I have been dieting through September in an attempt to lose some of those Covid kilos. I suspect that many of you are like me in having a range of diet books in your home – books with wonderful promises of the slim, trim new you that will emerge if you follow their simple and ever-so-cheerful instructions. If only such books came with a hefty dose of willpower as well!
There are thousands and thousands of diet books on the market, but do you know about the very first one? William Banting (1796 – 1878) was a London undertaker and coffin-maker (his firm was funeral director to the royal household). He was also seriously obese. He weighed 202Ibs and was not a tall man, and he grew depressed by his size: “If fat is not an insidious, creeping enemy, I do not know what is”, he complained. He tried sea air, walking, and vapour baths, but the day came when he was unable to tie his own shoelaces. He had to wear an uncomfortable truss, his knees ached and he struggled to climb his stairs. Something had to be done! A Dr Harvey suggested he cut out carbohydrates (which were the main staple of the 19th century British diet), so Banting went home and drew up a new plan of eating, minus potatoes, bread, beer and sugars. It worked! In less than a year, he lost 46lbs and was delighted.
He then published a booklet – his Letter on Corpulence – Addressed to the Public came out in 1863 and was an instant best-seller. Within a few years, most of Europe and even America was undergoing Banting-mania. The medical establishment attacked his diet as dangerous and even circulated a rumour that he’d died from his diet, and Punch caricatured Banting mercilessly, but people became slimmer as a result of following his diet. By the 1870s the verb ‘to bant’ had become commonplace. People would ask their friends ‘Are you banting?”
Novelist Anthony Trollope was one person who bought the book and ‘banted’ as a result. The term has since been used for a diet popularised in South Africa, and still crops up in novels published as much as 80 years later.
William Banting managed to keep the weight off and lived to the age of 82. He was the ‘Atkins’ of his day and the originator of a type of book that has been taking up plenty of bookshop space ever since! Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.