I've been on a radical diet most of my life.
My plan isn't igniting the internet or blowing out the bestseller list. I don't know if many people are getting rich from selling my scheme.
It lacks a catchy title.
It provides no quick results.
Celebrities aren't tripping over their Balenciaga shoes to peddle this plan.
It involves eating healthy food (mostly) and moving.
Like I said - radical.
I could be doing the ketogenic diet, where I'd subsist on sour cream and air. I'd drink mostly my own tears or water.
Basically, the keto diet says vodka and soda is better for your body than a banana because the banana has around 23 grams of carbohydrate and the vodka soda has zero carbs. Bacon, yes. Bread, no. Cauliflower, yes, pasta, assolutamenta (absolutely in Italian) no. Eating shredded cheese by the bagful? Yes. Having a cracker with that cheese? No. Carb restriction supposedly helps your body burn fat as fuel.
I have a friend on keto who swears on her fatty coffee, she loves it. She's thin, with energy to spare. Keto-me would be curled liked a koru, clutching an Italian cookbook. I'd dream of crusty bread loaves at night and mourn the lack of dark rye toast with butter and marmalade in the morning. My children would have to peel me off the floor. "It's okay, mum. You've been through worse. You'll get through this, too."
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I recently listened to Conan O'Brien's podcast and nodded in solidarity as he described what happened when he ate at pizza's birthplace - Naples, Italy. "It was one of the most divine experiences of my life," he said. "The pizza margherita was so good, I wept." The pie did not feature a cauliflower crust.
I'm with you, Conan. I, too, have been deeply moved by a carbohydrate. A server in Queenstown once brought me warm bread rolls before dinner. I sighed while separating the steaming crust, then extracted the soft middle. Does anyone on keto gasp about ghee or coconut oil? Only in despair.
Keto's predecessor is paleo. It's also called the caveman, or stone-age diet, and involves ingesting items like Brontosaurus burgers, fried kale and cauliflower rice.
The aim of paleo is to return to a way of eating more like early humans did. Paleo proponents say our bodies are genetically mismatched to modern foods. These emerged with farming, which has given us Hokey Pokey, pies, chips and chocolate cake. Thankfully, today's humans digest differently from pre-homo sapiens humans. That means many of us can consume milk, pasta carbonara, black bean soup and ginger slice without vomiting or rushing to the loo every half hour.
Not to disparage anyone with food allergies or intolerances. Coeliacs must avoid gluten; people who are lactose intolerant shouldn't drink milkshakes and those with peanut allergies can't slather nut butter on toast in the morning without expecting a hospital tray at midday (worse, they could die, but let's not go there).
The godfather of low-carb diets, Atkins, was started in 1972 by its name same, Robert Atkins. He said eat all the bacon and eggs you want, but limit carbs. The doctor died at age 72 with a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. The popularity of what was once called "one of the most popular diet fads in the United States", waned after Atkins' death.
I've never tried Atkins, either. I run from food plans with names or celebrities attached.
Ditto fasting regimes like 5:2, or Fast diet, so named because you lose weight, along with your sense of humour and will to live - FAST. You can eat normally five days of the week, but restrict calories during two days to 500–600 per day. There are no requirements about which food to eat but rather when you should eat them.
Plenty of people claim the Fast diet works. The only time I fast is before a colonoscopy, because it's doctor's orders. During these food-free periods, I clear my home of people, fragile items, sharp objects and cry over bowls of sugar-free jelly. I (metaphorically) shake my ever-thinning wrist against the injustice of it all. I plan what I'll eat post-procedure: hospital sandwich and tea, followed by a Macca's milkshake and maybe some fries.
Growing up, I remember my mother following the cabbage soup diet for about a week. It looked and smelled like a mix of rotting seaweed and cat urine. Meanwhile, I stuffed my face with anything ending in 'o': Doritos, Ho-Hos (chocolate sponge with cream), Fritos, Oreos … and had the pudgy cheeks and mid-section to match. I like to think I grew out of that stage after I discovered running and a desire to spend my caloric coin on a better calibre of food. It was like trading one-night stands with junk for a solid relationship with sustenance and pleasure.
Vegetarian and vegan I understand - save the animals, save the planet. You'll still have to pry buffalo mozzarella from my cold, dead hands. But low-carb for life? Nope.
I wondered how far keto and paleo had spread, so I messaged Hervé Foucher, a slim French friend I visited near Paris last year. I asked him if people in his circle were doing keto or paleo. He must've been sitting with his wife when he responded, "Fabienne and I don't know anything about this diet (we stared at each other)."
I've eaten cherry clafoutis, baguette and pain au chocolate at the Fouchers', so I knew it was unlikely they'd forego starch. Hervé said vegan and vegetarian meals have started appearing on menus, and he's noticed more people with allergies and aversions to gluten and lactose.
"Low-carb is not trendy (yet?) in France," he wrote. "Any diet that would prevent me from eating baguettes and crepes would be considered as a deliberate attack against the French heritage." Merci mon dieu (thank god).
Some researchers claim we can live longer, healthier lives if we eat less. One study showed eating 15 per cent fewer calories over two years can slow ageing and protect against diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
Can I meditate instead?
One day, illness or other life circumstance might force me to restrict what or how much I eat.
For now, life tastes delicious on a no-name diet. And if the low-carb craze goes much further, I'm moving to France.
Vive le pain (long live bread).
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors for Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV presenter and marketing director who lives with her family in Papamoa.