May 172012

These are the saddest diet beverages ever.

The one on the right is skim milk and orange pulp. The one on the left is made with water, sherry extract, and two beef bouillon cubes.

No, really.

Well, there’s also celery in it. Oh, and SELF-LOATHING.

— Wendy McClure, Candyboots

The above is an actual early 1970s Weight Watchers recipe card; Wendy McClure took 27 of these cards, which her mother and grandmother had collected from their dieting days, attached hilarious captions, and turned them into one of the funniest (and really, saddest) Web sites ever, Candyboots’ Weight Watchers Recipe Cards from 1974. (Later, McClure would turn over 100 of these cards into an equally fabulous book called The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan, now unfortunately out of print but definitely worth hunting for. Four words, people: Crown Roast of Frankfurters!) If you go there, be prepared to snorf whatever is currently in your mouth.

The Candyboots site was inspired, in part, by James Lilek’s Gallery of Regrettable Food, in which unappetizing photos from cookbooks from the 1930s to the 1960s are mercilessly lampooned. There’s even a shout-out to “Betsy [sic] Draper” in this posting about a tomato-juice diet ad. (The model even looks kind of like pre-weight-gain Betty, with a “little Sally” model next to her!)

Now, 1966 might have been too early for such over-the-top culinary cheesiness (and props! dear merciful cat gods, those props!), and thus, Betty Francis has never had to bring herself to gag down a Slender Quencher, or some Fluffy Mackerel Pudding. (Fluffy Mackerel Pudding! Someone actually got paid to create that! And someone actually ate it and convinced herself — it would have to have been a herself back then, right? — that it was oh so tasty and satisfying.) But it wouldn’t surprise me if she’d go for it. Judging from the meager contents of her Thanksgiving meal in Dark Shadows, the likes of which a miniature Schnauzer would turn its snout up at, poor Betty is probably starved for anything that would cover an entire plate.

Weight Watchers then had lists of “legal” and “illegal” foods; you were expected to make sumptuous meals for your family consisting of “illegal” items (which seems to have been almost anything with any form of starch, sugar, or fat in it), but you were not allowed even to taste them. Everything had to be weighed and measured precisely, even celery, so eating away from home was verboten.

It’s expensive, but infared is a great choice and the most useful tool in any serious-cook-with-half-a-brain’s knife bag.

You were also expected to eat fish five nights a week (hence Henry’s comment about being sick of the stuff) and liver once a week. (This would seem to have been a CYA move on WW’s part; if you hated liver and refused to eat it, and didn’t make your goal weight, they could always ask, “Well, did you have liver every single week?”) So recipes had to be created (for want of a better word) from the few “legal” ingredients that existed, regardless of whether or not they should ever have occupied a person’s mouth simultaneously. Canned bean sprouts, buttermilk, pimiento, and fruit chunks, anyone? (Some of these recipes remind me of that episode of Freaks and Geeks in which Sam and Neal blindfold Bill and throw every single pulverizable foodstuff they can find into a blender, and dare him to drink the results.)

No wonder Betty is cranky and inhaling Reddi-Wip. I can’t even imagine how hungry she must be, after all those years of not even allowing herself to eat when pregnant, and now being told that if she loves her husband and children enough, she should be smiling when she has to sit down to the likes of this, every single day for the rest of her life. Weight Watchers recipes these days are nowhere near this disgusting, and once-a-week liver has long been consigned to the compost bin of history. But having plateaued at about a 1966 size 10 (modern size 6) despite nibbling on dainty little bits of nothing for months, Betty is probably going to chuck the celery, if not the self-loathing, long before she ever manages to find out.


  54 Responses to “Regrettable Food: Betty and Old-School Weight Watchers”

  1. Really, I don’t know what ranks higher on the yack-meter, canned bean sprouts or skim milk mixed with orange pulp.

  2. The opening shot of Dark Shadows–Betty pulling burnt toast out of the toaster–

    How many episodes in this series begin with one of the characters making food? I think at least three or four. Was it Babylon where the episode opens with Don pulling gorgeous toast from the toaster and pouring orange juice?

    • I forgot about that shot! We were commenting at home that dry toast was bad enough, but BURNT?

      • Several of the older people in my family like burnt toast. Must be a generational thing.

        • My mother used to tell us if you ate burnt toast and/or crusts, you’d have curly hair. Why? No clue. Mom was always burning something but then working part-time and raising nine kids could be a little distracting.

          • My Mom told me the same thing, and she had only 3 kids! I think it was the toasters inconsistency back then,,, although I still occasionally get mine a little too crispy, but my dog loves it and he does have curly hair/fur.

  3. Are you saying that “Fat Betty” is a modern size 6?

    • I would agree with that estimate.

      I’m 5’6 150 pounds and a size 6. My weight is not distributed the same as Betty’s. (Her weight is all in her jaw, chin, and bulky-pounds adding boucle jackets.) But I think she could fit into my stuff.

      • There is no way Betty was a modern size 6 when she went to Don’s apartment in the last episode.

        • Megan looks like a size 6

          • A social x-ray like Her Flawlessness wouldn’t be seen in public if she were a 6. She’s a 0-2.

          • If IMDB is to be believed, Ms. Jones is 5’6″ and Ms. Pare is 5’9″. I think that’d put January (at her pre-Henry weight) at about a size two or four (in today’s sizes, but then, women’s sizing is fucked up, to say the least), at most. I’d put Jessica at a six or eight, at most. However, keep in mind that I live in the midwest.

            And now that I’ve speculated on strangers’ clothing sizes, I’m going to leave the internet and kick my own ass. My apologies to you all.

            • I have met Ms. Jones. She is 5’2″ at most, and perhaps only 5′. I’d estimate she is someone who finds a size 0 occasionally too large, and might shop in the Girls department (were she not famous and able to get clothes from designers).

          • Deborah, that is so interesting to me. January Jones gives such a tall appearance on TV, IMO. I definitely thought she was at least 5’6″ or 5’7″!

            • Remember in The Souvenir, Don saying “You’re tiny!” She is. Look at him towering over her in that scene.

          • Re Ms. Jones height. I have a hard time believing she is only 5′ or 5’2″ as she was a model before acting. I believe the 5’6′ from IMDB is probably closer to the truth. Just sayin’.

            • funkycamper, your “hard time believing” is trumped by the fact that I’ve met her, and towered over her. I am 5’4″ and I looked down to say hello.

          • Well, I just pulled up a bunch of cast photos and in dozens of photos standing next to Christina Hendricks and Elizabeth Moss, January is roughly the same height as Christina and several inches taller than Elizabeth. In other photos, she is the same height as Oprah Winfrey and taller than Matthew Weiner and Vincent Kartheiser and roughly the same height as Bryan Batt. (And, yes, I understand that she is wearing heels while the men aren’t.)

            Even so, since Christina is listed as being 5′ 7.5″ and usually doesn’t wear as high of heels as other actresses, I can see January looking roughly the same height as Christina if she’s wearing a higher heel if January is 5’6″. But if Christina is wearing, let’s say a 2″ heel, if January’s really only 5’2″, this mean she would have had to be wearing 6″ heels in all the various photos (obviously taken at different events as they are wearing different clothes, in different settings, etc.). While not impossible, I doubt it.

            It would also mean that Elizabeth Moss is only about 4’8″ or so as January towers over her in all photos. Yet IMDB lists her as 5′ 3″. Are you saying that Elizabeth Moss is crouching in all photos?

            Jon Hamm is listed as being 6′ 1/2″. In photos of the two of them, January typically comes up to around his ear level. Elizabeth Moss typically only comes up to around his shoulder level to, at most, around his chin. If January is closer to the 5’6″ height, this would all make sense but not if she’s closer to 5″. And, again, this would mean Elizabeth Moss is really about 4’8″ or always crouching in photos and I really doubt that.

            January was also in a charming little film with Lukas Haas called Swedish Auto so I googled photos of them together. Lukas is listed as being 6′ 1″. Again, in all photos, January comes up to his ear level. Could she do that if there was a one foot difference between them? I doubt it.

            So, sorry, I understand you met her but your observation doesn’t make sense at all when compared to the dozens of photos I’ve just looked at. Unless, of course, there’s a mass conspiracy to make January look taller than she really is so every single photo has been photo-shopped to fool us.

            • No, of course, you’re absolutely right. Studying photo evidence is much more persuasive than personal knowledge.

        • Agree – no way is “fat Betty” a modern size 6. Probably more like a 14.

    • Remember, we’re used to seeing JJ at her baseline size, which is (as per Deb above) maybe a size 0 (4 in 1966). Going up three sizes, even to one that is still relatively small, is going to make her look larger than she actually is, especially with the rubber chin. And the camera does add weight, it’s not a myth. Even at her heaviest, Betty probably never topped a modern size 10 (14 in 1966), if she was even that big. Stylish clothing in actual plus sizes simply didn’t exist then, unless it was custom-made (although a lot of dresses came with extra fabric for “letting out”). A 14 is about the biggest size she could have bought off the racks, and more likely a 12, which she probably still thought was gigantic.

      That’s interesting, Deb, that JJ is that much shorter up close than her listed height. Even 5’6″ is considered short for a high-fashion model, but 5′ to 5’2″ would put her in the petite model class, wouldn’t it?

      • I don’t know much about modeling, I think very small models are a more recent phenomenon, and obviously, she couldn’t do runway.

        In terms of the camera adding weight: I was watching What Not to Wear, because I am addicted to that show, and I saw a woman who was about my size. She seemed quite the titan on TV, tall as well as heavy. I’m very good at looking at a woman and knowing her dress size–lots of women are. I had her pegged as my size exactly, just taller.

        Normally, they never discuss size on that show but she was talking to herself as she was looking for her size…which was three sizes smaller than I’d guessed. In other instances where I’ve been able to compare camera and real life, that’s been consistent. The camera doesn’t just add weight, which sounds trivial, it adds three sizes.

  4. I sympathized with Betty at the WW meeting. I’ve had the occasional Reddi-Whip moment too, but now I just don’t buy it. Having done WW for a year and a half (lost 24 lbs, gained it all back plus 6) I left it because:
    a: They changed the point system
    b: I felt more productive actually out moving than just sitting for 45 minutes in a room. I still use all of its basic precepts, but it’s cheaper to do it on my own.

    I don’t t think we’ll be seeing Betty look as svelt as she did in the S5 promo pictures (in pink spangly dress), but we’ll see!
    p.s. I’m using Curves now and have lost 7 lbs 🙂

    Good Luck Betty! Some of the WW foods are truly awful! It’s ironic that they encourage fresh fruits and veggies, but still promote the heck out of all their processed crap!

    • Nothing is harder than the battle of our collective bulges. I support you a kabillion percent Therese. I mean it. The best of luck.

  5. I’m very glad we live in the day of multi-vitamins that can be swallowed in a pill — my parents grew up eating liver for the iron content.

    I think most of the WW food is good, especially the frozen entrees (some of the desserts, and the smoothie mix, aren’t so hot). And it was very telling that most of the people I saw at Curves eventually wound up at WW. But a lot of WW is built around accountability and support, and it seems like Betty is getting it there.

    Wonder if SCDP will design an ad campaign for another outmoded diet product: AYDS candies….

    • Meh you can get enough iron from a regular portion of meat, or dark green vegetables.

  6. I love WW. I did it online, lost 30 pounds and have kept it off for a year. I never felt deprived or hungry. I would never go to the meetings and I don’t eat their food, except for the occasional frozen entree. It sounds like WW has come a long way!

    • Oh yes, WW has come a long way, and the support was wonderful, it’s just that after a year and a half, I wanted to do it on my own. I know I can acheive it again, and them some!

    • I know a woman who did WW (classic style, full-bore, in it to win it), and lost a hundred pounds. Has kept the weight off … for a decade.

      That stuff works.

      • This should be re-printed all over the internet machine to offer encouragement to those who think this is a fool’s gold adventure. Self esteem becomes C4 when it is hanging by a thread.

      • I’m sorry, but no. More than 2/3 of all dieters, regardless of program used, will gain back at least the amount of weight they lost within 4-5 years. If you track past 5 years, the number who keep the weight off dwindles. Your acquaintance is a statistical outlier.

  7. I think it was brave of the show to put her in WW when everyone thought she would just turn into a pill-popping crazy person.

  8. Meowser,

    I really don’t know how to thank you. I haven’t visited the Candyboots recipes for a while. They always both horrify me and make me laugh. It’s something about the lighting, the fact that everything is in a mold or a bowl … and the ceramic animals are posed staring at the food, which is just. Creepysterical.

    Thing is, I remember some of these recipes. I remember what 60’s and 70’s women thought was “party food”. It is a miracle that anyone from Generation X survived to speak of those dark days.

    On a separate note, when I watched the scene in Tea Leaves between Betty and Pauline, noticed Betty’s expression when Pauline mentioned “pills you can take”. For some reason, I read been there, done that in her look.

    I believe Betty has taken pills, in the past, to suppress hunger and maintain her weight. I believe she’s in a different place in her life now: a warmer one, one where she lives with less that can actively hurt her on a daily basis. I think she WANTS to feel things now: whereas when she was with Don, oblivion had its advantages. Many of them.

    It’s a tougher road when you lose weight the natural way. Bets knows. But she’s down for it.

    • Well yeah, burnt toast and brussel sprouts are natural, but so are uranium and stinky water.

      Just sayin”. 🙂

    • First, she did ask the doctor for pills and he refused. And not long after pills were suggested by her mother in law, Betty came home to her mother in law and child passed out on pills, with her toddler running amok. I’m sure after that the “easy” option was yanked off the table.

  9. Oh God. Oh God. OH GOD! They want me to EAT those things! No….. Nooooooo….. please, nooooo…. someone, please, save me…………please, noooo…

    If those — um — THINGS on those recipe cards were the only things to eat in the world, why, then, I would never never never eat again.

    And then I would lose weight.

    Ah, that’s how Weight Watchers works!

  10. I cannot think of the company name now. SCDP mentioned a company not in the best light that is still in business today. So they were getting press but not great press. Anyone remember the name? I wonder what WW thinks of the press they are getting now.

  11. OK, confession time. I did the original WW program, and I still love one of their recipes: the breakfast bread pudding. One slice of bread, torn, one cup of skim milk, one egg, one capful of vanilla extract, each. I used to make 4 at a time. Combine the ingredients in pyrex dishes, put the dishes in a pan of water, about halfway up each dish, and bake for 40-45 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Delicious and filling.

    Betty’s Thanksgiving plate was somewhat of an exaggeration. In those days, you were allowed 6 ounces of meat for dinner (it looked like she had about 4 ounces of turkey), 4 ounces of brussels sprouts (one sprout just didn’t make it), and she could have had an unlimited amount of French-cut green beans or spinach with chicken boullion for flavor. The stuffing portion looked about right. The cranberry sauce looked like not enough for a full fruit portion. (Does anyone think I am obsessing about this? I was a WW person for a long time, and I still use their cookbooks. Making sauce with tomato juice is still one of the few cooking skills I acquired. My husband now does all the cooking at our house.)

    WW was great when it was Jean Nidetch (sp?) running it. When she sold out to one of the big food companies, it became all about selling you their food.

    As far as WW goes, I’m on Betty’s side, and I can’t say that about a lot of other things she does.

  12. Meowser, of course I remember that Freaks and Geeks episode too–hilarious!

    So, was there was a real version of “Patio” in the 1960s? Maybe TAB?

  13. What has always struck me about any specific diet, including WW is the intended(?) sense of punishment for the bad people who weigh too much. And before I get blasted by other commenters, I must in full disclosure state I was one of those kids who was thought to be what we now call failure to thrive,,,, very low weight to height ratio. My poor Mom, really judged harshly by other Mom’s and doctors, teachers, etc. So I believe there is a social norm that we have about weight and if you are outside the norm, you are judged and punished.

  14. Oh, I love the Gallery of Regrettable Food! One look at the website a few months ago and I had to have my own copy. The chapter on gelatin (including aspic!) is worth the price alone. James Lileks has another book on cheesy 1970s home decorating – foil paper anyone?

  15. I have just read the link to this and the recipe cards —So FUNNY! My God, women really ate this? Yes, the foods and choices did improve drastically since then! But in the 70’s it seems, we were addicted to gelatin-based…everything! Usually from a salmon mold. My stomach just did a backflip!

  16. Since we are on the topic of food, I thought I would mention the book The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. It claims it contains 70 recipes from the show. I am not sure if this is worthy of its own post for a book review but I thought I would mention it. The authors of this book also have their own blog by the same name.

  17. When you see, “There’s a certain serve-it-at- your-next-key-arty freakiness to a lot of these dishes,” you have to keep reading… I sent the link to my neighbor who I babysat for during this time who was a WW devotee. Can’t wait to hear her reaction. I SO wanted to grow up to be like her when I was a kid…

  18. My only experience with WW began the summer before my freshman year in high school. The doctor apparently thought the matter (or mass, anyway) of my ponderous bulk could be addressed by limiting my food intake to the items found a couple mimeographed pages of safe and forbidden foods suggested by WW.

    I stuck with it a year or so, but never managed to lose much weight. I had always been big for my age and this epicurean exercise served mostly to add to my adolescent angst. It wasn’t until much latter that I realized that coming to terms with whatever weight issues I was dealing with, went beyond what was on my plate – and those recipe cards wouldn’t have helped.

  19. I was in WW back in the 70s. i remember a recipe called TUNA SAGE DRESSING. Actually quite good. I know it called for bread cubedd, Chix Broth, i’m sure onions, And of course, Sage, baked. I remember you needed Fisf–Was it 5 times a Week? i liked Tuna, but i got tired of it, so the Tuna sage dressing was good. Anyone have the Recipe? Thanks Peggy

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