In the early 1960s, my school lunch often consisted of two Limmits weight loss biscuits, perhaps with an apple. It was a time when, in a fit of teenage angst, I wrote in my diary that “my waist measures 20 inches (50cm) which is absolutely disgusting”. And a time when no one worried about using the f-word. In fact, the copy in the launch ad for Limmits in Australia starts out “It’s no fun to be fat”.
Limmits weight loss biscuits, sometimes described as “weight loss meals”, were invented by Leas Cliff Products, a new English subsidiary of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, in 1961. The following year they were launched in the USA, Canada and Australia. Reflecting their pharmaceutical origins, Limmits were sold through pharmacies as well as grocery stores and the early advertising was heavy on nutritional information. The biscuits, it assured readers, were “…chock-full of nourishment – perfectly balanced proportions of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, fat and minerals, in medically approved quantities“. The product was also advertised on television, using the promise “Eat and be slim.”
Initially, there was only one variety available. Two wholemeal biscuits encased an orange-flavoured filling that contained sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (a thickener derived from wood pulp) which helped promote “healthy regularity“. Two Limmits provided 350 calories (1464 kilojoules) which is a mere 81 calories less than a Four ‘n Twenty pie. Add in the apple and I was consuming the energy equivalent of a meat pie in my school lunch.
Pretty soon, the range expanded. A coffee cream version appeared in 1962. And in 1963 advertising became more aggressive. “Some women will run to fat this winter,” it warned. Abandoning the rational, medical tone of the early ads, it zeroed in on body shape in an unabashed bout of fat shaming.
If you stop watching your weight in winter, other people don’t. Friends see those ounces turning into inches…the tightening skirt, the stretching sweater. And if winter clothes add extra bulk, winter meals add extra bulge.
The emphasis on slimming continued through the 1970s, with the Australian Women’s Weekly publishing the latest diets with increasing frequency. The Atkins Diet arrived in 1972 and the diet craze reached a new level of absurdity when Vogue introduced its champagne diet in 1968. In comparison, the Limmits regime seems quite sensible.
The brand persisted through the 1980s and into the 1990s, with new and exotic flavours including the Raspberry Wafer, the Choc Hazelnut Oat Sandwich and Chocolate Valencia Meals. At some point – I can’t determine when but probably in the late 1980s – the ownership seems to have passed to Arnott’s. A television commercial in 1991 may have been the brand’s last gasp. It’s not clear why they disappeared. Changing food tastes? The increasing popularity of diet shakes and smoothies? My personal relationship with Limmits ended when I left school at the end of 1964. The memories are less than fond.