Diets Throughout History: Do You Bant?

“Do you bant?” 

These days, this phrase has lost virtually all meaning, but back in Victorian England, it was the same as asking: “Did you lose weight?” or “Are you on a diet?” 

The term was coined because of a man named William Banting, whose weight-loss experience had such a positive impact on his life that he wanted everyone to know about it.

Banting’s weight-loss journey began when he was in his thirties. He noticed that he was starting to gain weight, so he went to a surgeon who told him to simply exercise more. However, after following this advice, he found that it only ended up increasing his appetite. 

Through the years, Banting experimented with multiple weight-loss methods, even going as far as a starvation diet, and ended up hospitalized for a time. By the age of 65, Banting was about 50 pounds overweight and struggling with his health. His sight and hearing were failing and he suffered an umbilical rupture. 

Banting eventually met ear, nose, and throat specialist, Dr. William Harvey. At this time in history, not much was known about the complexities between one’s diet and health, but Dr. Harvey had been attending medical lectures in Paris. Through his learnings, he began to make some connections.

He advised Banting to stop eating bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, and to eat meals comprised of vegetables and meat. If this diet sounds familiar, that’s because it’s essentially a low-carb diet.

While Banting contributed his ailments to his weight, we now have more research indicating that this type of diet can be beneficial for people who have diabetes. Whether or not Banting actually had diabetes is unknown, but thankfully for him, the diet helped. After about a year, he’d lost 50 pounds, his hearing and vision had improved, and he reported feeling more agile.

Banting was so thrilled with his recovered health that he wanted others to know about this diet, so he wrote a pamphlet, which he titled: “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.”

Not super catchy, but he was no Lord Byron.

In this pamphlet, Banting talked about his experience and advised his readers to make the same changes to his diet that he did. He also charged nothing for this pamphlet, with the intent of helping working-class people who had similar ailments to his own and couldn’t afford to spend time or money on hospital treatments.

While his language was a product of his time (even going as far as calling obesity a “parasite that affects humanity”), in his concluding addenda, he addresses the benefits of enjoying all foods in moderation.

Banting lived out the remainder of his life at his lower weight, a true demonstration of a sustainable diet. As this kind of diet underwent scientific testing, it became accepted as a valid way to eat healthily and even help people manage their diabetes.

While fad diets come and go (and definitely don’t help maintain weight loss), William Banting gave us perhaps one of the earliest examples of what changing our diet could lead to, and how it could be sustainable.

If you want to learn more about how to make lasting, positive changes to your diet, we’ve got you covered!


[1] Roberts, W.C. Facts and ideas from anywhere. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2000.

[2] Singh, A. William Banting. 2019.

[3] Foley, P., Gunson, J., Baumann, S. Two Stories about Diet and Diabetes in Europe. Nursing Science Quarterly. 2019.
[4] Banting, W. Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. 1863.