Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filming The Sandpiper (hopefully before lunch)

Richard Burton on "The Drinking Man's Diet"—and other unsuccessful meal plans of the rich and famous

In this month's "The way we were," Ian Irvine explores diets detailed in memoirs and letters
September 19, 2018

William Banting, undertaker, publishes his Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public:

“Of all the parasites that affect humanity I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of Obesity, and, having just emerged from a very long probation in this affliction, I am desirous of circulating my humble knowledge and experience for the benefit of my fellow man.

“For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar), a biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast. For dinner. Five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good Claret, Sherry, or Madeira—Champagne, Port and Beer forbidden.

"For tea. Two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar. For supper. Three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of Claret. For a nightcap, if required. A tumbler of grog, (gin, whisky, or brandy, without sugar) or a glass or two of Claret or Sherry.”



Richard Burton, filming in Paris, writes in his diary:

“I’ve decided to go on a mild diet, called ‘The Drinking Man’s Diet,’ to see if I can lose a few pounds gently. This morning in pyjamas I was 13 stone 2 pounds. I’d like to be 12 stone 7 pounds. [It was a] day of funny moods. It began well enough with blue skies and a promise of taking E [Elizabeth Taylor] to lunch. She finished [filming] early and we had a late lunch at La Cascade in the Bois de Boulogne.

"I stuck to my diet and had a whisky and soda before lunch, followed by a half dozen belons, a steak au poivre, a salad with French dressing, and a hefty lump of cheese. I drank Lafite ‘60, about two glasses, and two or three brandies after the cheese with sugarless and creamless coffee. Later that night I had a couple more whiskies and soda. Apart from water that is all I took in that day. This morning the scale showed a loss of between four and five pounds. I was very surprised.”



Isaiah Berlin writes to a friend:

“My health is being slowly restored by old fashioned tonics & a new diet. I am informed that I am toxic; not infected; but need detoxicification: so I munch boiled vegetables, keep off meat. Bob Silvers [co-founder of the New York Review of Books] has, I hear, become vegetarian by conversion, converted by an article by Peter Singer in his own journal; he eats fish because they suffer less (how do we know?) Does he wear leather shoes?”