1796 - 1878
Banting was a London undertaker.
Undertaker you say? And why would an
undertaker be found on the pages of a site devoted to health and
Though it is true that Frank Lloyd Wright said,
"The physician can bury his mistakes." that is not why we want to
tell you about William Banting.
William Banting was a short, obese man who one
day discovered he could no longer bend over to tie his shoes.
"Unable to reach his laces, he gingerly eased his feet into his
shoes with a boot hook - taking care as he stooped not to stress the
angry boils on his buttocks." [The
To avoid the pain in his
knees, he walked down the stairs backwards. And besides the boils,
he suffered from carbuncles, failing sight, and impaired hearing,
and insomnia. He was the only one in his family who suffered from
corpulence and when he found people on the street sniggering and
making cruel remarks, he sunk himself into his work to avoid social
Like anyone corpulent today, Banting tried
everything. He took up to three Turkish baths a week and lost a bit.
Then he tried a starvation diet, which only increased his weight
when he quit that. He took brisk walks, took up horse riding and
rowing. He admits, "It is true I gained muscular vigour, but with it
a prodigious appetite, which I was compelled to indulge, and
consequently increased in weight, until my kind old friend advised
me to forsake the exercise."
Ready to give up, he went to see his physician.
However, his physician happened to be away on his usual summer
holiday and instead showed up in the office of the distinguished
surgeon, Dr William Harvey. When Banting laid out his struggles
before the good doctor, Harvey perked up. You see, he'd just
returned from a conference in Paris where he'd heard Claude Bernard
deliver a lecture on diet and diabetes. Harvey took copious notes as
Banting described his daily food intake.
Harvey prescribed the following: cut out
potatoes, bread, sugar, milk, and beer. He tore off the sheet he'd
been scribbling on and handed it to Banting. It had the following
regimen upon it:
Breakfast, 9am: 6 oz of either beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish,
bacon or cold meat of any kind except pork or veal; 9 oz of tea or
coffee without milk or sugar; a little biscuit or 1 oz of dry toast.
Lunch, 2pm: 5-6 oz of any fish except salmon, herrings or eels, or
any meat except pork or veal; any vegetable except potato, parsnip
or beetroot, turnip or carrot; 1 oz of dry toast; fruit out of a
pudding, not sweetened; any kind of poultry or game; 2-3 glasses of
good claret, sherry or Madeira. Champagne, port and beer are
Tea, 6pm: 2-3 oz of cooked fruit, a rusk or two, tea without milk or
Supper, 9pm: 3-4 oz of meat or fish similar to lunch. For nightcap,
if required, a tumbler of grog (gin, whisky or brandy, without
sugar) or a glass or two of claret or sherry. [The
Banting was absolutely delighted at this
prescription. It was much more liberal than any diet he'd ever
considered. He was so delighted, he tipped the good doctor and extra
fifty pounds to give to his favorite hospital.
Banting stuck to his diet and lost around 50
pounds over the next two years and even wrote a booklet called
Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public (still in print
today) outlining his diet plan. He took no compensation for his
work, and has been viewed by many as a great humanitarian.
the darker side, he was attacked by by others and vilified for
advancing his low-carb diet (very much as Robert Atkins was when he
took it up 100 years later).
In his letters, Banting wrote that he regrets not
having photos of himself taken at the beginning of his diet as proof
to all the unbelievers. Ironic how today, before and after photos
are a must in marketing any diet scheme.
Up until 1963, the word "bant" was listed in the
Oxford English Dictionary. It meant, "to diet."