Wed. Jan 26th, 2022


The author is author of I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting

Every year, in the first week of January, the new year hits the internet. They pop up enticingly, just when you’ve picked up five pounds and found that you don’t even like ricotta egg biscuits anymore. The idea is to purify yourself of the cream-laden holiday food you enjoyed with a “detox”. In practice, it is usually a strict diet, which people pretend to remove from the body of poison to give it some emotional resonance.

Some regimens are more extensive than others: a “cleansing” can mean that you only persist for 12 days on water with lemon, grade B maple syrup and cayenne pepper (Beyoncé actually did this. It’s called the master cleansing. Do not do it do not try). But the one that gets the most attention from fans and haters is the annual Goop detox – Gwyneth Paltrow’s effort.

This is a true confession: I’ve been doing every single Goop detox since the brand was started by Gwyneth in 2008 at her kitchen table with marble top. In those simpler times, detoxification was easy; you made the recipes, ate the food and hoped for bright eyes and a less swollen physique. And you have to give credit to Gwyneth, what i do every day: she made it fun. She changed her menus and had your preconceived ideas reconsidered. There was a time when she suggested hot smoothies are better than cold smoothies (they are not). One year was the whole thing based on a rotisserie chicken.

But since then, Goop has been standardized and commercialized, and the peculiar genius of Gwyneth’s culinary modus operandi has been slowly forced out of it by people wanting to sell sunglasses and vibrators. Gone are her excellent recommendations, her obscene hatred of nitrates, her love of miso-almond butter sauce. Now, Goop is essentially just a lifestyle brand that wants you to buy things – part of a wellness industry that is expected to be worth $ 7 a ton by 2025.

Detoxification is no longer just about recipes. This year’s Goop cleanser is an example – it offers a G-TOX add-on for sale that contains a cereal, a smoothie powder, a “wellness” powder and a dry brush for lymphatic drainage. It costs $ 195. I hope there are other things in the kit but I do not know for sure because I am on the waiting list to buy one. In 2022, you actually have to get on a waiting list to go on a detox.

I’ve been on so many celebrity diets (I wrote a book about them) that I, with some authority, can trace their evolution through time. I tried the diet of America’s fattest president, William Howard Taft: a Victorian nightmare of glutinous cookies and the shredded memoirs of his best friend and mortal enemy Major Archibald Butt. I tried the brewer’s yeast and molasses from Greta Garbo’s 1930s Diet, the raw eggs and hot fudge Sundays of Marilyn Monroe’s 1950s barbiturate diet, the weird tuna grapefruit combination in Liz Taylor’s 1980s political experiment diet. All of these experiments have led me to the conclusion that most diets, detoxifications, and cleansing are terribly draconian, a concerted effort to make food taste worse.

The possible exception is the diets of the 1990s, the decade of excess, such as Vogue magazine reminded us this week, when it republished a cleanse Nigella Lawson wrote as part of her regular food column back in 1996. It’s an incredibly unusual moment in the history of diet. Written like a Kingsley Amis novel, it contains a recipe for crab pasta and a vegetarian curry that includes optional naan bread. The only sin, it seems, is self-denial.

According to Nigella, “self-denial is one of the more charming of virtues”. One must prefer a “streamlined voluptuousness – in food and, as it happens, form”. Of course, this sounds appealing, but the problem with lust is that it sells itself as moderation, but it’s actually very difficult for the average mortal to reach: somewhat flat at the top and somewhat square at the bottom. It makes the more mundane goal of a healthier you look like a relief.

Nigella’s cleaning is so extensive, delicious and sophisticated that it seems like only a professional chef can achieve it. She wants you to blow a “whirl” of peppers and keep it on “standby” mixed with anchovies previously soaked in milk. You can apparently fill sandwiches with it. She suggests making a mushroom risotto when your “girlfriend” arrives for “lunch” instead of ordering a takeaway salad and two of those calorie-free iced teas. For me, making risotto for lunch is more about striving than knowing exactly which restaurant will serve you a brown rice paste on the Amalfi Coast.

Maybe Goop went too far with the 2022 detox. I do not know. What I do know is that while skinny has always been something of a competitive sport, it has been obscured by a grim, relentless need to spend money to become “good”. You do not have to be on the G-TOX waiting list to see it.



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