tired trail driver alighted from his saddle, tied his horse and waddled
toward the chuck wagon. Breathing dust behind cantankerous longhorns
all morning had the Texas driver mighty hungry for lunch.
"What's for dinner, Cookie?"
"This ain't Delmonico's," the master of the chuck wagon replied. "Same
thing's yestiddy...fried steak, taters, biscuits, molasses and Arbuckle's."
(The West's favorite coffee before Starbucks.)
Ravenous as he was, the cowpoke gazed down at his ample belly, a spread
that looked about as big as King's Rancho down in South
Texas. He really needed to lose some weight.
"I was thinking baked chicken breast with herbal seasoning, lightly
sauteed mushrooms, steamed asparagus...maybe some canned tomatoes,"
he said. "I need to do something about this danged corpulence. I've
awled two extra notches in my belt and my horse's been breathin' hard
when I'm in the saddle. Shoot, I start blowin,' too, ever time I climb
The cook spat in the fire, barely missing the beans slow cooking for
the cowboys' evening meal.
"If you don't like my grub, maybe YOU should start cooking for the
Normally, the threat of having to rustle up his own victuals shut
up even the most vociferous of complaining trail hands. But this young
man really wanted to shed the love handles before he and the boys
hit the Dodge City dance halls. It was time to start banting.
Then the cowboy remembered an ad he'd seen in the Austin Statesman.
He'd bought a copy as their herd went up Congress Avenue right after
crossing the Colorado.
"Reckon you don't happen to have a bottle of Allan's Anti-Fat?" the
weight-conscious drover asked in near desperation.
While the foregoing is fanciful, a little research shows that some
early Texans were as worried about their waistline as they were about
the spread of newly invented barbed wire.
Delving into arcane cultural history is something there's plenty of
time for when you're only consuming 800 calories a day on a medically
supervised weight loss program. After all, it only takes seconds to
open a packet, mix the powder into eight ounces of water, and enjoy
either a strawberry, vanilla or chocolate shake. And there's no shopping,
cooking, washing dishes or eating out.
"Corpulence is not only a disease itself, but the harbinger of others,"
the Greek Hippocrates wrote back when he and his fellow Mediterranean
thinkers were busy coming up with all the many truths that still hold
a 19th century man is credited with inventing the notion of losing
weight in deference to one's health or appearance. His name was William
Banting, and depending on the source, he was either a London upholsterer
or undertaker. Not disputed is that he suffered from corpulence
"In a year and 17 days," the El Paso Times of Nov. 8, 1890
informed its readers, Banting "reduced his weight from 202 pounds
to 156. He elaborated a dietetic method of curing corpulence, which
method is now known by his name."
Yes, for generations, going on a diet was called "banting." And being
overweight was known as corpulence.
Mr. Banting had deduced during the Civil War that eating fewer carbohydrates
and consuming less sugar led to weight loss. By the 1870s, the quack
medicine industry was making money off narcotic or alcohol-laden preparations
that did at least make you feel like you were better. Perhaps they
could offer their customers something to help them in banting.
The June 22, 1878 Austin Daily Statesman carried an ad from
J.C. Allan's Botanic Medicine Co. of Buffalo, NY touting a concoction
called Allan's Anti-Fat. The ad featured an engraving showing a woman
before taking Allan's Anti-Fat and after. The drawing on the left
depicted a large and sad looking lady. On the right was the same woman,
now of normal size and a happier countenance.
"Purely vegetable and perfectly harmless," the ad declared, the preparation
"...acts upon the food in the stomach, preventing its being converted
Of course, the ad continued, one must follow the directions when using
Allan's Anti-Fat. But for those who did, the ad went on, "it will
reduce a fat person from two to five pounds per week." Left unsaid,
though implied, was that users of Allan's Anti-Fat could eat anything
they wanted. This miraculous remedy cost only $1.50 a bottle at drug
stores or "by express." Three bottles (the ad cleverly said a "quarter-dozen")
only cost $4.
The following month, the Capital City daily carried a short item that
today we'd call an advertorial. "Fat People Easily Sunstruck," the
headline warned. Then: "Fat people are not only liable to sudden death
from heart disease, apoplexy, etc., but statistics show...they are
more liable than others to sunstroke and affections arising from extreme
What was a cowboy on the Chisholm Trail to do?
Thankfully some reassuring news: "An extensive experience in the treatment
of corpulence has resulted in the introduction of Allan's Anti-Fat,
a safe, certain, and speedy remedy for the cure of this terrible condition.
If corpulent people who are exposed to the rays of the sun value life,
and a comfortable existence, let them use Allan's Anti-Fat."
By late September, the Statesman ran a Botanic ad containing
letters from happy customers. While all the correspondence reported
excellent results, none came from west of the Mississippi. (Which
may explain the company's Texas advertising campaign.)
This ad offered even more good news. Not only did Allan's Anti-Fat
cure corpulence, it purified the blood, promoted digestion, cured
dyspepsia and "is...a potent remedy for rheumatism."
Well, it's about time for another faux milkshake. Anyone know where
you can buy Allan's Anti-Fat?