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January 1, 1844

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French physician Jean-Francois Dancel presented his cure for obesity, a nearly exclusive meat diet, to the French Academy of Sciences in 1844 and later wrote a book on it, which was was translated to English in 1864 by M Barrett in Toronto. Dancel encouraged an exclusively meat diet to cure obesity, but did not add sources of fat like dairy and eggs or high fat meats. "That kind of meat known as game is very nutritious, occupies but small space, and consequently only moderately distends the alimentary canal."





Obesity, or Excessive Corpulence: The Various Causes and the Rational Means of Cure

Jean-Francois Dancel


Important Text:


It is to be borne in mind, that in dividing alimentary matter into two kinds—one fitted to develop fat, and the other having an opposite tendency—my object is merely to suit the indispensable requirements of my plan of treatment. Nor is the conclusion to be drawn, that in order to diminish corpulence, an exclusive meat diet is absolutely necessary. Man is omnivorous; that is to say, he partakes of everything entering into the composition of ordinary alimentation; but, for the purposes of my system, azotized substances should constitute, though not exclusively, his principal food.

Large quantities both of animal and vegetable substances compose the ordinary diet of man. According to some philosophers, man should live on flesh only; while others maintain that man is by nature a vegetable feeder. Most naturalists, however, are agreed that the human species is omnivorous; that is to say, can live both upon vegetable and animal matter. A certain proof, in my opinion, that such is the case, is to be found in the fact that man is provided with the two kinds of teeth, the one appertaining especially to carnivorous, and the other to herbivorous animals.

It is remarkable that man, in his present state of civilization, does not instinctively recognize the kind of food which is beneficial or prejudicial to his well-being. Experience alone teaches him what is good or bad. With the lower animals it is otherwise; they have the power to discern that which is suitable for food. The colt and the kid know how to select, among the varied herbage, the particular grasses which are suitable to their organization. Domesticated animals, having but an insufficiency of food, do sometimes partake of noxious plants. It may be that man, in consequence of his civilization, has lost that instinct possessed by the lower animals, and in blind confidence partakes of everything which is served to him in the shape of food; and this view derives support from the fact, that savages, and people but partially civilized, refuse to eat anything they are unacquainted with, no matter how temptingly it may be prepared.

The uneducated peasantry of France, at this day, will not taste food to which they are unaccustomed, or if they do, it is only with great mistrust.

It is matter of daily experience, that man can simultaneously feed upon both vegetable and animal matter, and can also live when restricted to one of these alone; such restriction, however, being better borne under the varied conditions of age, season and climate.

From these considerations it follows that, for the accomplishment of a given purpose, man has the privilege of selecting certain alimentary substances, and of refusing many others; the health of the individual, who may thus submit to the diet of his choice, being in no wise affected thereby.

Bearing in mind the well established principles of physiology and chemistry, together with the precepts set forth in the preceding pages, we may be safely guided in the selection of such alimentary substances as will conduce to the fixity of a certain condition of embonpoint, although having a tendency to redundancy; or which, on the other hand, will insure a diminution of obesity. 

Such results can be obtained by paying attention to the following remarks:

  • That kind of meat known as game is very nutritious, occupies but small space, and consequently only moderately distends the alimentary canal. It contains but a small amount of carbon, relatively to the other compounds, and therefore should be used as much as possible: such as venison, hare, the warren rabbit, woodcock, snipe, partridge, quail, plover, wild duck, &c.

  • The fluid portion of all ragouts should be avoided by those who dread corpulence, and game should therefore be roasted rather than stewed. The same may be said of butcher's meat, such as surloin of beef, beefsteak, veal cutlet, mutton chop, fresh pork, leg of mutton, &c. Gelatinous dishes, such as calves' feet and tripe, should be avoided. Poultry, when roasted, is not contra-indicated.

  • It is a matter of observation, that those races which live chiefly upon fish are gross and dull, pale and lymphatic, and less courageous than such as live upon flesh. A fish diet is consequently favourable to the development of fat, and the usual accompaniment of butter sauce is also productive of a like result.

  • The anti-obesic treatment, therefore, requires that fish should be partaken of sparingly; still it has been remarked that patients, while undergoing treatment, who eat principally of meat, with a very small amount of fish, do nevertheless succeed in the accomplishment of the object they have in view. The most nutritious fish are turbot, trout, sole, salmon, perch, pike, tench and carp. On the other hand, shell fish, such as oysters, lobsters, crabs and shrimps, have a tendency to impede the formation of fat.

  • Vegetables, such as lettuce, chicory, sorel, artichokes, spinach, green pease, beans, cabbage, celery, and all such as are used by way of salad, are not very nutritive, but contain much watery and mucilaginous matter, favourable to the development of corpulency: the same may be said of carrots, turnips, potatoes, rice, beet-root, maccaroni and vermicelli bread; all kinds of cakes, pastry and biscuits, which are made of wheaten flour, are decidedly contra-indicated, as are also eggs, cream, cheese and butter.

  • In reference to chocolate, much difference of opinion has hitherto existed as to its nutritious properties; but we know by experience that it is easy of digestion, and eminently suited to such as are subject to great mental exertion. Some dietists have held that chocolate has a tendency to prevent any augmentation of corpulency. When made with water, it is decidedly preferable to coffee made with milk, the latter being productive of fat. Milk, by virtue of its composition, combines all the elements which are fitted for the development and nutrition of the body; casein containing nitrogen, a fatty matter (butter), and a saccharine substance (sugar of milk).

  • Chemistry reveals the remarkable fact, that the composition of casein or the cheesy portion of milk, is identical with that of the fibrin and albumen of the blood. Under this aspect, therefore, milk is very nutritious.

  • The sugar and butter which exist in milk, have no analogy with flesh; according to analysis, they are composed of carbon and the elements of water. When, therefore, we partake of milk, we obtain in one and the same substance all the elements which are necessary for the growth and nutrition of the body, and such is the case in infant life. Since, however, both carbon and hydrogen, in very large proportion, enter into the composition of milk, it is advisable, whenever there is a manifest tendency to corpulence, that the use of it as an article of diet should be avoided. Infants are usually fat, owing to the elements of adipose matter forming so large a proportion of their food, whether that consist of milk alone, or in combination with starchy or farinaceous and saccharine substances.

Jean-Francois Dancel (a French physician) presented his thoughts on obesity in 1844 to the French Academy of Sciences and then published a book, Obesity, or Excessive Corpulence: The Various Causes and the Rational Means of a Cure.
“All food which is not flesh ―all food rich in carbon and hydrogen [i.e., carbohydrates] ―must have a tendency to produce fat,” wrote Dancel.

Dancel also noted that carnivorous animals are never fat, whereas herbivores, living exclusively on plants, often are.

Dancel claimed that he could cure obesity “without a single exception” if he could induce his patients to live “chiefly upon meat," and partake “only of a small quantity of other food."

Dancel argued that physicians of his era believed obesity to be incurable because the diets they prescribed to cure it were precisely those that happened to cause it. (pp.151-152)

Topics: (click image to open)

A doctor or medical professional who studies or promotes exclusive meat diets
Facultative Carnivore
Facultative Carnivore describes the concept of animals that are technically omnivores but who thrive off of all meat diets. Humans may just be facultative carnivores - who need no plant products for long-term nutrition.
Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet involves eating only animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, marrow, meat broths, organs. There are little to no plants in the diet.
Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet involves eating high fat, low carbs, and moderate protein. To be in ketosis, one must eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.
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