The Gwyneth Challenge

735, January 2009


smoothieSince rising at 7 a.m., I’ve subsided solely on a glass of lemon water, a cup of herbal tea, a periwinkle-blue smoothie (pictured) flecked like a piece of expensive stationery, and 11 ounces of coconut water. It may take California the next 15 million years to float into the ocean, but I’m giving myself two days before it happens to me.

The economy is tanking, factions warring, infrastructures imploding. Who doesn’t need a good cleanse these days? This is why I’ve decided to heed Gwyneth Paltrow’s clarion call, put forth last week on the actress’s much-poked-fun-at Web site, to withstand a seven-day long New Year’s detox. Gwynnie even provided a daily menu of her own creation (plus some unsettling details on how to accelerate sluggish “bowel movements”—just typing that didn’t feel right, and wasn’t castor oil the punishment applied in Little Rascals films?). “I will be suffering along with you to kick start my year a bit lighter,” Gwyenth wrote, admitting that she had a “few pounds of holiday excess” to shed—where, on her left elbow? Truth be told, I don’t have anything I need to shed, either, but I for one did not want her to suffer alone, and most definitely not in silence. We have so much in common—my Godfather is also Steven Spielberg and a paparazzo once caught Brad and I doing a little nude sunbathing in the West Indies, too—that this will just strengthen the bond.

That’s how I ended up forking over $135 last night at the Pasadena Whole Foods to procure my Gwyneth-approved victuals. Clerk after helpful clerk led me to grapeseed oil, agave syrup, macro greens, bonito flakes, sweet white miso paste, dried wakame. For the next week, no dairy, gluten, meat, shellfish, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, or “nightshades”—not a 1980s TV show after all, but code for potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, four staples of my normal diet. Before the clock struck midnight last night I’d eaten whatever I could get my hands on, washing it down with half a bottle of Pinot Gris and some Golden Globes-watching M & M’s.

Gwyneth, say it with me: “Yes, we can!”



day_lgLast night, with only one solid meal all day, I was famished—a bit weak in the knees and nowhere on my face was to be found even a hint of that wide beatific smile of a certain actress. Nonetheless, anticipating, like most normal working people without personal chefs, that I’d be unable to just whip up the “meals” that would constitute Day Two of my Gwyneth Cleanse, I got a head start on cooking. This would entail making two soups from scratch: a pea and basil that had me chopping garlic and onions and a miso watercress that was a singular pain in the chopsticks. Bonito flakes! Shitake mushrooms! Dried wakame! Miso paste! Turn on the heat, turn off the heat, strain this, discard that. Instant miso soup is beloved for a reason. For today’s mid-morning smoothie “breakfast,” I was blending raspberries and rice milk and whey protein and ProGreens. Even Gwyneth’s “detox teriyaki chicken” that will constitute lunch required a seven-ingredient marinade. When the stately BBC announcer suddenly came on the radio to announce, “Good morning, it’s 8 a.m. G.M.T.” I realized I’d been at it for nearly two hours and thought I was going to drop. (The results—this is all I’m eating today—are pictured here.)

It was at 1:30 p.m. yesterday that I ate solid food—and by solid I mean roughly cut greens with a fragrant carrot and ginger dressing that I savored. The handful of mixed pumpkin and sunflower seeds that was my mid-afternoon snack tasted as if they’d dropped from the tree of life, so desperate was I. At 6 p.m., my husband joined me for my liquid dinner of broccoli and arugula soup—it looked like pesto but don’t be fooled—only he ordered off-menu and accompanied it with a hunk of crusty, divine-looking zucchini bread from which I averted my eyes as much as possible. I asked him what he thought of dinner. “My favorite part,” he said, “was the bread.”

For the remainder of the evening my husband proceeded to fill up on various snacks, including chips and Raisinettes, that he paraded into the living room like a 6-year-old showing off his Hot Wheels collection. Which is not to say that he hasn’t provided help. The kitchen was Armageddon—the Gwyneth cleanse makes an unholy mess of it at least twice a day—and I left this morning with him scrubbing pots and pans and muttering something along the lines of: “I bet Chris Martin doesn’t have to clean up after this!” My Gwyneth annoyance advisory is solid orange right now; his is already in the red.



gwyneth-3My first Gwyneth-induced hallucination: I have given birth to a daughter named Pear. She is shaped like a Bartlett. I devour her.

Can this only be day three of my Gwyneth Paltrow-sanctioned detox? It feels like week three. When Gwyneth said she’d be suffering right along with us, she wasn’t kidding. I think we’ve all been pooh-poohing the sacrifices stars make to maintain those physiques way too long, because I for one am spending most of the day famished. Seriously. It takes major dough, patience, and pain to be so gorgeous. Could it be that all those times we’ve watched celebrities gabbing with Regis and Kelly or yucking it with Letterman, let alone performing on stage and screen, that their bellies are howling like 10,000 coyotes?

Now I’m facing a day when my sole solid intake will be the oatmeal I just inhaled, and I’m not one to “inhale” oatmeal, especially not in the front seat of my car. Luckily Gwyneth didn’t specify how much oatmeal was allowable, so I ate four cups. (Just kidding, G.P.) This is going to be a long week.

At least a couple of yesterday’s offerings had moxie: My lunch of “Detox Teriyaki Chicken,” topped with chopped scallions and cilantro, was tasty and surprisingly sweet (agave syrup takes the place of sugar in the marinade). Gwyneth, we need to come up with a new name for the dish; the vision of a “Very Special Poultry Episode” of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab show comes to mind. I enjoyed the soups—a miso/watercress and a pea/basil—as much as one can enjoy liquid meals, especially when said meals are not a medical necessity but purely your own self-induced deprivation. But the last meal of the day is at 6, and the evenings are long and lonely roads of pity and self-reflection.

But as Gwyneth said in her last newsletter —this one advice from her life-changing trainer on how to achieve a firm New Year’s butt—“The sticktoitivness is what it is all about.”



gwyneth-4When outlining her recipe for the cucumber, basil, and lime juice that constituted Day Three’s afternoon “snack” on the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved detox, the actress tells her acolytes to think of the drink as “a detox-friendly mojito.” Gwyneth, I knew mojito. Mojito was a friend of mine. Cucumber, basil, and lime juice, you are no mojito. (Don’t get your hopes up—that’s an actual mojito pictured here.)

I am officially at the halfway point of operation Gwyneth detox, and it’s taking all I got to keep from being fully submerged. That 4 p.m. “snack” yesterday was squeezed between my “lunch” of another blueberry and almond smoothie—try downing one of those after it’s been sitting in a black car for a couple of hours—and a “dinner” of super greens juice and miso soup. By 5 p.m. I had a headache, was a grouch, and needed Mommy to give me a time out—or at least a gimlet. Ah, the cocktail hour. I don’t know who invented it, but my gut says it was a parent. When detoxing, just how does Gwynnie muddle through the Apple and Moses meltdowns without a little v-i-n-o?

The oddest part of eating everything through a straw yesterday was, despite the liquid intake, I’m still thirsty all the time. I go to bed thirsty, I wake up thirsty. And I’m drinking A LOT (Gwyneth’s caps) of water. The upside to not drinking alcohol is the lack of pass-out-on-the-couch-holding-a-cognac-while-watching-House-Hunters-International moments. Those tableaux are humiliating, even if the only one who witnesses them is my dog.

But back to healthy liquids: Every 11:30 a.m., I get a refreshing little jolt of coconut water, and I’m digging that (“more potassium than a banana,” according to the box, and on super-sale at Whole Foods for 99 cents apiece!). Reminds me of the last time I drank coconut water. I think it was the summer of ’79, when a beach bum named Barry would scramble up a palm tree in front of the Reef Hotel, yank one down, and poke a hole in it for me to sip on Waikiki Beach. If that wasn’t living like a movie star, nothing is.



dogMy second Gwyneth-induced hallucination: Kevin Spacey mailed me my head in a box. High in protein, rich in useless bits of trivia. I ate it.

Deep into Day Five and following to the letter Gwyneth Paltrow’s New Year’s detox, I’m fading, looking for any wriggle room. Yesterday Gwyneth prescribed that my afternoon snack be “a handful of blueberries.” I of course used my own hand for measure, but a colleague, looking at the sad little pile of antioxidants on the kitchen counter, said, “Why didn’t you ask Steve in the art department to measure it out? That would have been a scoop!” Today Gwyneth approved “raw crudités” for my lunch, but no details on just how much crudités. I ran that ball down the field and loaded up on enough carrots, cucumbers, and zucchini to sate at least half a dozen press club members at a social mixer.

With all due respect to the salmon and greens I ate last night (steamed on a bed of basil, ‘twas divine), I am having trouble controlling my food fantasies. Maybe I’m reaching a higher plane of detox nirvana—my complexion, while nowhere near Gwynnie’s, seems to have a rosier glow—but honestly, I am yearning for crunchy, salty, spicy, sugary goodness. I open up my cupboard at work and forget that it’s packed with peanuts and ginger snaps and Jelly Bellys and slam it closed. It doesn’t help that I work on Temptation Island, with Margot walking in offering chocolate-baked yum fresh from her oven (“Oh, sorry! I forgot!”) and former interns leaving platters of peanut butter cookies around and everyone stinking up the microwave with their chicken tikka and turkey bacon while I hold my breath and knock back another smoothie infused with powdered Macro Greens. The whole city is poised to drive my senses crazy—see if you can make it through Koreatown on an empty stomach and keep focus with hot dogs and onions sizzling on carts and barbecue clouds wafting out of restaurants.

Oh, and tacos. I can’t get them out of my head. I love making them, I love buying them, I love them fancy and fishy, I love them cheap and beefy. Would it be so wrong? Yes, it would. I’d be letting down G.P., and other than Duets, she seems to have made pretty good decisions in life. Getting through the weekend will be hellish—Detox Teriyaki Chicken, here I come!—but then again, it’s over Sunday night. Come back Monday to see if I survive.

And Madge, if you’re reading this, say a little prayer at Shabbat dinner tonight for me.



gwyn-6-avocadoMadge, I don’t think your prayers were heard.

 How ironic that my single most favorite food, the avocado, sealed my fate. Friday evening, just as I had been doing for five days straight, I carefully followed a recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s New Year’s Detox Diet. My “dinner” that night was a cucumber and avocado soup that I blended together, as instructed by G.P., with the juice of a lime until it was “totally creamy and smooth.” This resulted in a bowl of, well, guacamole, only without tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions, or anything resembling anything that would give it flavor. I was so hungry I could have cried into my soup, especially when my husband walked in and asked, “You want some tortilla chips with that?” I tried, hard, to finish the tasteless guac—how had my beloved avocadoes turned into bit players on Fear Factor?—but only got halfway through before retreating to bed with a belly ache and a headache and a heavy heart.

Saturday morning I announced, “That’s it! I’m out!” I marched into the kitchen and flipped a beautiful egg over easy and toasted a piece of sprouted whole grain Ezekiel bread (which I had no doubt Gwyneth would usually approve) which I slathered with apple jam from Ha’s farm. I took my plate to the table, sat down, and felt ashamed. I looked at my son, who said, “What’s that? I want eggs!” I handed it all over, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and poured a glass of room temperature lemon water that, with tea, would suffice until 10 a.m. I was determined to make it through the day—if Gwyneth could do it, so could I—and weathered the requisite blueberry and almond smoothie, steamed salmon, and Detox Teriyaki chicken that constituted my nourishment.

I even made it through baking sugar cookies to take to a party Saturday night. My friend the Macho Show Queen was throwing an “End of Bush” party, which was subtitled (perhaps only parties in Los Angeles have subtitles): “The End of an Error.” I was on board to contribute “I Can See Russia from My House Moose Cookies.” Turns out I’m no genius with a cookie cutter, and the treats looked more like roadkill, which made them easy to resist. But the party menu was far more tempting. A Post-It announced each dish, and guests kvelled about the “Won Tons of Mass Destruction” bursting with mushrooms; the tangy and crisp “Cheney Cheddars”; the spicy “Patriot Act Polenta with Red Pepper Sauce”; and the sweet “Condoleezza Rice Krispie Treats.” I thought, I can get through this, too, but really, Why? How humiliating would it be to turn something down on the eve of such an historic occasion with, “Thanks, but no, I’m on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Detox right now and she wouldn’t approve.” (The historic occasion not being the end of my detox but the inauguration, by the way.)

I probably could have sucked it up but then there it was, surrounded by a crowd of smiling partygoers: a big, gorgeous bowl of “Guantanamole” that was exploding with ripe avocadoes and every other key ingredient. What can I say? I went for a dip, and then of course tried everything else. The thought of one more of those Gwyneth smoothies made me nauseous. I got a glass of wine and fell right off the wagon.

I thought about the Gwyneth detox and What I’d Learned on Sunday when, instead of  digging into my prescribed miso soup with vegetable lunch I was chomping into my second Taco Bell Crunchy Supreme. Eating local, seasonal, and organic? Good things, no argument. Cooking at home, a lot? Funny that I should now be more inspired to do so by someone who probably doesn’t have to cook for herself all that much. While I don’t own a scale, I can tell by my belt notch that I’ve dropped at least a few pounds, so I’ll be working on regaining those immediately. Did I have more energy? Other than not passing out at night, which I attribute more to lack of alcohol than anything else, no. Do I look healthier? Quite possibly.

Is this an aspect of the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved Goop lifestyle I’d be eager to re-explore as readily as I might private jets, full-time nannies, and spiritual consultants? Perhaps not, but this is as close as I’ll likely get, so thanks for the memories, G.P. My colon will never forget you.