One Hit Wonder

12.06.13

Why Jay Z’s Vegan Diet Is a Mistake

The hip-hop mogul and Beyoncé are missing the point of successful diets—if you stay on it, it works. Why the odds are stacked against the couple in their 22-Day challenge.

Good news! Another celebrity just started a diet that he wants to tell you about!

Jay Z has let us know that he and Beyoncé are going vegan for 22 days, to celebrate his 44th birthday. Yes, that potent nexus of food, pursuit of the flat stomach, and Hollywood star-power is conspiring to educate the dim masses on how best to approach human nutrition.  The logic is impeccable: If Jay Z and Bill Clinton are vegan, then it must be the right thing to do, right?

Surely America’s dietary approach could use a little tune-up, celebrity-led or not, given what a fat nation we have become. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35.7 percent of the country is obese, leading to additional medical costs of $147 billion. Much of this bigness relates to our eating and overeating habits, though the exact role of genetic predisposition is being explored. What is certain—and let’s face it, very little is certain—is that fast foods and slow habits are a sure-fire way to pack on the pounds.

PHOTOS: Seven Celebrity Vegans

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Ray Amati/Getty

In the scrum of drastic diets, especially those practiced by famous people (placentas? baby food?)  vegans stand apart as a particularly intense crowd. They are the domain’s true believers and have a bedrock truth to stand upon: Eating plants and only plants can be quite healthy, good for the skin, and has proven restorative for the many who have embraced the approach. As such, their Moonie-like proselytizing could be forgiven, too, if only they would leave the save-the-planet part out. They really do believe in what they are doing and want you to feel as wonderful as they feel. And save some animals. And leave a smaller carbon footprint. And figure out an angle to maybe hang out with Natalie Portman.

The problem with the vegan diet and similar live-off-the-land approaches is that they stand in direct opposition to other wildly successful diets, such as the Atkins. At one point, it was said that almost 10 percent of the country had tried Atkins, but in Atkins, carbs (and one of the big plant groups—fruit—is nothing but carbs) are the enemy, while meat and eggs and cheese are the good guys. The curious fact is this: It turns out that Atkins works just fine for a lot of people who stay slim, refreshed, and ready for action. As if they were vegan.

The effective diet is the one built for the long haul, not something to drop 10 pounds in 10 days and look like me!

Which gets at the basic truth about diets: If you follow them, they will work. All of them—Scarsdale, Zone, South Beach, Paleolithic, Israeli Army—OK, maybe not eating placentas. I will throw into the mix a diet I invented but never practiced in college called “the reverse calorie diet” in which people had dinner food for breakfast and breakfast items for dinner (lunch remained unchanged). I suspect that it would have worked as well. 

In her wonderful book Calories & Corsets, the British historian Louise Foxcroft traces the zillion and one diets that have been attested to over the last many centuries, since Homo sapiens was mature enough to regret last night’s dessert. And the punchline is this: Though many fad diets are totally, comically crazy (usually those with a celeb frontman), most are not. As long as there is a semi-thoughtful blend of some protein, some carbs (sorry, Atkins), and some fat, a few vitamins, and enough minerals to keep bones strong and eyesight clear, a person could do OK with Atkins or vegan or Israeli Army or any of the 101 other choices out there.

They all work not because one or the other has the magic potion in hand but rather because, for whatever reason, people will follow them. If you think ahead about what you are going to eat, be it a slab of beef, a boiled potato, or a cup of quinoa, you’ll do just fine. You can even sneak in a cookie or two. You just have to find a program and stick to it. Real simple.

Which is why it’s a shame that Jay Z, so well-known for his tenacity as performer and entrepreneur, mentions in his announcement that he is planning to visit the land of the vegan for only 22 days. He must know that diet interruptus is the lone cardinal dieting sin. The effective diet is the one built for the long haul, not something to drop 10 pounds in 10 days and look like me!—an approach familiar to insomniacs who flip channels late in the night. So Beyoncé! Jay Z! Listen up! It’s not these plants or those that matter, it’s the commitment. When you pick a meal plan, the only way to succeed is sticking to it. Just like with showbiz.