When Beyoncé headlined Coachella last year, her seismic set wasn’t just a theatrical triumph, but a feat of physical endurance. In order to get on fighting form for the epic one hour, 45 minute performance (months after giving birth to twins Sir and Rumi), she embarked on a strict exercise and plant-based diet regime that also shunned carbs, alcohol, sugar, dairy – and, one assumes, any morsels of spontaneity. In Homecoming, the Netflix documentary that goes behind the scenes of the performance, she confesses, ‘I will never, ever push myself that far again.’
So it came as a surprise last week when the singer, along with trainer and ‘exercise physiologist’ Marco Borges, unveiled plans to sell that very diet plan. In the promo video for the 22 Days Nutrition regime, released to her 19 million YouTube followers, we see her weighing herself on day one of rehearsals, looking at the number on the scales and musing: ‘Every woman’s nightmare… Long way to go.’ A super-stylised montage sees Bey working out, Marco extolling the power of plants and vegetables, and ultimately the new (thinner, better!) Beyoncé emerge. She gleefully FaceTimes Marco to reveal she now fits into a skimpy, spangled corset.
‘It’s a very big deal,’ she says. ‘She’s coming back. I’m coming back.’ And guess what? All this could be yours for just $14 per month, or $99 (£79) a year! Sure, the video seems more like a tautly art-directed music video than a cheerful diet shake or meal plan advert, but all sell the same fantasy: you are only a few pounds away from a happier, more desirable, more successful you. The real, sequin bodice- ready you is waiting – go get her. The problem, of course, is that this kind of crash diet rarely works in the long-term. ‘The toxic subtext of celebrity diets is essentially: “Eat like me, look like me,”’ says registered dietician Rosie Saunt, co-author of Is Butter A Carb?.
‘However, this thinking is fundamentally flawed. We all have different genetics, lifestyles and lived experiences – many factors of which are out of our individual control. Plus, eating for an aesthetic goal and eating for health are two very different things. Celeb diets are alluring because they offer a quick fix. But they’re also often restrictive, which, without proper consideration, may result in nutritional deficiencies. They can also be expensive, time-consuming, make socialising difficult and may negatively impact on one’s relationship with food.’ Although Rosie says a plant-based diet can be healthy, ‘it isn’t for everyone. Anyone making a change to go vegan should do so at their own pace’.
Rosie’s not the only person who thinks this. Just this week The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine have confirmed to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that the diet she’s promoting ‘could be dangerous.’
Furthermore, it’s vital to remember that Beyoncé does not look the way she does exclusively as the result of a draconian diet. Despite those ‘you have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé’ memes, her life looks nothing like yours or mine. She has an elite team of cooks, assistants, make-up artists, stylists, publicists, nannies and so on that $14 a month will never get you. I imagine ‘hangry’ is a whole lot more manageable when there is a professional chef to prepare your meals.
The fact that Beyoncé now seems to be engaging with one of society’s most pernicious fantasies – that the quick fix of a diet can make over your life – will feel, to many, disappointing. We see her as a beacon of self-love and acceptance. If Queen Bey wants to lose weight, should we all? The answer, of course, is no; and it’s also worth pointing out that it’s unfair to project that amount of personal significance on to a stranger. Beyoncé’s body, what it looks like and how she feels about it, is nobody’s business but her own. While it’s easy to scoff at her ‘every woman’s nightmare’ proclamation on reading the scales, many of us will feel an uncomfortable jolt of recognition. Just as it doesn’t reveal an essential moral aw if you put on weight, nor are you failing the sisterhood if you want to lose it. I also appreciate her transparency about the work it takes – ‘I woke up like this’ is just as dangerous a lie.
That’s why I’m not actually disappointed she embarked on a weight-loss regime – I can’t imagine the pressure of millions of people having an opinion about your body. But I am disappointed that she’s commodifying it, profiting off our deepest insecurities. That said, however, our relationships with our bodies are fraught with contradictions and I’d be lying if I said disappointment was my first reaction. No, despite my better judgement, my initial thought was, ‘Maybe I should do this.’ Because, when it comes to weight loss, all reason can go out of the window – and it’s not surprising. We’re living in the era of body confusion, bombarded by contradictory information.
From messages about body positivity (‘love yourself as you are!’) to warnings from cancer charities about the dangers of obesity (‘slim down or risk your health!), to last week’s advice from the chief medical officer that, on average, women eat ‘one or two biscuits too much each day’ (what kind of biscuits?), the messages about how we should look after – and feel about – our bodies are wildly confusing.
No wonder, then, that we turn to people who seem to have it all for guidance. Beyoncé’s is far from the only celebrity diet out there and I’m ashamed to admit the vast swathes of emotional real estate I’ve given to these various plans over the years. I’ve been seduced by a broad church of ‘success stories’, from following Dr Junger’s Clean Program like Gwyneth Paltrow, to downing too much Diet Coke like Labour’s Lord Falconer; from jumping on the Dukan like Carole Middleton, to trying hypnotism like Lily Allen. I even spent a few miserable days subsisting on apples and cans of tuna after researching how Christian Bale lost a staggering amount of weight for his role in The Machinist. And, of course, I too did the Master Cleanse (maple syrup, lemon, cayenne pepper) after Beyoncé did it ahead of her role in 2003’s Dreamgirls.
‘No carbs before Marbs.’ ‘Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.’ ‘You can never be too rich or too thin.’ I’ve hitched a ride on these different wagons for varying amounts of time, plumped up by the deluded conviction that this one will get me to destination happiness – yet, without exception, they have all ended in the same way: tears, self-hatred, disappointment and a monumental pile of ‘f**k it’ biscuits. Now in my mid-thirties, I still often feel like I have no idea how to eat, but I am, gradually, finding my way.
I got sober three and a half years ago, and as a result put on a lot of weight – a price worth paying for weathering that fundamental lifestyle change. Recently, however, I knew I wanted to lose it: I felt sluggish, uncomfortable. So I did, and I have lost a significant amount. Want to know how ? Moderation (and an excellent therapist – sometimes it takes someone else to help you unpick the knots and delusions in your psyche). Eating less and moving more, being kind to myself rather than beating myself up, listening to what my body needed rather than what my emotions demanded. Slow, sensible, steady.
Hardly the sexiest solution, admittedly, and sadly, I don’t have a sassy video to promote the methodology. But if years of dietary self-flagellation have taught me one thing, it’s this: there is no quick-fix solution, Beyoncé-endorsed or not. And I’ll tell you that for free.