Who Started The First-Ever Diet?

Did you ever wonder how and why the first diet ever came to be? We have the details of the first weight loss and the man behind it.

Whether it’s a lifesaving convenience, a bold invention, or a mystery of the cosmos, we don’t often think about how “the first” of anything came to be. But it in our 2020 Farmers’ Almanac, we explore the “fabulous firsts” of many things that are woven into the fabric of our society and lifestyles. Take diets, for example. Did you ever wonder how and why the first diet ever came to be?

The First Diet

It seems as though folks have been fixated on their flab forever. Every year dozens of new diets emerge, all promising to obliterate those excess pounds. But weight loss hasn’t always been an obsession, and there was a time when being on the heavier side was considered a sign of prosperity.

Until British undertaker-to-the-stars William Banting worried about his porky profile, that is.

Banting, who built coffins for royalty, including King George III and IV and Queen Victoria, tried in vain to trim fat from his 5-foot 5-inch, 202-pound frame. He consulted with a surgeon friend and experimented with exercise regimens and starvation. He finally stumbled on a diet that helped him lose almost 50 pounds.

In 1863, Banting published the first diet pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which detailed his low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Interestingly, the first diet has many similarities to the popular weight loss programs of today, including ketogenic diets. Banting drastically reduced his intake of breads, pastries, dairy, and sugar and replaced them with fish, beef, mutton, and kidneys. He must have enjoyed his daily nip of alcohol because he still drank his share of gin, whiskey, and brandy, and usually enjoyed a glass or two of claret or sherry before bed.

The Banting Diet made him famous, and he happily kept off the weight and lived to a ripe old age of 81. Diet experts are still tweaking the Banting diet to this day.

Is today a good day to start a diet? Check out our Best Days Calendar. Many say they get great results when the follow our “best days.”

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Jim Kneiszel

Jim Kneiszel is a freelance writer based in De Pere, Wisconsin. He edits a number of trade publications and runs The Word House with his wife, Judy. His article, Infuriating and Frightening Invasive Species appears in the 2021 Farmers' Almanac.

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