The True Story Of Tarrare, The Man Who Couldn't Stop Eating

In 1772, a couple who lived in a rural area of France had a child named Tarrare. Growing up, Tarrare seemed to be a normal, healthy boy but it was soon observed that he had an unusually healthy appetite. Tarrare was said to weigh 100 pounds when he was 17 years old, which is fairly normal, but historical records say that by that time, he would regularly eat food the equivalent of his weight, as reported by Medium. Tarrare's parents were poor and couldn't support Tarrare's ravenous appetite, so he was driven out of the home and was left to fend for himself.

Tarrare was able to take advantage of his unique condition, and he became a traveling showman. He got together with petty thieves and together, they toured France. Tarrare provided entertainment to crowds by eating everything and anything, while his cohorts picked the pockets of the distracted audience, per ATI. Tarrare didn't just eat food, though, he ate anything that was placed in front of him. An account that described the extent of his appetite read, "He ate a quarter of beef in twenty-four hours. He was fond of the most revolting things. He particularly relished the flesh of serpents and would quickly devour the largest" (via Gutenberg). Tarrare also reportedly ate cats and dogs, and picked their bones clean.

Tarrare's appetite baffled surgeons

Surgeons gained interest in Tarrare. Although he had monstrous cravings, his body looked fairly normal. However, he had a deformed jaw and his stomach would balloon whenever he ate. He would go into the latrine and expel everything he consumed afterward, and the doctors described his excrement as "fetid beyond all conception." As reported by ATI, Tarrare consumed stones, corks, and even garbage. And although surgeons found his behavior strange, they concluded that he wasn't insane; he just had an extremely big appetite for anything.

Eating large amounts of food and other questionable items left Tarrare with a putrid smell, and it was even said that he had visible stink lines coming from his body. A note on his medical records read, "He often stank to such a degree that he could not be endured the distance of twenty paces." Tarrare's appetite didn't leave him without consequences, and at one point, he was sent to the hospital for indigestion (per Medium).

Tarrare became a spy for France

In 1792, Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army. However, his unique condition was a hindrance to his duties. Per Gutenberg, he once ate dinner prepared for 15 men, and even if he was given four times the food ration for a soldier, it still wasn't enough to satisfy his hunger. Eating also made Tarrare exhausted, which landed him at the military hospital where he was examined by doctors. Realizing that Tarrare could eat just about anything, an experiment was done on him. He was made to eat a wooden box wrapped in paper that he was able to expel intact the next day.

With the experiment successful, the general saw that although Tarrare was not useful at the frontlines, he could be a spy. The idea was to have him eat a wooden box that had a secret message, make him sneak into enemy territory, and defecate the box to deliver the message inside to a French colonel who was imprisoned, as reported by Medium. Tarrare was sent on the mission to Prussia guised as a peasant. However, the Germans quickly caught on, as he was unable to speak their language. Tarrare eventually confessed and the Germans confined him to a toilet and waited for him to excrete the wooden box. When it came out, the message inside read, "let me know if you got this message." It turned out that the mission was another test that, unfortunately, Tarrare failed. He was eventually released and sent back to French territory.

Tarrare's death

Upon his return, Tarrare begged surgeon Baron Percy to find a cure for his non-stop hunger. The doctor tried several treatments but nothing worked. Tarrare's hunger pangs worsened and he resorted to drinking blood acquired from patients who had undergone bloodletting at the military hospital and even ate cadavers, per Medium. He also ate animal entrails from a nearby butcher shop. Dr. Percy could no longer help him when a 14-month-old baby went missing from the hospital. Although there was no proof that Tarrare ate the baby, he was suspected of the act and was sent away.

After four years, Dr. Percy received a message requesting his presence at a hospital in Versailles where a patient had been looking for him. It was Tarrare, who was in a grave condition after contracting tuberculosis. He died within a month. According to Ripley's, some doctors wanted to do an autopsy on Tarrare in an attempt to figure out what was wrong with him. It was found that he had an extremely wide esophagus and his gallbladder and liver were massive.

Possible explanations for Tarrare's binge-eating

Although Tarrare was studied by doctors, there was no conclusive diagnosis regarding his condition. Dr. Don Moore of Synergy Pro Wellness dissected Dr. Baron Percy's findings and said that Tarrare wasn't insane, although he may have had large hypothalamus, which can affect hunger pangs (via Ripley's). Dr. Moore also suspected that Tarrare suffered from pica — an eating disorder wherein a person consumes items that are not considered food. Another factor to consider was that Tarrare never became overweight despite his eating binges. That, as Dr. Moore said, may be caused by Tarrare having parasites.

In modern times, Tarrare's condition may be caused by hyperthyroidism, which causes the body to produce excessive amounts of the thyroxine hormone. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism is weight loss even if the patient's food intake increases. There are other possibilities as well, such as polyphagia or extreme overeating, or the Prader-Willi syndrome that causes the consistent feeling of hunger. To this day, there is no definite answer to Tarrare's medical condition.