Culture

A Meditation on Diet

Guy-and-his-Dog

I’m convinced the inventor of the “food pill” bit in SF was a middle-aged single man who was hungry, but didn’t know what to eat.

It’s actually getting close to nine months since I had that first epiphany — that I wasn’t that much younger, really, than my parents had been when they died, and that I didn’t want to die young. Hell, I don’t want to die at all, and as the old joke goes, I’ll either be immortal or die trying.

Of course, if you’ve been following this column and my 13 Weeks Facebook page, you already know that what I’ve done has been to structure things in 13 week experiments; over time, I’ve begun to see it as:

  1. Observe something that I want to change, like weight or blood sugar.
  2. Propose a treatment — diet, exercise, drugs, or whatever — to change that thing, and define how I’ll measure my progress.
  3. Perform the treatment for a fixed length of time. For a variety of reasons, I settled on 13 weeks.
  4. At the end of that time, evaluate the results, and either pivot to a new treatment, or persevere in the old one.

Low-carb diet worked for a while; now I’m on a slightly higher-carb “slow-carb” diet that has turned out to be reasonably effective, in that I’ve resumed losing about a pound a week. It’s also done a lot toward controlling my blood sugar and type-2 diabetes, and I’ve now lost something close to 40 lbs since October, as well as improving my already-good cholesterol.

All in all, it hasn’t been spectacular — I’m not going to get an informercial out of it — but it’s been pretty good.

I’ve also been writing essentially a diary on the Facebook page and in these columns, looking back, I’ve learned something from them.

Dieting is hard.

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I don’t mean that sticking to the diet is hard — frankly this low-carb diet isn’t terribly hard. (Intermittent fasting is harder, and a strict 1200 kcal a day diet is dreadful.)

What I miss most is some wheat products, like pasta, but every time I’m eaten much wheat since I cut it, I’ve gotten stomach pain, cramps, and a recurrence of my really severe GERD, and that is one fine negative reinforcement. I’ve gotten less and less interested in bread and pasta.

It’s dealing with day to day life on a diet that is the really hard part. There’s a birthday, and of course there’s ice cream and cake. There’s a big meeting with a catered lunch — assorted sandwiches and potato chips, or three kinds of pasta because, after all, everyone, even the vegetarians, like pasta.

It’s the people who insist on dismissing the difficulty: “This is silly, you just have to eat less and exercise more.” But this advice has an essential flaw, in that it actually doesn’t work very well. It can be very difficult to convince people of this, though, because there’s a variety of the “No true Scotsman” that applies: if you aren’t losing weight, it must therefore be that you haven’t actually eaten less and exercised more.

There are measurement difficulties too. I seem to be losing pretty close to a pound a week now, but the standard deviation is still about 2.3 pounds; three weeks’ progress can be apparently wiped out in one night’s random fluctuation.

There’s the well-meaning advice from others: run, or walk; don’t run, lift weights; eat a high-fat high-protein diet; become vegan; eat a very low fat diet. There are the people with muskrat metabolisms that eat whatever they want and never gain weight, and the people whose weight stays stable over the long term without much intervention.

Those people, by the way, are a key part of why I think obesity and metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes are diseases. There are people, even a fairly large part of the population, who don’t need to artificially restrict their eating at all. That in itself would be enough to make you suspect a disease of some sort.

The point of this isn’t to whine about how unfair the world is — I got over expecting it to be fair many years ago. The point is, I think, that for those of us who do need to control our weight and such consciously, it isn’t easy. When we aren’t immediately successful, when we hit a plateau, when we eat a french fry or a piece of chocolate, we need to recognize that it really is hard and really won’t happen all at once.

We need to remind ourselves that we’re doing something that is hard; if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.


I promised last week to take pictures of what I ate all week; I wasn’t entirely successful, because I’m a luddite who doesn’t carry a phone with a camera and I didn’t remember to carry a camera a few days.

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Breakfast. Take once daily, with meals.

That’s my usual breakfast: hard boiled eggs, sliced, with about a tablespoonful of mayonnaise and copious salt and pepper; bacon from a pre-packaged microwave pack; and coffee, food of the Gods.

On Monday I wasn’t carrying the camera; Monday was a carb day, so for lunch I had red beans and rice and about a cup of collard greens, and for dinner I had a bunless hamburger, a salad, and french fries.

Tuesday, for breakfast see above.  That’s been my usual breakfast, sometimes without bacon, since I started this. Lunch was at an Indian buffet.

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Can’t go wrong with tandoori chicken.

Those irregular lumps are vegetable pakoras; the chickpea flour there is the only carb I had.

For dinner, and this also is going to get repetitive, I had hamburgers.

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The recipe there, if you can call it that, is to grill two hamburgers in my George Foreman Grill, and then stack them along with slices of raw onion and sliced cheese, cover them with an upside down bowl and microwave them for about 30 seconds.

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It happens again.

Another go-to meal: the rotisserie chicken. This is a half chicken and store-bought greek cucumber salad.

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Half a chick, half a chick, half a chick onward.

You can figure what happened again for another meal, using the other half-chicken. Another lunch, at a Red Robin restaurant, first an iceberg-wedge salad with blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing.

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Follow that with an “Ensenada Chicken Salad.” This is, as you can see, grilled chicken breasts on salad. More blue cheese dressing. I’ve discovered that actually blue cheese dressing and salsa or pico de gallo are a very nice combination.
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So there you are.