There came a time in every Cold War housewife’s life when the safety of the containment policy offered by a good girdle simply wasn’t enough to keep those pesky curves in line.
Comely Betty Draper the once enviably svelte housewife on Mad Men continues to find herself among the masses of women who s realized they needed to whittle their waists.
Is this the day you finally do something about your weight?
One glance in her mirror, and poor Betty knew the new slim fashions were not for her. Crestfallen, she knew in her heart that “her size” just wasn’t “her size” any more. Suddenly dressing up wasn’t as exciting as it used to be.
Glancing at a photo from a trip to a ski weekend at Hunter Mountain with Don several winters ago, she marveled at how slender she was in the glow of the fire. Her face darkened musing “Would he think so now?”…..
She knew it was time to do something about her weight.
But true dieting takes will power. Those temptation hours between meals when hunger sets in, are the undoing of so many wishful weight watchers.
Lucky for her there was no shortage of new diet products to help m’ lady in her battle of the bulge. Flipping through her Ladies Home Journal showed her there was a way. By the late 1960’s, over five million had been helped with that Mid-Century miracle -Metrecal.
Betty was ready to turn her back on Lobster Newburgh for her figures sake and join the Metrecal for Lunch Bunch, sipping her way back to her former slenderella self.
Is this the day You do something about your weight?the ads implored.
Sip Yourself to Slenderness
By the early 1960’s several liquid diet meal replacements appeared to help sip your way to slenderness.
But the granddaddy of them all was Metrecal, a product of pharmaceutical company Mead Johnson & Co.
Along with a generation of busy mothers, housewives like Betty Draper had long counted on Mead Johnson & Co, makers of Pablum and Dextri Maltose, to feed her babies.
Purchased at the recommendation of their family doctor these ready mixes were quite useful in plumping up baby.
Lucky, little Sally Draper would grow into a nice chubby baby.
By the fall of 1960, these same mothers were buying a new Mead Johnson product, a powder called Metrecal, which promised just the opposite-to take those unwanted pounds off mama!
Tip for Joan…..it would come in mighty handy for those post pregnancy gals who wanted to shed those extra baby pounds.
Metrecal- A Marketing Miracle
In the great American marketing tradition, Metrecal was really an old product re-marketed to the newly diet conscious population.
Looking to diversify, savvy researchers at Mead Johnson stumbled across an invalid’s food called Sustagen. A mix of skim milk powder, soybean flour, corn oil, minerals and vitamins, Sustagen- a precursor to today’s Boost- was designed for hospital patients unable to eat solid foods. It worked so well at giving patients the feeling of having eaten a solid meal and diminishing between meal hunger pangs, that Mead Johnson decided to rename it Metrecal and market it as a weight-reducing food. The only change was to recommend a limit of 900 calories of Metrecal a day.
Your Doctor Knows Best
Like most homemakers, Betty would never dream of starting any slimming regime without the advise of her trusted family doctor.
Once she could eliminate any glandular problem as the cause for her excess weight she was free to enjoy imbibing on the 900 calorie, full-bodied goodness of Metrecal with her doctors blessing.
Naturally as a drug company, Mead Johnson wanted to keep the good will of doctors who prescribed most of their other products, so they wisely started advertising Metrecal in the American Medical Association Journal, eventually branching out into general markets. Wisely ending each advertisement with a plug to “see your physician” about weight problems, gave Metrecal that all important AMA stamp of respectability that most other diet concoctions lacked.
Metrecal or Martinis
Lucky for him, Don Draper wouldn’t be left out of this diet craze.
Mead Johnson expanded their market as quickly as American waistlines grew, tapping into the manly world of 3 martini lunches.
Metrecal was originally introduced as a powder, mixed by hopeful dieters with water or skim milk. Soon it was available as canned Metrecal which was marketed for the bloated businessman. A 1965 print ad stated “Not one of the top 50 US Corporations has a fat president!”
If Don started to develop a bit of a paunch, Mead Johnson suggested he keep those canned Metrecal’s refrigerated in a desk drawer for his noonday meal joining the Metrecal for lunch bunch.
A Deluge of Diet Drinks
Metrecal was so successful it spawned nearly 40 imitators from other large companies: Sears Roebuck brought out Bal-Cal, Quaker Oat’s pitched Quota, Jewel Tea Company had Diet-Cal; even deep discounter Korvette’s hawked Kor-Val. to name just a few.
Betty’s head was swimming from the choices. If reliable Elsie the Cow who was apparently watching her waistline too, claimed her product “Ready Diet: was “the happiest tasting drink,” maybe she should try Borden’s rich and creamy elixir. Their scientific blend of 900 full bodied calories was ready to drink from the gold carton with no measuring, mixing, dissolving or diluting.
Focusing on the women’s market, Pet Milk’s popular Sego stuffed more protein and 2 more ounces into the same 900 calories featured by Metrecal.
“Those temptation hours between meals when hunger sets in are the undoing of many a wishful weight watcher. Now new Sego diet food promised it had built-in help for nibblers. Its secret came from added protein “10% more than other 900 calorie diet foods. Because protein is consumed at a slower rate,” they claimed, “ it stays with you longer, helping to delay hunger.”
It promised you would forget you were dieting with their 9 delicious flavors. “This is hardship?” they asked the reader. “These rich flavored drinks tasted right out of a soda fountain.”
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Ayds Candies were also a very popular diet “food” and I imagine made a ton of cash for their makers back in the 60’s and early 70’s. I remember my mother fighting the eternal battle of the waistline when I was a child. After she and my new stepdad had three kids together in a very short span of time, she was left fighting off the eternal baby weight. She tried everything there was, including the candy before meals plan, the Metrecal plan, the diets from the doctors, the B12 shots from this doctor or that, the diet pills (actually “speed”) which turned her into a raving maniac who, among many other things that left her sweating, and exhausted, dug up half a horseshoe driveway in a weekend and planted rosebushes across the end of it. (My dad decided enough was enough, found the pills and flushed them down the toilet.) She even finally went so far as to submit herself to the earlier form of drastic weight loss surgery, and got her stomach ” stapled” in the early 70’s. That sure worked, but it took off too much too fast, and left her with permanent digestive problems, and basically unrecognizable. Even that wasn’t permanent, and after a couple of decades, the weight started creeping back on. I think she just has the kind of metabolism that was going to have its own way, no matter what she did to subdue it. At this point in time, nothing she ever did, not even surgically, was ever permanent, and now she’s 80, and just deals with what she’s got. It’s a sad thing to be stuck with a body “habitués” that society tells you at every turn is unacceptable. In other cultures she would have been considered quite beautiful, and something to be admired, and I’m sure, much happier.
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