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Horace Fletcher, the Great Masticator

Near the turn of the 19th century, Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) made a lot of money as a San Francisco art dealer. He weighed more than 300 pounds and was so sick and short of breath that he couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs. His doctor told him to lose weight, so he devised a special diet in which he would not swallow his food until he had chewed it into a liquid. He did lose weight and regained his strength. He was no longer sick because his marked obesity had made him diabetic and losing weight cured his disease.

He felt so good about his new-found health that he believed everyone should chew their food into a liquid soup to prolong their lives. He believed that solid particles would pass into the colon where bacteria would convert the undigested food into poisons that would be absorbed into the bloodstream to shorten life. He preached that food should be chewed 32 times before being swallowed. He thought that chewing for a long time would strengthen your muscles. He even recommended chewing drinks to mix them with your saliva.

“Nature Will Castigate Those Who Don’t Masticate”
He set up booths in carnivals, challenging all comers to drive a metal ball higher than he could by hitting a plate with a heavy hammer. He was a very big man and was so strong that nobody could beat him at his game. He impressed everyone with his great strength. He told everyone who would listen to him that he used to be a sick weakling, and that his great strength came from chewing food to a pulp and never swallowing solid food. At the Payne Whitney Gymnasium of Yale University, he outdid college varsity athletes in deep-knee bends and held his arms out in front of himself longer than anyone else. He lifted more weight with his calves than boys 40 years younger than himself. Of course, Fletcher attributed his great strength to the many hours he spent chewing food.

He was asked to lecture at the great institutions of his time: Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Dartmouth. Fletcher societies sprang up all over North America where people got together to Fletcherize, chewing food until their mouths were sore.

Chewing Food Will Not Make You Stronger, Thinner or Healthier
Of course, chewing strengthens only your jaw muscles. You might be able to lift heavier weights with your mouth, but it could not strengthen your arms or legs. Chewing has not been shown to help you lose weight, although it could help you to eat less during a given meal. It takes at least 20 minutes after you start eating for insulin levels to rise high enough in your brain to make you to feel full. Extensive chewing can cause you to eat less food in 20 minutes and you may stop eating then, but it will not prevent you from feeling hungry and eating extra food later.

Your stomach and intestines have enzymes that break down food so efficiently that it doesn’t make much difference whether you chew your food thoroughly or not. Your stomach will not allow large solid particles to pass into your intestines until they have been converted to a liquid soup. Bile from your liver breaks down fats and secretions from your pancreas contain enzymes that break down carbohydrates and proteins.

No Bowel Movements
Fletcher was a perfectionist. He couldn’t be satisfied with just chewing. He reasoned that since it was extremely difficult to chew meat into a liquid, he stopped eating meat. He then felt that eating less would cause fewer toxic products to arrive in the colon, so he stopped eating breakfast. But, that wasn’t enough for him, He decided to fast. Since he ate almost nothing, he rarely had bowel movements. He considered this the result of the perfect absorption of food.

In 1919, when Fletcher was 69, he died of bronchitis, probably because his immunity was destroyed by starvation. At that time, his chewing weight-loss diet was already being replaced by Irving Fisher and Eugene Lyman Fisk who advocated counting calories. Today we know that calorie counting doesn’t work either. Study after study shows that calorie counting is not associated with long-term weight loss.

May 26th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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