The Joker diet is no joke. Though both are extreme, we recommend the movie but not the nutrition plan. Joaquin Phoenix, who bulked into a dad bod for 2017’s little-seen You Were Never Really Here, crash-dieted for the international blockbuster Joker, shedding 52 pounds the hungry way. Originally, he was hoping to fatten up for the diabolical role, because, as he says, “I’ve done the losing-weight thing before, and it sucks!” But the director had a different vision of the character—skin and bones.

Joker weight loss
credit: Nick Tavernise/Warner Bros.

How’d Phoenix dump 52? He barely ate. “It was a horrible diet,” the long-time vegan told Total Film. “I started eating super-clean. Like, just salads, very little dressing. Steamed vegetables, right? And then I’m working out. That got me down to a certain weight. And then I went on the really hardcore diet, which is lettuce and either steamed green beans or steamed asparagus and one apple. And you do that once a day.”

The loss made him a member of Club 50 with fellow actors who shed the big 5-0 or more for a role, most notably Adam Driver (50 for Silence), Tom Hanks (55 for Cast Away) and, name-appropriate, 50 Cent (54 for All Things Fall Apart). Yoyo dieter Christian Bale still holds the deprivation record (63 for The Machinist). But those guys are all 6’ or taller. At only 5’8” and sub-200, Phoenix probably removed the biggest percentage of himself. 

“Once you reach the target weight, everything changes,” the 44-year-old actor told the Associated Press. “Like so much of what’s difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop like a disorder. But I think the interesting thing for me is what I had expected and anticipated with the weight loss was these feelings of dissatisfaction, hunger, a certain kind of vulnerability, and a weakness. But what I didn’t anticipate was this feeling of a kind of fluidity that I felt physically. I felt like I could move my body in ways that I hadn’t been able to before. And I think that really lent itself to some of the physical movement that started to emerge as an important part of the character.”

He likely sacrificed much muscle for the role, and that’s why we at The Barbell would never recommend such a low-calorie, low-protein diet—unless, like Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, you’re being paid $4.5 million, because that’ll buy a lot of lettuce, asparagus, green beans, and apples.