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The Banting Diet

One hundred and fifty seven years ago, in 1853, a man named William Banting published a booklet titled, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.

In this booklet, Banting, apart from sharing details of the weight he had lost, made all sorts of claims relating weight and inch loss to a change in his diet, without necessarily eating any less. He also invited others to try his suggestions.

Who was William Banting?

William Banting

William Banting was a prominent, British undertaker and coffin maker (December 1796 to March 1878), whose family business of funeral direction was one of the most eminent companies at the time. He was also a distant relative of Sir Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of Insulin.

Banting was the first to popularize a low-carbohydrate diet, in an attempt to address his own weight issues. This diet is popularly known as the “Banting Diet”.

At a height of 5 feet 5 inches, William Banting weighed 202 pounds or 91.6 kilos when he was 65 years old, which made his Body Mass Index, 31.7 kg/m2, making him a class 1 Obese individual.

What Banting Tried, and Why

We haven’t changed much in the last one hundred and fifty odd years, going by Banting’s motivations to lose weight, nor have the basic issues of being overweight evolved any further.

He writes:

I am confident no man laboring under obesity can be quite insensible to the sneers and remarks of the cruel and injudicious in public assemblies, public vehicles, or the ordinary street traffic; nor to the annoyance of finding no adequate space in a public assembly if he should seek amusement or need refreshment, and therefore he naturally keeps away as much as possible from places where he is likely to be made the object of the taunts and remarks of others.

William Banting, “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public”

Banting also mentioned a few of the other undesirable outcomes of being overweight.

Although no very great size or weight, still I could not stoop to tie my shoe, so to speak, nor attend to the little offices humanity requires without considerable pain and difficulty, which only the corpulent can understand; I have been compelled to go down stairs slowly backwards, to save the jar of increased weight upon the ankle and knee joints, and been obliged to puff and blow with every slight exertion, particularly that of going up stairs.

William Banting, “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public”

Banting tried a number of activities to reduce his weight, some his own ideas, some advised by physicians and others due to their being a popular practice at the time, though nothing worked. This reminds me of the number of remedies we’ve all tried in fruitless attempts to tackle our weight issues.

  • Physical exercise
  • Sea Air
  • Bathing in different locations
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waters of different locations
  • Vapor baths
  • Shampooing
  • Medicines
  • Turkish baths

What Finally Worked for Banting?

Ultimately, on the advice of his physician, Dr. William Harvey (who further had attended lectures of Claude Bernard in the context of Diabetes management), Banting shifted his diet and lost weight. In a nutshell, he was advised to avoid bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes.

Banting mentions his previous diet included the following foods, which I’m sure most of us will identify with completely.

  • Breakfast: bread, milk, tea with milk and sugar, buttered toast
  • Lunch: meat, beer, bread and pastry
  • Tea: Similar to breakfast
  • Dinner: fruit tart or bread and milk

Sounds quite like the things we like ourselves, and he also mentions being very fond of bread, a love we can all identify with.

Here’s the diet as recommended in his booklet

  • For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar), a little biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast.
  • For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira—champagne, port and beer forbidden.
  • For tea, two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar.
  • For supper, three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret.
  • For nightcap, if required, a tumbler of grog—(gin, whiskey, or brandy, without sugar)—or a glass or two of claret or sherry.

As you can see, he appeared to be avoiding fatty food such as pork, but more explicitly seemed to be staying away from all manner of carbohydrates.

How much did Banting Lose?

As per his booklet, Banting lost 45 pounds / 20 kilos and about 12 inches in a period of about one year. Apart from losing weight, Banting also sharing other positive outcomes of his new diet.

  • I have not felt so well as now for the last twenty years.
  • Have suffered no inconvenience whatever in the probational remedy.
  • Am reduced many inches in bulk, and 35 lbs. in weight in thirty-eight weeks.
  • Come down stairs forward naturally, with perfect ease.
  • Go up stairs and take ordinary exercise freely, without the slightest inconvenience.
  • Can perform every necessary office for myself.
  • The umbilical rupture is greatly ameliorated—and gives me no anxiety.
  • My sight is restored—my hearing improved.
  • My other bodily ailments are ameliorated—indeed almost past into matters of history.

What are your takeaways? Do you find any similarities in your own experiences? Do share.

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