Rebecca Harrington’s new book I’ll Have What She’s Having answers the question that haunts everyone who’s ever read a celebrity magazine profile: if I followed that diet, could I look like that? Whether it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP-approved goodness or Sophia Loren’s fabled love of pasta, celebrity diets are one area where private fame and public curiosity can intersect -- although of course, we don’t know how often Beyoncé gives in and eats a pint of sugary, mass-produced ice cream.
Harrington, a journalist and novelist, decided to try following fourteen celebrity diets, with guidance gleaned from cookbooks, memoirs, documentaries and magazine profiles. We chose our favorite outlandish and stomach-churning rituals and recipes from the collection, which is sure to make your New Year’s Resolutions seem sane and sensible by comparison.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Cottage Cheese Phase
In the 1980s, the most beautiful woman in the world, who’d once subsisted on fried chicken and Jack Daniel’s, gained enough weight that she decided to write a now out-of-print diet book. Harrignton, a huge Liz Taylor fan, is horrified to discover that late-80s Liz went in for dry toast, swordfish that "tastes like a lime-flavored old shoe on the ground" and cottage cheese mixed with sour cream, as an all-purpose dip or dressing for fruit. It’s exactly as bad as it sounds, looking and tasting like "curdled milk."
Verdict: Elizabeth Taylor should be your inspiration for behaving badly, not eating healthily. Trust her on cocktails and Hollywood gossip, but look elsewhere for diet tips.
Karl Lagerfeld’s Pampered Pet and Protein Sachets
The designer who left "eccentric" behind several years ago was never going to produce a conventional diet book, so it’s not surprising that his weight-loss guide is as much a philosophical treatise as a collection of recipes. His "diet doctor" prescribes "a mix of very expensive protein packets and meager bits of food," and Karl complies, following a joyless calorie-restricted diet that nevertheless makes room for a heroic daily intake of Diet Coke. Karl eats alone, or in the company of his beloved cat, Choupette, who has her own personal chef, and is now the subject of her very own glamorous lifestyle book.
Verdict: It sounds crazy, but perhaps the best way to stop indulging yourself is to pamper another creature?
Madonna’s Extreme Exercise Regime
In recent years Madonna’s music career has been overshadowed by the attention paid to her muscular physique, apparently the result of a macrobiotic diet and a "punishing fitness regimen." The Madonna diet Harrington tries is gleaned from the writings of the Queen of Pop’s former private chef, and her own workout DVD series Addicted to Sweat. The diet is heavy on tofu and greens, and before long prompts Harrington to wonder if she’s actually starving, or just feels as though she is. The workout consists of "impossibly difficult dance moves" and push-ups with your feet up on a chair. The author is defeated -- she caves into fried chicken at the end -- but can’t help but respect Madonna’s dedication.
Verdict: Sometimes, a celebrity diet gives you a new respect for their lifestyle choices, and Harrington decides that it’s no surprise Madonna’s diet is so hard, since it’s the diet of a true feminist revolutionary. But that’s no reason for mere mortals follow it.
Jackie Kennedy’s Refined Restriction
With many of Harrington’s dieting celebrities, it can be hard to sort out the myths from the truths of what they really ate. When she confronts the eating habits of the ultimate New Englander heroine, she learns the legend that the First Lady once subsisted on nothing but "a single baked potato, stuffed with beluga caviar and sour cream, eaten once a day." Realizing that such a diet is beyond the budget of any ordinary dieter, as well as nutritionally deficient in the extreme, Harrington bolsters this with her housekeeper’s book of recipes, which are just as lavish but rather more balanced, and include regular "fruit fasts" after periods of overindulgence. There’s even a section devoted to the wonders of Lean Cuisine, which Jackie, according to her housekeeper, thought was miraculous.
Verdict: Jackie’s potato and caviar diet turns out to be delicious, but it’s not quite enough to live on.
Sophia Loren’s Passion for Pasta
Harrington’s first disappointment, when she decides to follow Sophia Loren’s diet, is learning that the screen siren’s famous line about her body -- that she owed "everything you see" to spaghetti -- was probably apocryphal. The second is learning that although Sophia’s cookbooks contain several delicious pasta recipes, her portion sizes are far smaller than any standard American serving -- "about as small as a balled-up fist." Even switching to less appetizing gluten-free pasta doesn't make the food easier to forego, and when she decides to make Sophia’s three-course feast for a dinner party, she abandons the portion restriction entirely.
Verdict: Harrington’s left with a powerful respect for Loren’s powers of restraint, and the suspicion that a little bit of good food makes for a far more torturous diet than ample quantities of scrambled tofu.