PARKLAND, Fla. – Jean Nidetch, a New York housewife who tackled her own obesity, 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.
Plagued by her weight since childhood and carrying 214 pounds on her 5-foot-7 frame, Nidetch went to an obesity clinic sponsored by the New York City Board of Health in 1961 and began picking up tips that slowly seemed to work.
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 too.
Nidetch reached her goal weight of 142 pounds in 1962. As the weekly meetings at her home grew to include dozens of people, two of them convinced Nidetch she had the makings of a business. Weight Watchers International was founded in 1963.
By the time the company celebrated its 10th birthday, 16,000 people attended a massive gathering at Madison Square Garden.
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.
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