When you're overweight, like I am, you like to read about diets. It's much easier than actually going on them. A friend of mine likes to read about diets in his local pub while drinking draft Budweiser. This amuses him; so does needling people who take the veil and announce they're on a diet (with a capital D).
It was this joker who suggested my first diet, some ten years ago. "Look," he said with a leer, "just give up all potatoes and beer."
"Okay, I said. "I'll give it ten days, and if I loose ten pounds, you have to go on it for ten days."
He feigned horror, but agreed.
After seven days of substituting wine for beer and doing without French fries and baked potatoes with sour cream, I said "To hell with it" and started drinking beer again. Before the tenth day I started draming about little red-skinned new potatoes, boiled, and garnished with parsley and butter. End of first diet. Weight loss: zero.
The second effort was the fourteen-day Nibbler's Diet. Your're allow to snack, but are forbidden full meals. I liked this idea because it didn't interfere with the drinking, and at cocktail parties there's usually plenty to nibble on, such as shrimps, chicken livers wrapped in bacon and occasionally caviar with grated egg yolk. Unfortunately, I gained weight on the Nibbler's Diet. But at least I lasted the entire fourteen days.
In between diets, I kept up with my homework, read everything I could lay my hands on about dieting. I discovered there are Zen Macrobiotic diets, diet hypnosis and one-Dimensional diets.
A lady I know tried the latter one and lost about twelve pounds in two weeks. The game plan is that you eat a hard-boiled egg (just one) at mealtimes, and for supper, you're allowed a boiled chicken leg. That's all. Period.
After two weeks of this she opened the fridge one day, saw the rows of hard-boiled eggs, and began to cry. She tried to get me on that one but I balked, claiming I'm allergic to hard-boiled eggs.
I really don't know why I don't like to diet and never have from the earliest days. I was born with a large hungry frame and an inense interest in the gustatory pleasures of life.
Mother's milk, I thought, was great stuff. And I still drink a fifth of milk occasionally. Dieting was not a big thing during my formative years, the Great Depression era. No one was concerned about dieting and theere weren't a lot of fat people in the bread lines and at the soup kitchens anyway.
I liked the Depression because I liked peanut butter. The owner of a Chicago peanut butter factory owed my father some money. And he paid off by the case. I ate peanut butter with a spoon then and I still do every now and then.
In adolescence it never occurred to me that I might someday slip into obesity. But the handwriting was on the wall the day, at age sixteen, I discovered I truly liked beer.
One thing led to another and some years later I found that I liked drinks of all kinds. I was what H. L. Mencken called "omnibibulous." And everyone knows it's difficult to remain slender when your're an omnibibliac.
So, without ever trying it myself, I became obsessed with the subject of dieting. I liked particularly to read articles warning of the dangers of dieting.
One doctor claimed, in the public prints, that quickie diets caused your hair to fall out by the handful, because if the roots are deprived of calories and nutrients, the hair dies.
I told a lot of dieters about that one. Another doctor had written that fad diets could cause holes in the bones, or osteoporosis. Bones need minerals and if they don't get them - presto, instant holes. It was fun describing osteoporosis to people who'd announce proudly that they'd lost fifteen pounds.
And when the Cigarette Diet broke into the news, I was overjoyed. All that it required was that you smoke a lot. The theory was that smoking dulls the taste buds and food tastes lousy and so you don't eat as much. And the nicotine was supposed to limit the extent that foods add to existing fat. I was on this one for six months and developed a smoker's cough so bad I had to cut down to two packs a day. I must relate, honestly, that the diet didn't work anyway. My weight loss was again zero.
The next diet I tried was one invented by the writer, Jonathan Dolger. He called it the ExpenseAccount Diet. On this one you give up all junk foods, such as hot dogs, hamburgers; and all sauces and salad dressings. But in return you get to eat caviar, escargot, prime roast beef, asparagus spears and drink champagne. Dolger maintained that caviar and champagne have hell of a lot fewer calories than hot dogs and salads with thousand island dressing. He was right, of course, but I found that I couldn't afford Beluga caviar and I gave it up without any discernable effect on my waistline.
Other diets tried were the High Protein Diet (all the beef and fish you can eat, but nothing else); the Low Cholesteral Diet (all the fish and vegetables you can eat, but nothing else), and the Low Sodium Diet.
This last one you get from a doctor. He hands you a list of things you can eat that is half a page long, and a list of things you can't eat that is four pages long. I lasted less than a week on the Low Sodium Diet because I discovered with horror that even club soda contains salt. And how can you drink Bourbon and Soda without the soda?
The whole dieting concept, I finally decided, was masochistic. People always say: "I've lost eight pounds and I feel great!" This is not only designed to make non-dieters feel lousy, it's downright fallacious.
You actually don't feel better when on a diet, I believe. Most people I know invariably feel worse; they get irritable, some get headaches. (Some may even get osteoporosis.)
The moment I decide to go off a diet, I want to splurge. Once I ate an enire eighteen-day diet for breakfast and got up from the table feeling wonderful.
A brother-in-law believed, for a time, he could live on vitamin pills, coffee and cigarettes. He tried it and after two months with very little solid food he had a minor heart attack and passed out in a car on the San Diego Freeway. He doesn't diet anymore.
I don't diet much anymore either. I eat whatever my wife provides and skimp a little at lunch and drink whatever I want. My weight hasn't varied five pounds in as many years. The writer, Jimmy Breslin, who is about five feet eight and half inches tall and weighs more that 250, says he knows that drinking puts the pounds on. But he adds that he likes to drink and in the long run it doens't make much difference if you're fat or skinny in this world. The food columnist, James Beard, says much the same thing: "Who cares?" He weighs in at about 270 pounds.
The only diet that has riveted my attention lately appeared in the pages of the New York Times. A Dr. Abraham Friedman wrote that "you should reach for your mate instead of your plate." He claimed that each act of sexual intercourse burns off 250 calories.
Marvelous news! That means you can have two and a half martinis (at 100 calories apiece), make love and break even.
It may not take any weight off, but it won't put any one. That's some kind of diet.
San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle