I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting

BOOK: I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting


Rebecca Harrington


Rebecca Harrington is the author of the novel
. She studied history and literature at Harvard and journalism at Columbia. Her work has appeared in publications including
New York
magazine, the
New York Times
and on NPR.com. She lives in New York City.



Published by Virago




Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Harrington


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


The following pieces originally appeared on the
New York
magazine blog “The Cut” (nymag.com/thecut): “Beyoncé’s Diets Are the Most Effective I Have Ever Tried”; “Madonna’s Diet Is the Hardest I Have Ever Tried”; “I Tried Gwyneth Paltrow’s Diet”; “I Tried Greta Garbo’s Strange, Horrifying Diet”; “I Ate Haggis and Aqua-Cycled on the Pippa Middleton Diet”; “Raw Eggs in Milk? Trying Marilyn Monroe’s Diets”; “Cottage Cheese Mixed with Sour Cream? I Tried the Liz Taylor Diet”; “I Tried Jackie Kennedy’s Caviar Diet” and “I Tried Carmelo Anthony’s Infamous Diet, and It Was Pathetically Easy.”


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.


The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.



Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY




I’ll Have What She’s Having


To my grandmother, who always encouraged my love of old movies and is constantly glamorous without even eating a quail egg


Food is an important part of a balanced diet.


have always noticed diets. Diets are everywhere. You can’t be a woman and not think you need to go on a diet or get a face transplant. Preferably the face of a famous person so that you can never get lost. But noticing diets is completely different from doing many of them in succession. Who would do that? Me. Here is the story.

The first diet I ever went on was William Howard Taft’s diet. William Howard Taft was America’s fattest president, and I found his diet on this sleep apnea website that someone sent me. This sleep apnea website was convinced that “no president with the possible exception of Lincoln has faced greater challenges” than Taft because he might have had sleep apnea. Actually, they are still not sure whether he actually had sleep apnea or not. He was always falling asleep at the card table.

A small part of the website was devoted to a diet Taft went on in 1905. Taft had always been appointed to posts because people liked him (even though his best friend
his wife wrote books about how they hated him), and at this point he had just been appointed secretary of war by Roosevelt and wanted to be seen in fighting condition. So he went on a diet that called for boiled fish in the morning, mutton at night, and glutinous biscuits for snacks. He lost a bunch of weight because that is disgusting.

This diet obsessed me. Why? I don’t know. I went on it for no reason. The hardest part was the glutinous biscuits. I had to make them from scratch, and I used a shampoo bottle to roll out the dough. Sometimes I would read the letters of Major Archibald Butt, Taft’s best friend who hated him. But mostly I boiled sole for breakfast and ate it with Worcestershire sauce.

After I enjoyed boiled fish in the morning for a decent amount of time, I started to tell my friends about the new cool diet I was on that was making me lose no weight. Some seemed confused about why I would be so interested in the eating habits of Taft. (“It’s because he had a cow named Pauline!” I would say.) Others suggested I do regular diets of real celebrities that people were interested in, and since I had decided that celebrity eating seemed a lot odder than normal eating, I agreed, and my diet adventure was born.

What is the enduring fascination with celebrity eating? One of the strangest things about researching these diets was how easy it was to find out what famous people eat every day. People are obsessed! It is practically the only thing you can find when researching actresses. That and how fun it is to work with someone who seems vaguely boring.

Not content to leave such business to
Us Weekly
, many modern celebrities have chosen to monetize their eating habits themselves, releasing cookbooks and workouts and various other lifestyle trinkets. Their nutritional regimens are now part of the business of being a celebrity. In our current antigluten, GMO-phobic culture, this often means celebrities must espouse a “healthy,” “non-processed” lifestyle, even if they actually keep their bodies in shape with a combination of excellent genes and cigarettes. I suppose celebrities are providing a road map for imitating them. And when telling us how to imitate them, sharing an eating plan is so much easier than offering up a screed about genes and cigarettes – not to mention more attainable, less jealousy-inducing, and more marketable. If you knew that eating goji berries would make you look like Jessica Biel, why wouldn’t you do it?

I became interested in the diets of celebrities not necessarily because I wanted to have the ideal body (I already knew I was too squat, like a partridge waddling across a field) but because I really do like movies and I have always enjoyed doing experiments on myself in the style of Benjamin Franklin. I suppose it is the Enlightenment philosopher within me. Although, my experiences with the diets were probably closest to
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
rather than any other seminal text of literature. I ate and then I discussed the aftereffects of what I ate with a barely suppressed glee and a pretend hatred.

Here are the rules I set for myself: I would try to eat the way celebrities normally eat. While it could be amusing to try to imitate the life-threatening efforts made by Christian Bale to slim down to the size of a Popsicle stick for
The Machinist
, it wasn’t scientific enough for me, Ben Franklin. I would also buy any cookbook a celebrity wrote, even if it looked really bad. And I would try to employ exercise regimens, clothing choices, or dinner parties when appropriate.

But when faced with the almost Herculean task of dieting like a celebrity for an extended period of time and reporting on it, I had to ask myself a certain number of questions. What would happen to me after going on a million celebrity diets? Would I live? Would my friends stay with me until the end even though I kept making them come to my house for dinner parties where they all told me to my face that they despised all of my food? Would I get a rash on my cheek and would it clear up? Could I achieve my ideal body? My ideal personality (a combo of Liz Taylor and Liz Taylor)? I also wanted to answer what always seemed to be either a genius rhetorical question or a question that made absolutely no sense: Are you what you eat?

Actually, the idea that you are what you eat may have come from Ludwig Feuerbach – a respectable philosopher George Eliot translated into English. Or it may have come from a great eater and dieter, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who was both the founder of the low-carbohydrate diet and the writer of several tomes about gastronomy. Is the idea a philosophical meditation on the process of imbibing or the siren call of the celebrity dieter? I was about to find out!

have always been an admirer of Gwyneth Paltrow – I am not afraid to admit it. She was so good in my favorite movie,
A Perfect Murder
. I also think her secondary career as a lifestyle guru is rather inspiring. If there wasn’t a
I would not have an eye mask that has hollow indentations so that you can blink.

When Gwyneth came out with her newest cookbook,
It’s All Good,
I was very excited. I had her other cookbook,
My Father’s Daughter,
already. It’s a really good cookbook for the average woman (me). There are some healthy recipes and there are some delicious recipes. One time I had a dinner party and I made beer-battered fish tacos from that book and everyone liked them. This is saying a lot because usually my dinner parties are miserable failures in which people start ordering sushi in front of me like I’m not even there.

This new cookbook of Gwyneth’s has an interesting genesis. After enduring a panic attack during a supper party (I really understand), Gwyneth went to several doctors and realized she had sensitivities to various foods, such as dairy, gluten, and chickens’ eggs. Thus, she felt she had to make a cookbook that eliminated all the bad foods that ruin lives, like bread, deep-water fish, red meat, cow’s milk, and eggplant, and focus on the “good” foods in the world, like goji berries and quail eggs. Hence
All Good
! Do you get it? All the foods that are not bad.

I was eager to try this diet for many reasons. I always think I have allergies to mysterious foods. Plus this is a diet written by a woman who almost convinced me to buy really expensive towels from the country of Turkey because they were more absorbent. I basically signed up fifteen years ago when I watched
A Perfect Murder
for the first time.



I go online and purchase Gwyneth’s book as well as Tracy Anderson’s Method DVDs. Gwyneth reportedly does Tracy Anderson’s fitness routine, which focuses on “small muscles,” for two hours a day, so if I am going to live Gwyneth, I figure I might as well try to get her butt – that of a twenty-two-year-old stripper. When I finally get the book a month later (I preordered it like a weirdo), I am filled with both happiness and fear. The book itself is beautiful; there are all these pictures of Gwyneth in a floppy hat in front of a barn or Gwyneth putting a huge fish in a vat of salt. While doing a close reading, however, I am stunned at the magnitude of the things I will have to give up. I can’t even eat yogurt! Nor can I have a tomato or a strawberry! They all cause allergies! It seems excessive to me, yet the book also promises me that if I do this, I will have Gwyneth’s “clear eyes, glowing skin and fit body.” And I definitely want clear eyes! I decide to follow the seven-day detox diet listed in the back of the book, as well as a smattering of her other diet menus. One day I will live like a vegan Gwyneth; another day I will eat like a child of Gwyneth. Hopefully this will give me the whole Gwyneth experience.

Next, I go food shopping. I have been on many diets before, but I have never paid this much for a week of groceries in my entire life. At $154.31, it is almost triple what I usually pay for food, and I haven’t even bought all the fish I will eventually need! (The diet is really heavy on fish.) I bought at least ten dollars’ worth of kale and an eleven-dollar jar of honey. Do you know what raw honey is? It is eleven dollars! I actually had a mild panic attack while buying the food and I wasn’t even having a dinner party.


Day 1

Every day on the Gwyneth diet starts with a heaping helping of something called “The Best Green Juice.” Like lots of other green juices, it is a mixture of kale, apple, lemon, mint, and ginger. I imagine it would be much easier to make this juice if you have a juicer, but I don’t have one of those. Gwyneth says it is equally fine to make with a blender and a “fine mesh strainer,” which I also don’t think I have. Since I literally cannot spend any more money for a year, I will have to do without. I put the ingredients in the blender and blend them together. It tastes much like regular kale juice except it has large pieces of kale still in it. This is breakfast.

After breakfast, I decide to do the first DVD of the Tracy Anderson Method. It’s difficult, actually. Essentially you hold tiny weights in your hands and then flap your arms wildly like a person in a Victorian insane asylum having an epileptic fit. You do this for an hour. At the end, I am so tired I lie on the floor.

After my workout, I decide to eat my morning snack – raw almonds soaked in water. Wet almonds are better than dry almonds because, according to Gwen, regular almonds are “hard to digest.” Wet almonds sound gross but are actually delicious. The almonds have a kind of vanilla flavor to them once you soak them. I never really liked almonds before this. Is this diet actually going to be okay?

After a hearty lunch of a beet-greens soup (a soup made of the green leaves attached to a beet?) and an afternoon smoothie that combines both avocado and cocoa powder (this is sort of like ice cream if ice cream tasted like avocados), I invite my friend over for Gwyneth’s version of barbecued chicken. My friend is usually quite skeptical of my diet experiments but is an incredibly good sport. I once made her eat a bean stew I made, for example, and we are still friends today. This time, however, I shock her. “This is really good!” she says, almost taken aback. It is true. It’s really good chicken. It’s juicy and has an interesting flavor from the paprika Gwyneth had me use. I have eaten so healthily the entire day, it was all super delicious, and I was not even hungry. I’m starting to feel slightly superior. “You should soak raw almonds in water,” I say to my friend.


Day 2

Flush with last night’s success, I decide to hold a dinner party at my home and fix on making Gwyneth’s meatballs, which do not have bread, eggs, red meat, or milk in them. My mother makes very good meatballs, and those four things are basically the only ingredients in them, so I find this recipe suspect, but I press on. I thought wet almonds would be terrible, but I was wrong about that. I don’t know how to live!

While making the meatballs, however, I can tell something is up. Number one: They are green (they are made of arugula and turkey). Number two: I can’t put them in tomato sauce because I have eliminated tomatoes from my diet. Instead, I am serving them with a broccoli soup that tastes mostly like water. What is going on? Yesterday was so amazing! When my guests arrive and I feed them the meatballs, I can tell that they hate them. One of them pulls out a huge bag of chips and starts eating them in front of me. Another one leaves to “actually eat dinner.” I am about to have a panic attack when I remember when Gwyneth went to a dinner party in America and someone asked her what kind of jeans she was wearing and she thought to herself, “I have to get back to Europe.” America is the worst. I say nothing about anyone’s jeans, even though I was literally just going to ask everyone about their jeans.


Days 3 and 4

This diet is much harder on the weekends. This city is stupid because everyone is obsessed with gluten-filled brunch and what even is it? Just an empty parade! I have to get back to Europe. On Sunday, I get to go to a pancake place that also sells kale juice, and I silently watch my friend eat a pancake as I sip on some kale juice. Later, however, I roast a whole fish and serve it with anchovy salsa verde. It’s absolutely delicious. “I would like to meet Gwyneth Paltrow,” says a friend eating the fish with a large spoonful of anchovy sauce. “She sounds really fun.” I enthuse: “She’s so fun. She smokes one cigarette a week!”


Day 5

Deep in the bowels of my kitchen, I find something amazing. It is called a fine mesh strainer! I must have bought it when I was in a coma. Now my kale juice tastes just like kale juice. The homemade horchata I make for a midmorning snack is deeply improved. You really need raw honey for it, actually. It tastes much better and is non-alkaline forming. What has become of me?


Days 6 and 7

On the days when you are not waving your arms like a loon, Tracy Anderson has another DVD called
Dance Cardio Workout
. It’s so incredibly hard that I can only do twenty minutes of it. From what I can gather, it is completely unexplained jumping to the dulcet beeping of late Madonna. You have to jump for a whole hour. I’m so tired afterward I actually have to go to sleep.

For dinner the next night, I make salt-roasted fish. You take a fish, cover it with herbs, and literally pour an entire container of salt on it. It’s okay. I think the whole thing would have been better if I really loved Thai chilies, but I don’t really like them that much. Sometimes, when I am cooking these recipes, I talk to my Gwyneth book like it is her incarnate. For example, I will say, “That’s a lot of salt, Gwyneth,” or “Goji berries
better when they are soaked in water. Thanks, buddy!”

This is the last day of my detox, and I have to say, it was kind of the best! I was never hungry, I loved almost all of the food I cooked, and I am actually much less swollen under my eyes than usual. I even feel slightly more alert, probably because I am not eating any tomatoes.


Day 8

Today, I try out Gwyneth’s vegan food. Her vegan sesame pancakes are a delight. They taste like regular sesame pancakes except they have no gluten or dairy. Gwyneth’s version of veganism is not very different from her detox diet. It just has absolutely no meat or animal stuff. Did you know that Gwyneth had a vegan-themed party for her daughter Apple’s birthday? The more you know.


Day 9

One time Gwyneth told the New York
Daily News
that she would “rather die than let [her] kid eat Cup-a-Soup.” This leads me to ask the question: Would it be fun to eat like a child of Gwyneth? Guess what? It’s really fun! For breakfast, I make her “buttermilk” (they are vegan and gluten-free and have lemon juice and soy milk instead of buttermilk) pancakes. They are actually quite delicious, if slightly gummy. Her tuna salad with Vegenaise and Dijon mustard is decent and respectable! It is good, so far, to be Apple and Moses, and not just because they pick avocados all the time and eat wood-grilled pizza.

For dinner, I decide to redeem myself and hold a dinner party again, this time making tacos the main event. Who doesn’t like tacos? I also decide to make an eggless and dairyless cake. The tacos are a stunning success. Gwyneth’s recipe for homemade chipotle salsa is as good as what I would eat at the actual Chipotle. I am very proud of her and I cannot hide it. When people compliment the tacos, I say things like, “It’s Gwyneth!” or “This cookbook is really great. I don’t know how she does it.” I don’t ask one person about their jeans. The cake, however, is another matter. It’s crumbly and tastes like a prune, but this is probably my fault. “I like the tacos,” one of my friends says, after I ask about the cake.


Day 10

I have consciously uncoupled from the Gwyneth diet and lost four pounds in the process. I have much more defined arms from having hysterical fits every day. It is definitely fun to eat bread, dairy, and eggs again, but when I finally have all those things for the first time after ten days without them, I wake up with a huge rash down the side of my face, like the Phantom of the Opera. Have I always actually been allergic to these foods? The rash goes away eventually, but I do feel suddenly distrustful of bread.

What have I learned from Gwyneth’s diet? It’s an awesome way to live! If I wasn’t going to go bankrupt doing it, I would follow the Gwyneth diet to the letter every day. The food is healthy, delicious, and filling; the recipes are not particularly complicated; and you avoid a huge rash on your face that you apparently just lived with before. If this is the way the other half lives, I want to live it! Let’s all appreciate that she shares her awesome tips with the world.

One time, Gwyneth went to Arizona for a spiritual retreat. She was walking in the Sedona mountains, and the rocks told her, “You have the answers. You are your teacher.” I agree with those rocks.

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