Sunday 17 October 2010


'Banting' was the Victorian term for dieting, due to William Banting's A Letter on Corpulence (1863), in which he explaining his own personal method of how to lose weight - a best-seller of its day. Here it is, summarised in the Leisure Hour of 1864.


[* "A Letter on Corpulence, addressed to the Public." By William Banting, Sen., late of St. James's Street, Piccadilly, now of Kensington. Third Edition. Harrison. The present article has had the advantage of revision by Mr. Banting, who has inserted the results of his most recent experience. The Editor can attest the general efficacy of the system. Having suffered from sedentary labour, he reduced himself in one month, by diet and regimen, 7lbs. 2 oz., or more than half a stone. He did not follow strictly Mr. Banting's plan, to some of the details of  which more than necessary importance is attributed; but in the main it agrees with the ordinary rules for training. Lean meat, especially broiled mutton, fish, green vegetables, toasted or "pulled" bread, are the staple articles of food with claret or sherry and water for drink, and tea with little or no sugar and milk. The more exercise the better, and especially early in the morning before breakfast. The minute vessels of nutrition are at that time keen set, and, till food is supplied from without, they will employ themselves in abstracting the superfluous stores in the body. This early exercise trainers know to be quite as important as diet. Being hurtful, however, to some constitutions, medical advice should be first obtained.]

I AM now nearly sixty-six years of age, about five feet five inches in stature, and, in August (1862), weighed 202 lbs.
    Few men have led a more active life - bodily or mentally - from a constitutional anxiety for regularity, precision, and order, during fifty years' business career, from which I have now retired; so that my corpulence and subsequent obesity were not through neglect of necessary bodily activity, nor from excessive eating, drinking, or self-indulgence of any kind.
    None of my family on the side of either parent had any tendency to corpulence, and from my earliest years I had an inexpressible dread of such a calamity; so, when I was between thirty and forty years of age, finding a tendency to it creeping upon me, I consulted an eminent surgeon, now long deceased - a kind personal friend - who recommended increased bodily exertion before my ordinary daily labours began, and thought rowing an excellent plan. I had the command of a good, heavy, safe boat, lived near the river, and adopted it for a couple of hours in the early morning. 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.
    He soon afterwards died, and, as the tendency to corpulence remained, I consulted other high medical authorities (never any inferior adviser), but all in vain. I have tried sea air and bathing in various localities, with much walking exercise; taken gallons of physic and liquor potassae, advisedly and abundantly; tried riding on horseback ; the waters and climate of Leamington many times, as well as those of Cheltenham and Harrogate frequently; have lived upon sixpence a day, so to speak, and earned it, if bodily labour may be so construed; and have spared no trouble nor expense in consultations with the best authorities in the land, giving each and all a fair time for experiment, without any permanent remedy, as the evil still gradually increased.
    I am under obligations to most of those advisers for the pains and interest they took in my case, but only to one for an effectual remedy.
    When a corpulent man eats, drinks, and sleeps well, has no pain to an of complain , and no particular organic disease, the judgment of able men seems paralyzed; for I have been generally informed that corpulence is one of the natural results of increasing years: indeed, one of the ablest authorities as a physician in the land told me he had gained 1 lb. in weight every year since he attained manhood, and was not surprised at my condition, but advised more bodily exercise, vapour-baths and shampooing, in addition to the medicine given. Yet the evil still increased, and, like the parasite barnacles on a ship, if it did not destroy the structure, it obstructed its fair, comfortable progress in the path of life.
    I have been in dock, perhaps twenty times in as many years, for the reduction of this disease, and with little good effect—none lasting. Any one so afflicted is often subject to public remark ; and though in conscience he may care little about it, I am confident no man labouring under obesity can be quite insensible to the sneers and remarks of the cruel and injudicious in public assemblies, public vehicles, or the ordinary street traffic, nor to the annoyance of finding no adequate space in a public assembly if he should seek amusement or need refreshment ; and therefore he naturally keeps away as much as possible from places where he is likely to be made the object of the taunts and remarks of others. I am as regardless of public remark as most men ; but I have felt these difficulties, and therefore avoided such circumscribed accommodation and notice, and by that means have been deprived of many advantages to health and comfort.
    Although no very great size or weight, still I could not stoop to tie my shoe, so to speak, nor attend to the little offices humanity requires, without considerable pain and difficulty, which only the corpulent can understand. I have been compelled to go down stairs slowly backwards, to save the jar of increased weight upon the ankle and knee joints, and been obliged to puff and blow with every slight exertion, particularly that of going up stairs. I have spared no pains to remedy this by low living (moderation and light food was generally prescribed, but I had no direct bill of fare to know what was really intended), and that, consequently, brought the system into a low impoverished state, without decreasing corpulence, caused many obnoxious boils to appear, and two rather formidable carbuncles, for which I was ably operated upon and fed into increased obesity.
    At this juncture (about three years back) Turkish baths became the fashion, and I was advised to adopt them as a remedy. With the first few I found immense benefit in power and elasticity for walking exercise; so, believing I had found the "philosopher's stone," pursued them three times a week till had taken fifty, then less frequently (as I began to fancy, with some reason, that so many weakened my constitution), till I had taken ninety, but never succeeded in losing more than 6 lbs. weight daring the whole course, And I gave up the plan as worthless ; though I have full belief in their cleansing properties, and their value in colds, rheumatism, and many other ailments.
    After consulting many physicians in vain, I found the right man, by whom I was advised to abstain as much as possible from bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, which had been the main (and, I thought, innocent) elements of my existence, or at all events they had for many years been adopted freely.
    These, said my excellent adviser, Mr. W. Harvey, contain starch and saccharine matter, tending to crate fat, and should be avoided. At the first blush it seemed to me that I had little left to live upon; but my kind friend soon showed me there was ample, and I was only too happy to give the plan a fair trial, and, within a very few days, found immense benefit from it. It may better elucidate the dietary plan if I describe generally what I have sanction to take; and that man must be an extra- ordinary person who would desire a better table :-
    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 little biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast.
    For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon; herrings, and eels, any meat except pork and veal, any vegetable except potato and other vegetable roots, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or madeira—champagne, port, and beer forbidden. Green vegetables should be selected at all times. Eggs and cheese may be sparingly used, and are not absolutely 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 requires, a tumbler of grog (gin, whisky, or brandy, without sugar), or a glass or two of claret or sherry.
    This plan leads to an excellent night's rest, with from six to eight hours' sound sleep. The dry toast or rusk may have a tablespoonful of spirit to soften it, which. will prove acceptable. Perhaps I did not wholly escape starchy or saccharine matter, but scrupulously avoided milk, sugar, beer, butter, etc.
    On rising in the morning I take a tablespoonful of a special corrective (alkaline), prescribed by my medical adviser, in a wineglass of water, a most grateful draught, as it seems to carry away all the dregs left in the stomach after digestion, but is not aperient ; then I take about five or six ounces solid and eight of liquid for breakfast ; eight ounces of solid and eight of liquid for dinner; three ounces of solid and eight of liquid for tea; four ounces of solid and six of liquid for supper, and the grog afterwards, if I please. I am not, hoverer, strictly limited to any quantity at either meal, so that the nature of the food is rigidly adhered to.
    I do not recommend every corpulent man to rush headlong into such a change of diet, but to act advisedly and after full consultation with a physician.
    My former dietary table was bread and milk for breakfast, or a pint of tea with plenty of milk and sugar, and buttered toast ; meat, beer, much bread (of which I was always very fond), and pastry for dinner ; the meal of tea similar to that of breakfast, and generally a fruit tart or bread and milk for supper. I had little comfort and far less sound sleep.
    I can conscientiously assert I never lived so well as under the new plan of dietary, which I should have formerly thought a dangerous, extravagant trespass upon health ; I am very much better, bodily and mentally, and pleased to believe that I hold the reins of health and comfort in my own hand; and though at sixty-six years of age I cannot expect to remain free from some coming natural infirmity that all flesh is heir to, I can. not at the present time complain of one.
    My weight is reduced 46 lbs. ; and as the very gradual reductions which I am able to show may be interesting to many, I have great pleasure in stating them, believing they serve to demonstrate further the merit of the system pursued.
My weight on 26th August 1862, was 202 lbs.
On 7th September it was 200lbs., having lost 2lbs.
On 27th September it was 197lbs., having lost 3 more.
On 19th October it was 193lbs. having lost 4 more.
On 9th November it was 190lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 3rd December it was 187lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 24th December it was 184 lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 14th Jan., 1863, it was 182lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 4th February it was 180lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 25th February it was 178lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 18th March it was 176lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 8th April it was 173lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 29th April it was 170lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 20th May it was 167lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 10th June it was 164lbs. having lost 3 more.
On 1st July it was 161lbs having lost 3 more
On 22nd July it was 159lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 12th August it was 157lbs. having lost 2 more.
On 26th August it was 156lbs. having lost 1 more.
On 12th September it was 156lbs. lave lost 0 more.
Total loss of weight: 46lbs.
My girth is reduced round the waist, in tailor phraseology,12¼ inches ; which extent 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 was a thoroughly convincing proof of the remarkable change. These important desiderata have been attained by the most easy and comfortable means, with but little medicine, and almost entirely by a system of diet that formerly I should have thought dangerously generous. I am told by all who know me that my personal appearance is greatly improved, and that I seem to bear the stamp of good health. This may be a matter of opinion or friendly remark, but I can honestly assert that I feel restored in health, "bodily and mentally," appear to have more muscular power and vigour, eat and drink with a good appetite, and sleep well. All symptoms of faintness, of acidity, indigestion, and heartburn (with which I was frequently tormented) have vanished.
    I am now in that happy comfortable state that I should not hesitate to indulge in any fancy in regard to diet, but if I did so, should watch the consequences, and not continue any course which might add to weight or bulk and consequent discomfort.
    Is not the system suggestive to artists and men of sedentary employment who cannot spare time for exercise, consequently become corpulent, and clog the little muscular action with a superabundance of fat, thus easily avoided?
    Pure genuine bread may be the staff of life, as it is termed. It is so, particularly in youth ; but I feel certain it is more wholesome in advanced life, if thoroughly toasted, as I take it: My impression is, that any starchy or saccharine matter tends to the disease of corpulence in advanced life; and whether it be swallowed in that form or generated in the stomach, that all things tending to these elements should be avoided, of course always under sound medical authority.*
[* The following tabular statement in regard to weight as proportioned to stature may be interesting and useful to corpulent readers:-
5 feet 1 should be 8 stone 8 or 120lbs.
5 feet 2 " 9 stone 0 " 126lbs.
5 feet 3 " 9 stone 7 " 133lbs.
5 feet 4 " 9 stone 10 " 136lbs.
5 feet 5 " 10 stone 2 " 142lbs.
5 feet 6 " 10 stone 5 " 145lbs.
5 feet 7 " 10 stone 8 " 148lbs.
5 feet 8 " 11 stone 1 " 155lbs.
5 feet 9 " 11 stone 8 " 162lbs.
5 feet 10 " 12 stone 1 " 169lbs.
5 feet 11 " 12 stone 6 " 174lbs.
6 feet 0 " 12 stone 10 " 178lbs.
This tabular statement, taken from a mean average of 2648 healthy men, was formed and arranged for an insurance company by the late Dr. John Hutchinson.
Postscript by Mr. Banting.
I can now confidently say that quantity of diet may be safely left to the natural appetite ; and that it is the quality only which is essential to abate and cure corpulence. I stated the quantities of my own dietary because it was part of a truthful report ; but some correspondents have doubted whether it should be more or less in their own cases - a doubt which would be better solved by their own appetite or medical adviser.
    The question of four meals a day, and the nightcap, has been abundantly and amusingly criticised. I ought perhaps to have stated, as an excuse for such liberality of diet, that I breakfast between eight and nine o'clock, dine between one and two, take my slight tea meal between fire and six, sup at nine, and only take the nightcap when inclination directs. My object in naming it at all was, that, as a part of a whole system, it should be known, and to show it is not forbidden to those who are advised that they need such a luxury; nor was it injurious in my case. Some have inquired whether smoking was prohibited. It was not. My impression from the experiments I have tried on myself of late is, that saccharine matter is the great moving cause of fatty corpulence. I have not found starchy matter so troublesome as the saccharine, which, I think, largely increases acidity as well as fat.]


  1. Thanks for posting this, I really enjoyed reading it, and sympathised with the poor chap, not least because I finally decided today that I need to do a bit of banting myself.

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