William Banting …

Good old King George lll died at Windsor Castle at 8.38 pm on the 29th of January, 1820. He’d  been completely out of his mind for about a decade. He was buried in St Georges Chapel in the castle on the 16th of February. The undertaker was 5 feet 5 inches tall and about 5 feet 5 inches round.

These are the sort of details you have come to expect of McGee, though I confess that I made up the last one although it might have been close to the mark.

The undertaker in question was William Banting (1796 – 1878). He was much troubled by his weight, in 1863 he wrote …

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 was not through neglect of necessary bodily activity, nor from excessive eating, drinking, or self-indulgence of any kind, except that I partook of the simple aliments of bread, milk, butter, beer, sugar, and potatoes more freely than my aged nature required …

He had tried diet and exercise and a number of treatments we would find odd today such as taking the waters at various spas. At one stage of his life he was rowing a boat on the Thames every day before work but it made him so hungry it was doing more harm than good. Eminent doctors were consulted but to no avail.

Obesity seems to me very little understood or properly appreciated by the faculty and the public generally, or the former would long ere this have hit upon the cause for so lamentable a disease, and applied effective remedies, whilst the latter would have spared their injudicious indulgence in remarks and sneers, frequently painful in society, and which, even on the strongest mind, have an unhappy tendency …

Not a lot’s changed really.

Enter Dr William Harvey of Soho Square who prescribed a diet …

The items from which I was advised to abstain as much as possible were : —Bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes

By the time William was ready for bed he’d eaten about a pound (0.5 kg) of various dead animals, one serve of vegetables other than potato and a couple of ounces of dry toast. He’d drunk unlimited quantities of tea with no milk or sugar, half a dozen glasses of claret and a brandy, the first known keto diet published in the English language.

He tells us that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 202 pounds (BMI 33.6). The weight and the girth dropped off. The undertaker to royalty was delighted …

I have not felt so well as now for the last twenty years.

Have suffered no inconvenience whatever in the probational remedy.

Am reduced many inches in bulk, and 35 lbs. in weight in thirty-eight weeks.

Come down stairs forward naturally, with perfect ease.

Go up stairs and take ordinary exercise freely, without the slightest inconvenience.

Can perform every necessary office for myself.

He tossed an extra fifty quid in the direction of Dr Harvey to use for the benefit of various hospitals and wrote and published a pamphlet, distributed free of charge so that others might share the benefits.

The Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public ran into several editions and can still be downloaded. Subsequent editions were updated with further weight loss, reaching 46 pounds from a starting point of 202. He lost a little over 12 inches from his waist. (BMI 26).

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.


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