1923, Brooklyn, NY
The first Weight Watchers meetings were held over a pizza shop. The owner couldn't figure out why the hundreds of people lining up outside never bought anything. Nidetch worked with him to create a Weight Watchers milkshake that became a bestseller.
Photos: (left) Library of Congress; (right) Corbis
Weight Loss Therapy
An overweight housewife enlisted her friends to help her stay on a diet -- and hit on a two-part plan that found adherents worldwide.
Obsessed With Cookies
Jean Nidetch was a New York woman who suffered from being fat. She described herself as an "overweight housewife obsessed with eating cookies," a 5'7" 38-year-old woman who weighed 214 pounds. Born in 1923, she had been overweight throughout her Brooklyn childhood. She tried diet regimens and pills that promised to take off pounds, but Nidetch always gained back the weight she lost.
Good Eating Plus Lots of Talking
Nidetch's frustration led her to try something new in 1961. She decided to combine a sensible diet with group support meetings after she solicited several fat friends to go on a diet and to meet for weekly check-ins. Within two months, 40 women were meeting to talk about their progress and keep each other accountable for what they ate. Nidetch stayed on her program, lost 72 pounds by October 1962, and attracted, by word-of-mouth, hundreds of people who wanted to join the group.
Nidetch made it her mission to motivate others. She incorporated Weight Watchers in 1963, developed rules for members, recruited group leaders, and watched her business thrive. By 1968, Weight Watchers operated franchises nationwide and completed a sold-out initial public offering. Today, Weight Watchers has expanded worldwide, helping millions lose weight and offering meal plans and cookbooks. Nidetch retired as Weight Watchers' spokesperson in 1984.