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The Fast Supper

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Exactly 639 calories: Quorn with vegetarian gravy, steamed asparagus, tomatoes, curried pumpkin soup, a strawberry-ricotta parfait, and Pinot Noir.  

“Michael’s dinner is always 639 calories,” April explains, eyes on the screen while her fingers dance across the keyboard, tweaking portions. She makes the job look easier than it can possibly be, like one of those kids who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute. “I’m so used to doing this now. If I need more protein, I add more protein. If I need a little bit more carb, I add more strawberry. Ohhh, and I forgot the ricotta for the dessert … see? Now I have to mess with it. So 45 calories of nonfat ricotta, so I have to take out some protein, so I need to take out another scallop from the salad. Take out some strawberries from the dessert … What’s half of 90? What’s 90 plus 45? 135. Now we’re a little low, so add a bit more fat. See? Isn’t that beautiful?”

April turns the laptop to show me her numbers and yes, God help me, I do see the beauty. Though the full apparatus of scales and software isn’t a mandatory feature of the calorie-restricted lifestyle (Don, for instance, is unrepentantly low-tech, getting his calorie counts from food labels rather than databases), I’ve been using both from the outset, and I know only too well the virtuosity it takes to throw together a perfectly balanced 639-calorie meal plan on the fly. Me, I’m just happy I’ve mastered enough of the basics to know where I’m hitting my numbers (133 percent of my recommended daily allowance for fiber, 108 percent for riboflavin) and where I’m not (zinc at a distressing 64 percent).

April, too, seems pretty happy with my accounting skills. “We’re so proud of you,” she says as I rattle off my scores, and I get the impression she means it. She is famous in CR circles for her impatience with those who think they can get the diet right without a clinical attention to data, and it’s as if my own fastidiousness about the numbers were a personal victory for her. She’s also pleased to hear that a hunger-management tip she wrote up in the CR Society newsletter a few months back—start the day with a big protein load if you want to head off afternoon carb cravings—has become part of my daily routine.

“Finally, someone who follows my advice,” she says, tossing a wry look at Michael, who tosses it back.

“Oh, definitely, every morning I’ve been having a big, thick, soy-based protein smoothie for breakfast,” I continue, basking in the warmth of my CR elders’ approval and failing, for a moment or two, to notice that the smiles have suddenly dropped from their faces.

“You haven’t read the articles about soy and dementia?” Michael asks.

“Soy and dementia? Well … no,” I confess, feeling like I’ve just failed a pop quiz. “I did read about that one study linking soy and male aggression, but … ”

Yes, and now that we’re on the subject of health risks, there’s something else April needs to discuss with me.

“You’re losing weight too fast,” she says, with the crisp authority of a doctor handing me some bad but easily remedied news. “You’ve lost twenty pounds in two months, and you probably shouldn’t lose more than five pounds a month. You need to start eating more.”

This appears to be a cue for the evening’s two alpha geeks—Paul and Michael—to launch into dueling mini-lectures on the dire biophysics of rapid weight loss. “When you do CR, you’re not just losing fat,” Michael explains. “You’re losing muscle; you’re losing bone.” Shed weight too fast, and you can even shrink the most important muscle you have, your heart, running the same risk of cardiac arrest that makes anorexia such a dangerous obsession. “Yeah, sure, all that,” Paul jumps in, “but the real thing is your immune system.” Paul seems rather fonder of arcane medical jargon than Michael, and I’m not sure I follow why it’s my white blood cells I really need to worry about, but I’m not inclined to doubt him on it. This is a man, after all, who haunts his local medical lab the way some men haunt casinos, hewing to a schedule of testing so meticulous that one out-of-state lab has come to rely on Paul’s results to calibrate its own blood-testing equipment.

“Did you get your blood tested at the beginning of this?” Paul asks, and I confess I didn’t: Yet another misstep exposed. It’s humbling getting schooled like this. Yet even in the midst of it, I can’t help feeling a twinge of pride: I’ve just been told by three of the most hard-core calorie restricters on the planet that my own CR is too extreme. That’s got to make me sort of hard-core too, right?


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