When news broke last week of an unearthed smattering of parchment containing obese President William Howard Taft’s daily diet regimen, Mary Hartley, RD was the first person I thought of. Our resident nutrition expert with the fiery attitude would surely have a wicked take on Big Billy’s nutrition, and she didn’t disappoint.
When asked if diet and nutrition had changed a great deal since Taft’s presidency 100 years ago, she replied, “Not much. And it pisses me off!”
Now why would Mary be pissed off at Taft’s diet? First, I’ll break down exactly what he was eating.
Breakfast: gluten biscuits and lean meat
Lunch: lean meat, butterless veggies, and unsweetened fruit
Dinner: plain salad, lean meat or fish, more flavorless fruits and veggies, and one more dusty gluten biscuit
Queue Mary: “When is the medical community going to learn restrictive diets don’t work?”
Mary’s right, especially in Taft’s case. The 315-pound president, famously rumored for getting stuck in a bathtub, would have experienced starvation on this diet, which was devised by the English physician Nathaniel E. Yorke-Davis. However, this low-fat, high-protein diet did work for Taft. During a 10-year correspondence with the good English doctor, the corpulent commander-in-chief lost 60 pounds. While he did gain most of that weight back later in life, it’s still a big win for a guy whose main form of exercise was horseback riding.
Compared to modern diets, Mary found Taft’s shared a lot of similarities with the Atkins and Paleo diets. All three are low-carb and high-protein, which Mary claims helps to offset the loss of muscle as the dieter slims down. The cons, however, far outweigh the pros.
According to Mary, Taft’s diet had “too few calories and nutrients (due to too little food), too much repetition, was too restrictive with no personal choice, and was constipating.”
For a guy who was big his whole life, Taft probably found this diet hellacious. He would have benefited from a more liberal plan like the Mediterranean diet, which allows fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, grains, nuts, pasta, fish and lean meats and uses heart healthy olive oil as its main source of fat. Also, I’m pretty sure the only spices in early 20th Century America were dust and newspaper clippings, so Taft really would have enjoyed our modern lust for flavor, and maybe McDonald’s, too.