raw eggs mixed with warm milk. Broiled lamb, steak or
liver. Five carrots. And a hot fudge sundae.
was apparently what Marilyn Monroe ate every day in
1952. And it’s what Rebecca Harrington ate for 10 days
while researching celebrity diets for her new book. In
"I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in
Celebrity Dieting" (Vintage Original: $14.95
paper), the 29-year-old author tries to follow the
culinary guidelines set out by svelte stars like Gwyneth
Paltrow, Madonna and Cameron Diaz.
results aren’t always pretty. On the second day of the
Monroe diet, for instance, she finds herself
particularly repulsed by liver.
wash the globs of blood off the liver and cook it,"
she writes. "It is the worst thing I have ever had
in my life. Such an odd taste, both bitter and meaty. I
eat very little of it."
who has also written a novel called
"Penelope," first had her food exploits
published on New York’s fashion blog the Cut. She
spoke by phone from Manhattan, where she lives.
Why would you ever want to do this?
It started as a lark. I had gone on a sleep apnea
website that was talking about the diet William Howard
Taft went on in 1905. It was boiled sole and glutinous
biscuits. I thought, "I need to go on a diet, and
this seems fine."
Have you been a dieter all your life?
I’m super Venn diagram normal about stuff like that. I’d
go on a diet before prom for four days and then fail. I
was a huge reader of women’s magazines like Elle and
Cosmo, and they’re obsessed with dieting. So I was
always curious about diets and the "being a better
Did the experience change the way you approach food?
I wish. I like to call my diet the "proximity
diet." I eat the melange of things that are near me
at any time. I have no restrictions and no plan. I like
flavored popcorn. In a spasm of guilt, I’ll have a
green juice in the morning. Talk about making me feel
virtuous! You can have two Umami burgers after that. And
I still try celebrity diets. I’m doing Taylor Swift’s
right now. There was an article that she heavily
contributed to on WebMD when she was 16 that said she
liked salad and flavored lattes from Starbucks. So every
day I have to have a pumpkin spice latte.
But do you think stars really eat what they say they do
I don’t know. Marilyn’s diet definitely seemed like
what you’d eat if you were on barbiturates. Like,
"I didn’t eat anything all day and then I had a
hot fudge sundae!"
How do you think we became so obsessed with what
I actually read one text that speculated that when
people first started taking pictures, they realized that
they looked heavier than they’d imagined. So with the
rise of moving pictures, when stars were blown up on
this big screen and still looked thin, they became the
experts on dieting.
Did you notice diet trends shifting over the decades?
I think there’s much less emphasis on portion control
now, but the foods are inherently less caloric. The
entire portion control movement is an ’80s and ’90s
thing. It’s probably based on the Lean Cuisine idea of
dieting. Don’t change that much of your life — just
eat nothing! We almost put value judgments on food now,
which is very odd.
Of the 14 diets you sampled, only two — originated by
Karl Lagerfeld and Carmelo Anthony — were created by
It’s so odd, but you can’t find out what a male
celebrity’s diet is unless he’s marketing a film.
Bradley Cooper might be like, "I gained 30 pounds
of muscle for ‘American Sniper,’" and so he’ll
talk about what he did to prepare. But it’s amazing:
You can be a random actress and people will be like,
"What do you eat all day?"
A lot of the stuff you had to eat seemed gross. Why do
you think stars force themselves to eat unpleasant
A lot of it was so disgusting I couldn’t believe
it.... There is this whole, sad school of dieting that
is like, "Let’s make food so gross that you won’t
eat it." There is literally no way to eat a lot of
steak and peanut butter [like Liz Taylor].
Was that the worst thing you had to eat?
Greta Garbo’s celery loaf was so disgusting. When I
was cooking it I was literally dry heaving. It tasted
like vomit. She was the weirdest. She’d drink raw egg
in orange juice and say, "This is breakfast fit for
Was there anyone’s diet you actually enjoyed
If you are a millionaire, Gwyneth’s is the best diet
of all time. She had salt-baked fish and gluten-free
tortillas and fish tacos. Every meal was so good.
You said you found yourself starting to feel
"slightly superior" on her diet. You tell your
friend to start soaking raw almonds in water like she
There’s a weird competitive element to all of it.
Regimented eating plans are so easy to market because
they really are a commodity. Diets are the greatest
iteration of the star’s commodified status — the one
thing that you can pretend to do that will make you look
like this person. Even though it won’t! It seems to
give people a measure of control over their destiny.