Why Did No One Gain Weight In The 1920′s?

ruth gordon

Well, we have another explanation on why modern people are gaining weight. Do you know how much weight a lack of sleep causes you to gain? 2 pounds a week. 2 pounds in a  week seems like a lot, right? According to The Daily Mail:

In the latest paper, which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed that while staying awake longer requires more energy, the amount of food participants ate more than offset the extra calories burned.

Professor Wright said: ‘Just getting less sleep by itself is not going to lead to weight gain. But when people get insufficient sleep it leads them to eat more than they actually need.’

This all makes sense, though I can’t help but feel it was not always thus. There’s a great interview with Ruth Gordon over The Petite Sophisticate wherein she says in the 1920′s:
After a lovely late dinner at the Crystal Room you’d go over to Harry Richmond’s Wigwam Club. Of course it was during Prohibition so you’d have to order something like Chicken a la King just to hold the table, but actually you were there just to have more illegal drinks. Depending on how you felt at two or three in the morning, you’d make your way up to Harlem and go to Small’s Paradise or The Savoy to hear the great bands. Then you might have a snack at one of the little Harlem bistros where you would eat what we now identify as “soul food.” At seven or eight in the morning you’d arrive at Reuben’s, which was on Fifty-eighth Street between Fifth and Madison, where you would have breakfast. And everybody who was anybody was always there.
Ruth Gordon follows that up by saying that no one ever got fat, which, well, Ruth Gordon (pictured above) certainly didn’t, at least. And apparently she was never sleeping. And eating chicken kiev.
I don’t know, maybe she got home and then slept until 5:00 in the afternoon. That seems like it makes sense and was in keeping with the schedule.
I always find stories like these from the 1920′s surprising, given that two main explanations for the current rate of obesity are “no one is sleeping enough” and “everyone is eating too much.” It sounds like we are not sleeping enough, which is true, and we probably are all eating too much. However, that also sounds like it was true in the 1920′s, and I think the proper explanation may just be “the food was not made entirely out of chemicals, then.”
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    • Sean

      This makes sense. I saw on the Food Channel that chicken & waffles became a thing because people were at jazz clubs until three in the morning. At that point some people wanted a late dinner, while others wanted an early breakfast, so a couple soul food places started serving chicken and waffles together and it caught on.

      Which proves one more point: if we want to stay slim, we have to bring back swing dancing as a regular thing.

    • Nancy

      They had smaller portions back then, too! According to an infographic I once saw lol

    • MR

      Yeah, dancing and a lot of walking between locations, even if she and her friends were using the subway. We used to always walk back from The Village and East Village – crash a couple of bars in Soho, Tribeca and Lower Manhattan, before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Now I never leave the Heights or go beyond Smith Street, Cobble Hill when I go down.

    • Kat

      Food is always made entirely out of chemicals. It is made of matter. Which is molecules. Which are chemicals.

    • Natalie

      Well less chemicals and food portions were tiny aka appropriate sized. A chicken ala king probably had a piece of chicken the size of a deck of cards and biscuits were probably the size of eggs. And all the dancing and walking.

    • http://morningtableaux.blogspot.com/ Benquo

      We don’t know that they ate constantly and never slept. We only know that they wrote about eating constantly and never sleeping.

    • Kat is an idiot

      Chemicals are substances produced in a chemical process.
      Meat on the other hand is produced in a series of biological processes such as cell growth, cell division, etc etc.
      So Kat, maybe you should go back to school instead of posting (what you consider to be) smart ass responses on the internet.

    • Eileen

      They probably didn’t drive to their friend’s house that’s all of one block away, though.