“I have always enjoyed doing experiments on myself in the style of Benjamin Franklin,” writes Rebecca Harrington in I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting.
As a lifestyle reporter for New York magazine, Harrington puts intrepid inclination to good use, sampling celebrity diets for 3-10 days in the interest of the public good. I’ll Have What She’s Having is a combination of columns and new essays on eating like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jackie Kennedy, Karl Lagerfeld, Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor and other stars.
Just as all celebrities are not A-list, all diets are not created equal.
“The best way to go on a diet: What you really want is a famous person that is actually interesting. I really ended up getting a very good insight into the people—you realize that the diet is a reflection of who they are in some actual way,” Harrington says. “And if you’re boring, that makes a bad diet.”
Basically, what makes a good celebrity to follow is what makes a good friend. Before choosing to diet as they do, assess your values.
“Jackie Kennedy was very refined. Liz Taylor just wanted to drink! Gwyneth is great at everything, even healthy eating. Posh Spice has an almost devilish sense of humor. Cameron Diaz seems painfully sincere. I had a certain affinity for all of them after a while,” she writes.
Harrington would pick La Liz above all others, every time. “Elizabeth Taylor is my best friend that I wish I had, but we’ll never be friends. She is so awesome, everything about her, like a super-fun person,” she says.
“Gwyneth, she would have been my number two—so fun with Liz Taylor. Those would have been my top friends. Maybe Beyoncé, too; she seems fun. Other than that, everyone’s insane.”
While plenty of cleanses and binges and fasts do push the bounds of safety and sanity, Greta Garbo is the one who takes the cake. (Though Victoria Beckham did have a fruit plate instead of a birthday cake in 2012—a sad fact.)
“In the thirties, famously reclusive actress Greta Garbo met self-described ‘doctor of natural science’ (i.e., doctor of nothing) Gayelord Hauser, nutritionist to the stars. They reportedly hit it off, which is saying a lot, because Garbo had very few friends, hated going out, and once refrained from speaking a single word during a dinner with Mae West,” Harrington writes.
Svelteness Svengali Hauser made her eat a sinister amalgamation of pureed celery, walnuts, parsley, onions, mushrooms, butter, egg and bread crumbs baked in an oven. It smelled and looked so unappetizing that Harrington just could not deal, and left it in her oven for one week before putting it in a small trash bag. It is the nadir of Harrington’s cumulative celebrity diet experience, and a highlight of the book.
A German radio station agreed, and asked Harrington to recreate the celery loaf in their studio. “This German radio station made me remake the celery loaf. They had read about it and said, ‘It’s time for us to make it together, and I was like, Okay ... yeah... no.’ They thought it was okay, the guy ate a bit of it, but I didn’t, and I ran out of the studio,” she says. “The whole interview is me screaming and people talking in German about celery loaf. You can find it online. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
After reading I’ll Have What She’s Having, and hearing the German radio station story, I would like to be friends with Harrington. To that end, I decide to eat her diet while I write my article.
“My diet? I like to call it the Proximity Diet," she explains. "I eat just what’s in my house at any given moment. D’Agostino’s, the grocery store closest to my house. There’s also this health store that I sometimes go to, but I seriously hate....The other day they had this kale popcorn. It’s so bad. No celery loaf, but bad.”
I do not live in glamorous New York City, and don’t know where to procure kale popcorn, so I just eat what’s within reach: two packets of tangerine Emergen-C and 17 hazelnuts. I don’t lose any weight, but feel insightful.
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist. Follow her on Twitter.