Plan's name: Sometimes known as the "Banting" or "Harvey-Banting Diet"
Book(s): Letter on Corpulence by William Banting. Original Publication Date: 1864. First 3 editions sold 63,000 copies in UK alone - also translated and sold heavily in France, Germany and USA. 4th Edition (1869) included letters of testimony from a selection of at least 1800 readers who wrote to Banting supporting his assertions and praising his diet
About the author: William Banting was a fashionable London undertaker in the Victorian era, who for 20 years had been vainly trying to lose weight. He approached all the leading specialists of the time, and faithfully tried all their wacky suggestions, but none of them worked. As he continued to grow ever more obese, his health suffered. He had to walk downstairs backwards, and could not tie up his own shoelaces. He suffered an umbilical rupture, and eventually started going deaf and losing his sight. He finally consulted an ear specialist, who stated that all Banting's ailments were caused by obesity. He gave Banting a diet to follow. Banting assiduously followed this diet, lost a considerable amount of weight, and was relieved of all the ailments and infirmities.
Basic Philosophy: Banting published "Letter of Corpulence" at his own expense, to make this great new diet available to others, but he professed no medical knowledge, so the pamphlet does not contain a physiological explanation for how the diet functions. But the inquisitive mind can turn for this to his medical adviser William Harvey's 1872 publication "On Corpulence in relation to disease, with some remarks on diet".
The style of Banting's pamphlet is grandiloquent at times, but persevering with it reveals a surprising number of issues which have resonance today. These include obese people being treated with contempt and assumed to deserve their obesity because of self-indulgence and lack of willpower, a consideration of how quickly weight should be lost, how long the diet should be continued, the number and variety of officially-sponsored diets which never work, a vehement opposition to low-carbohydrate diets by sections of the public and the medical profession, and the full misery of obesity only ever being truly understood by fellow sufferers.
It might seem that the most noteworthy aspect of this booklet is being the first low-carbohydrate diet ever published, as this gives it historical significance. However, it also contains some spectacularly predictive statements, which preceded medical proof by scores of years. For instance, Banting notes that his diet only seems to attack superfluous deposits of fat, which was not proved scientifically for another 60 years. Another example is that Banting enjoins us to "avoid any starchy or saccharine matter which tends to the disease of corpulence…whether it be swallowed in a direct form or produced in the stomach by combination". Almost identical words were published a whole century later by a Director of Medical Research following a lifetime of observations. The attentive reader may also notice that Banting comments that different people show differing degrees of tolerance for the foods which promote obesity, a very current issue today.
This booklet also covers the following themes: it provides independent documentary evidence of the efficacy of the diet, it chronicles a number of medical conditions caused by obesity and later relieved by the diet, and it lists some of the prevailing medical theories and so-called remedies of Banting's day, which shows the prevalence of quackery at the time. An interesting snippet for me was learning that the height and weight charts that Insurance Companies and the Medical Profession still use today were based arbitrarily on calculation of the volume of air passing in and out of the lungs, as an approximate guide to the health of organs in the body, especially the lungs. Predictably though, the main thrust of the booklet is to set out the empirical evidence of Banting's own experience (backed by others), to describe the diet, and to issue a challenge to other corpulent people to try it themselves for a month.
The diet is what would now be described as "high protein, high fat and low carbohydrate, with no calorie restriction".
By the numbers: : N/A
Method: On the face of it, Banting seems to be advocating just one diet, to be continued indefinitely. But on closer inspection, he allows a second phase when people are at or near their target weight. Not only does he encourage experimenting with all food types, but he also allows deliberate taking of carbohydrates, providing any weight gains this may lead to are immediately re-lost by strict re-adoption of the diet. Experimentation is also allowed at earlier stages, to establish which foods cause weight gain for that individual, and which do not. Those which do not may be re-introduced to the diet, even if they are foods known to cause weight gain in others.
Method: Only 6 food items are expressly prohibited:-
Bread, milk, butter, beer, sugar and potatoes.
No attempt is made to restrict all Carbohydrates, but the following are also listed as those to be avoided:-
All root crops, including carrot, turnip, parsnip, swede and beetroot.
Vegegatbles of all kinds grown above ground are deemed acceptable, even though Banting himself records weight gains from eating peas.
Banting finds fruit less likely to increase weight if cooked without sugar, than eaten raw.
4 moderate meals per day are recommended, rather than 3 larger ones.
Banting refers to fat being skimmed off gravies and jellies.
- Breakfast 4-5 ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon or cold meat of any kind except pork.
- 1 small biscuit or 1 ounce of dry toast. 1 large cup of tea without milk or sugar.
- Lunch 5-6 ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato.
- Any kind of poultry or game. 1 ounce of dry toast. Fruit. 2-3 glasses of good claret, sherry or Madeira.Tea 2-3 ounces of fruit. 1-2 rusks*. 1 cup of tea without milk or sugar.
- Supper 3-4 ounces of any meat except pork, or any fish except salmon. 1-2 glasses of claret.
- Night-cap 1 tumbler of grog* or 1-2 glasses of claret or sherry.
*"rusks" may be bread cut from a loaf and re-baked; "grog" is gin, whisky, or brandy with water but without sugar.
Unique Fatures: Exercise: not considered relevant. "Excess weight removed by proper diet alone, without addition of active exercises"
Fat: Banting refers to fat being skimmed off gravies and jellies.
Sugar: Banting has identified sugar as the main cause of his own obesity, and warns strongly against it.
Harvey also understood that flour is "broken down in the body to form sugar", so Harvey and Banting both warn against it.
Summarized by: Andy Davies