The History Behind The First Low Carbohydrate Diet Book

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Phillip Chang, MD

Phillip Chang, MD

Board Certified By The American Board of Plastic Surgeons.
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Nowadays, everyone knows that low-carb diets work. Too many carbs are unhealthy – it seems like common knowledge. But this seemingly normal fact hasn’t always been so obvious. In fact, the 1860s was the first time that a weight loss diet aimed at regulating carbohydrate intake was popularized. The revolutionary booklet Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public sparked the fire that encouraged scientists, specialists, and the general public to investigate the connection between certain foods and weight gain. 
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William Banting: The Low Carb Dieter

So who was the first to promote the idea of carb intake and weight loss? Was it a scientist, a university professor, or a doctor? 

Actually, it was William Banting, a funeral director and skilled carpenter in his mid-60s who popularized the low-carb diet. He was a regular guy living a regular life, and like many people both then and now, he struggled with obesity. William Banting reportedly gained about 2 pounds a year beginning in his mid-thirties. And by the age of 62, he weight 202 pounds yet stood only 5 feet 5 inches tall. 

As expected, Banting’s weight took a heavy toll on his health. Despite trying to lose weight, his umbilical had ruptured, his eyesight was worsening, and he was losing his hearing. He had tried exercise and a low calorie diet: it only caused his appetite to increase. He tried the starvation diet, bathing in spas – anything the doctors suggested. Nothing was working. In fact, he ended up in the hospital for his weight. 

Finally, with the help of Banting’s friend, ear and throat doctor William Harvey, Banting tried limiting his diet by cutting out carbohydrates, starches, and sugars. He gave up bread, butter, beer, sugar, meat, milk, and potatoes. Instead, he followed a diet of meat, greens, fruits, and dry wine (Paleo, anyone?).  After 5 months of this diet, Banting had lost enough weight to resume normal life. The following year, he had lost over 50 pounds. He gained both his hearing and sight back and reported feeling more active, agile, confident, and overall healthier. 

"My diminished girth, in tailor phraseology, was hardly conceivable even by my own friends, or my respected medical adviser, until I put on my former clothing, over what I now wear, which is a thoroughly convincing proof of the remarkable change." ~ William Banting

Losing Weight The Banting Way

In 1863, Banting published a booklet that detailed his struggle with weight loss. He explained how the low carbohydrate diet allowed him to recover his health, confidence, and lose the extra baggage. Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public grew incredibly popular among people struggling with weight, scientists, doctors, and others. His diet book helped obese individuals lose weight effectively, caused the scientific community to research the effects of carbs on health, and gave doctors a better understanding of how to help their overweight patients. 

Today, Banting’s book is still available in print and online. It’s regarded as the first low-carb diet book and acts as the cornerstone to most other diets. His booklet was revolutionary in the 19th century and is still praised for its insight. A diet low in refined carbohydrates should be the starting place for any weight loss strategy.  Other elements such as exercise, low/high fat diets, or keto diets are all peripheral to this key concept.

As for Banting, he was able to live a healthier and more comfortable life until he died in his 80s in 1878. His legacy, however, lives on through his book and its weight-loss effects that continue to influence scientific findings, diets, and lives today.

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