Joaquin Phoneix’s “Joker Diet” was no joke. The actor shed 52 lbs in 4 months for the role. Are there helpful lessons for me in this extreme, vegan diet?
The Joker Diet is as extreme as the Clown Prince of Crime
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck in Joker was a stand-out performance of 2019. His portrayal was unquestionably enhanced by the lean, gaunt physic. He achieved this after months of extreme dieting before shooting for the film began.
Movie stars are often goaded to shed a few pounds and get into shape before the cameras roll. But rarely are they asked to drop 50 pounds in a few months. To meet the visual expectations of a character like Joker, Phoenix had to literally lose it. In a window of about 4 months, Phoenix dropped from 180 pounds to a near-emaciated 125 pounds. He did it by crash-dieting in a way most of us would cackle at: He practically starved himself of calories.
When millions of dollars, your professional reputation, and the legacy of your portrayal are on the line, I guess you dig down and find the motivation. Joaquin not only gave the performance his all he gave his diet the all. And the method may seem like simple madness.
Phoenix has had to whip himself into shape for roles before, so he was well-aware of the challenge facing him. He even argued for a heavier Joker so he would not have to lose the weight.
Additionally, he faced the hurdle of losing weight at age 44. This is when the male metabolism is slowing naturally, and losing weight is more difficult under any circumstance. It would be hard, but would it make him crack?
How Joaquin Phoneix lost weight on the “Joker Diet”
Under the supervision of a professional nutritionist, Phoenix cut his caloric intake drastically, limiting himself to a few hundred calories a day. He was going to lose in a few weeks what experts recommend people take a year to safely lose. Phoenix is a longtime vegan so his diet would not include any kind of meat, dairy, or other animal product.
There’s no clear indication he did any kind of calorie-burning exercise, either. It seems from interviews that Joaquin relied on only his diet to drop pounds.
This lead to the famous “apple a day” rumor in the media. Joaquin has said his diet also included lettuce, steamed asparagus or green beans, with vinegar, and a host of vitamin and mineral supplements.
In order to stay on his diet, he also had to slash his social interactions with people. These caused feelings of isolation and loneliness. During the months of pre-production and the weeks of shooting, he spent most of his time with the film’s director, Todd Phillips, talking about scenes. This helped him stay focused on his reason for losing weight.
Time spent with Phillips could be difficult, though. The director kept pretzels around his office, forcing Phoenix to resist the temptation of grabbing one of his favorite snacks.
He also became very obsessed with his weight. He checked it numerous times a day and toke note of changes in the ounces.
Is it safe and is it worth it?
Phoenix has said in interviews that losing weight drastically had a significant impact on his physical and mental state. He admitted to cravings, fogginess of thought, difficulty concentrating, and states of fatigue. The strict diet had led him to exhibit symptoms of eating disorders, despite being under a medical professional’s supervision.
Once he’d achieved his “goal weight”, he felt a looseness, or freeness, in his body. This allowed him to perform in ways he might not have been able to at his normal weight. And he felt the privation had allowed him to get into the right mental state to inhabit the character of tortured Arthur Fleck, and to express his pain and rage.
While Phoenix said he lost weight safely, many nutritionists and weight loss specialists say weight loss like this is not just unsafe, it is impractical. They say that it sets a person up for failure by making them concentrate too much on changes in weight and causes stress. This, they say, can lead to eating disorders and psychological problems.
It should also be noted that, once filming was done, Joaquin intended to gain back the weight he’d lost. This was a draconian measure to drop weight for a short period of time. He was not eating for a lifetime, or even changing his diet from an unhealthy one to a spartan one.
It seems that extreme eating regimens become famous for their results without taking into account the paths and purposes of those diets. While eating this way and taking nutritional supplements under a doctor’s care may have been safe for Joaquin, there are many factors to consider before tackling an extreme diet like this.
And in the long run, the weight loss will likely prove unsustainable and may lead to a relapse, resulting in weight gain. Money, stardom, or professional dedication may not be motivation enough to succeed in a diet like this.
Creating my own Joker Diet
From my viewpoint, Joaquin was not overweight when he started the Joker Diet. He didn’t have to lose 50+ pounds just to get to a normal weight. I do. While I do not think I can sustain weeks of apples, lettuce, and asparagus with vinegar, I believe I can do it for a week or two, if I really commit to it.
Last year I included my “Christian Bale Diet” in my weight loss diet plan. It allowed me a small amount of tuna, an apple, and an avocado every day for 14 days. I succeeded in sticking to that diet twice and I did see some real weight loss as a result.
The vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and the benefits they tout continue to intrigue me. I am not so enamored as to become a convert yet, but I can see the value in choosing dark, leafy greens over meats and dairy at certain points in my eating lifestyle.
My Joker Diet would have to be a little more stable, however. While I can do calorie reduction for a couple of weeks I find myself challenged the following week when returning to a regular menu. My sparse two weeks would have to be followed by a return to a diet that kept my weight level and my blood sugar normal. And I would need a lot of water. I’m disappointed that Joaquin never spoke about the role of water and hydration in his extreme diet.
But a routine of simply eating one sliced apple, 6 ounces of dark green lettuce, and 6 – 8 ounces of a steamed vegetable such as asparagus or green beans without butter, seasoned only with vinegar, could certainly be the kick-start to a weight loss plateau or for getting back on the dieting wagon. It could be a detox treatment or a vegan calorie cutter.
And even though he discussed it in a roundabout way, Joaquin mentioned that there was a great deal of mental and emotional discipline involved in committing to a diet like this. I know that meditation, affirmation, gratitude and constant mental vigil will be equal partners to physical discipline in this test.
In the coming weeks, I may employ this mad, scary, but undeniably effective short-term solution to weight loss. But I’m not ready nor motivated enough to stick it out for 4 months. A one-week test-run, then a two-week regimen, should be sufficient for me at this point.
Where I am today
This morning I weighed in at 240.7 pounds. That puts me .4 of a pound short of my goal for the week. I have lost 7.3 pounds in 2 weeks.
The results of my dietary change and my alternating intermittent fasting routine will begin to manifest in the next two weeks. I expect to meet my weight loss goals for the whole month of February.