The Diet – Events That Cast Shadows

Today I am introduced on the radio as a nutritionist and an authority on reducing. Why? It has deep roots, that claim, for in reality it goes back to my father’s youth.

My father was educated to be a plant brewing and baking chemist, but in the early 1880’s, like many another young man in those days, he went west. He drifted into business, buying and selling land in tempo with the advancing railroads.

Finally, Kalispell, Montana, caught his fancy, particularly because he met my mother there. He married and settled down when he was close to 40-a typical John Gettingon.

Men lived well and ate well in those roistering days of a burly young West. At the time of his marriage, Henry Lindlahr weighed over 250 pounds, and considered a brace of ducks a fine appetizer for a hearty meal.

A few years later, he developed diabetes of the serious type, and began the rounds. There were some spectacular treatments for diabetes in those days. One of the well known doctors of the day put Father on a ham and champagne diet.

His condition grew worse. Advised, finally, to settle his affairs, he disposed of his business interests, and the year 1898 saw my mother, him, and me en route for Vienna.

Various treatments and “cures” at different spas proved unavailing; Father made his peace with God and prepared to die. Then, through the importunities of a boyhood chum, he was persuaded to try the services of a famous natural healer-Father Kneipp. Father Kneipp had no medical training, but in his world-famous clinic at Woerishofen, Bavaria, he prescribed the water cure, strict dieting and other natural methods of treatment-with eminent success.

My father had absolutely no faith in the idea that a natural healer could help him. He went to Wcerishofen only to satisfy his friend.

He had to wait ten days for his appointment with Father Kneipp. He heard wondrous stories of the spectacular cures of this priest who leaned on Nature for his methods. He met patients who were healed of so-called incurable ailments-healed with diet, baths, sunshine, and strict living. Remember, doctors practiced very differently in those days from the way they do now. Those years were the peak of that fantastic era in medical practice when doctors gave from one to three drugs for every symptom (polypharmacy).

Finally it was Father’s turn for consultation with the healer.

He received a shock when he stepped up for his few allotted minutes with the water cure priest. Father Kneipp took a searching look at him, asked to smell his breath, and then said: “You are pig [glutton]. You eat too much. You are too fat. You have the sugar disease. You will take sitz baths and live on fruits and greens and vegetables alone. No bread, no cereals, no meats, no alcohol of any kind. See Sister Celeste.”

Sister Celeste, one of Father Kneipp’s assistants, gave my father full details of his strict diet regimen. Of course it is no miracle to us, in the light of modern knowledge, that a strict fruit and vegetable diet would rid a patient of excess sugar in the blood and its symptoms. It is readily understandable now, but in those days, of plain and fancy futile treatments for diabetes, a no-medicine treatment that really worked was startling!

Springtime greeted a new Henry Lindlahr. His sugar was gone. He had lost over forty pounds. His life had been saved.

We came back to America. But something else had happened to Father. Business no longer held an interest for him. The miracle of diet absorbed him, body and soul. He mourned that his fat father might yet have been alive had he been told how to eat. He had lost a fat sister before she reached 30. He had seen loved friends die, and from what little he knew then, he suspected that some of them might have been saved if they had been told how to eat. A John Gettingon had faced death long months; he saw life in a new perspective.

In short, Henry Lindlahr became a full-fledged diet enthusiast. He was restive, burning with new resolves. He wanted to help other people. He must. Finally he made up his mind to study medicine.

Father was graduated in 1904. While the medical schools of the day had no courses in nutrition and dietetics, Father had left no page unturned in the lore of foods and diet.

He pored over the writings of Hippocrates, who had used the livers of birds and animals to cure night blindness and certain inflammatory diseases of the eyes. He marvelled over the discoveries of Lind of Great Britain, who had advised Captain Cook to carry sauerkraut and lemons on his ships to cure the sailors of scurvy. He learned how rice hulls cured beriberi. He studied diet, diet, diet.

So he accumulated a store of knowledge, some of it exact and scientific, some of it based upon folklore and tradition, but all of it pertaining to foods and their healing virtues.

As a result, when he opened his office at 232 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago (where the Congress Hotel Annex now stands), he knew much about diet-far more than any other doctor of his time, I am sure. Within a few months he was very busy, really helping his patients with knowledge many of his medical colleagues did not possess.

In 1905 he bought a large house on Ashland Boulevard and Harrison Street, and began the Lindlahr Sanitarium. There he used his diet ideas and knowledge with such skill that his institution became eminently successful, although he never did win the approval of the medical profession.

He passed on in 1924. I wish he had lived a little longer. He would have seen diet grow into a science. He would have seen a hundred or more of the beliefs and rules of practice that he had espoused taken out of the empirical and proven by scientific facts.

He would have seen medical journals literally filled with articles on diet, vitamins, and food minerals. He would have seen the Nobel Prize awarded upon two occasions to nutritionists. He would have been tremendously pleased, for the development of nutritional science within the last few years has vindicated him, stamped him as a wise man, a good doctor-too advanced for his times.

As you can surmise, I grew up in a little world that revolved around nutrition, foods, and the treatment of disease by diet. Perhaps we had better explain that nutrition is defined as the sum total of all the physical and chemical reactions involved in the growth, repair, and maintenance of the body tissues and their proper functioning.

Essentially, there is considerable difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist. A nutritionist is concerned with the science of nutrition; a dietitian with the practical application thereof.

The summer of 1914 found me enjoying a happy vacation in nearby Michigan. I planned to sail for Europe in the Fall to enter the University of Heidelberg. The following summer I was to spend in the sanitarium of BircherBenner, a leading European nutritionist. We had mapped out four years of work that would encompass studies during vacations at the leading nutrition centers of the continent.

The cataclysmic upheaval in Europe, that tragic summer, put an end to my father’s cherished plans for me. We cast about for an American equivalent. However, no United States medical college at that time had a course in dietetics-not one.

The only school where I could get any semblance of a course in dietetics was the Chicago College of Osteopathy, and there I enrolled in September 1914.

The following year I took additional courses at the Jenner Medical College to earn credits toward my doctorate in medicine.

In 1918 I was graduated and licensed as an osteopathic physician and surgeon. My first few years of sanitarium practice were punctuated by jaunts here and there to take special courses relating to nutrition.

Meanwhile, I finished my medical studies. In 1923, I was graduated as a doctor of medicine. Always, always during those years, the kindly counsel and heartfelt teachings of my father were constant accompaniments of my formal studies, his vast experience in diet therapy a golden stream of knowledge for me to tap.

When I succeeded my father, the Sanitarium had been established for nineteen years. The patrons had become a pretty well-defined class-chiefly cases that could be helped by diet. A good many of them were diabetics. I had four years of practice among this group before the advent of insulin; four years, at least, of first-hand knowledge of diet as it concerned this particular ailment. It was marvelous training, I assure you, as a prelude to understanding the dietetic problems of reducing-for the nutrition problems are much the same.

Our diabetic diet, like any good diet for this disease, was composed mainly of low starch and low sugar vegetables and fruits. The L. C. diet, we called it (low carbohydrate).

We noted, as anyone who sees many diabetic cases will note, that most diabetics are fat, that most of them eat too much. We suspected that overeating and obesity were perhaps important causative factors. One thing was certain: we could not escape observing the steady and spectacular loss of weight sustained by fat diabetics who were placed on the L. C. diet.

I can well remember the terror of some of the relatives who visited fat diabetics under our care. Often one of them would come to me or to one of the house physicians with fear in her voice: “Oh, doctor, my husband has lost fifteen pounds in the two weeks since he has been here.”

We were finally forced to explain that, in a degree, the essential part of our treatment was to take off some of the burdening pounds which we were sure had a chemical role in producing the ailment. That served to reassure the patients, and thus we went on, year after year, employing a diet which took weight, almost like magic, from patients on whom it was used.

Also, during all this time, there were occasions in the management of certain ailments when we prescribed what is termed a fast. The harsher name for it is starvation. A patient on a Lindlahr fast received a quart of fruit juices a day, and all the water he desired to drink, but no other food, liquid or solid, was allowed.

In the few types of sickness where this drastic treatment was indicated, it really worked marvelously well. Usually we employed only short fasts, although some of our patients would occasionally fast ten days, or, very rarely, a few days longer.

All of this is important to remember, for time finally brought this startling fact to the fore: A person on an L. C. diet lost weight more quickly than one who was fasting.

It is easy to write that axiom now, but with us I am afraid it had accumulated the contempt bred by familiarity. Not until 1925 did the significance of that simple rule, in so far as it relates to the reducing diet, dawn upon me.

Then in the early part of August 1925, a portly and prominent socialite from Philadelphia arrived at my Chicago office. She was most impressive and exceedingly “important.” In fact, she demanded a suite of rooms, which was startling as we had been overcrowded for years and were fortunate to have a single room vacant. Yet despite our limited accommodations, she remained.

Her next act to outrage our routine was to inform me, at our preliminary meeting, that she was not sick. Furthermore, she did not “see the need” of going through the regular and thorough examination which we always insisted upon. Here I disagreed, and told her rather firmly that we were not operating a hotel.

Then she told me that she had come to us to reduce. She wanted to lose thirty pounds in thirty days. With an airy wave of the hand, she said she was sure we could accomplish this feat because she knew we had had much experience with fasting. She was determined to starve to lose weight.

It developed that she was to be married in a little over a month, and wanted to look extra nice at her wedding. Also, her future husband had intimated that she was a bit overweight.

This was the first time in our experience that anything of this sort had happened. But as the lady weighed 240 pounds, I saw no harm in the idea. A thirty-pound loss for her promised benefit-and there was Dan Cupid to consider.

The Philadelphia matron began her carefully supervised fast. Seven days passed with the net result that she lost about four pounds. On the seventh day, when she happened to be on my list of calls, the interview could have been best described by the title of that Broadway hit, Hellzapoppin.

She expressed exceeding displeasure over her lack of progress. I suggested that she exercise a little patience, and retreated from the august presence a bit uncomfortable over the situation. In a way, I considered the whole affair a silly one. I had more important cases on hand than reducing. But by this time, the eyes of all the other patients were on Mrs. Bucks, as the nurses called her. I did some thinking.

A great light dawned on me. The L.C. diet-of course our L.C. diet took off pounds more rapidly than a fast. Actually there is a similarity between the problems of sugar chemistry in diabetes and fat chemistry in obesity, so I took that liberty and license a physician must sometimes take-to fib a bit with honorable intention and stopped back to see the lady from Philadelphia.

I told her that I had been thinking over her progress very seriously. Her blood sugar examination would be made in the morning, to reconcile with her metabolism test, and if my suspicions were correct, I would put her on a diet which I was sure would definitely reduce her at the pound-a-day rate she had expected from a fast.

The next morning, a blood sugar test was made. It was normal, but beginning that night, the lady from the City of Brotherly Love went on our L. C. diet. She lost twelve pounds the first week, eight pounds the second, and a little over six the third.

She left for Philadelphia happy, bestowing a shower of blessings on me and handsome tips on the nurses and attendants. A bit later, she sent a note to report that she had remained on the diet until her wedding day-and had lost thirty-four pounds. From that time on, she passed from my ken. Perhaps, who knows, she will read these lines. May she forgive my flippancy–she taught me a wonderful lesson.