Elizabeth Taylor grew up in the public eye from the time she was just nine years old. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone to handle, especially when her weight began to fluctuate later in life. After gaining a pretty significant amount for her short frame, clocking in at 180 pounds in her late 40s and early 50s and becoming the subject of countless of cruel headlines, the iconic actress opened up about how she was able to finally shed those pounds and keep them off in 1987.
In her memoir, Elizabeth Takes Off ($8.25, Amazon), Taylor gave a refreshingly frank glimpse into her life and attitude about her weight. “One of the reasons I decided to write this book was that I was so disturbed by the hundreds of articles saying that my weight gain — and by implication other women’s — was the result of outside forces I couldn’t control. This simply isn’t true,” she explained. “Everyone is subjected to pressure — schedules that do not allow for three balanced meals a day; the temptation of high-calorie dishes prepared for guests; conditioning that equates food with comfort. But with the right approach, our response to these pressures is not out of our control.”
Although her own weight loss success resulted in dropping 55 pounds and going from a size 14 to a size six, she also rightfully warned against copying her results exactly. “A word of caution, though, on this business of dress sizes,” she said. “You might look splendid in a size 12, so don’t start thinking the only answer is to wear an eight.” She added that despite always being in front of a camera, she still managed to avoid really looking at how much she had "let herself go.” This is why she called full-length mirrors “a dieter’s best friend” and recommended stripping down completely in front of one to really understand what goals you want to set for yourself.
The actress didn’t try to sugar-coat or make her “Taylor-Made Diet” sound like a walk in the park, either. In fact, as someone who had attempted every “get skinny quick” trick she'd heard about, that was something she wanted to avoid. “I’ll never try and tell you dieting is fun,” she admitted. “I know from painful experience just how tough taking off unwanted pounds can be.” With that in mind, Taylor recommended grabbing “onto anything that will bolster your willpower,” such as “psychiatry, saying your mantra, plotting your horoscope, casting runes, or clutching a rabbit’s foot, as long as it motivates you to succeed and isn’t harmful to your or others, do it!”
Taylor wrote that she created her diet with the help of nutritionists and her personal chef, Liz Thorburn, tailored to her own personal tastes. It included her favorite dishes, like “crab salad, spicy chicken, crunchy Parmesan-flavored potato skins, and a variety of fresh fruit salads that you can dress up with Liz [Thorburn]’s fabulous low-cal mayonnaise. You’ll also find a bit more lean steak and hamburger than you might expect on an ordinary diet.” Unlike today’s diets that limit carbs or calories, Taylor was clearly trying to balance flavor and nutritional intake with her variety of food options.
Here’s a daily breakdown of the Taylor-Made Diet:
- Breakfast: “This always includes a serving of fruit, a slice of whole-wheat toast (dry), and your choice of tea or coffee.”
- Lunch: “Except on days when I indulge myself with lean grilled steak or hamburger, this meal almost always consists of a salad made with vegetables, fruit, chicken, seafood, or other protein.”
- Mid-afternoon snack: “Usually somewhere between lunch and dinner… My favorite, because I can eat and eat and still feel virtuous, is a big plate of assorted raw vegetables, or crudités, served with one of Liz’s dips or vinaigrettes.”
- Dinner: “This meal always includes fish, shellfish, chicken, or more rarely, red meat accompanied by green, yellow, or red vegetables. I also allow myself a small serving of starch, half a cup of rice perhaps, or a few new potatoes.”
Mm, dry toast for breakfast every day — just what everyone loves! We’re guessing this was to avoid the calories in butter or jam, but we'd personally be willing to make that sacrifice in order to avoid choking on a the crumbs.
Taylor’s book includes a more detailed two-week meal plan based on what the actress actually ate and recipes for several of the dishes. Some of those include more curious examples, like “grilled lean steak or hamburger, 6-8 ounces, served on whole-wheat toast, one slice, spread with 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter.” Taylor claimed this odd combo is one of her favorite lunches and, as if to prove that point, it shows up three times throughout the 14 day plan.
She also invented something she called the “Taylor Sandwich,” which consisted of puffed-wheat crackers topped with a low-fat cheese, then wrapped in lettuce. This is something she recommended for lunches, with a side of dill pickle and handful of cherry tomatoes. Doesn’t exactly sound filling to us, but we suppose that’s where the afternoon crudités come in handy.
As for that “fabulous low-cal mayonnaise” her chef made, it seems similar to most mayo recipes with a base of one whole egg and an extra egg yolk, but is then mixed with balsamic vinegar, the juice of one lemon, two cloves of crushed garlic, half a teaspoon of dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce each, a cup of safflower oil, salt, pepper, a sprinkle of artificial sweetener, and half a cup of skim milk. We wonder if she ever slathered this on her daily dry toast in the morning… Either way, it certainly sounds like a tasty, zesty dip.
Apart from her unique recipe choices, she also emphasized eating as slowly as possible. “I’ve discovered that the longer it takes me to eat, the more it seems I’ve eaten,” she wrote. “When I dine with others, I try to be the last one finished, never the fist. When I am alone, I prefer to concentrate on the food rather than combine eating with other activities that might interfere with my enjoyment, such as watching television or talking on the phone. I even try to clear my head of plans, projects, problems. Because I’ve made the most of every bite, I feel satisfied, even if I’ve eaten small portions.”
The most fun aspect of her diet would have to be the "controlled pig-outs" that she recommended having for one meal a week after you've reached your goal weight. "My splurges usually consisted of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cornbread. I’ve also eaten an entire pizza, followed by a hot fudge sundae," she wrote. "And don’t forget it’s just one meal. And it’s probably best to schedule your pig-out for midday rather than evening. That way you’ll have more time to work it off and you won’t go to bed feeling bloated.”
Of course, like most women, Taylor’s weight continued to seesaw throughout the rest of her life, but there’s no denying these techniques worked for her in the mid-1980s. She also made a good point of not following fad diets — even her own — just to lose weight as quickly as possible. The actress advised consulting your doctor before partaking in any weight loss program.
Whether you pick up this nostalgic memoir as a fun look back at the actress’ life or to inspire your own weight loss goals, it’s still fascinating to flip through all the pages.
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