Living like a movie star sounds insanely glamorous. Eating like one…not so much.
From proto-Atkins fasting to Goop-inspired dinner parties, Rebecca Harrington braved the wild world of celebrity dieting and emerged with a deeper appreciation for what it takes to be ready for a closeup. She chronicles her often humorous adventures in shedding pounds like Gwyneth Paltrow, Taylor Swift and Elizabeth Taylor in her new book, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting” (Vintage Original: $14.95 paper).
“I definitely have more compassion for celebrities,” said Harrington. “I realize now how hard it is to look like they do. There’s so much discipline that goes into it.”
It also takes a strong stomach. For instance, Harrington’s time on the Greta Garbo diet required her to make a celery loaf consisting of the titular vegetable pureed with nuts, mushrooms, onions and breadcrumbs.
“It was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life,” said Harrington. “It tasted like vomit.”
Other diets Harrington tried sound no less rigorous. Taylor subsisted on steak slathered in peanut butter; Jackie Kennedy limited herself to baked potatoes stuffed with caviar, Marilyn Monroe kicked off the day sipping raw eggs and milk before indulging in latenight hot fudge sundaes, and Karl Lagerfeld dropped 92 pounds in 13 months by pounding Diet Coke. Harrington followed them all.
“It’s pretty hard,” said Harrington. “You basically have to stay in the house and, if you go out to eat, you can’t touch anything. You always have to make a big deal of it to your friends, and as Liz Taylor says, that’s the worst thing to do on a diet, because it’s super-boring to talk about.”
Paltrow’s fresh fish-heavy repasts were a favorite, but a dinner party using the “Shakespeare in Love” star’s recipe for turkey and arugula meatballs and broccoli soup backfired for Harrington.
“It was a disaster,” said Harrington. “I’d told all my friends how great her food was and then nobody could eat anything. One of my friends started eating tortilla chips in front of me.”
“I’ll Have What She’s Having” chronicles Harrington’s difficulty sticking to the eating regimens and her musings on the life and careers of the stars themselves. It originated as a series of articles she penned for New York magazine’s blog, the Cut.
Finding out about the favored diets of actresses wasn’t hard, because so many female celebrities are quizzed about their eating habits in interviews or publish books on the subject. Male stars, however, are less likely to be grilled about their dietary practices.
“Sometimes men will be like, ‘I lost 30 pounds for ‘American Sniper’ or ‘I gave up beer for a film,'” said Harrington. “It’s always how they got in shape for a role. It’s not how they live their life every day.”
Her adventures in eating like an A-lister made Harrington realize why society is obsessed with what pop culture icons consume.
“It’s this illusion that if you do the things a celebrity does you’ll look like that celebrity or become like that celebrity,” she said. “We put them up on a pedestal, but at the same time we want to relate to them, and dieting is the ultimate expression of that.”
Harrington, who previously wrote a novel called “Penelope,” is currently working on a satire about journalism in the digital age. With 14 celebrity diets notched on her belt, she may have given up the calorie counting for awhile.
“I’m going to take a long break and eat pizza,” said Harrington.