Today, in honor of President’s Day, I thought we’d talk about William Howard Taft. He’s perhaps best known as our heftiest president who famously had a special bathtub installed in the White House to accommodate him.
But what most people don’t realize is that Taft actually lost much of his excess weight—and kept it off—after leaving office by using some of the very same sensible habits that I routinely recommend.
I’ll tell you more about those healthy habits in a moment. But first, let’s talk about Taft in his early days…
President Taft’s love of a good feast is legendary
In 1912, during his third year of presidency, Taft hosted an elaborate picnic lunch by the ocean, on Loblolly Cove, on the “North Shore” of Boston…right across the street from where I now write in the summers!
From the 1890s to the 1920s, Boston’s “North Shore” was the nation’s premier summer resort area. Several Presidents basically made it a “summer White House” location, including Taft, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge.
Apparently, Taft especially enjoyed eating by the sea. His grand seaside picnic lunch at Loblolly Cove featured a tented pavilion, two full-size picnic tables, and a catering truck that served fresh local lobster, clams, and fish.
Of course, historians often portray President Taft as oblivious or unconcerned about his weight. They say he represented the era of fashionable corpulence, associated with the “gay 1890s.”
But in reality, Taft made a lifelong effort to get his weight under control…
Like many of us, Taft worked hard to manage his weight
Of course, Taft wasn’t the only American grappling with a weight problem in the late 19th century. Many Americans faced similar issues, as processed foods became more readily available in this new era of plenty.
Plus, Taft’s rise to political power coincided with increasing social and medical awareness about the dangers of obesity. In fact, at about this time, the medical world first began to define it as a medical problem.
Although, Taft’s weight was already a joking point well before he entered office. That year, President William McKinley sent him to the Philippines to serve as Governor-General. One day, Taft telegraphed the Secretary of War Elihu Root to say that he had gone horseback riding. To which he was sent a reply, “How’s the horse?”
Then, by the time he began his term as Vice President under Theodore Roosevelt, Taft had begun to reportedly experience heartburn, fatigue, sleep apnea, and other complaints.
To help him lose weight and improve his health, Taft eventually turned to Dr. Nathaniel Yorke-Davis, a British medical expert on diet. Dr. Yorke-Davies wrote one of the more popular diet books of the time, called Foods for the Fat: A Treatise on Corpulency and a Dietary for its Cure.
In his first year working with Dr. Yorke-Davies, Taft lost 59 pounds! But, as an early example of the “yo-yo dieting” syndrome, he promptly regained it.
Which is understandable. Because, in my view, anyone would have trouble losing weight and keeping it off while serving as President due to stress alone. Not to mention, there’s ample food being served all the time at the White House.
I actually attended a luncheon at the White House with Mrs. Barbara Bush in 1991. And the food prepared by their world-class chefs was out of this world. So, I can’t imagine how anyone could keep to a strict diet or lose weight while living there.
Fortunately, after leaving the White House, Taft shed a significant amount of weight with Dr. Yorke-Davies’ help once again. And this time, he kept it off…
Effective, commonsense approaches to lose weight
The program that helped Taft finally take control of his weight wasn’t anything extreme or restrictive, like today’s pop Paleo diet, which forbids you from even enjoying healthy, fresh fruit. (I expose the truth about this diet in the May 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“The Paleo Diet Myth”]. Not yet a subscriber? All it takes is one click!)
Instead, the diet Dr. Yorke-Davies recommended to Taft actually combined some very sensible, science-backed techniques. In fact, it sounds a lot like the Mediterranean-type diet I always recommend to you.
For one, the doctor gave Taft a three-page list of “allowed” versus “forbidden” foods, like the more modern “New York Police Diet,” “Conway Diet,” and “Diet Watchers,” the latter of which I helped to develop. The “allowed foods” included lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. Taft was even encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch!
Notably, “forbidden foods” included those with added sugar and simple, refined carbohydrates. (Though, he was allowed the occasional biscuit.)
Light-to-moderate weekly exercise was also a part of the Yorke-Davies regimen. And Taft is said to have enjoyed regular excursions on horseback along with daily walks. In fact, Taft often crossed a bridge in Rock Creek Park on his way home from his day serving on the bench at the Supreme Court. (He was the only President to also serve as a Supreme Court justice.) After his death, the bridge was re-named after him.
Dr. York-Davies also required Taft to track his weight and keep a food diary. And he asked Taft to send him weekly reports. We now know this kind of close, supportive communication really helps people succeed on their weight-loss journeys.
In fact, in my view, this ongoing support is the real secret to successful, modern weight-loss programs, such as “Weight Watchers.”
So, when yet another guru bursts onto the national scene, pushing some wildly restrictive, extreme diet, you can continue to safely ignore them and their outlandish programs.
Instead, stick to common sense and moderation, as Dr. Yorke-Davies recommended a century ago. After all, it ultimately worked for President Taft!
“Portly President Taft threw his weight behind early obesity care.” NBC News, 11/14/13. (nbcnews.com/healthmain/portly-president-taft-threw-his-weight-behind-early-obesity-care-8C11390761)
“In Struggle With Weight, Taft Used a Modern Diet.” The New York Times, 10/14/13. (nytimes.com/2013/10/15/health/in-struggle-with-weight-william-howard-taft-used-a-modern-diet.html)
“William Howard Taft,” Century Archives, accessed 1/26/20. (centuryarchives.org/stamps/taft.pdf)