William Banting by Lillian Marek

William Banting was huffing and puffing by the time he reached the top of the first flight of stairs, or so the story goes. He said to himself, “I need to lose some weight.”

He was probably right about that.

At five feet five inches, Banting was not a tall man—but in his mid-60s he weighed in at about 200 pounds.


He went to various doctors and tried various cures, but eventually—in 1862—he hit on a diet that actually worked for him. He lost weight at the rate of about a pound a week until he got down to 167 pounds.

So delighted was he with the success of his diet that he wrote a pamphlet about it, “Letter on Corpulence: Addressed to the Public,” and printed a thousand copies, which he distributed free. It proved to be so popular that he kept reprinting it, though charging enough to cover the cost for the second printing, and eventually a bit more.

The  public ate it up, so to speak. “Banting” became synonymous with dieting, and to “bant” was, in the late 19th century and beyond, what people did to lose weight.

Here is Mr. Banting’s diet:

“For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar); a … biscuit, or one ounce

of dry toast.

“For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding [i.e., pastry], any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira —Champagne, Port and Beer are forbidden.

“For tea, Two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar.

“For supper, Three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret.

“For nightcap, if required, A tumbler of grog (gin, whisky, or brandy without sugar) or a glass or two of claret or sherry.”

This popular diet from the 1860s bears a distinct resemblance to the Drinking Man’s Diet, a popular diet from the 1960s, and more than a slight resemblance to the Atkins diet, with its avoidance of carbohydrates.

As diets go, it is no doubt healthier than Beau Brummel’s prescription of vinegar and bread. And it is certainly healthier that the diet the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth favored. Any time she went over what she considered her ideal weight, she simply stopped eating. Completely.

She was beautiful, but a bit odd.

Lillian Marek was born and raised in New York City. At one time or another she has had most of the interesting but underpaid jobs available to English majors. After a few too many years in journalism, she decided she prefers fiction, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what they deserve. The first book in her Victorian Adventure series, Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, won first prize in both the Launching A Star and the Windy City Four Seasons contests. The third book, A Scandalous Adventure, will be published on August 2. She now lives on Long Island, next to a pond inhabited by swans and snapping turtles, with occasional visits from cormorants, egrets, and herons. Find out more by visiting http://lilmarek.indiemade.com.

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Charlotte Russell

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