Penn Jillette went on a crazy diet and lost a lot of weight.
Penn Jillette is a professional magician and used to have a show with his magic partner, Teller, called “Penn & Teller: Bullshit,” on which they debunked various “pseudoscientific ideas, paranormal beliefs, popular fads and misconceptions.”
He said he was inspired to lose weight (ultimately 100 lbs in all) because he had been sick, and diagnosed with very high blood pressure. There are nutrition interventions for these conditions, but instead of making some reasonable, sustainable changes to diet and exercise, he dove in headfirst to what sounds like an eating disorder.
First he went on a diet for two weeks that consisted of only 5 potatoes a day, which provides around 800 calories and 20 grams of protein, not enough for most active hamsters. Unsurprisingly, he lost 18 pounds after two weeks. This is called a monotrophic or mono diet. It’s apparently also featured on many pro-anorexic websites according to this article. (this is often the amount of food someone with an active eating disorder might eat)
He then switched to another ridiculous diet (sorry, not linking to this diet page) that he described this way: “Turn on the TV, look at the billboards, read magazines — see all that food? I don’t eat any of that. I eat no animal products, no refined grains, and extremely low salt, sugar, and oil.”
The disclaimer at the bottom of this diet’s website: “There is no guarantee of specific results. Results can vary.” They are legally required to put that there because it’s well-established that diets don’t work to produce sustainable weight loss, results cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy, and within 3 to 5 years most or all weight is regained…and because this diet is no different. This is Penn’s moment to pull the curtain aside and expose this diet for what it really is, but no. Instead he just goes on the diet.
The rest of the article in which Jillette talks about his new transformed way of eating reads like the most disordered of food journals. Here’s an especially concerning excerpt: “I had a handful of unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts with Tabasco sauce….I guess I had two handfuls. I love eating spicy in the middle of the night. The peanuts were very filling so I didn’t eat the rest of the day. One thing I learned from my lifestyle change is that I don’t have to eat all the time. When I don’t eat, I get focused and clearer and … well, happier” [italicized emphasis mine]. That focused, clear feeling? A lot of us have had that in the early stages of dieting. It is most likely the early effects of raised cortisol that comes with restriction. This response is beneficial in providing some energy to help the starving person find food in a famine.
More tidbits from the Sad and Curious Food Ramblings of Penn Jillette with a little of my own interpretations thrown in:
“It had been about 36 hours without food, and I wanted to eat.” (extreme restriction)
“I had watermelon. Usually when I eat watermelon it’s a joke amount, like a whole watermelon, cut up and very cold. Watermelon is magic. It’s like candy but really good for me. There seems to be no limit to the amount of watermelon I can eat.” (binge behavior, food moralizing)
“My dessert in the middle of the night was the idea for which I will win the Nobel Prize. I invented this. I took a lot of blueberries, like four big containers (this one is expensive), rinsed them off and then put way, way, way too much cayenne pepper on them. Way too much. Lots. I shook that around and then added way too much cocoa powder, no fat, no sugar. It’s like a Mexican flourless chocolate blueberry cake. It’s my favorite food. I went to bed with my mouth on fire and my belly full.” (weird as hell and also bingey)
“…I was hungry after our Vegas show at the Rio… I got up and had a hummus wrap with Tabasco. This was store-bought and a bit too salty. That wasn’t enough, so I had a bunch of spoonfuls of peanut butter. This is my downfall — too salty, too sugary, too high fat, oil, and salt, but so good. I ate so much it would make you sick. It made me happy.” (binge and then guilt. Serious alarm bells for disordered eating going off right now)
“I was full, but I still had some peanut butter for bedtime.” (finishing off with some superfluous eating, although with this much restriction it’s just his body trying to meet his needs)
I get that getting diagnosed with high blood pressure and other metabolic-type conditions can be scary and they are something that can be helped with improvement in eating habits and exercise. However, we don’t need to become diet addicts and emotional slaves to food to drop pounds in the name of “health.” We don’t need to miss meals for 36 hours and slather hot sauce on everything because we’re not eating what we want, not really, or enough to satisfy our appetite. We really don’t need to eliminate sugar, fat and salt from our diets. Most of these changes would not be sustainable for most people, even if they might be for someone as financially privileged as him. Most significantly, what Penn has done here is conflate weight and health, and that is the ultimate bullshit.
There is a better way to improve health without engaging in extreme disordered eating. Dieting and the subsequent weight cycling is well-known to be bad for us. Avoid this celebrity-diet like the plague.
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Welcome to food freedom! Dare to Not Diet LLC is owned by Glenys Oyston, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. It's time to feel good about eating, your body, and your health.