I followed Nancy Pelosi's diet of breakfast ice cream and hot dogs for a week, and I ping-ponged between euphoria and the depths of despair
When Nancy Pelosi announced in November she would step down from Democratic leadership, the public conversation revolved around many things: her place in history as the first female House speaker, her legislative accomplishments, and her likely successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. (He's having a great time.)
I did not pay attention to any of this, however. I was stuck on something else.
When asked what she planned to eat for lunch on such a momentous day, she said a hot dog with mustard and relish — the same thing she eats every day.
After 30 seconds of Googling, I discovered something incredible: The 82-year-old former speaker follows the diet of a wealthy toddler with zero parental supervision. Chocolate ice cream for breakfast, rich and creamy pasta, and lots of snacking chocolate. She claims she does not exercise; her daughter once arrived home to find her mother eating chocolate ice cream while using a stationary bike.
What follows is my attempt to live like Nancy, or at least eat like her.
I spend a few days tracking down what I can about Nancy's eating habits. I decide on some ground rules: I can eat only things mentioned by her spokespeople or the woman herself, or things for which there is visual proof of her consumption.
I decide to begin the diet on a Monday, so I place a grocery order for the Sunday before. I sleep through the delivery because I was experimenting with not drinking coffee, which doesn't seem promising. Luckily, the food is still outside my front door when I wake up, save for a couple of things they were out of. I make a mental note to buy them tomorrow.
When I told people I was embarking on this diet, they were not enthusiastic. "This is not a good idea," my friend Ethan said. "You're going to obliterate your stomach." My friend Rafi was more excited. "You get to expense a gallon full of Pepto," he said. (I did not do that.) Truthfully, though, I wasn't worried. If anything, it seemed like a fun test of my willpower.
To prepare for a week spent eating pasta and chocolate, I make some Annie's white-cheddar macaroni and cheese and eat a large slice of leftover chocolate cake for dinner. Game on.
Instead, I prepare my breakfast: hot lemon water and ice cream. I squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a mug and use the other half as a garnish. There are unappetizing bits of pulp floating everywhere, but after the first sip I'm on board. I feel like a hot wellness guru who tells her TikTok followers to use turmeric as birth control.
However, hot water and lemon isn't a caffeine substitute, and soon my head is pounding. An hour later, I feel even worse, so I give in and make some black tea. Though it offers my brain momentary relief, nice things — much like in life — are always fleeting, and the headache reaches nuclear proportions. I feel hungover despite abstaining from alcohol for over two weeks. I take two ibuprofen and scribble, "Nancy, what the fuck?" in my notes.
I learn that Nancy was recently seen shopping at a CVS, so we walk to the nearest pharmacy to buy the missing grocery items, including Ghirardelli's dark-chocolate almond squares. My research didn't identify the root of Nancy's chocolate obsession, but I reason that it's relatively harmless compared with her fellow modern-era speakers' chosen vices: John Boehner smoked two packs a day, Paul Ryan was a simp for CrossFit, and Kevin McCarthy regularly indulges in his humiliation fetish.
We go to a dog bar where I admire lots of cute dogs but nurse a seltzer instead of a Narragansett. When I get home, I remember I had planned to cook risotto for dinner, but the first day of the diet has left me exhausted. Instead, I eat more Annie's macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake and watch both Tom Brady and the Cowboys kicker debase themselves on national television.
I make some adjustments based on yesterday's struggles. I save the ice cream for later to avoid a massive sugar crash and start out with a cup of black tea instead. Reliable sources told me Pelosi occasionally indulged in an espresso — something later confirmed in a New York Times story — so I reason that a daily cup of tea is acceptable. (I also do this because when I tell my boss I'm not drinking coffee for an entire workweek, the look on her face suggests she regrets letting me write this story.) I feel much better!
An hour later, in need of some energy to finish editing, I eat a bowl of ice cream. Once again it is delicious. Once again I find myself in the ninth circle of sugar hell soon after. Later, when I'm drinking my lemon water, I tell two colleagues about the diet, explaining that it's for a stunt blog. Their one-syllable "hehs" are reminiscent of how you laugh when your friend's horrible boyfriend just told a lame joke.
After dinner, I investigate the chocolate cake, which is now stale. I figure Nancy wouldn't let chocolate go to waste, however, and I polish off the rest of it.
I wake up and take the same tack as yesterday: black tea. I also snarf some leftover risotto to coat my stomach before tackling the ice cream. I decide to go for a run later because I haven't left the house since Monday.
At 2 p.m., however, I realize I forgot to eat the ice cream. I should take a moment to confess: I'm not a big sugar person. Put a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips in front of me and I'll finish them all, but a pint of ice cream doesn't do much for me. Thus far, Nancy's diet hasn't done much to change my mind.
I don't want to deal with the sugar crash before a block of meetings, so I make a hot dog, Nancy-style. I still don't know exactly how she cooks her dogs, but I prefer grilled, so I put one in the pan and toast a bun. I swipe some Dijon mustard on and pop open the jar of relish, at which point I realize that I bought sweet relish, which tastes like cinnamon. It's not great. However, I don't want to slack off after the ice-cream episode, so I slather it on. The hot dog kind of masks the flavor, but I'm not impressed with Nancy's hot-dog preparation.
At 4 p.m., to make up for my ice-cream failure, I eat an entire bag of Ghirardelli's dark-chocolate squares.
Taking inspiration from Nancy's hatred of exercise, I do not go for a run. Perhaps relatedly, I'm beginning to feel like my body is made of wet clay. I'm hungry, but I also feel vaguely sick. I take it as a sign that perhaps my regular diet isn't so bad after all.
For dinner, I force myself to order fettuccine with alfredo sauce and a Caesar salad. As I pace around my apartment, I pause in front of my full-length mirror. I stare at myself and poke my hips. I wonder whether this diet is giving me body dysmorphia.
I start watching "Letterkenny," a show about a town in rural Ontario. It's very funny, and also full of hot people. The food eventually arrives, and as always it's packaged beautifully and the delivery people are preternaturally friendly. Shoutout to Corato I!
The Caesar salad is tremendous. The alfredo needs some salt, but there are 17 pounds of it, so I allow it. The cannoli is also good, though I wouldn't describe myself as a cannoli connoisseur, so my opinion isn't worth a whole lot here.
At 11 p.m., I come out of my fugue state and realize I've eaten 15 pounds of the alfredo and feel horrific. I once again find myself praying.
I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a car. Or maybe the engine of that car, if it were full of sand. I suck it up and eat some ice cream. I make another relish-and-mustard hot dog for lunch, as well as another chopped salad, because I need a vegetable.
Later, I prepare to take a bite of the beef jerky. Nancy was captured tearing open a package of jerky while talking to then-Vice President Mike Pence during the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack; I record a video in which I do the same. It will never see the light of day.
I generally hate jerky, though my boss tells me I should try the "flaked" kind rather than the "stick" kind. I take this under advisement.
As expected, it's hellish. Awful. Satan's squishy stick. I write "can I give this to the cats?" in my notes.
For dinner, I heat up some alfredo, and I learn that heating up alfredo doesn't work because you end up with an ocean of butter and some weird chunks of cream. When I ask my group chat about it, my friend Jordan explains that it's because alfredo is an "emulsion," which I trust because Jordan is from New Jersey and thus has an innate understanding of pasta.
At this point in the night — the exact timing of which I don't remember for reasons that will immediately become clear — I decide I need to unwind a little. I light a joint and kick back. (I couldn't find anything indicating Nancy has ever gotten stoned, but her son was, at one point, the chairman of the board of a medical pot company called Freedom Leaf Inc., so we'll call it even.)The following timeline is pieced together from my notes, Slack conversations, and browser history.
Somewhere between 8:51 and 8:57 I finish the entire pint. I jot down "chocolate is so good. ???"
I spend the next 45 minutes researching lamps and curtains. At 11:32, I write down the following:I find myself thinking about this prison I've imposed upon my self, [sic] this decision to cede control of my own digestive tract to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. All I want is my agency!!!!!!!
I have turned into the beesechurger tweet. I forbid myself from getting stoned on this diet again.
I'm out of ice cream since I ate all of it last night in a haze, so I can only drink tea this morning. The lack of coffee is especially challenging today. I feel like I'm full of tar, but a trip to the bathroom does the trick. Troublingly, the diet seems to have improved my digestive system. I wonder what my colon looks like!
I planned to go to a nearby Dunkin' for a chocolate doughnut, but I once again planned my day poorly, so I make a sandwich with tomato, bacon, and cucumber instead. I apologize to Nancy for once again failing to adhere to her diet. I rationalize it by telling myself I'm going to a dessert bar later.
I'm still hungry, so I make another sandwich. I realize too late I've run out of tomatoes, so it's just a bacon-and-cucumber sandwich, which makes me feel like a pervert.
I leave for the dessert bar at 6:15. I'm meeting a man for a second date, but on the way he texts me that the original location does only private events now, so we have to find a plan B. We end up at a vegan crepe café, where I order some green tea and a crepe with jam and "clotted cream" that looks more like ejaculate. I'm certain Nancy would not approve.
It's the freakin' weekend, baby! I do the crossword and fantasize about drinking a cup of coffee. I don't, but promise myself a Diet Coke or three at the birthday gathering I'm attending later. On the walk to the bus, I almost stop at a Dunkin', but I resist.
One big problem with my adherence to this diet is I frequently fail to eat breakfast. I usually don't get hungry until I've been up for a few hours, which is how I end up with an empty stomach at a bar at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Someone leaves the back door open, so I cower in the corner wrapped in a shawl sipping on Diet Cokes.
That night, I meet a friend for dinner at Kiki's, a Greek restaurant. I try to suss out what Nancy might eat, and we end up sharing moussaka, a Greek salad, spanakopita, and … a carafe of wine. Nancy, forgive me. My friend is going through it, so I decide I can briefly break Dry January and Nancy's strict no-booze rule to commiserate with her. We then go to a bar full of 20-year-olds, which makes me feel like Nancy Pelosi in a Congress full of Maxwell Frosts. We leave after half an hour.
Unfortunately, my alcohol tolerance has plummeted, so when I get home I order a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolate, another bag of Ghirardelli squares, and a Gatorade. This involves an embarrassing phone conversation with very my nice delivery person who asks me whether she can get a bigger box of Ferrero Rocher because they're out of the smaller size. I will leave you to guess what my answer was.
I wake up slightly hungover to a text from the second-date guy explaining that he doesn't feel like we have much chemistry and wishing me "good luck." I choose to blame the foul vegan crepe instead of my sparkling personality. I chug the Gatorade and curse Nancy for forbidding me coffee. I still haven't replaced the ice cream, so I eat the stale semolina bread from this week's pasta delivery.
I meet my friend Alex around 4 o'clock to watch the Bills play the Bengals. Alex is a son of western New York, so he yells and flails his hands a lot. We eventually move to a bar with food, where I order yet another Caesar salad. Alex makes fun of me and I tell him to eat shit. We also split a plate of Buffalo wings for the occasion; he takes my last wing by accident but then tells me "it's for my own good" because "wings are not part of Nancy's diet." I tell him to eat shit again.
The Bills lose in depressing fashion, and I walk home in the rain. When I get back, I eat more Ghirardelli squares and another hot dog. The Bills are not the only losers tonight.
After I stopped eating like Nancy, my brain returned to normal and I no longer felt like a human sandbag. I do, however, concede that chocolate is actually pretty great, and I decided to buy more Jeni's ice cream in the future.
Most importantly, my week eating like Nancy confirmed one of my most deeply held beliefs about America: Our most successful people are total freaks.