No more luncheon for me! I cut down
my dinners to about forty per cent of what I had been eating. I
diminished the quantity, but not the variety. I ate everything that came
along, but I didn't eat so much or half so much. Instead of two slices
of roast beef, for example, I ate only one small slice. Instead of two
baked or browned potatoes, I ate only half of one. Instead of three or
four slices of bread, I ate only one. I didn't deprive myself of a
single thing I liked, but I cut the quantity away down. And I quit
drinking alcohol absolutely.

What happened? This is what happened: Eating food is just as much a
habit as breathing or any other physical function. I had got myself into
the habit of eating large quantities of food. Also, I had accustomed my
system to certain amounts of alcohol. I was organized on that
basis--fatly and flabbily organized, to be sure, but organized just the
same. Now, then, when I arbitrarily cut down the amount of food and
drink for which my system was organized that entire system rose up in
active revolt and yelled for what it had been accustomed to get. There
wasn't a minute for more than three months when I wasn't hungry, actually
hungry for food; when the sight of food did not excite me and when I did
not have a physical longing and appetite for food; when my stomach did
not seem to demand it and my palate howl for it. It was different with
the drinking. I got over that desire rather promptly, but with a
struggle, at that; but the food-yearn was there for weeks and weeks, and
it was a fight--a bitter, bitter fight!

When I went to the table and saw the good things on it, and knew I
intended only to eat small portions of them, especially of my favorite
desserts and my beloved hot-bread, I simply had to grip the sides of my
chair and use all the will-power I had to keep from reaching out and
grabbing something and stuffing it into my mouth! My friends used to
think it was all a joke. It was farther from being a joke than anything
you ever heard about. It was a tragedy--a grim, relentless tragedy! It
was acute physical suffering. My body cried out for that same amount of
food I had been giving it all those years. I wanted to give it that same
amount. I have had to leave the table time and time again to get hold of
myself and go back to the smaller portions I had allotted to myself. I
liked to eat, you know.

Nothing much happened for a few weeks, though the waistband of my
trousers grew looser. Then a lot of excess baggage seemed to drop away
all at once. I weighed myself and found I had taken off twenty-five
pounds. Friends told me to quit--that I should overdo it. I laughed at
them. I knew I was still twenty-five pounds too heavy and I was just
getting into my stride. It is strange how men, and especially fat men,
who haven't the nerve to reduce themselves, think a man must be sick if
he takes off flesh. I knew I wasn't sick. Indeed, I was just beginning
to get well.

By the end of three months I had taken off thirty-five pounds. It was
coming off well, too. My face wasn't haggard or wrinkled. I looked fit.
My eye was clear and my double chin had disappeared. Also, I had
conquered my fight with my appetite. I had won out. I was satisfied
with the smaller quantities of food and I felt better than I had in
twenty years--stronger, fitter--and was better, mentally and physically.
After that it was a cinch. I kept along, eating everything on the
bill-of-fare, but in small quantities. I didn't vary my diet a bit,
except for the eggs at breakfast. If I wanted pie I ate a small piece.
If I wanted ice cream I ate a small dish. If I wanted pudding I ate some
of that. I ate fat meat and lean meat and spaghetti, and everything else
interdicted by the reduction dietists--only in small quantities! And I
kept on getting smaller and smaller.

The fat came off from everywhere. I had been incased with it apparently.
My waist decreased seven inches. A big layer of fat came off my chest
and abdomen. My legs and arms grew smaller but harder. Even my fingers
grew smaller. My excess of chin evaporated. And at the end of the fifth
month I had taken off fifty-five pounds. I weighed then one hundred and
ninety-five pounds, which is what I weigh today.

Every person, I take it, has a normal weight; and if that person gives
his body a chance, and ill health does not intervene, the body will find
that normal and stay there. I take it that my normal weight, on account
of my big frame and bones, is about one hundred and ninety-five pounds,
at the age of forty-three. At any rate, it has stayed at a hundred and
ninety-five since the first of last July, and in that time I have loafed
for two months and ridden on Pullman cars for two other months, and have
not taken any exercise to speak of; but I have maintained my schedule of
eating and I have not taken any alcohol. I figure I can stay where I am
indefinitely on that program--and that is my program indefinitely.

There are certain economic phases of a campaign of this kind that should
be mentioned. It is expensive. Not one item of clothing, save my hat,
socks and shoes, which fitted me last January is of the slightest use to
me now. I didn't get to cutting down clothes until I was sure I would
stick. Since that time the tailors have had a picnic at my expense. My
shirts were too big. Instead of wearing a seventeen-and-three-quarters
collar, I now wear a sixteen-and-three-quarters. My waist is seven
inches smaller. I even had to have a seal ring I wear cut down so it
would not slip off my finger. While in the transition stage I looked
like a scarecrow. My clothes hung on me like bags.

Since I have had my clothes re-made and new ones constructed I am an
object of continual comment among my friends. They all marvel at my
changed appearance. They are all solicitous about my health. They do
not see how a man can take off more than fifty pounds and not hurt
himself. I do not see how he can keep it on and not kill himself. They
tell me I look like a boy--and I feel like one. I'm as active as I was
twenty years ago. When I was in the mountains this summer, at an
altitude of seventy-five hundred feet, I could climb slopes with no
exhaustion that I couldn't have gone fifteen feet up the year before. My
mind is clearer; my body is better. I figure I have added a good many
years to my life.

And all this time I have had everything I wanted to eat, but not all I
wanted to eat until I got myself readjusted to the new system. I missed
the alcohol at first, but that is all over now. It was a part of the
game and I used to think a necessary part. I have cured myself of that
delusion. If there is a thing on earth the matter with me the ablest
doctors in this country can't find out what it is. I am a rejuvenated,
reconstructed person, no longer fat, aged forty-three--and the White
Man's Hope!

As to the exercise end of it, there wasn't any exercise end. It happened
that I met a man last March, when I was in the first throes of this
campaign, who had made some study of the human body. I liked him because
he was modest about what he knew, and not a faddist. We talked about
exercise. He told me one thing that stuck. He said: "Walk a little
every day. If you have half an hour walk a mile. If you have an hour
walk two miles. Don't try to see how many miles you can walk in the
half-hour or the hour, but take your time. Look at things as you go
along. Be leisurely about it. When a man goes out for a walk and walks
as hard as he can or does anything else in the shape of exercise as hard
as he can he is subjecting himself to just as much nerve strain as he can
subject himself to in any other way. Be calm about your walking, or
whatever else you do."

Formerly it had been my custom to plug out after breakfast and gallop
three or four miles as hard as I could and then go to work. I cut that
out. I walked an easy, leisurely mile or two miles, looking at the trees
and flowers and watching the people and looking into shop windows, and I
got a lot of good out of it. Then it grew hot, and I cut my walking to
half a mile or so down to my office in the morning and back at night.
Occasionally, after dinner, I would walk a couple of miles. This summer
I went fishing and tramped about some, but not much. In reality, I had
no scheme of exercise, and I took little. I didn't need it. I didn't
have masses of food and drink in me to be burned up. I was normal.

As I said, I suppose all this is absurdly unscientific--and I don't give
a hoot if it is. It worked for me. I don't know whether it will work
for any other person on this earth. Nor do I care. If you want to try
it on, provided you are fat, here are the specifications: I assume it is
an axiom that we all eat too much. I know I did--about sixty per cent
too much. Still, I guarantee nothing. I make no claims. I have set
down the facts; and the only warning, advice or admonition I have to give
is that any person who makes up his mind to try this method and thinks he
isn't in for the hardest struggle of his life would do well not to try.
This isn't a frolic. It's a fight.