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The Fast Supper

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Cooking with the Calorie Restriction power couple Michael Rae and April Smith requires nutrient-balancing software and a digital scale.  

So I’m genuinely thrilled to meet five newfound fellow travelers when at last I burst into the kitchen of a white-walled caterer’s loft I’ve borrowed for the occasion of my dinner party. Each of my guests is prominent among the CR movement’s hard core: Paul McGlothin, a 58-year-old Manhattan-based ad exec and volunteer director of research for the nonprofit Calorie Restriction Society; Paul’s wife, Meredith Averill, 60; April Smith, a 32-year-old Philadelphia union organizer and author of April’s CR Diary, a highly readable and (within the CR community, at least) widely read online journal of her calorie-restricted life; her Canadian boyfriend, Michael Rae, a full-time research assistant to life-extension guru Aubrey de Grey and a prolific, authoritative presence on the CRS mailing list; and Donald Dowden, a midtown lawyer and CR poster boy. There’s no mistaking the peculiarly lean little crowd gathered here, and the recognition is mutual. Paul, blue-blazered, gray-haired, with the face and gaze of a preppy Don Knotts and the approximate body-mass index of a Noguchi floor lamp (five foot eleven, 137 pounds), gives me a once-over and grins. “You look,” he says, “like one of us.”

I’ll take that as a compliment, I think. The 1,800 daily calories I’ve been consuming fall well short of the minimum 2,500 recommended for adult males, and two months on this caloric budget has shrunk my 43-year-old, five-eleven frame from an almost officially overweight 178 pounds to a high-school-era 157. Friends and loved ones, I’ve noticed, have started sounding more concerned than impressed when they see how much weight I’ve lost, but here within the charmed circle of tonight’s dinner party, I don’t feel so much scrawny as trim—dashing, even. Standing around the kitchen’s broad butcher-block prep table with these five world-class calorie restricters, I recognize our thinness as sophisticated and sane, the height of a slender, Nick and Nora Charles sort of elegance.

Though I’m our official host, it’s the compact, wisecracking April Smith who presides. April has volunteered to plan and cook tonight’s CR-correct menu, and her sous-chef for the evening, Michael, stands beside her at the ready: a boyish-looking 35-year-old with brush-cut red hair, translucently pale skin, and—at six feet tall and 115 pounds—an eerily spare physique.

Consider those dimensions for a moment. Divide Michael’s weight by the square of his height and you get a body-mass index of 15.6. Compare that with the minimum BMI of 18 recently decreed by the organizers of the Madrid Fashion Week—who cited the World Health Organization’s definition of 18.5 as the lower limit of healthy weight and offered medical assistance to any models who couldn’t meet it—and you might wonder how Michael can stand up in the morning, let alone jog twenty miles a week. But jog he does, and if the results of both his latest physical and the latest CR research are anything to go by, Michael is probably one of the healthiest 35-year-olds on the planet.

“Michael, could you hand Don the arugula?” April calls over her shoulder, looking up from the laptop that’s always near to hand as she cooks, loaded with an interactive diet-planning program that helps not only count calories but track the twenty other nutrients without which CR would just be a glorified form of anorexia. “Don, I need you to put 24 grams on each plate, please.” And so Don Dowden, attorney at law, commences weighing arugula on an electronic postage scale, carefully adding a leaf here, removing one there, like a drug dealer parsing out dime bags. Tall, dark-haired, craggy, Don gets by on a ration of about 2,000 calories a day and swears by its rejuvenating effects. “I used to wear glasses, but I don’t wear glasses anymore,” he says. “I don’t have 20/20 vision, but I can drive, and I can read the paper, and I’m 74.”

“You’re 74 years old?” I blurt, not so much astonished as simply confused. It’s not that I can’t see Don’s age in his face and skin, now that I know to look for it. But there’s something in the way his body moves, the way he holds it—an ease and an assuredness—that doesn’t quite square with the fact that he was born before FDR took office.

“He gets that a lot,” says Michael, a trace of glee in his otherwise quiet, clipped, north-of-the-border tone. April has him chopping asparagus now, while she continues crunching numbers. Tonight’s calculations are based on Michael’s caloric requirements, and those requirements are as strict as they come. Unlike April’s daily average of about 1,300 calories, which really is an average (she likes to go out drinking and dining with friends on weekends, and doesn’t mind enduring a few 1,000-calorie weekdays to save up for the splurge), Michael’s regimen of 1,913 calories a day is exactly that: 1,913 calories every single day, 30 percent of them derived from fat, 30 percent from protein, and 40 percent from carbohydrates. Cooking for him is the same elaborate exercise in dietary Sudoku it is for all CR die-hards, only more so.


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