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Dieting: Reduction of Happy Humphrey

3 minute read

Only five years ago, Georgia-born William J. Cobb gave his weight as 802 lbs., billed himself as “Happy Humphrey, the World’s Largest Wrestler,” and won his matches by sitting on his opponents. Today, after learning to flatten his appetite instead of other wrestlers, Cobb weighs in at a svelte 232 lbs.—a staggering 570-lb. loss that may make an equally weighty contribution to modern dietetics.

Cobb’s reduction by more than two-thirds was engineered not out of solicitude for his opponents but by his desire to stay alive. In 1962, heart trouble slowed the happy warrior down; he became so short of wind that he had to sit down on two chairs after every ten steps. Manfully, he tried to curb his appetite; no longer did he wolf down 15 chickens at a sitting. But doctors said he needed stricter discipline. When he waddled into the Medical College of Georgia’s Clinical Investigation Unit in Augusta to volunteer for obesity research, he tipped the hospital’s meat scale at 644 lbs.

No Exercise. Volunteer Cobb lived a carefully regulated life for the next 83 weeks. He was confined to the air-conditioned clinic, permitted no exercise (to avoid fluid loss through sweat), and given only measured amounts of food and water. Each day’s intake was about 1,000 calories, but in 56-day cycles, he was shifted among:

>-A high-protein diet, which included eggs, skimmed milk, ground beef, margarine, toast, tomato soup, catchup, green peas and applesauce.

> A high-carbohydrate diet, with toast, corn, lima beans, shortbread, peaches, applesauce, pineapple, puffed rice, skimmed milk, grape juice, orange juice and a bit of sugar.

> A high-fat diet, with salt-free mayonnaise and butter, tomatoes, eggs, whipped cream and cream cheese.

Rigid Regimen. Cobb stuck to his stiff regimen, completed the program last spring. Now, at 232, he has gone to work in an Augusta shoe-repair shop. He returns to the hospital for a checkup every other week, and has maintained his new figure. Says he: “There’s a heap more will power connected with it than anything else.”

In part, Unit Director Dr. Wayne Greenberg concurs: “This isn’t something magical. The thing is that Cobb had no access to extra food.” Dr. Greenberg found Cobb’s weight loss about the same on all three diets. But significantly, with the protein diet, what disappeared was almost all body fat, and Cobb felt least hungry between meals. With the high-fat diet, two-thirds of the loss was fat; the rest was mostly water (one unwanted side effect: an increase of cholesterol and other blood fats). On the carbohydrate diet, only half the loss was fat; the rest was muscle and fluid (often temporary). One conclusion, noted Dr. Greenberg, is that figures on a scale often deceive a dieter: “People on diets can’t tell how much loss is fat.” An other conclusion is that calories do count—along with will power.

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