A Letter on Corpulence

A Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public by William Banting 

Introduced by the Wellcome Collection, Obesity exhibition

The first diet book, A Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public was written in 1863 William Banting. 600 later additions to the genre are displayed [on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Collection building at Euston, London].

Visitors are invited to browse through the books  that cover a number of categories. There are books on diets based on the consumption of one food, celebrity diet, diets for people of specific ages and diets based on astrology, religion and pseudo-science. There are are low-fat diets, low-carbohydrate diets, high-protein diets and high-fibre diets.

William Banting was a notable English undertaker. Formerly he is known for being the first to popularise a weight loss diet based on limiting the intake of carbohydrates, especially those of a starchy or sugary nature.



In 1863, Banting wrote ‘A Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public’ which contained the particular plan for the diet he followed. It was written as an open letter in the form of a personal testimonial. In this small book Banting accounted all of his unsuccessful fasts, diets, spa and exercise regimes in his past, then described the dietary change which finally had worked for him, following the advice of a physician.

Banting’s own diet was four meals per day, consisting of meat, greens, fruits, and dry wine. The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, saccharine matter, starch, beer, milk and butter. ‘A Letter on Corpulence’ was popular for years to come, and it was used as a model for modern diets. 

Initially Banting published the book at his personal expense. The self-published edition was so popular that he determined to sell it to the general public. The third and later editions were published by Harrison, London. The pamphlet’s popularity was such that the question ‘Do you bant?’ referred to his method, and eventually to dieting in general. In the Nordic countries ‘banta’ is still the main verb for ‘being on a diet’. The book is still in print.



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