What Was the First Diet Book?

Posted on 17 Jan 2015 00:37

It is hard to name, for certain, the very first diet or weight loss book. For centuries, there have been many books on dietary regimens, and nutrition, and health.

Some of these books would have had sections on weight loss, and others may have promised weight loss or weight-control. Keep in mind, however, that thinness wasn't always considered a healthy state.

The book that is usually given credit for being the very first "diet book" or book on weight loss, was Letter on Corpulence by William Banting.

William Banting, a successful London undertaker, was born in England in 1797 and struggled with obesity throughout his life. Only 5-foot 5-inches tall, he weighed up to 202 pounds. Once he was 40, his weight and width was seriously interfering with his life. He had trouble walking down stairs and could not even stoop to tie his shoes.

Banting consulted many doctors, trying to get help for his weight problem, but nothing seemed to help. It wasn't until he was 66, in 1863, that he was finally able to lose weight over 50 pounds in one year, getting down to 156 pounds.


One of the many physical problems that Banting suffered from his obesity was a periodic deafness caused by fat pressing against his inner ear. For this problem, he consulted an ear specialist, Dr. William Harvey, who had developed a diet free of starch and sugar, primarily for diabetes patients. Dr. Harvey decided that all of Banting's health problems could be solved by losing weight, so he advised him on a dietary regimen.

Ecstatic over his success, and his drastically improved health, he wrote a 22-page book (really a pamphlet) promoting his dietary practices called Letter on Corpulence1, which was published in 1863. He used his own money to publish the book, financed through his successful undertaking and carpentry businesses. The medical community ridiculed Banting and Dr. Harvey for being unscientific.

The Banting Diet, as it came to be known, recommended a high-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet. The first three editions sold 63,000 copies in Britain alone. A huge success, in those days. It was also sold in the United States and translated it into French and German. Banting, to "to bant" became a generic word for dieting, during this time. It may be said that Banding was the first successful low-carb dieter, although the term low-carb was not used in those days.

Banting died in 1878. 12 editions of his book were published up to 1902. The true popularity of low-carb, high-protein diets, however, did not begin until Robert Atkins published his first diet, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, in 1972.

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