Litter, live cats – even corpses; all things you are more likely to find on an 18th-Century French street, not the pages of Larousse Gastronomique. But this is just some of the stuff that a medical curiosity with a never-ending appetite came to stuff himself with. The man at the centre of the story – Tarrare – became the subject of public fascination and even military interest.

Born in Lyon in 1772, Tarrare soon came to be known as a boy with an insatiable appetite. By the time that he was 17 years old, he could consume his entire body weight in food in a single day.

Tarrare might have been suffering from a form of hyperthyroidism – a condition that occurs due to the excessive production of thyroid hormones. In any case, he was certainly an exceptional subject for doctors to study. Watch the video to find out how he came to a tragic end.

Join 700,000+ Future fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.