Let's get one thing straight: I have never gone on a diet or successfully completed a cleanse.
That is, until last week, when I went on a pizza cleanse.
It's not that I've never wanted to get in shape or kick-start an eating plan that contains less confetti cake—I just truly hate being hungry. The last time I tried a juice cleanse, it ended at 11 a.m., when I realized I need solids to function in society. Hell hath no fury like my hanger.
I also think cleanses and diets, for the most part, are kind of B.S. There's nothing magical about them. Anyone who stops drinking alcohol and eating candy for a week (a prerequisite to many cleanses and diets) is probably going to lose weight and feel better. I had this theory that if you stopped drinking alcohol and eating sugar, you could consume whatever other foods you wanted, and lose or at least maintain weight. You wouldn't need to torture yourself by subsiding off sugar kale water or spicy limeade for 10 days—you could eat pizza and it would have the same effect. It certainly would be more pleasant. And cheaper. And who knows, maybe a week of pies would incentivize you to have a healthier lifestyle. You'd most certainly want to eat less pizza.
And this is how I ended up eating nothing but carbs and cheese for a week.
Modeling my diet after a typical seven-day juice cleanse, I established a set of rules:
With that settled, I started my cleanse, which I also turned into an opportunity to explore more pizza places in New York, the pizza capital of the world. If I was going to eat nothing but pizza for a week, I needed to make it count.
Slice Count: 10
Mood: Hungover, but fly AF.
It was almost as though I'd planned it: On the first day of my cleanse, I was hungover. Since I was having difficulty leaving my apartment, I headed to Roberta's, a hipster paradise that just happens to be my neighborhood pizza spot. I ordered two pizzas and kept eating until my hangover subsided. Six slices down, many more to go.
White Guy (mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, with an egg on top) and the Axl Rosenberg (garlic, mozzarella, mushrooms, jalapeños, and fresh tomato sauce)
At dinnertime, my friend was hosting a very curated Canadian Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, which made me almost break my pizza promise. I sat there somberly munching on leftovers (four slices total) while everyone else reveled in pumpkin pie. I also Googled "What happens when you stop eating vegetables?" because I'm irrationally scared of developing some pirate disease that no one has contracted since the 19th century. Pumpkin woes aside, my stomach was in great shape — for now.
Slice Count: 1.75 small pizzas
Mood: I think I know what heartburn is?
I woke up around 4 a.m. and thought I was dying. After a quick consultation with Dr. Google, I discovered that I had what the kids call "heartburn." When I woke up for real later that morning, I chugged a few glasses of water while nibbling on leftover Roberta's crusts to tide me over till lunch.
By mid-morning, I was starving. I jetted to Motorino and ordered a simple pie that was heavier on the cheese. I squeezed two lemons onto it to get some semblance of fruit into my diet. As luck would have it, lemon on pizza is amazing. Ate a third of the pizza and brought the rest home to snack on till dinner.
Colatura di Alici with fior di latte, red onion, grape tomatoes, white anchovies, chili flakes, gaeta olives, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, and sea salt
After work, I had to deal with a bloating situation that can only be described as "incapable of buttoning my pants." So I went to the gym. I typically eat a lot of vegetables, so I think my stomach wasn't used to the carb overload. (It's unpleasant.) The good news is that carbs = energy, and I ran 5 miles in 30 minutes.
After my manic workout, I headed to Kesté, a revered West Village Neapolitan-style pizza spot. I ate a whole pizza. I regret nothing. I went home and slept like a well-fed (and still slightly bloated) baby.
The Kesté: tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, and gran cru extra virgin olive oil
Slice Count: 8
Mood: Feel like a baked potato.
My body was adjusting to the new order of things. I didn't have heartburn anymore. I woke up and fried an egg to top my last Roberta's slice and headed to work.
I was lightheaded by midday, so I went to get lunch. After too many Neapolitan-style pies, I finally got some texture into my diet via an extra crunchy crust at Prince Street Pizza. The two slices I ate were gloriously greasy, tasty, and baked to extra crisp perfection by Frank, the owner of Prince Street and my future husband. After lunch, I felt great and my headache was gone.
Margherita slice and a Sicilian slice with pepperoni
That night, a good friend decided to join me on my adventure to the famed Paulie Gee's in Brooklyn. Two important things happened here: I discovered that I could ask for butter to slather on my crusts (which I did), and I figured out that if you order multiple sides of arugula, you can pretend you're eating a salad burrito.
Mo cheeks (Italian tomatoes, pecorino romano, shaved parmigiano reggiano, pickled red onions, and Berkshire guanciale) and the Greenpointer (fresh mozzarella, baby arugula, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and shaved parmigiano reggiano)
Slice Count: 6
Mood: Think I have PMS (Pizza Menstrual Syndrome). I'm bloated. I'm irritable. I'm constipated. I have a headache. I really want to house an avocado.
After yesterday's arugula-fest I thought I'd be on the path to righteousness. I was wrong. I couldn't even look at dairy. I started taking my coffee black. Clearly, this meant I was becoming psychopath.
I felt ill in the morning so I skipped breakfast and I was already dreading lunch. Incapable of making a decision, I consulted Nell from The Infatuation and asked what pies I was missing on my hit list. I ordered a vodka pizza from Rubirosa. (FYI: This is the pizza that will guide you through life crises and breakups.) By the time it got delivered, I felt normal again and plowed through four slices. My stomach thanked me for the mildly acidic vodka sauce and extra garlic.
Pizza ordered: Vodka pizza with extra garlic (I'm great in meetings)
I left work and headed to my most anticipated spot: Lucali. You see, Lucali is where Beyoncé and Jay Z go for their pizza. If this place is good enough for royalty, it might be good enough to give me a bowel movement.
Unfortunately, there was a fire at Lucali, so after I cried and learned that I'm a pizza rookie (you're always supposed to call before you show up), the charming owner Mark Iacono pointed me toward another neighborhood spot, Giuseppina's Brick Oven Pizza. It being almost 10 p.m. by the time I got my dinner, I inhaled four slices and my stomach didn't hate me.
Classic cheese pie with artichokes and shallots
Slice Count: 10
Mood: I'm a roller coaster, I go from loving my life to hating everything. At times, my water tastes like pizza. The air tastes like pizza.
I wasn't that hungry for life anymore, so I didn't eat anything for breakfast. At lunch, I had two slices from Angelo's Pizza. Look at my sad picture. I'd lost the will to Instagram. I used four lemons on this pizza. It didn't help.
Arugula, mushroom, ricotta, and mozzarella pizza with olive oil and lemon
After a depressing day where all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and eat things that weren't shaped like triangles, I went boxing to take care of what can only be described as chronic bloat syndrome. Then I listlessly trekked over to Bruno, a new-age pizza spot in Manhattan.
I was reborn. The pizza had fresh vegetables over a thin crust, and my body finally got some much-needed variety. To show my gratitude, I ate eight slices. I think. I lost count.
Mushroom (local mushrooms, béchamel, chive, chilies) and Summer Greens (ricotta, carrot top pesto, zucchini, bottarga, chili)
Slice Count: Unknown
Mood: THIS IS MY BREAKTHROUGH DAY. I feel great, my skin is glowing, and my jeggings are buttoning. My stomach has finally called a ceasefire and is blissfully accepting the new order of things.
For breakfast, I had half a leftover slice that my roommate had in the back of the fridge. I was ravenous and didn't ask if I could eat it. (Not sorry.) At lunch, I went to Joe's and ate two slices — one of which looked exactly like the pizza emoji, clearly a sign from the heavens that all will be well.
Mozzarella slice and pepperoni slice
On a total rush from my "pizzalightenment," I went to the much-acclaimed Emily in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the wait was two hours. I opted for takeout and ordered a spicy pepperoni pizza with fancy toppings. I ate this pizza on the street, in Brooklyn, alone. (Eating pies for the better part of a week will lead to questionable life choices.) Even with the heartburn-triggering ingredients, I felt fine afterward, and definitely less hungry. My body had finally become the temple of pizza I hoped it would.
The Colony: red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, pickled chili, honey
Slice Count: 12
Mood: I really, really love pizza. My body and my faith in humanity have been restored.
On Saturday, I went to brunch with friends who, even though they were sick of me talking about pizza, were not tired of eating. Speedy Romeo gets creative with their brunch pizzas. I plowed through their six slices of their inventive pizzas and coat-checked the rest at Bumble and Bumble, where I went next for my hair appointment. The pizza was that good.
A photo posted by on
The Gravlax (grilled dough, fennel cured salmon, ricotta, red onion, capers, lemon) and The Ritz (grilled Taylor ham, Provel cheese, farm eggs, Tabasco)
For my "last supper," I went to a pizza-tasting party at a soon-to-be-open restaurant. Even though the appetizers almost tempted me to stray, I stayed true to my cleanse and wolfed down six slices of Roman-style pizza. My body was now a well-oiled machine that handled pizza like the life force it is. I was proud of my stomach. It had been through a lot this week.
Slice Count: 3
Mood: Life is great. Pizza is great.
Classic pie, regular pie, Sicilian slice
Even though Saturday was technically my last day, I wanted to ease my body back into mainstream society and extended the cleanse. I had another reason for doing so: I still had one more stop on the pizza trail. No fewer than 10 people had told me that I wasn't qualified to say that I've eaten pizza until I went to Di Fara. So I went. I watched the maestro of pizza, 80-year-old Domenico DeMarco, make my final pies.
I ate three massive slices.
And then I had a salad.
It was perfect.
My cleanse was a "success," if you could call it that. Don't hate me, but I lost 5 pounds. I slimmed down not because pizza is some undiscovered super food, but because I was actually consuming fewer calories. Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, told me that part (or all) of my weight loss was probably due to cutting out wine and sugar.
Most restrictive diets will help you lose weight, but not for long. Smith notes that most crash diets aren't sustainable long-term because "many [crash diets] leave people starving and can often act more like a Band-Aid than anything else." While I wasn't starving per se, my diet left me somewhat malnourished.
Doing anything for a week won't do that much to your body other than maybe get you on a path to health. Post-cleanse, I continued to avoid sugar, but otherwise went back to my usual diet of greens, meat, dairy, and wine.
In the end, all that pizza didn't make me feel terrible. There were moments I felt like I was going to die (which I imagine would also happen if you drink nothing but juice for a week), but once I hit my stride, it was incredibly liberating. So many companies profit from the perception that certain foods are "good" and others "bad." This cleanse felt like a giant "eff you" to conventional dieting and the $40 billion weight loss industry.
But I do not recommend eating only pizza for a week. You might lose 5 pounds, but like with all crash diets, it's not sustainable. Pizza without wine is a special kind of torture, one I never want to experience again.
A special thank you to Scott Wiener (@scottspizzatours) and @infatuation (Snapchat: InfatuationTV) for the all the help mapping my pizza week!
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Charlotte Palermino is the co-founder of Nice Paper and is a freelance beauty and food writer based in Brooklyn. Obsessed with carbs and a sharp cat-eye, she was formerly the editorial development lead at Snap Inc., and prior to that an associate director at Hearst Digital Media where she ate a lot pizza.
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