In my late teens, my rowing crew decided to go lightweight. It was my introduction to the TJ Miracle Diet. Also known as the cabbage soup diet. Also known as the Dolly Parton diet. I don’t know how successful cabbage soup was for Dolly but for me, during regatta weeks, the diet worked alarmingly well (like 3-5kgs well). I’m quite sure that within twelve months I had done irreparable damage to my metabolism.My crew never had any success in the lightweight division.
Any time I see the details of diets that cut out whole food groups, or put foods in bizarre combinations, I’m taken back to the TJ Miracle Soup and the vile smell of overcooked cabbage. So it was with morbid curiosity that I read Rebecca Harrington’s I’ll Have What She’s Having. Harrington spent several months trialling celebrity diets, eating like Gwyneth, Beyoncé, Marilyn, Karl Lagerfield and more.
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.
Of all the celebrity diets Harrington tests, a few stand out, particularly the chapter on Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1960, when she was generally considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world, Elizabeth Taylor’s daily diet consisted of the following: scrambled eggs, bacon, and a mimosa for breakfast. A hollowed-out piece of French bread filled with peanut butter and bacon for lunch. And for dinner, a feast: fried chicken, peas, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn bread, homemade potato chips, trifle, and a tumbler full of Jack Daniel’s.
But, as Harrington notes, all great eras in history must come to an end, and when Taylor had to lose some pounds, she penned a diet book, Elizabeth Takes Off.
How could a woman who appreciated the best of everything – food, furs, men, diamonds – create a bad diet? She couldn’t, or so I thought.
What follows is weeks of horrible food combinations – cottage cheese with sour cream over fruit, steak with peanut butter, and Harrington alienating most people she knew with a blue cheese, shallot and boiled egg mixture. Although this would prove to be not as bad as Greta Garbo’s celery loaf, which ‘…smells like I just put vomit in a baking pan and baked it for thirty minutes.’
But enough about the celebrities, what about the writing? First up, it’s a great concept. Mad but great. Harrington’s dry humour and fabulous pop culture references are evident throughout. For example, she holidays with her family at Cape Cod during one diet and says –
I go to the beach and stare into the ocean, thinking about food and how much I miss it. This must be the opposite of how Taylor Swift feels when she is in Cape Cod.
But as witty as she is, it’s not enough to sustain the book. Some of the diets fizzle after days, others have little detail, and I was left thinking that this whole thing should have been a feature article rather than a book. Furthermore, the structure, with each chapter dedicated to a different celebrity, is obvious and repetitive.
Conclusions? ‘Put eggs where they don’t need to be. Make seeds into falafel.’ Other than that, Harrington does believe she gained understanding about people by eating like them – even if that understanding is that they are totally bananas. And no, I don’t think she lost any weight.
2.5/5 Skim only.
Rock and Liz drank all the time. It was during one of these ‘toots’ (?) that Liz made what she termed “the best drink [she] ever tasted” – a combination of Hershey’s syrup, vodka, and Kahlua. Everyone at my party hates the rdink, but I like it becase it’s the most logical flavour combination I’ve had in days.