The First Diet

The idea of dieting to lose weight is really a fairly modern concept. For centuries, people worked and hunted to get enough food, often working sun up till sundown to achieve this aim!  There is a reason so many old recipes call for pork fat and bacon and lots of it! People working that hard needed as many calories as they could get!

Nutrition is also a modern concept. People in the early centuries thought one food was as good as another, and didn’t differentiate. But this meant that some people did gain weight, because the foods they were able to obtain, or the foods they preferred to eat, caused weight gain. People who had sedentary jobs, or who were gluttons, would and could gain weight.

Along came an obese man named William Banting in England in about 1850. He was having trouble getting around, and decided that losing weight would alleviate the pain in his ankles. He went to his doctor, who told him there was no cure for obesity, that some people just had it.

A fascinating article here details what Mr. Banting went through in an attempt to shed pounds:

“Banting went into hospital twenty times in as many years for weight reduction. He tried swimming, walking, riding and taking the sea air. He drank “gallons of physic and liquor potassae”, took the spa waters at Leamington, Cheltenham and Harrogate, and tried low-calorie, starvation diets; he took Turkish baths at a rate of up to three a week for a year but lost only 6 pounds in all that time, and had less and less energy.”

Finally a chance encounter with Dr. William Harvey, an ear, nose and throat specialist, started Banting on the right track.  Harvey’s advice to him was to give up bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer and potatoes. These, he told Banting, contained starch and sugar tending to create fat and were to be avoided altogether.

The first low-carb diet was begun! Banting lost 50 pounds in 50 weeks, and was thrilled! He wrote a pamphlet called, “Letter On Corpulence Addressed to the Public”. This was the first diet book, and was not well received by the medical community. But the public loved it.

The booklet later went into four editions, and achieved worldwide circulation after being translated into French and German. 68,000 copies of the booklet were sold over the next six years.