Horace Fletcher’s Prophetic Legacy, Part 2

History of Diets, Horace Fletcher

Childhood Obesity News mentioned a Wall Street Journal article in which the president of a “food flavor and texture company” explained the psychological appeal of chewable snacks:

Crunchy foods may provide stress-relief, like hitting a racquetball after a hectic day at the office. There are theories that people who tend to be aggressive enjoy foods that require more aggression to destroy.

Horace Fletcher hoped that humanity could free itself from what he called “the evil passions,” which sounds pretty corny, but was just an archaic way of describing the impulses that make people hate each other and act in hateful ways. For instance, we don’t want our kids to be bullies, nor do we want them to suffer from bullies, and that’s the kind of thing Fletcher was concerned about.

If something in the child’s eating habits causes her or him to be an obese target of cruel classmates, we want to help. If something in the child’s eating habits causes him or her to be a bully and treat classmates cruelly, we want to help with that, too.

So did Fletcher, and he thought his method of cycling each bite through 32 to 100 chews would cover both contingencies. Another thing he said was:

Anger and worry, especially worry, are the cause of most of the drunkenness and other dissipations which are the curses of the age. Excuse for them or temptation to them is found in the desire to smother the depression which they themselves cause.

In the days when Fletcher was publishing books and doing the lecture circuit, the Catholic church was intrigued by his theories. A priest, Father Higgins, was quoted as saying that “No Fletcherite can be intemperate in the use of alcoholic stimulants,” and Fletcher backed up that assertion. In other words, there was something about fletcherizing that discouraged drunkenness and even alcoholism.

If this were true in even a small proportion of cases, it would still have been an enormous boon. This is a very interesting clue, in a field where the intemperate use of food as a drug leads to food addiction.

The BFRB connection

Fletcher also advised against eating while angry or sad. Nevertheless, people eating while angry or sad might have been exactly why his method was effective. In addition to whatever digestive benefits accrued, the mechanical action of chewing helps to dispel anger or sadness or worry or fear. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the mistake he advised against was the very thing that caused his method to work?

Maybe his followers felt better as a consequence of engaging in the stress-relieving activity of a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), which he didn’t even recognize as such. Unbeknownst to him, his method harnessed the power of the BFRB and turned it from destructive to helpful. It would be inaccurate to say Horace Fletcher was right for the wrong reasons. He called some of the right reasons, just not all of them.

Because the psychological concept of the BRFB didn’t exist yet, Fletcher was unaware of the BFRB aspect of fletcherizing. Since then, science has caught up with him, making it possible to conclude that Horace Fletcher was more prophet than crackpot.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Chew on This: Crunch Comes To Foods from Soup to Pickles,” The Wall Street Journal, 04/02/97
Source: “Menticulture; or, The A-B-C of true living,” Archive.org
Image by Library of Congress.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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