The History of the Low Carbohydrate Diet

The History of the Low Carbohydrate Diet

The low carbohydrate diet represents a revolutionary principle of weight control in the sense that anything which attacks an entrenched regime is revolutionary. And the rule of the calorie count, in modern dietetic thinking, is certainly entrenched. So much so, that the most difficult thing you must do in order to benefit from the low carbohydrate diet is to put yourself through a certain amount of mental readjustment before you even begin to adjust your menu.

To borrow a concept from George Orwell, you will be required to do some nutritional Newthink. Dethrone the calorie. A considerable amount of research now indicates that it is not the number of calories you take in, but the kind, that affects the formation of body fat. You may be eating not too many calories, but more carbohydrate calories than your body can burn up.

Paradoxically, we can go back a hundred years and find an instance when this ‘new’ principle was put into successful operation. The results were spectacular then, but the basis for them was, by our present scientific evaluations, incompletely analysed and misunderstood. In consequence, the principle was sidetracked out of the mainstream of weight-control experimentation, and the calorie became king-or tyrant.

The episode was recorded for us by an otherwise uneminent Victorian, one William Banting. if you are addicted to the reading of Victorian novels, his name may ring a bell; somewhere you will have encountered young ladies who couldn’t have a second bun for tea because they were ‘banting’. Your eye may have slid over this as merely another example of that odd way the British have with slang: if the girl couldn’t have seconds, she was obviously dieting, and what had ‘banting’ to do with dieting?

Had you been around at the time, you would have known. William Banting was a prosperous London coffin-maker who constructed final resting places for many notables of his time, the Duke of Wellington among them. It seems probable that Mr. Banting’s apprentices did the actual woodwork involved, for his measurements make it difficult to see how he could have approached close enough to a workbench to be of much use. He stood less than five and a half feet tan and weighed something around fifteen stone.

In his Letter on Corpulence, which he wrote in 1864 to acquaint the public with his dramatic and almost miraculous story, he makes the touching observation that he could not tie his own shoelaces or come down a flight of steps facing front. We can infer that he must have had trouble leading any kind of normal life.

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