There’s a yass-queen energy to 99.9 percent of online chatter about Beyoncé — rarely is she involved in anything approaching controversy. That chatter hit a fever pitch in April when Netflix dropped Homecoming, the revelatory documentary/concert film that went behind-the-scenes of her historic 2018 Coachella performances.
But the typically unassailable icon faltered last week when the trailer for a new Beyoncé-backed diet plan hit YouTube. The video begins with a clip from Homecoming in which she describes her weight (175 pounds) as “every woman’s worst nightmare.” The video was advertising a vegan eating regime, “22 Days Nutrition,” is based around her now-infamous 44-day pre-Coachella crash diet, which cut out carbs, sugar, dairy, meat, fish, and alcohol. Some fans at the time classified it as a “starvation diet,” and were newly disappointed to see an aggressive plan used to promote a paid diet program, when Beyoncé has typically been a vocal leader on the issue of body image in media. The idea of dieting also just seemed kind of... retro.
Weighing 175 pounds is not my personal worst nightmare; on the other hand, paying $14 monthly to potentially look more like Beyoncé is a pitch even I’ll admit being curious about. I ponied up the fee, handed the login info over to nutrition experts at universities around the country and asked them to assess the plant-based pros and cons, and then went out for a cheeseburger.
The plan greets subscribers with a daily “discover meals” page, with options for breakfast (sunflower seed butter and strawberry toast, almond spiced pear crisp), lunch (jalapeno pumpkin soup, black bean and butternut squash millet bowl), dinner (red lentil dal with crispy toast, Indonesian tempeh with brown rice), and snacks (cashews, unsalted pistachios). Which recipes the apps shows can be adjusted for kitchen skill and meal prep time — from 10 to 120+ minutes — in the preferences tab.
22 Days presents a calorie count for servings of food, but doesn’t give guidance on how many servings or meals to eat -- “If your focus is on eating clean plant-based meals, you will notice that you feel satisfied and nourished after your meals, and your health will likely follow,” the FAQ states, despite that food quantity is an important factor in body fat loss or weight maintenance. Instead, the preferences page asks users to select a per-meal serving size (M for “most women,” L for “most men and active women,” and XL for “super athletes”) and adjusts recipes accordingly.
Dana Hunnes, a senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, told VICE that while 22 Days seems more like a “lifestyle” diet and doesn’t read as crash-diet-y as Beyoncé’s personal plan, it’s still overly aggressive in terms of quantities. “The foods themselves are healthy, but even for weight loss and especially for maintenance, portion sizes need to be increased, or snacks need to be added," she said.
For example, following the “most women” plan and and eating four-ingredient pancakes for breakfast (270.95 calories per serving), an open-faced mango chutney sandwich for lunch (350.25 calories), and quick red lentil chili at dinner (446.58 calories), would net only 1,067 calories for the day. That’s a too-low count for virtually all people, even if they are trying to lose weight: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day for women and 2,000 to 3,000 per day for men, depending on their activity level. (It should be noted someone like Beyoncé is extremely active.) Now it’s obvious why Bey sighed “I’m hungry”, to many of her fans’ alarm, behind the scenes at Coachella.
“As a dietitian, I never recommend anyone go below 1,200 cals a day... this is definitely too low, [and] could potentially decrease metabolic rate,” says Hunnes, who specializes in plant-based eating. That, she says, would be considered a crash diet. “[This] does seem like it would be low in calories for the average person to maintain their weight, if that is more what they are using it for. Which [is what] a lifestyle is meant to do.”
None of our sources took issue with the vegan-ness of the meals. “It’s a good thing — I wish that more people were doing plant-based,” says Carin Kreutzer, a registered dietitian and associate professor of clinical gerontology and pediatrics at USC. Kreutzer runs healthy eating workshops for parents and children who are overweight or obese, and liked that the system is based not on a calorie count, but on getting a variety of vitamins and minerals and nutrients into your diet. Elizabeth Spencer, a registered dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital, appreciated that prepackaged, sodium- and sugar-packed ingredients don’t make an appearance, and subscribers might be introduced to new ingredients like tempeh and tofu.
But without more guidance on food amounts and by throwing customers into the vegan deep end without paving more of a plant-based path to change, Beyoncé’s app ultimately doesn’t have much to offer.“I find it a bit too extreme to go from a traditional American eating pattern of high protein and high carbohydrate meals to eating completely plant-based meals for 22 days straight,” said Spencer. “For longterm, sustainable success, it’s important to incorporate small changes over time that lead to big impact.”
“It's a bummer to me that someone with her means and fortune would charge people for this information they could obtain on other healthy plant-based websites or blogs,” adds Hunnes, as there is nothing magical or special about the recipes themselves.
Kreutzer has problems with the overall 22 Days concept, too — namely, that quitting meat and dairy cold tofurky isn’t a good way to go for most Americans. “For someone who has never eaten a high-fiber, mostly plant-based diet, even if we’re just gonna talk beans -- they’re going to have a lot of gas,” Kreutzer says. She worried it’s too much to do at once: “This notion that you can subscribe and tomorrow eat three meals a day using her plant-based diet plan … it’s kind of all or nothing and I don’t buy into that.”
Speaking of means: It’s important to remember that Beyoncé and Jay Z have a live-in chef who reportedly makes $7,500 a month. 22 Days Nutrition may not come with that price tag, but Kreutzer says it’s clearly not for the people she typically works with: lower-education, lower-income, ethnically diverse. “To me, it’s really targeting middle- to upper-income, highly-educated people.” Using all those fresh ingredients also means more trips to the grocery store, which can be tough for the average person to tack onto their schedule.
“I believe this nutrition plan would be overwhelming for those who rely on convenience and processed foods and are not used to spending multiple days of the week cooking meals,” said Spencer. She says that while cooking meals is key to long term success with healthful eating, you’re better off starting slow and building up to a high cooking volume. In her experience, people tend to struggle when introducing too many new changes at once — and going vegan is a heckuva change alone, new cooking schedule notwithstanding.
But for sustainable weight loss or maintenance, the experts agreed: The best way is the boring way, making small dietary changes over a long period of time. Otherwise, it’s too easy to fall into a pattern of yo-yo dieting, gaining and losing weight in cycles and experiencing frustration or disordered eating. Even though Beyoncé has all the support a person could want, it doesn't mean she is immune to disordered eating patterns.
“You have to do that with any diet plan,” Kreutzer says. “If it’s too foreign from what you’re already doing, you’re not going to stick with it. And I would put money on it that most people, nine out of ten, are not going to be able to do her exact diet, every meal of the day, for 22 days.”
This article originally appeared on VICE US.