Personally, I’d rather be dead than live the life of a celebrity. Even if you paid me, I wouldn’t. There’s not enough money in the world for starters. And for a start, neither your life nor your privacy is your own. Not to mention the dieting. Wait a minute. Let’s mention the dieting. Ever wondered how they look so stick thin? Or, as one observer put it, look as if a strong gust of wind, would blow them off their feet? Well yes, cosmetic surgery might have a lot to do with it. The other reason is because they don’t eat. And, even when they do, they don’t eat what anyone would call real food. So, if they don’t eat real food, what, pray tell, do they eat? That is a very good question and one that New York writer Rebecca Harrington pondered and pondered. She eventually discovered what they ate or more importantly didn’t eat. But the discovery was nowhere near enough food, for thought, for Harrington. She needed to walk in their shoes and literally eat what they ate. So she did. The result was more than a year spent sampling 14 of the wackiest celebrity diets on the planet, all of it taking place in her West Village kitchen. Then she wrote a book about her experiences called ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having.’ It details what she describes as her brave journey into the madness of the slimming regimens of the fabulous and the famous. It was a coming of age for Harrington in more ways than just writing about crazy diets. No paying just lip service, this was full on walk the walk. Harrington whipped raw eggs into warm milk for breakfast because that’s what Marilyn Munroe did. “I understand now why her life was so hard,” the 29-year-old Harrington says. She believes Marilyn Monroe’s food habits were those of an unhappy person. “She ate in an illogical way, having things like raw eggs in milk, then nothing all day, steak and carrots for dinner and then a hot fudge sundae late at night.” On the Munroe diet and with her blood sugar levels going completely crazy, Harrington didn’t lose any weight. But, she did almost faint into a subway grate, which, of course, was nothing like Marilyn’s iconic, white dress moment.
Harrington says she can only admire the iron willpower of celebrities and their diets, coming to the conclusion that only someone who is constantly photographed in their bikini, or their underwear, would want to put up with such misery. As part of her research, Harrington scoured magazines for the weirdest recommendations of anyone qualified by a famous name and zero expertise, from Cameron Diaz to Pippa Middleton to Karl Lagerfeld. Harrington says that in instances where a celebrity hadn’t written a cookbook, all she had to do was Google a star’s name followed by “diet” and she got “a million results.” Then she modelled her life on each one for 10 days at a time, if she could ‘stomach it.’
On “The Karl Lagerfeld Diet,” Harrington drank diet Coke all day, then at night she would desperately probe for any speck of meat from the diet’s prescribed protein in the form of a tiny quail. “A quail is entirely claw, ” Harrington says. “ I don’t know how it became a French delicacy.” Harrington found Sophia Loren’s diet to be particularly harsh. “She has these delicious pasta recipes but the amount you can eat is so small that for the rest of the day all you can think about is how you want to eat more pasta.”
Elizabeth Taylor’s 1988 diet book was called “Elizabeth Takes Off.” Harrington followed the plan for two weeks claiming it was a huge challenge. “She ate the grossest food I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Harrington says. “And I was hungry all the time.” And there were days when she found she just couldn’t stomach a Taylor meal. For example, the night she put a piece of steak on bread slathered with peanut butter, Harrington says she gagged and couldn’t finish it. Another Taylor recipe called for mixing tuna fish with tomato paste, scallions, grapefruit and mayonnaise. The food was so appalling, that Harrington basically starved herself thin. She lost 6 pounds. “I think Liz was drunk all the time,” is how Harrington explains Taylor’s wacky diet. “It turned my stomach.”
But Harrington says Elizabeth Taylor sounded like a fun person. Greta Garbo not so much. In fact the Garbo diet could best be described in a way not dissimilar to her name. “Every recipe contained something disgusting,” says Harrington. “There was raw eggs and orange juice, or this awful celery loaf with loads of pureed celery, spices and breadcrumbs.” Garbo followed the advice of nutritionist Gayelord Hauser, who trumpeted the benefits of “wonder foods” like yeast, molasses and wheat germ.
The prize for having the most effective of all the celebrity diets went to Beyonce. Harrington says she decided to first try the Master Cleanse that Beyoncé used to slim her curves followed by the Herculean diet she devised to lose the pregnancy weight following the birth of her daughter. The Master Cleanse entails drinking lemonade dosed with cayenne pepper and maple syrup up to 12 times a day. “Master Cleanse is the scariest diet ever because after a while you lose all desire for solid food,” says Harrington. “But the minute you eat solids foods you love solid foods again.” Next up was Beyoncé’s post pregnancy diet on which the new mother lost 60 pounds over three months. Harrington found the protein rich menu really hard particularly since she combined it with a two hour, daily workout just like Beyonce. Typically she’d begin the day with egg whites, then turkey and capers for lunch, snack on cucumbers in vinegar and finish with yellowtail sashimi for dinner. In 10 days, Harrington shed 10 pounds — making Beyoncé’s combined diets the biggest loser in body weight.
And what did she make of the somewhat eccentric Gwyneth Paltrow? Harrington says she is an admirer. “I can’t help it, I like her.”. And she loved eating like Paltrow, following the recipes in the star’s cookbook, “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.” But there was one drawback with the Paltrow way that was pretty much a deal breaker. “Oh my God, it’s so expensive,” Harrington says. “I’m still suffering from how much I spent.” Just buying a week’s worth of basics was US$155 and after that, Harrington says, it seemed like she was constantly paying for expensive fresh fish. Harrington says the food was good and when she served Paltrow’s fish tacos at a dinner party one night, her friends couldn’t stop raving about them. Over 10 days, Harrington lost four pounds. “If you were a millionaire, it’s not only the best way to diet but the best way to live,” says Harrington. “The food is delicious.”
In the discipline stakes there was no going past Madonna’s macrobiotic diet. Her regimen eliminates wheat, eggs, dairy and meat while concentrating on “something called sea vegetables.” And, it includes a total ban on sugar. “It’s incredible, she cuts almost everything out of her diet,” Harrington says. “She’s super disciplined and awesome, but the diet is unsustainable.” Harrington followed a cookbook written by Madonna’s former chef, Mayumi Nishimura, titled “Mayumi’s Kitchen.” She also purchased the “Addicted to Sweat” DVDs from Madonna’s trainer, Nicole Winhoffer. Already suffering from recipes where a complete meal consisted of barley combined with seaweed, Harrington found she could barely follow the “insanely difficult” workouts. “I’m basically dying on this diet,” she wrote in her book. “I don’t know how Madonna lives.”
Victoria Beckham’s diet was just too hard. “It’s one of those diets where you eat an impossibly small amount of food and then declare yourself full,” Harrington says. Beckham’s Five Hands Diet isn’t original but Harrington says Beckham always makes a lot of noise about whatever super strict diet she’s following in the moment. Beckham claims that Five Hands was how she lost the baby weight following the birth of her daughter. According to Harrington, you only eat five handfuls of food a day. And she was surprised to learn that the allowable portions are not really the size of a full hand, but only the amount that fits into a palm. Harrington found she could fit two small eggs into her palm, but had difficulty measuring the kale smoothie. She lasted only one day, before switching over to Beckham’s other diet, the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet. She purchased the book Beckham tweeted about, “Eating the Alkaline Way,” by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson. One recipe had her making falafel from seeds and carrots. It wasn’t a success, just a mess. The next meal was soybean broth with vegetables. It was so terrible, Harrington says that she threw it away. Harrington lasted 2 1/2 days and lost no weight at all.
Harrington’s commitment to her research is revealing and truly disturbing. She suffered through bad skin, mystery rashes and salmonella in her quest to live the celebrity life. “I was incredibly hungry on every diet,” she says. “A lot of them made me feel ill. I left feeling bad for them. People are obsessed with celebrity diets. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions.”
But is it really what the celebrities are eating? “I have no idea,” Harrington says. “They could all just be eating nothing and smoking cigarettes.” Sounds about right to me.