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Live and Let Diet

Dangerous Fun with Dr. Atkins

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington 

The Atkins Diet is a fun weight-loss plan that is sweeping the nation. You must avoid carbohydrates and sugar, but you can eat all the high-cholesterol foods you want, such as 32-ounce steaks, bacon and eggs, and, where legal, delicious whale-blubber-and-cheddar omelets. Eventually, your arteries clog. You then die of a heart attack and get very, very skinny.

Whale skin, narwhal skin, and seal blubber can all be consumed in liberal quantities. (Photo: Claire Rowland)

“That’s disgusting,” you say. “You expect me to eat a whale blubber omelet? WITH NO TOAST??!!”

But look at it this way: Toast is really just a vehicle for butter. It’s perfectly legal under Atkins law to eat the butter without the toast. You can heat it in a microwave-safe bowl and enjoy a hearty butter soup. Or for a quick and easy snack on the go, simply grab a stick of butter from your freezer and gnaw to your heart’s delight!

What’s important when starting on Atkins is knowing what foods are prohibited.

Repeat after me: “Bread is the enemy.”

Never mind that bread has been the staple food of Western civilization for thousands of years. According to Dr. Atkins, it is the reason our society has become so enlarged. So the next time you’re fixing yourself a peanut butter sandwich, find a bread substitute to spread your peanut butter on, such as a couple of boneless chicken breasts or an eggplant.

There are a few other things you cannot eat under the Atkins regime. No rice or potatoes. No fruit. Nothing with sugar.

Beverages are restricted too. You can drink water — three different kinds, which I will now quote, word for word, from the best-selling book, “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution”:

  1. Mineral water
  2. Spring water
  3. Water

You can also have herbal tea, decaffeinated coffee, pure cream (but no milk), the ever-popular club soda, and my personal beverage of choice on a hot summer day, a refreshing glass of clear broth or bouillon.

Alcohol and caffeine are off limits. So are fruit juice, and virtually all carbonated soft drinks.

Craving a salad? Bacon makes a fine substitute for lettuce. (Photo: flickr/beckstei)

Craving a salad? Bacon makes a fine substitute for lettuce. (Photo: flickr/beckstei)

Gobble down all the meat you can manage and a liberal amount of cheese, but for God’s sake, don’t overindulge on vegetables! They must be consumed in moderation. You can have two to three cups per day from an Atkins-approved list of low-carb vegetables, including time-honored favorites including daikon, escarole, sorrel, and mâche.

I first learned of the Atkins Diet about a year ago when a friend of mine was driving me to a party.

“Can you hand me a cigarette from the glove compartment?” she asked me.

“Sure,” I said. “But I thought you quit.”

“I had to start again,” she said. “I’m on the Atkins Diet.”

It’s not that the Atkins Diet encourages you to smoke. The book doesn’t address smoking. But the diet is so torturous, even lifelong non-smokers crave cigarettes in the first few days.

Sounds stupid and dangerous? It is. That’s why I decided to try it for myself.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, I should admit I am hardly a good candidate for a diet known to shed pounds quickly. I’m five-foot-four (if I stretch), and before I started Atkins, I weighed 128 pounds. Weightwise, that puts me at just about where I should be for a really really short guy.

Another friend of mine told me her mother lost 70 pounds on the diet. If I lost 70 pounds, I’d weigh about the same as a big bag of kitty litter. But all of my friends have been going on the Atkins Diet and I was feeling left out. So to get a little taste of what it’s like, I decided to try the initial period Dr. Atkins calls “induction.”

Induction is the strictest time of the diet when all of the above rules are in place. It can last from two weeks to a year, according to the book, after which you get to start having bread for a special treat on your birthday. I decided to try it for two weeks, or until I lost 10 pounds, or until I died, whichever came first.

I began on day one by purging my kitchen of all toxins such as orange juice, pasta, and apples. Then I went grocery shopping. I bought 72 pounds of meat and some celery.

Grocery shopping was tough. Ninety percent of the food in the store was off limits. No frozen pizzas — a staple in every American bachelor’s diet. No bagels. No kiwis. No desserts whatsoever, unless you enjoy a scoop of mayonnaise topped with grated carrots.

Oops, no. Scratch that. Carrots are not on the list of acceptable vegetables.

As I maneuvered my cart through the store, the doughnuts taunted me. I don’t usually eat doughnuts, but the fact that they were now forbidden made them tempting. I resisted, and made my way to the ever-growing low-carb section, where I discovered Atkins-approved snacks. The only problem was I couldn’t afford them. A three ounce bag of crackers cost the same as a seven-year supply of potatoes. My suffering had begun.

I had an omelet for lunch my first day. For dinner, I whipped up a salad with parmesan cheese and sliced chicken breast. They weren’t bad meals, but by nightfall I was craving something crunchy. Not crunchy like celery. Crunchy like popcorn or crackers. Concerned friends questioned my ability to survive for two weeks without beer, but by day two, I would have gladly traded a case of fine Belgian ale for a slice of toast.

The cravings were horrific. By the second morning, I had the shakes. My hands wouldn’t stop vibrating. My ears were ringing. I felt weak and nauseous.

According to Dr. Atkins, these symptoms are most excellent.

“Withdrawal symptoms vary widely, ranging from fatigue, faintness and palpitations, to headache and cold sweats,” writes Dr. Atkins. “Bad as they seem, experiencing withdrawal symptoms is good news.”

He goes on to write (well, he went on to write… he’s dead now, having survived a heart attack in 2002, only to fall on his head and die a year later) that the withdrawal process lasts about three days. Afterward, I could expect a sudden burst of energy.

But by day three, I was shakier. And about to kill someone. I needed chocolate. I needed an English muffin. I needed an English muffin topped with Hershey’s syrup and peanut butter and 14 tablespoons of sugar. But I tried to be strong.

I clawed through the kitchen drawer where I keep my carry-out menus in search of some sort of Atkins-friendly comfort food. Pizza and pasta were off limits for the starch. Chinese and Thai food were risky endeavors because the sauces tend to contain sugar. Then suddenly: a dream come true! I found a menu for Soprano’s Pizza, a north Seattle restaurant with a special Atkins menu. They made doughless pizza!

I picked up the phone and called them.

“Can you please explain to me what a doughless pizza is?” I asked.

I was transferred to Rossy, the head cook, who told me, “It’s a secret.”

I wasn’t wild about spending 10 bucks on a secret.

Rossy struggled to explain the concept in more detail, but she was a native Russian speaker, not used to answering bizarre questions from bizarre writers. She asked one of her co-workers to take over the interview.

Keila, a waitress, explained that a doughless pizza is like a regular pizza but with no dough. It comes served in a bowl — sugar-free sauce, cheese, and two toppings of my choice. Pizza with a spoon sounded dubious, but I was desperate.

Under the circumstances, the doughless pizza was tasty. Almost as good as the real thing, though it was too rich to consume very much of. This was okay though. I could squeeze about five meals out of this 10 dollar investment. I put the leftovers in my fridge.

I awoke on day four, ready to experience my amazing burst of energy. It still wasn’t happening. I had dropped four pounds in four days, but the room was spinning and I couldn’t think clearly. I was depressed and irritable. My knees were trembling so badly I could barely stand. I looked across my living room into the kitchen. On top of my refrigerator, I spotted it — a lone, rebel banana that had escaped my carb extermination process.

“Must… resist… banana,” I muttered, crawling into the kitchen as sweat dripped from my brow. “Banana… is… evil. Banana… is….”

I’m not sure what happened next, but I must have blacked out. The next thing I remember, I had been transported to a restaurant down the street, where they were administering an emergency waffle and an intravenous drip of orange juice.

I’ve told this tale to friends of mine who tell me I am a failure. I should have endured a few more days of near-death hallucinations. They swear there was a great burst of energy coming if I had only had the will power.

But I didn’t want a burst of energy. I wanted a pizza. Real pizza. I took the rest of my “doughless pizza” and spread it on toast.

In the weeks that followed, I quickly gained my four pounds back, plus 12 more. That might have had something to do with the Oreo binge I went on, scarfing down two packages of cookies in four days. I hadn’t eaten an Oreo in years, but the cravings had grown so intense, I was like a crack addict. I couldn’t stop.

It all evens out in the end. (Photo: Jon Lebkowsky)

That was a few months ago. I still haven’t managed to lose my post-Atkins weight, but that’s okay. I’ve come up with a new dietary plan. It’s called the “You’re Going to Die; Enjoy Life in the Meantime Diet.”

This diet allows liberal amounts of toast, reasonable amounts of beer, daily chocolate rations, and you can still enjoy all the delicious butter, celery, and whale you get to have on Atkins. Within a hundred years or so, you die and are buried. Then you lose weight. It takes longer to work than the Atkins diet, but it’s a lot more pleasant.

Published on Thursday, July 29, 2004

One Response to “Live and Let Diet”

  1. Rematog
    June 15, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    Why were you trying to lose weight if you were already at your correct weight? Also, if you were at your correct weight then the number of carbs you were consuming daily before you started your diet was the correct amount…….your writing skills aren’t bad but I think you need a little touch up in the reading comprehension area because there is a “target amount of carbs” mentioned in Dr. Atkins’ book.

    In other words if you were already at your correct weight then you were already at your target amount of daily carb intake and so therefore the carbs in the pizza and fruit and whatever you ate before the diet was acceptable in accordance with the atkins diet.

    -Rematog

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