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




 
A side by side photograph of Nancy Pelosi eating beef jerky and the author Sophie Kleeman eating beef jerky
A side by side photograph of Nancy Pelosi eating beef jerky and the author Sophie Kleeman eating beef jerky  
  • When Nancy Pelosi announced she was stepping down as Speaker of the House, her lunch was a hot dog.

  • According to my research Pelosi eats ice cream for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pasta, and chocolate.

  • I decided to eat like Pelosi for a week because I thought it would be fun. It wasn't.

When Nancy Pelosi announced in November she would step down from the Speakership, the public conversation revolved around many things: her place in history as the first female Speaker, her legislative accomplishments, and her likely successor, 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.

As a hot dog lover myself, I was intrigued. A daily diet of salty meat tubes is inspirational, though perhaps bad news for her arteries. I wondered if hot dogs were her only vice. Perhaps she stuck to egg white omelets and grilled chicken for other meals, or took a green smoothie on her early morning walks.

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.

Pelosi offers a basket of Ghirardelli chocolate — a noted favorite — to Rep.
Pelosi offers a basket of Ghirardelli chocolate — a noted favorite — to Rep.  

I bet I could do this, I thought. Sure, she didn't drink coffee, but I had recently gone a week coffee-free while laid out with Covid. Ice cream for breakfast sounded great. And while Pelosi is known for her teetotaler ways, I was already doing dry January. After a few days of haranguing Insider's politics editors - "We can only understand America's soul by investigating its bowels," I told them - they agreed to let me write about my week eating like Nancy Pelosi.

I am not sure who regretted it more.

What follows is my attempt to live like Nancy, or at least eat like her.

Gathering supplies 

I spend a few days tracking down what I can about Nancy's eating habits. I decide on some ground rules: I can only eat things mentioned by her spokespeople or the woman herself, or things for which there is visual proof of her consumption.  

This left me with a good working list: Jeni's "Darkest Chocolate" ice cream; hot water with lemon; bacon; chocolate donuts; salads (chopped and Caesar); risotto, pizza, and pasta, especially alfredo and pesto; Chinese and Ethiopian food; Ghirardelli chocolate; jerky; and, of course, hot dogs. 

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.  

A collection of groceries on a wooden table.
A collection of groceries on a wooden table.  

My groceries for the week, including ingredients to make mushroom risotto, chopped salad, and Pelosi's hot dogs.Sophie Kleeman/Insider

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.  

Day 1 

My cat wakes me up by throwing up on a throw pillow. It would be great to clean that up with some coffee in my system, but I take inspiration from Pelosi's iron will and resist.

A black and white cat that has recently vomited.
A black and white cat that has recently vomited.  

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.  

Hot water and lemon, with a coffee grinder and coffee seen above.
Hot water and lemon, with a coffee grinder and coffee seen above.  

The coffee grinder is taunting me.Sophie Kleeman/Insider

The chill of the ice cream is a jolt, and it's pleasingly chocolatey. I will give it to Nancy: Jeni's absolutely slaps.

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. 

To celebrate the diet's inauguration, I ask my colleagues Kate and Bob to accompany me to Glizzy's, a fancy new hot dog place.

Is this journalistically ethical?Sophie Kleeman/Insider
Is this journalistically ethical?Sophie Kleeman/Insider  

I consider running there - Bob, who was famously miserable after eating like Warren Buffett for a week, advised me to stay active during my diet - but I decide my Agonies are bad enough already, so I take the bus. On the way, I feel ferally attracted to a Big Mac ad I see in the window of a McDonald's. 

Bus sadness.Sophie Kleeman/Insider
Bus sadness.Sophie Kleeman/Insider  

At Glizzy's, I get the Sean Paul (jerked smoked brisket, cole slaw, and Mike's Hot Honey) and the Chinatown (cucumber, chili crisps, cilantro, fried shallots, scallions, and mapo sauce). I also order a Coke, because I want to die, so I follow the lead of Pelosi, a "devout Catholic," and pray the caffeine helps. 

I did not FaceTune this.Sophie Kleeman/Insider
I did not FaceTune this.Sophie Kleeman/Insider  

Fortunately, the hot dogs are excellent, and the food revives me. I feel like a new woman and gladly participate in a debate over the best hot dog we've ever had. "You can't have the best hot dog you've ever had in the winter," Kate argues, and I don't disagree. 

Two hot dogs and one hot dog lover.
Two hot dogs and one hot dog lover.  

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 to 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 that 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. 

Day 1 rating: one out of five gavels 

Day 2 

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 that Pelosi occasionally indulges 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. 

I don't live in San Francisco and can't get a chopped salad from one of Nancy's favorite establishments, Rose's Café, so I use this recipe to make my own. I make some alterations - I will sooner die than eat blue cheese, and I use shallots instead of scallions because I have one on hand - but it's a great salad: lemony, varied in texture and color, and hearty. 

A salad in a bowl with jammy eggs.
A salad in a bowl with jammy eggs.  

I wanted to make a hot dog as well, but I didn't plan my afternoon properly and only had time for the salad. I apologize to Nancy and take a sad-looking selfie as penance. 

A woman alone in her apartment giving herself the thumbs down for not eating a hot dog.
A woman alone in her apartment giving herself the thumbs down for not eating a hot dog.  

For dinner, I'm much more prepared and set about making this mushroom risotto. I buy cooking wine rather than regular wine since I'm not drinking, but I forget the key characteristic of cooking wine, which is "disgusting." In an especially disturbing turn of events, I discover that it's salty. But Insider spent $25 on these mushrooms and I refuse to let them go to waste, so I get experimental: I mix chicken stock with some white wine vinegar and throw it in the pot. It's… fine! 

Two pans filled with what the author claims is risotto.
Two pans filled with what the author claims is risotto.  

After dinner, I investigate the chocolate cake, which is now stale. I figure that Nancy wouldn't let chocolate go to waste, however, and I polish off the rest of it.   

Day 2 rating: three out of five gavels

Day 3

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 Pelosi'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 if this diet is giving me body dysmorphia.  

I add a chocolate cannoli to my order.

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!

A woman holding takeout food in her empty apartment and an overhead shot of a box full of takeout food.
A woman holding takeout food in her empty apartment and an overhead shot of a box full of takeout food.  

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.

 Day 3 rating: two out of five gavels 

Day 4

I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a car. Or maybe the engine of that car, if it was 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.

A woman eating a hotdog with verve and gusto.
A woman eating a hotdog with verve and gusto.  

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 6th 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 that I should try the "flaked" kind rather than the "stick" kind. I take this under advisement.

A woman enjoying beef jerky.
A woman enjoying beef jerky.  

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.

8:35

Sophie Kleeman/Insider

8:50


Somewhere between 8:51 and 8:57 I finish the entire pint. I jot down "chocolate is so good. ???"

8:58

Sophie Kleeman/Insider

9:14

Sophie Kleeman/Insider

10:47

Sophie Kleeman/Insider

I spend the next 45 minutes researching lamps and curtains. At 11:32, I write down the following:

I have turned into the beesechurger tweet. I forbid myself from getting stoned on this diet again.

Day 4 rating: The limit of gavels does not exist

Day 5

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 donut, 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.

A tomato, bacon, and cucumber sandwich.
A tomato, bacon, and cucumber sandwich.  

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 only does 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.

Day 5 rating: two-and-a-half gavels out of five

Day 6

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.

A woman drinking a Diet Coke inside a bar.
A woman drinking a Diet Coke inside a bar.  

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 currently going through it, so I decide that 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 my very nice delivery person who asks me if 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.

Evidence of my dry January failure.Sophie Kleeman/Insider
Evidence of my dry January failure.Sophie Kleeman/Insider  

Day 6 rating: four out of five gavels.

Day 7 

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 Buffalo Bills losing on television and a plate of buffalo wings
The Buffalo Bills losing on television and a plate of buffalo wings  

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.

Day 7 rating: zero out of five gavels

Epilogue

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. 

A woman smiling with a large cup of her beloved java.
A woman smiling with a large cup of her beloved java.  

If you know me, you know I've gotta have my java.Sophie Kleeman/Insider

Totals: 

Cups of coffee: 0
Glasses of wine: 2
Hot dogs: 5
Apologies to Nancy Pelosi: 3
Pints of ice cream: 1
Pieces of chocolate: 46
Miles run: 0
Prayers: 2

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