Fletcherism: The Hilariously Weird Fad Diet (1903)

Horace Fletcher—whose diet earned him the nickname “The Great Masticator“—had one weird trick to lose weight and stay healthy: “Chew, chew, chew.”

At its core, Fletcherism was really just about being mindful of what you ate: don’t eat unless you’re hungry, eat slowly, and stop eating as soon as you’re not hungry anymore. But the specifics of Fletcherism are where it gets fun:

  • Chew, chew, chew. If the food in your mouth is not completely liquid, and completely devoid of flavor, keep chewing it.
  • Eat only when you’re hungry, and only what you’re hungry for. If your body says to eat pie at 3am, you eat pie at 3am. But remember to chew each bite until it’s a flavorless liquid, and stop eating pie the moment you’re not hungry for pie anymore.
  • Even if your food is already liquid, chew it. Chew milk. Chew broth. Chew and chew and chew until that liquid has no taste left in it.
  • Examine your poop. If you aren’t pooping odorless dry pebbles, you’re not chewing enough.

Fletcher tirelessly promoted Fletcherism. He wrote books, gave lectures, made up rhyming songs, and won over “disciples” to his cause. (He also became a millionaire.) To further drive home the health benefits of his diet, as a 60-plus-year-old man he personally challenged Yale’s top athletes to a competition of strength and endurance, apparently beating them all and breaking at least one school endurance record.

Encouraged by his performance at Yale, the public (especially the upper classes) warmed to Fletcherism. Scenes like the YouTube clip above would not have been out of place in high society, and “to fletcherize” became synonymous with “to chew”. But ultimately, the diet was too much work, and all that chewing killed the conversation at dinner parties. When Fletcher died in 1919, his diet was already being eclipsed by some new “counting calories” fad.

This post originally appeared on the Observation Deck.

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