Welcome back to the Fad Diet Diaries, a series in which I knowingly decide to try out horrible diets and then am still shocked when I have a bad time. It’s been a while since our last venture, because it turns out that your body can only take so much abuse before it straight-up decides to stop cooperating with your editorial schedule. But we’re back, stronger than ever and ready to make more terrible decisions when it comes to our metabolism. Shall we?
About two years ago, in my fad diet heyday, a tweet about a “wack ass” Vogue diet from the 70’s went viral. It had all the makings of one of my next experiments: it was funny, it was dumb, I would likely suffer for it, etc. But I passed at the time, not because of any of the several, valid objections to the diet itself, but because the thought of learning how to cook a steak felt too cumbersome.
Now, two years wiser, in the midst of a pandemic, and in the possession of a real kitchen, it felt like the stars had finally aligned. When the same diet went viral for a second time, now being advertised as the ideal quarantine diet, I knew that it was time for me to step up. Have other people already tried this? Yes. Did anyone actually ask me to do it? No. Did either of those things matter? They never do.
It wasn’t until halfway through my first “breakfast” that I thought do any actual research about this diet beyond the confines of the initial tweet because I am, before all else, a very serious journalist. Much like any other time in my life that I’ve tried to learn something that I probably should have already known, Wikipedia was there for me.
According to the Egg and Wine Diet page, this abomination was in fact published in Vogue in 1977, but it first gained notoriety after being printed in Helen Gurley Brown’s book Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide to Men in 1962. As a single woman in 2020 who was under the impression that the last way to attract a man was to smell vaguely of white wine and hardboiled eggs, I was intrigued, to say the least.
Helen Gurley Brown was an American author and businesswoman whose work, according to my best friend Wikipedia, played a part in the sexual revolution that took place from the 1960s–1980s. Most notably, Brown was the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan from 1965–1997, during which time she transformed what was once a female-focused literary magazine written entirely by men into the Cosmo we know, love, and sometimes make fun of today.
Say what you will about present-day Cosmo, but under Gurley’s tutelage it became one of the first American publications to recognize the very outrageous notion that women like sex. Gurley built the archetype for the “Cosmo Girl”—the glamorous, career-focused, party girl that shaped the representation of single women in pop culture for decades to come. Her feminism, while seemingly outdated and at times offensive today, was revolutionary in the 60s Mad Men era that she came up in. She paved the way for the Samantha Joneses and Carrie Bradshaws, who went on to pave the way for the Hannah Horvaths and Ilana Wexlers, and so on and so on. Basically, any show about white women living and having sex in New York? That was, in part, Helen Gurley Brown’s influence.
The success of Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide to Men was what put Brown on the path to Cosmo, serving as an introduction to the culture and discourse that she would go on to instill at the magazine. It’s a how-to guide for the (then-) modern single woman, covering everything from relationships, sex, and affairs to careers, dieting, and throwing the perfect dinner party. It sold two million copies in three weeks during its initial publication in 1962 and was re-released in 2003 with an endorsement from none other than Kim Cattrall. This is appropriate, given that it’s basically the prequel to Sex and the City.
I had every intention of reading the entirety of Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide to Men this weekend, but it turns out that it’s really difficult to do so when you’re wine drunk and malnourished for three straight days. In fact, it’s difficult to do anything but lay in bed and start a re-watch of The Vampire Diaries for reasons that still escape you in the cold, sober light of Monday morning.
From what I’ve gathered through research, reviews, and light skimming, Sex and the Single Girl reads like a toned down, non-satirical Babe Walker from the 1960s. Tonally, it reminds me of an old magnet that my great-grandmother had on her fridge of a joyful, pudgy cartoon pig holding a measuring tape over the words “Taste Makes Waist.” Having not read it fully, I am hesitant to speak to the book as a whole, but I think it could be described as well-meaning but problematic. Gurley seems like a woman I would love to get drunk with, but probably wouldn’t want managing the HR department of my office.
I did, in an egg and wine haze after my third and final dinner, manage to read the chapter that the diet was featured in, titled “The Shape You’re In.” The diet itself is presented as an admittedly insane crash course for losing six pounds in two days rather than a sustainable or rational way to live, so at least we know Brown wasn’t quite as unhinged as I initially believed her to be. In fact, had I followed her advice rather than Vogue’s, I probably would have been better off.
Here is the screenshot from Vogue that started this whole mess.
And here is what Gurley wrote in Sex and the Single Girl.
To the naked eye, these may seem to be very similar diets. To someone who would have murdered a man for an egg that wasn’t boiled come breakfast the third day, they are very different.
Please note that Helen does not place limitations on the size of your daily steak. She also doesn’t purposely tell you to cook it with pepper and lemon juice but neglect to mention salt. She does not suggest you drink three cups of highly acidic black coffee per day on an almost entirely empty stomach. She does not dictate Chablis as the wine of choice, sending you to multiple shops around town until you’re able to locate a bottle of white wine that went out of style decades ago. Most importantly, she recommends two days of this unreasonable diet rather than three, all of which means that someone who worked at Vogue 50 years ago owes me 24 hours of suffering and one potential ulcer. Anna Wintour, I’ll be awaiting your response.
Once I got past the realization that I had been making things harder for myself than I actually had to, this single chapter of the book was one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in months. Reading a wellness guide from the 60s is wild because there are nuggets of what we now know to be absolute truths but are presented as radical notions, mixed in right alongside absurd suggestions that sound like they came directly from the mouth of a drunk Kitty Forman.
Hindsight makes fools of us all, and I’m sure 50 years from now people will look back on the wellness trends we all abide by today as archaic and, frankly, entirely unsubstantiated (I’m looking at you, Oat Milk*) but it’s still vaguely comforting to know that, even at my lowest, I never thought cooking with powered skim milk in lieu of regular bottled milk made for clean living.
*Authors note: Please put down your pitchforks, I love Oat Milk. But let’s stop pretending it’s healthy.
According to HGB, single girls require a very special diet that will ensure we stay “sexy, vibrant, and unmorose about being single.” And guess what—this one is not it! Suffice to say, I’ve never felt less sexy, vibrant, or unmorose in my life than after three days of nothing but hardboiled eggs, wine, black coffee, and over-cooked steak.
First, let’s talk about the diet prep. There is, admittedly, not a ton to do here, but what there is I still managed to f*ck up.
In front of God, the internet, and you, dear reader, I am ready to announce a deep shame: I had never hard-boiled an egg before this event. I didn’t think that this was all that big of a deal, considering hard-boiled eggs are not a typical staple in my diet outside the rogue salad bar and also you can buy them pre-boiled at Trader Joe’s, but apparently, I was wrong about both of those things. Sue me! I love convenience! Moving on.
But now an entire ocean away from Trader Joe’s, I figured it was time to grow up and drop an egg into some boiling water. Turns out there’s more to it than that, which I found out at breakfast on day one when I bit into what I can only describe as the saddest, sandiest egg yolk of all time.
Luckily, Chrissy Teigen was there for me in my time of need, with a full proof hard-boiled egg recipe. “But boiling eggs is, in itself, a foolproof task,” you are likely thinking to yourself. Congrats on your culinary training.
There are few things in life I despise as much as black coffee. There are few things in life I love as much as an incredibly milky coffee. You can imagine how this went for me.
To add to that, I learned that drip coffee is not nearly as prevalent in Amsterdam as it is in America, which meant I was either going to be drinking Americanos three times a day and potentially having a heart attack, or I was going to have to do some investigating.
I ended up finding a café that sells bottled cold brew, but in quantities that wouldn’t kill me. This was a welcome reprieve from the cold brew at home that allows you to peek into a new dimension if you drink even one tablespoon over the prescribed amount.
If you’re someone like me who doesn’t have any kind of concept of measurements (metric or otherwise), you probably didn’t realize that 5 oz. is not a lot of steak. It’s certainly less than you would like it to be after only consuming three eggs and three glasses of wine.
It’s small enough that you need to go to a butcher to specifically ask them to cut a piece of meat for you that size, and small enough that they’ll tell you no. But then you’ll ask again with a look in your eye that’s probably a little bit concerning considering you’re already three eggs and three glasses of wine into your day, so they’ll relent.
It’s small enough that you’ll find it incredibly difficult to not overcook, even after you send your mom a “you up?” text at 7:30am her time and ask her to FaceTime so she can walk you step by step through the process.
It’s small enough that you are definitely drunk after pairing it with one (1) cold brew and at least two thirds of a bottle of wine.
But then you’ll be kind of glad it’s that small, because you’ve also never had steak without salt and you’ll never really want to again.
It will be no surprise when I tell you that this was the most enjoyable part of the entire experience. Given how few rules there actually were here, I tried to strictly to adhere to the limits that were offered, meaning I drank only Chablis. I’d never actually had it before but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was like a more mellow Chardonnay, without any of the oaky flavor that I truly dislike.
My strategy was to make my breakfast and lunch wines as socially acceptable pours as possible, leaving the bulk of wine for dinner and socializing. While I think this worked a bit, there’s no arguing with the fact that I spent most of these three days in a light daze—a fun combination borne of starvation, alcohol, and caffeine. So basically, like college but with a significant improvement in the quality of ingredients. You know what they call that? Growth.
Kind of like anything else that you think will be fun, it turns out drinking a bottle of wine per day for three days isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I recognize that the recipe says, “up to one bottle of wine,” but chose to ignore that. We’re an all or nothing household.
Me to my bottle of Chablis on the third day:
As is the case with any of these diets, the first day was a bit of a novelty and therefore as close to enjoyable as you can get in this kind of situation. There were a couple minor obstacles, like the nearly inedible egg yolk and the severe oil burns I got from drunkenly attempting to cook a steak, but all in all things were looking positive.
I started out with a very strategic regimen for each meal, trying to sandwich the wine between enough egg and coffee to offset as much of a buzz as possible, but I can’t say that it was all that effective. Also, that strategy fell to the wayside as soon as I got to lunch because I was too hungry to actually moderate anything.
It wasn’t until I was on my way to a dinner with friends (them: nachos and sweet potato fries, me: cold brew and a hydro flask full of Chablis) that I began to worry what drinking coffee this late in the day would do to my sleep schedule. It turns out that it didn’t matter, because starvation trumps caffeine. I took two Melatonin that night just in case, but was asleep before my head hit the pillow, The Vampire Diaries playing in the background for only my cat to watch.
Any kind of optimism was abandoned the minute I woke up on the second day, starving, irritable, and still exhausted despite the fact that I’d just slept for nine hours. I had, foolishly, decided to buy ingredients on a day-by-day basis instead of stocking up on everything beforehand, which meant I had to actually get up and get out of the house if I was going to consume anything. The plan had been to go buy more eggs and try and redeem my first attempt at cooking them, but after it took me fifteen minutes to get from my bed to the bathroom to the kitchen, I gave up and settled for another sandy abomination.
Although this is not the first time I’ve had to navigate a somewhat functional lifestyle while doing one of these diets, it was my first time doing so since moving to the Netherlands. Living in Amsterdam means two things: biking wherever you need to go, and then inevitably climbing a lot of stairs once you get there. I did not take any kind of physical exertion into account when planning for this, which meant my shuffle from my apartment, to an eyebrow appointment, to the café, to the wine store was the slowest recorded movement on a bike in Dutch history. Tourists on foot were lapping me. There is a maximum two-foot elevation change across this entire city, and it was still too much.
By the time I had gotten home from my Odyssey-caliber journey, it was lunch time, which meant I had to drink my breakfast and lunch wine back to back. This, plus the successful second attempt at the hard-boiled egg, had me feeling so nice that I decided to reward my efforts with an afternoon nap. This felt like a good idea at the time (working title of my memoir), until I remembered that on a regular day with a normal amount of food, I tend to wake up from naps ravenous and disoriented. So needless to say, I got up around 5pm resembling a wet gremlin more than anything else.
That night I took my slightly less overdone steak and remaining wine to a park to picnic with friends, which led us to a bar, which led me to a couple more glasses of wine than my allotted bottle per day. Something tells me that Helen Gurley Brown would approve. You know what did not approve? The rest of my body.
I woke up at 6:30am on the third day, with what I can only describe as a stomach full of battery acid and hot flashes that make me truly fear menopause. In my half-asleep stupor I reached for a bottle of (carbonated) water on my bedside table carbonated and immediately chugged half of it, which only exacerbated the situation. It felt like the visual equivalent of pouring Sprite into a middle school science fair volcano. Unsure of how to handle the situation, I did what any self-respecting adult would do, and laid on the floor until the feeling passed.
Around 9am I managed to crawl out to my kitchen, where upon opening the fridge I was greeted with what felt like a solid wall of hard-boiled egg odor. Nothing another 20 minutes on the ground couldn’t solve.
Breakfast was a bleak affair, edging closer to brunch hours at the rate I was moving around. I ate my egg in one bite and washed it down with a Chablis spritzer that was 70% sparkling water. I managed to bike my way to a lunch with friends, which I think I only managed to navigate to because it was downhill from my apartment. My judgment was impaired enough to put on a full sweater vest in a heat wave in August, to give you an indication of where I was at mentally.
I had the wherewithal to go to the grocery store on the way home so that I could be sure there would be food when I woke up the next morning, but was unprepared for how emotional standing in a room full of food would make me. An unreliable shopper at the best of times, I truly outdid myself by leaving with a cart of black beans, a single red onion, kettle corn, sliced cheese and raw salmon.
I abandoned half of my lunch, opting to starve rather than look at one more perfectly boiled egg (a six on the Chrissy Teigen scale). After choking that down I retreated to my room for an undetermined number of episodes of The Vampire Diaries, before emerging for the last of the cold brew, Chablis, and steak. These were all consumed, cold, in my bed.
As I lay there that night, willing myself to the sweet release of sleep, the immortal words of Helen Gurley Brown came to me as if she was floating in the corner of my ceiling like Toni Collette in Hereditary: “Single girls need lecturing. You are the world’s dumbest about nutrition.”
In the end, I lost 4.5 lbs, which puts me just shy of what both Vogue and Sex and the Single Girl promised. Not that it matters anyway, because as I sit here, 12 hours after my final weigh-in, I have already gained all of it back. Spoiler alert: that’s how crash diets tend to end.
Was this worthwhile? Absolutely not. I know far less insane ways to lose a few pounds in a short period of time, and none of them involve hardboiled eggs. But I’m sure Helen Gurley Brown is looking down from above, smiling fondly, and lamenting the fact that I went out first thing and ate what was effectively cake for breakfast. All things in moderation.
Images: adnanroesdi / Shutterstock.com; Giphy (4); crissymilazzo/ Twitter