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The often strange eating habits of the world’s most successful people

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Virginia Woolf once said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” And according to “What the Great Ate: A Curious History of Food and Fame,” this maxim seems all the more true when it comes to historical greats such as Winston Churchill and Warren Buffet.

At the heart of the book lies the strange eating habits of well-known individuals, such as novelist Vladimir Nabokov snacking on butterflies – which he said tasted “vile,” like a combination of “almonds and perhaps green cheese”. Author Mark Jacob also debunked some persistent food myths along the way. For example, although it was alleged that Elvis Presley consumed 65,000 calories a day – on par with the diet of an Asian elephant – a nutritionist told the authors the claim was impossible. 

They did find out, however, that Presley’s diet changed immensely after he found stardom. Apparently he tried to compensate for the poverty of his youth by indulging in ridiculous amounts of junk food, once flying 800 miles to eat a sandwich made of an entire loaf of Italian bread, peanut butter, jelly, and a pound of bacon – it was named “fool’s gold” and has gained legendary status for its ties with Presley.

More culinary facts included George Washington eating his lunch alone after his inauguration, Ronald Reagan going 70 years without eating a tomato and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s wife brown-bagging his lunch every day. And once, while dining with his future wife, Paul Newman took his salad to the bathroom to wash off an “inferior” salad dressing. He then mixed up his own at the table, and ended up creating his Newman’s Own food line.

As such, we dug a little deeper to unveil the intriguing eating habits of some of the world’s most successful people – and came across some unique diets.

It was unveiled in a Fortune interview that billionaire investor Warren Buffet is officially one quarter Coca-Cola.

He said: “If I eat 2,700 calories a day, a quarter of that is Coca-Cola. I drink at least five 12-ounce servings. Typically, I have three Cokes during the day and two at night.” When he’s at his desk at Berkshire Hathaway, he drinks regular Coke; at home, he treats himself to Cherry Coke.

“I’ll have one at breakfast,” he said, and noted that he loved to drink Coke with Utz potato sticks. Fortune claimed that he loved the snack so much that he talked to Utz management about potentially buying the company.

And when it comes to breakfast, he has a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream. When asked to explain the high-sugar, high-salt diet, Buffett replied: “I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among six-year-olds. So I decided to eat like a six-year-old. It’s the safest course I can take.”

But he’s not the only one with a sweet tooth. Author Stephen King became the de facto cook in his household after his wife lost her senses of taste and smell. But despite his kitchen credentials, King still maintained that he would rather go to Waffle House as he was unsure of his own cooking.

In the novel “Man with a Pan”, the same bashfulness appears in King’s quick defence of the microwave: “If you’re sneering, it’s because you think the only things you can do with the microwave is make popcorn and nuke the living sh*t out of Stouffer’s frozen dinners.”

But his favourite food has the reputation for being the ultimate indulgence: a “monster slice of cheesecake.” In an interview with Bon Appetite, King explained that he always ate a slice before he writes. He said: “I have a son who swears by creme brûlée and always eats it before he writes. For me, it’s cheesecake.” He’s pretty adamant that the diet – brain food as he called it – constantly helps him deliver.

Apple founder Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was a longtime vegan, believing that his commitment to vegan diets meant his body was flushed of mucus – and that it meant he was free from body odour, so he didn’t need to wear deodorant or shower on a regular basis. Jobs would also spend weeks at a time eating only one type of food, such as apples or carrots. 

As reported in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, he once ate so many carrots that his skin turned bright orange – it also noted that according to employees, Jobs was very wrong about his lack of odour. In fact, nutrition expert JJ Virgin is of the belief that vegan-style diets might impede the body’s detoxification process, which “could make him smell even more.”

Read more about how Henry Ford ate sandwiches filled with weeds, how Charles Darwin may have made a few species extinct and how former prime minister Margaret Thatcher lived largely off of coffee and grapefruit.

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