Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Diet by the Book, OR, I actually met Dr. Atkins when I was a kid, and he was fat

His diet book only has one page of entries, written in various colors for all the different years he’d updated it: blue pen, black ballpoint, black felt-tip, red editing pen, and several different thicknesses of pencils marked the updates in popular dietary science since his adolescence.

As a child fat had been dangerous. Fat, and oil. At school he learned these things were the same: they were lipids. So these were at the top of the page. Just below these is a note that saturated fat should be avoided even more than normal fat, though normal fat should also be minimized.

Near the top of the page is a very recent arrow and a new note mentioning something about transfats.

During the period of elegant black ballpoint comes cholesterol. He didn’t know what that was, but knew how to avoid it.

Sugar was out next. They made you crash, changed quickly into fat, and refined ones had extra chemicals. A more recent note adds that artificial sweeteners were also forbidden, since they could cause cancer and kidney trouble, as well as turning into the same harmful biological byproducts as sugar if you didn’t exercise them off.

Thus he wasn’t surprised a few years later when fad diets nixed carbohydrates. Sugars were carbohydrate chains. Glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose – all merely scientific jargon for the sweet stuff. But now he knew to avoid all carbohydrates: bread, pasta hamburger buns. A note in smaller letters than usual says that hamburger is okay, though, since it is protein. “It just had to be really lean.”

A table in the margin of the notebook showed the three existing kinds of foods:

“Carbohydrate” and “Lipid” are crossed out in red pen. Proteins became the only substance he could eat. Except some sources of protein were dangerous: fish might have mercury in it, beef might have mad cow disease, and all the vegetables with protein still had the deadly carbohydrates. It gave him quite a shock to learn that the crunch in his celery was a crunchy sugar chain. How sneaky of the sugar to not be sweet.

The bottom of the page had notes on protein shakes and some incomprehensible scribbles in red marker about preservatives. These notes go on, and rather than running onto the next page, curve upwards and into the margins and empty lines. Several are upside down. There is no telling what he might have done with the rest of the book as he died in the middle of this red marker period, starving to death reading labels.

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