The World’s First Diet Plan
We’ve been talking about diets and dieting. Dieting for weight loss has really only been a potential issue for the average person in the last few hundred years because prior to that, most people’s problem was getting enough food, not getting too much. But by the mid 1800s obesity was becoming a problem for some people.
In England around 1850, a man named William Banting was trying to reduce his size. He found he had to descend stairs backwards because of pain in his ankles and knees if he went down in the usual fashion, and he had to have help in tying his shoes. Banting tried starvation, purgatives, diuretics, hot Turkish baths, and rigorous exercise. These were all unsuccessful. Some of the doctors that he consulted told him that obesity was simply incurable.
Low Carbohydrate Advice Is Not New!
William Banting is of major interest to us because he is the first person on record to follow a low carbohydrate diet, and to write about his experiences with the plan. After much failure in trying to lose weight, Banting had occasion to consult a Dr. William Harvey for a totally unrelated medical condition, and found the answer to his overweight problem in the bargain. Dr. Harvey recommended that Banting change his diet by cutting out most sugar and starch since foods containing those substances tend to create body fat.
The dietary plan that Banting followed dictated four meals a day chosen from protein (meat, poultry, or fish), green vegetables, a little unsweetened fruit, several glasses of dry wine, and a little dry toast. (Toast was allowed in Banting’s plan because it was generally believed at that time that toasting bread diminished the starch in it. Another common misconception of the time was that pork contained starch. Therefore, Banting’s diet plan did not include any pork.)
Banting wrote that he ate no root vegetables, no potatoes or bread, no sugar, no sweetened drinks, and no pastries or desserts. As a result of following his low carbohydrate plan, Banting dropped fifty pounds at the rate of about one pound per week. He was overjoyed! Because he wanted to share his discovery with others, he wrote what turned out to be theworld’s first diet book.
The First Diet Book
Isn’t it amazing that the world’s first diet book suggested a low carbohydrate plan? Actually more of a booklet or pamphlet than a true book, it was called Letter On Corpulence Addressed to the Public. Banting published the first edition in 1862. (Take note: 1862, not 1962!) The booklet later went into four editions, and achieved worldwide circulation after being translated into French and German. Some 68,000 copies of the booklet were sold over a five to six year period, and this at a time when at least half of the population could not read, and when diet advice was generally unknown.
It Has Been Known For A Century And A Half!
I personally think this is just too incredible! The truth about the low carbohydrate diet has been known for at least 140 years! Furthermore, some professional men that Banting met after publication of his book 140 years ago told him his dietary system was “as old as the hills,” which means the truth was known for much longer than 140 years! One of Banting’s correspondents told him that his diet plan had “long beenrecommended” to men who were training for running or boxing, but had never been applied to unhealthy or overweight people because the diet plan was tied up with those sporting activities. Banting declared that “by proper diet alone, the evils of corpulence may be removed without the addition of those active exercises, which are impossible to the sickly or unwieldy patient.”
Even The Very First Low Carber Was Given Grief!
When Banting published the fourth edition of his book, about 1865, he described how he had “finally become invulnerable to the ridicule, contempt, or abuse which were not spared in the earlier stages.” And he told how he had come to “look with pity, not unmixed with sorrow, upon men of eminence [the British Medical Association] who had the rashness and folly to designate the dietary system as ‘humbug’…”
Remember, we are talking about 1865, here! The medical profession had no idea how to treat obesity, but they were sure Banting’s way was wrong! Banting said that doctors of his day objected that he “could not have consulted any eminent members of their fraternity on the subject of obesity.” This, despite the fact that he repeatedly pointed out that his “medical advisers were neither few, nor of second-rate reputation,” but that not one of them had suggested the real cause of the obesity from which he suffered, nor proposed any remedy, until he consulted Dr. Harvey. Many of us find that our own family, friends, or doctors object to the low carbohydrate life choices we are making. We are in good company, and have been so for all these years.
They Called The Diet Plan “Banting”
When Banting published the third and fourth edition of his ‘Letter,’ he was very concerned to show the advantages of the system that had come to be called “Banting.” He also wanted to assure the reading public that he had not found any dangers to others who had followed his plan. Some 2,000 people wrote to him, attesting to their successes!
But apparently word of problems arising from the diet were as common then as now, and Banting pointed out that these reports proved to have “no better foundation than the frequent reports of my death, or of my being seriously ill and afflicted with boils, carbuncles, and other ailments through my rigid pursuit of the dietary system.” Today we are told that our cholesterol levels will suffer, or that our kidneys will give up the ghost, accusations that are equally without foundation.
Next time, I’ll have a few more words to say about William Banting and then we’ll go on in our discussion about dieting and diets. I hope you’ll join me.