I Tried to Diet Like a Celebrity for the Academy Awards
I endured a colonic, drank my weight in juices and smoothies, and had caviar smeared on my body in the name of beauty and/or journalism.
All photos by the author.
I have no business going to the Academy Awards. I watched half of Moonlight before someone pulled the fire alarm at the movie theater, and I never went back to see the rest. But when I had the opportunity to go and cover the biggest night in showbiz, I said yes.
"Great. You're going to need a gown," I was told.
"A gown? Even if I'm just going to be in the kitchen?"
"Yep, everyone has to wear black tie."
I nodded and went back to fisting a jar of Nutella for breakfast.
So I was going to the Oscars in less than a month. I thought about all of the ways I'd read about celebrities preparing for the glamorous occasion. Could a civilian handle the rigors of preparing for the awards season? I wanted to find out.
Three Weeks Out
I slowly started to dip my toes into research. Three weeks seemed like enough time to lose weight and look great. (It's not.) I found out about a place called Drip Doctors in Downtown Los Angeles frequented by celebrity clients like Academy Award-nominated actress Lily Tomlin. LA's rich and/or famous show up for treatments like IV vitamin therapy, wellness booster shots, and cosmetic services like Botox. Can IV drips help people look red carpet ready?
"The Beauty Drip is quick and contains high-dose vitamin C, B-vitamins and antioxidants that make your skin glow while giving you energy and mental clarity," said Jamila Sozahdah, the co-founder of Drip Doctors and a board certified physician assistant through the NCCPA.
I settled into a chair in the sleek Drip Doctors office that does not look all that different from a high-end nail salon. The nurse hooked me up with the Limitless Drip, another celebrity favorite with 16 high-dose vitamins and a full liter of hydration. My arm throbbed with a dull ache and I could taste the vitamins in my mouth.
Sozahdah said that clients can see results in 45 minutes, and that the benefits can last for weeks. I immediately went to a whiskey tasting after the treatment, slept for three hours, and got on a plane to Mexico for a five-day tequila binge. This is not how celebrities get ready for the Academy Awards.
Two Weeks Out
I returned to Los Angeles exhausted and looking my worst. I found a gown at Nordstrom and dreaded rubbing elbows with the most beautiful people on the planet. I started Googling "wtf celebrities do during crunch time" and found trainer to the stars Harley Pasternak. Did he think anything could be done in two weeks?
"It really depends on who the client is and what they have been or haven't been doing in the months leading up to award season," Pasternak said.
"But for two weeks, I would certainly put them on the Body Reset Diet, I would have them do 14,000 steps a day, get at least seven hours of quality sleep a night, and maybe put a few simple resistance workouts in. The key to them leaning out and looking great is more about the habits that they do while not in the gym."
Most of Pasternak's clients feel pressure to look their best 24/7, especially with the advent of social media and camera phones, so they're not necessarily pushing to lose weight right before a big event.
"It's rare that Award season comes along and people are looking at worst," he said. "They tend to already be within striking distance of their best."
Cool. Cool cool cool.
You can't talk about celebrity dieting without mentioning the one and only Gwyneth Paltrow. The woman has been red-carpet-ready for decades, and her methods of staying that way always make headlines. I pulled up Goop to find out how to macrodose on all things health and wellness.
"Just say no to: alcohol, caffeine, added sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and nightshades (white, blue, red, and yellow potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant)," Goop's annual detox read. "You want to keep your digestive system moving, so drink plenty of water (hot water in the morning is key), and think about kicking the week off with a colonic—they definitely get things going."
I got in touch with Goop to find out more. First of all, could a cleanse like the annual detox help me in two weeks?
"It totally depends—for a really deep cleanse, you want to do a few weeks, with time to ease into it and out of it," said Goop head of content Elise Loehnen.
"But cleaning up your diet for a couple weeks shouldn't be dismissed. If you're pretty typical hormonally (not coming off of just having a baby, or going through something like perimenopause), you will likely drop a couple of pounds. And obviously, if you go for a liquid fast/juice cleanse, you will drop even more—but you will gain those pounds back just as quickly as you shed them, so we don't really recommend this approach at Goop."
As far as the colonic goes, Loehnen said that it was a way to help with slow digestion and give the colon a deep cleanse, as it's already a self-cleansing organ.
So it was off to the Paltrow-recommended The Springs for a thorough rinse of my colon and an intro to the world of juice cleansing.
I met with Joyce Rockwood, C.C.H. who walked me through the benefits of gravity colon hydrotherapy while administering gravity colon hydrotherapy. I was sold: Why not get rid of built-up toxins clogging up my pipes?
Unfortunately there's nothing physically pleasant about a colonic. Even with the ambient music, soothing essential oils, and Rockwood's belly massages, I could not will myself to feel good. I had chills, weird sensations jolting through my legs, not to mention the tube in my rectum flushing my colon with water. I tried to keep up conversation but felt too uncomfortable to really focus.
"Imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were doing this in ten years," Rockwood said.
I didn't want to imagine.
The treatment was over in an hour and I couldn't be happier. I emerged into The Springs dining room feeling ten pounds lighter and sat down with The Springs F&B manager Chase Elder for coconut yogurt with blueberry jam and seven-spice granola.
"If somebody wants to lose weight, a juice cleanse is a good way to start, incorporated with colonics and other treatments, to really get your system flushed out, and then introduce a new meal plan," Elder said. She prefers to use juice cleanses as a way to reset her palate and control cravings, which makes a lot of sense.
Hearing people—very healthy-looking people—champion the ways of clean eating and cleansing motivated me more than my desire to shed some pounds.
That evening, I was stuck to the toilet for hours. I had to cancel all of my plans to hover near the toilet, presumably for the rest of my life. At 6:30 PM, I crawled into bed and called it a day.
The next morning I felt thin as hell. How could I not after expelling what Rockwood estimated to be up to 16 bowel movements in one fell swoop? Like a good student of the cleansing, I drank a mug of warm water and cracked open The Springs Black Magic juice with granny smith apple, ginger, and activated charcoal. Despite looking like a bottle of milky squid ink, it was delicious and left me feeling incredible after sucking it down.
I ate an apple and headed to a spin class. On the metro train downtown, I felt like I was going to have an accident—like a Bridesmaids shit-in-the-street meltdown. My fruit-filled stomach gurgled like crazy, and I wondered if celebrities are so thin because they are knee-deep in natural laxatives. I kept it together and avoided any public humiliation.
One Week Out
Swapping meals out for juice, eating more raw produce, and avoiding my usual vices had left me feeling amazing. My skin was looking healthier, my stomach was flatter, things were going great. Then I cheated. I went to a fancy fundraiser and knocked back tequila and soda into the very early hours. I lost an entire day to a hangover and Thai noodles.
I was in terrible form when I picked up my next stage of cleansing in West Hollywood from Beaming, an organic superfood cafe frequented by Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and Common. I'd be trying the three-day LEAN cleanse that served up 1,200-1,400 calories per day. The cashier handed me what felt like 4,000 pounds of juices, smoothies, salads, and other healthy tidbits that would tide me over for the next three days.
"I would recommend at least a four-day cleanse prior to the Oscars," said Lisa Odenweller, Beaming's founder.
"Ideally, a client will cleanse up until the day of or day before. Four days is the perfect amount of time to cleanse prior to a big event because your body will have acclimated to the changes, including any possible headaches or detox effects from removing caffeine, alcohol, or other potential food withdrawals. By the fourth day, your body has adjusted, you look stunning, and feel amazing – which would be the perfect time before any big event (or hot date)."
I heaved the bags to my car and slurped down my first juice on the way to Unbreakable Performance Center, the Soho House of LA gyms. My hangover was killing me but I had to push through like I assumed a celebrity would.
The gym was inconspicuously positioned behind a taco spot on Sunset; you'd never find it if you weren't looking for it. The only remarkable thing about the flat, hot pink building was the amount of Range Rovers in the parking lot.
I was immediately welcomed by a slew of people as soon as I walked through the Unbreakable door. Someone introduced me to the room and the entire staff yelled out my name in unison with a hello. Owner Jay Glazer (who is also an NFL Insider, which is literally his title on the FOX NFL Sunday show) wants the place to feel like Cheers.
"We kind of made our name years ago training pro athletes, but I thought, Why don't we use the same system for successful people in any field?" he said of the gym's concept.
Unlike a lot of gyms, Unbreakable opts for group training versus private sessions. Glazer thinks the added social element inspires clients to train harder than they might going one-on-one. "Tom Brady works out with 52 other people. It works pretty well," he said.
At Unbreakable, those other people you're working out with—that is if you A) can get in and B) can afford the $2,000 monthly membership fee—are actually a lot like Tom Brady, in that they're super famous and/or super successful.
"At any given point you'll have The Rock in here, Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, Nick Jonas, half the NFL, half the UFC champions coming through here," Jay said. He wasn't kidding. Nick Jonas was right there in the room.
I drank a pre-workout drink with my name printed on the cup, then dove into the session. First there was a hip warm-up with Guilherme "Bomba" Vasconcelos, a world champion MMA Bellator Fighter. Then there was a warm-up on a Sproing machine with Kim Glass, an Olympic Silver Medalist. Next I did strength training and kickboxing with more extremely talented trainers. And then there was the post-workout.
"We took the 'no pain, no gain' thing and threw it out the window," Glazer said. "We keep you so incredibly healthy, which is why we have all of this recovery stuff."
That recovery stuff is what really take the gym from A-list to elite AF.
Unbreakable clients have access to NormaTec Pulse Recovery System compression sleeves to massage your limbs free of lactic acid, a cryotherapy machine (a futuristic replacement for the ice bath), and Phoenix Thera-Lase laser therapy, something you can do yourself at home if you have $120,000 laying around. The cold laser breaks up scar tissue and inflammation six inches deep. You also get a smoothie after your workout. The amenities are insane.
I was a completely rejuvenated human being when I left the gym.
Five Days Out
The next day, however, I felt like a true crazy person—not because of the life-changing workout experience, but because of the Beaming LEAN cleanse. I called my mom and was practically shouting about how good I felt physically. The juices, soups, and snacks were surprisingly delicious and kept me satiated throughout the day. It was also nice to not think about where to go get food, when to eat, blah blah blah. I felt drugged by nature's goodness.
But I couldn't excitedly yell at my mom all day. It was time for caviar—not to eat, but to put on my body.
"Caviar helps nourish and hydrate the skin like never before. Caviar extract offers unparalleled firmness, protection, nourishment and energy to the skin," said Kristy Whitford, the director of spa operations at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The hotel is more than a hotel—it's a status symbol. It has a well-lighted step-and-repeat by the front door for your social media needs. People crane their necks brunching at The Polo Lounge to see who's who at other tables. Kim Kardashian loves the place.
Apparently one way celebrities look radiant on the red carpet is the hotel's caviar soufflé body cream massages, complete with a cellular mineral body exfoliator polish made with diamond and amethyst powders.
"The Diamond Perfection body treatment is great before a special event, as the full-body gentle exfoliation will help boost your pre-awards glow—especially if your dress exposes the décolleté, shoulders, back, or legs," Whitford said of the spa's most popular pre-Oscars treatment.
The experience was as indulgent as it sounds. I felt like a baby in the womb on the heated massage table, drifting into a nap-like state while very conscious of the fact that someone was rubbing diamonds on my skin.
I left the hotel feeling like a piece of luxurious velvet. My skin did not smell like caviar; it smelled sweet and feels so soft I keep burying my face into my arm. A bright blue Rolls Royce convertible pulled up to the valet stand and it was time to get out of Beverly Hills in my old Jeep.
Two Days Out
After my Beaming cleanse was over, it was difficult to figure out how to eat for myself. It was so easy to just reach into my mini-fridge for a juice instead of making meal decisions. I also don't have a kitchen, so things were tricky. I slowly forgot the rules I had set for myself and just ate things like kimchi and avocados, standing up in my apartment.
I drove across town to Santa Monica to try a workout that has grabbed the attention of Naomi Watts, Rooney Mara, and Jennifer Aniston: The Class by Taryn Toomey.
"I needed to release bound-up tension in my body from becoming a new mom, from my history, from day-to-day stressors," The Class founder Taryn Toomey said of creating her workout method. "By adding fire into my yoga practice, I found that I could move, shift, shake and clear what was stuck in me."
She added, "In The Class, we use intensity and discomfort in the physical body to engage the mind and then step into the seat of the 'witness'; the seat of 'Self'. There, we strengthen our consciousness and awareness as well as our physical and emotional bodies. We get to know ourselves better—our blind spots, our wounds, our love. It's an authentic, sweaty, cathartic, intellectual movement practice."
I almost didn't wear a sports bra to The Class after taking a look at its ethereal aesthetic-ed Instagram page. I had no idea what we would actually be doing, but I figured it would be low-key. I was wrong.
We started by doing about 10,000 squats, jumping jacks, lunges. We were encouraged to breathe heavily and loudly, to stop being polite and allow ourselves to embrace the "fuck this" thoughts popping up into our heads. Toward the end of class, we started to sort of run in place and scream, let out all of the stress and tension and self-consciousness. I was full-on crying when we stopped screaming. Why was I crying?
Was The Class going to transform my body into Rooney Mara's for the Academy Awards? No, but it was indeed cathartic, and reenergized me to be a better person for the rest of the day.
The Day Of
It turned out that the standard hot bod quip "it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle" is true. You can't repair years or months or weeks worth of garbage eating with a miracle cure, even if you have tons and tons of money. Plastic surgery or access to gyms like Unbreakable or having caviar slathered on your body can only go so far. Actors and actresses look so damn good at the Oscars because they've worked for it, presumably for a long time.
While the cleanses did help me drop a few pounds—not to mention make me feel temporarily amazing—they didn't breed lasting results.
I remembered Elise Loehnen's words at Goop about the pounds lost with quick-fix diets coming right back.
She added: "Honestly, slow, steady, and sustained clean eating is way more impactful—particularly once you've done a full elimination diet and know what doesn't sit well with your system and causes inflammation (typically gluten or dairy or both). That way, you can snap yourself into shape just by cleaning it up for a couple of weeks rather than a massive re-do."
That's essentially what Elder had said at The Springs as well. And that's essentially how Paltrow lives, too. Someday, maybe I will master the art of clean living and transform my soft food writer physique into a flesh version of those ripped Oscar statues once and for all, but for now it's probably back to jade noodles and tequila, because that's the lifestyle I've known and enjoyed for far longer.
Natalie Compton is a prodigious eater and lover of booze, and does not recommend crash dieting or detoxing except in the name of journalism.