Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Low-Carb Diet Nothing New

I was in the supermarket the other day and just about every conversation I overheard was about low-carbohydrate dieting. Counting calories seems to be a thing of the past. Now everyone is counting “carbs.”

I have to smile when people refer to this whole low-carbohydrate mania as a new fad. New? Heck, 30 years ago, I bought a copy of a then-popular diet book that basically allowed no carbohydrates at all, and decided to give it a try.

The whole concept of the diet was that if Eskimos could survive on nothing but whale blubber and no fresh vegetables and live to be 85 or older, then non-Eskimos also should be able to. And in a lot of fancy medical terms that most laymen couldn’t understand (yours truly included) the book explained that when the body is deprived of carbohydrates such as sugar, flour, grains and potatoes, it is forced to eat its own fat.

Well, anything that could eat up fat sounded fine to me.

I read the book from cover to cover and decided that the diet was a dream come true. The basic rule was that any food that contained zero carbohydrates could be eaten in unlimited amounts. Essentially, you could eat 10 pounds of a zero-carb food, if your stomach could hold that much, and still lose weight.

The list of zero-carbohydrate foods sounded pretty exciting…at first. They included just about every form of meat and poultry imaginable plus eggs, butter, heavy cream, mayonnaise, cheese and most seafood, including butter-soaked lobster. A small amount of lettuce, which could be drenched with Roquefort dressing, also was allowed, to break up the monotony of all the meat.

The first week, my daily menu consisted of a cheese omelet with bacon for breakfast, a grilled chicken breast or pork chops for lunch, and a big, thick steak and a small lettuce salad for dinner. For snacks, I munched on fried pork rinds, hard-boiled eggs, cold chicken legs or a handful of macadamia nuts.

The first week, I lost 10 pounds. The second week, I lost five. By the third week, I was ready to sneak into someone’s garden, dig up a potato and eat it raw. I also was dying for a slice of bread, even one that was fuzzy with mold.

The diet book recommended putting a slab of meat between two slices of cheese to simulate a sandwich, but that illusion didn’t work for me. I wanted bread. I wanted to smell and taste yeast.

The book did contain a recipe for “faux” bread for the truly desperate. It was made by whipping up a meringue from eggs, then swirling the meringue into shapes that resembled bulkie rolls, and baking them till they were of a sponge-like consistency. The rolls (and I use the term loosely) then supposedly could be used just like bread. I tried the recipe and eagerly bit into one of the rolls. It was like eating a deflated rubber balloon, only with less flavor.

I also began to crave desserts, so every night, I’d whip up a big bowl of heavy cream and flavor it with artificial sweetener and vanilla extract. There was nothing I could pile the whipped cream onto, however, other than a slab of meat, so I’d grab a spoon and sit down and eat the entire bowl of whipped cream. I actually could hear my arteries clogging.

Still, I continued to lose weight. I should have been encouraged and happy, but by then, I was too obsessed with carbohydrates to care. I craved them. I needed them. I had dreams about them. I even wrote a poem about them:

“I used to dream of fancy things
like Cadillacs and diamond rings,
but since my carb-free diet started,
my dreams of riches have departed.
In place of jewels and cashmere stoles,
I dream of sugared donut holes
and cupcakes floating past my bed
on clouds of homemade gingerbread.
I’d gladly trade a T-bone steak
for just one bite of chocolate cake.
Yes, pile some cookies on my plate,
I’m sick of trying to lose weight!
A brownie, please! Don’t make me beg.
I just can’t face another egg!”

Not surprisingly, I finally allowed temptation to get the better of me, and went on a carbohydrate binge that lasted for three days. I ate mashed potatoes topped with crumbled potato chips. I dumped chocolate pudding on top of chocolate ice cream and sprinkled it with chocolate chips. I ate half a loaf of bread slathered with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff.

And I ended up with such a stomach ache, I nearly had to call a priest to administer my last rites.

And worst of all, in less than a week, I gained back all of the weight I’d lost, and then some.

Funny, but even now, thirty years later, whenever I smell bacon and eggs cooking, I get a terrible craving for a baked potato wrapped in a loaf of bread.