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body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, May 1, 2015
Jean Nidetch, a New York housewife who tackled
her own obesity problem, then shared her guiding
principles with others in meetings that became
known as Weight Watchers, the most widely known
company of its kind, died Wednesday. She was 91.
She died at her home near Fort Lauderdale, her
son, David Nidetch, said. She had lived at a senior
complex in Parkland, Florida.
Jean Nidetch had been plagued by a weight problem
since childhood and had tried all manner of fad diets,
pills and treatments in failed efforts to slim down.
She was carrying 214 pounds on her five-foot-
seven frame when she went to an obesity clinic spon-
sored by the New York City Board of Health in 1961
and began picking up the tips that slowly seemed
No skipping meals. Fish five times a week. Two
pieces of bread and two glasses of skim milk a day.
More fruits and vegetables.
She took off two pounds the first week but disliked
the way the clinic s leader imparted information and
how little the obesity group s members shared. So
she gathered six overweight friends in her Queens
living room to share what she d learned and talk
about their own food compulsions. She found it a
relief to share her struggle with others, and they did
Nidetch reached her goal weight of 142 pounds
on October 30, 1962. As the weekly meetings at her
home grew to include dozens of people, two of them---
Felice and Al Lippert---convinced Nidetch she had
the makings of a business. Weight Watchers Inter-
national was founded in 1963.
By the following year, classes were being held
across New York, with dozens of participants going
on to lead sessions of their own. Franchises were
opened, a cookbook sold millions and by 1968, the
company went public with adherents across the
globe. By the time the company celebrated its tenth
birthday, 16,000 people attended a massive gathering
at Madison Square Garden, Bob Hope was on stage
and a snaking line of people waited for Nidetch s
The fat housewife, as she once thought of herself,
was now sitting beside Johnny Carson on television,
her face staring out from boxes in the frozen food
aisle. She would never be overweight again.
Jean Evelyn Slutsky was born in Brooklyn on Octo-
ber 12, 1923, to a manicurist mother and cab driver
As a child, she remembered struggling to squeeze
out from behind her desk in a fire drill, and never
riding a horse on a merry-go-round, afraid of what
she d look like climbing atop it.
The pounds piled on, with food her antidote for
any hurt or sorrow. Before she even reached high
school, she was attempting diets of every kind. She
tried fasting, eating nothing but eggs and grapefruit,
mixing oil and evaporated milk and drinking it three
times a day. She d drop some pounds, then gain it
back, often more. When she married Marty Nidetch
on April 20, 1947, she wore a long navy dress, size
18, with the bustle and sides let out.
When she finally shed her extra weight, though,
she said she felt like she d found the Fountain of
Youth. For years after, when she d wake up in the
morning, she d reach down and feel her hipbone to
make sure she was still thin. She dyed her hair blonde
and styled herself as a weight-loss champion.
Nidetch traveled the world preaching Weight
Watchers simple gospel and became a millionaire
along the way. Along with the Lipperts, she sold the
company to HJ Heinz Co for about US$71 million in
1978, but remained its most recognisable face for
Her greatest legacy, she always said, was the millions
of men and women who lost weight using her plan.
And she took great pride in the fact that she main-
tained her weight loss, too.
Since reaching her goal weight, she said she never
topped 150 pounds. She would sometimes eat pota-
toes, desserts, or an extra piece of bread, but she
never again touched her beloved chocolate marsh-
mallow cookies. "Why would I want to see that movie
again?" she asked in her book. (AP)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Weight Watchers founder
Jean Nidetch dies at age 91
In this July 2011, file photo, Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, holds up
a photo of herself at her home in Parkland, Florida. AP PHOTO
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