Lord Byron’s Mad, Bad, Fad Diets
Preoccupation with body image and the desire to emulate one’s favourite celebrity are issues commonly cited to exemplify the materialistic and vain era in which we live today. However, celebrity fad diets are nothing new. Renowned for his poetry, heading the Romantic movement, and living a life of scandalous excess, Lord Byron (1788-1824) is perhaps lesser known for his dieting techniques.
Byron had an unfortunate propensity for gaining weight. At University he fell victim to the ‘Freshman 15’ and, appalled, restricted himself to a diet of biscuits, potatoes drenched in vinegar, and soda water. He would also don thick woolly coats to sweat off the pounds, whilst following any incidents of binging with a glass of milk of magnesia, which has a laxative effect.
Fashionable early 19th century men would get weighed on hanging scales, as bathroom scales were not yet invented, and the London wine merchants Berry bros. and Rudd, have records of Byron dropping from 13st 12lbs in 1806 to under 9st in 1811. In 1816 Byron was living on only a single slice of bread for breakfast, cups of tea, and a vegetable dinner, whilst suppressing hunger pangs by smoking copious amounts of cigars.
Plump and healthy simply did not fit in with the image the pale, gaunt Romantic poets wished to convey, and Byron, being at the time hugely famous and influential, was seen as setting a bad example to young and impressionable of the age. As one doctor wrote: “Our young ladies live all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation [for fear of] “incurring the horror of disciples of Lord Byron”.