Empress Elisabeth’s diet & exercise

Elisabeth being measured in Corsage (2022) - Screenshot/Fair use

Empress Elisabeth felt the constant pressure to remain youthful, and her continuous dieting and excessive exercise kept her waist at 50 cm (19.5 inches) and her weight at a maximum of 50 kilos (110 pounds). She also often laced so tightly that she suffered from shortness of breath. The lacing frequently took up to an hour, with a total dressing time of up to three hours. This occasionally took place several times a day. This undoubtedly also added to Elisabeth’s desire to avoid public appearances. In 1870, she gave up wearing petticoats and, from then on, only wore thin pantalettes made of doeskin. She also had herself sewn into dresses.1

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Her diet was very radical and eliminated most solid foods. She often fasted and reportedly recorded her weight every day. She often consumed only oranges or milk, and for this reason, she often brought along goats on her journeys to have a fresh supply of milk.2 She also often drank a mixture of five or six egg whites with salt3 and had meat broth.4However, her periods of starvation alternated with other eating habits, as the Empress had a love of cakes and ice cream.

In 1860, after returning from Madeira, Count Louis Rechberg wrote, “the Empress has the deepest aversion to any kind of nourishment. She no longer eats anything at all, and her energies are exhausted all the more as the cough persists, and severe pain robs her of the sleep that might still be able to keep up her energies.”5 From Corfu, her mother later reported that Elisabeth “eats a lot of meat, drinks a lot of beer, is invariably cheerful, coughs little, especially since the weather, as Helene finds, has turned so very hot again, and they make very beautiful outings by water and by land.”6 Elisabeth’s happiness on Corfu led to the comment in Vienna that she was “ill with her nerves rather than with her chest.”7 While on Corfu, Elisabeth’s feet sometimes became so swollen, which could be due to acute oedema from undernourishment.

Wherever Elisabeth lived, she had exercise rooms installed, which she used every day. She had a barre and rings and used weights and dumbbells. Her reader wrote, “This morning before her drive, she had me called back to the salon. At the open door between the salon and her boudoir, ropes, bars, and rings were installed. When I saw her, she was just raising herself on the handrings. She wore a black silk dress with a long train hemmed with magnificent black ostrich feathers. I had never seen her so imposing. Hanging on the ropes, she made a fantastic impression, like a creature somewhere between a snake and bird.” She explained to him that the rope “is there to make sure that I don’t forget to how to leap. My father was a mighty hunter before the Lord, and he wanted us to learn to leap like the mountain goats.” About her unusual workout gear on that occasion, she told him she was about to receive some Archduchess and “if the archduchesses knew that I did my exercises in this dress, they would turn to stone.”8

In addition to the exercise rooms, Elisabeth also went on daily rides and hikes, and she took up fencing. For a while, she took two fencing lessons a day on top of the usual exercise.9 It was all a desperate attempt to maintain her beauty. For a time, she managed to use her beauty as her power, but the unhealthy habits caught up with her.

A servant recorded that Elisabeth underwent “steam baths followed by 7-degree (celsius – 45 degrees Fahrenheit) full baths, it would put many people into a faint, bring on death. Her Majesty also admits to having a ringing in her ears after this.” Then there were “sweat cures – every evening dressed very warmly quickly walking up the mountain several times… This was also to prevent getting fat – Her Majesty always looks so exhausted!!”10 Her doctor wrote in the 1890s, “In the otherwise healthy woman, I found fairly pronounced swelling, especially in the ankles. A condition physicians saw rarely in those days and which did not become regrettably notorious until the war. Edema of hunger!”11

Her daughter wrote in May 1898, “Mama looks terribly ill. But everyone here says she is better… According to everything I am told here, Mama’s winter was even worse than we knew… all the grief of this poor, desolate life, now aggravated by age and sickliness, and still without that comforting light which alone can help to overcome all the misery.”12

Elisabeth would be assassinated in September of that year.

  1. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 138
  2. Vienna’s Most Fashionable Neurasthenic: Empress Sisi and the Cult of Size Zero in Journeys into Madness: Mapping Mental Illness in the Austro-Hungarian Empire p.98
  3. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 137
  4. Diets and Dieting: A Cultural Encyclopedia by Sander L. Gilman p.81
  5. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.106
  6. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.109
  7. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.109
  8. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.139-140
  9. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.245
  10. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.363
  11. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.363
  12. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.365

About Moniek Bloks 2701 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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