Deprived of modern conveniences such as the internal combustion engine and all the labour-saving technology that we take for granted, the lives of the mid-Victorians revolved around manual labour. To fuel their high levels of physical activity they required far more food than we do today; women typically consumed between 3,000 and 3,500 calories per day while men consumed 4,000–5,000 calories, with the navvies, who built the roads, canals and bridges that created the topology of modern Britain, hitting 6,000 or 7,000 calories per day. This compares with an average of around 2,200 today, a figure that we think of as normal but which, at only a relatively small percentage over Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR), is at an historic and unhealthy low.
Given their high calorie intakes you might expect the mid-Victorians to be hugely overweight but early photographs reveal that the mid-Victorians were almost universally slim and well-muscled. They had the kind of body shapes we can o