A sixth guest arrives: my friend Adam, whom I’ve invited along for a variety of reasons, including both his outside perspective and his promise to bring a bottle of wine. It’s a Pinot Noir, per April’s request—the grape of choice for the calorie-restricted set, rich in anti-aging resveratrol—and she has Adam fill our glasses with exactly 74 calories’ worth of it. Well, some of our glasses. Paul and Meredith practice a one-meal-a-day variety of CR, and it so happens they already ate. “Cheers, anyway,” says Paul, quite cheerfully, as he and his wife raise their glasses of water with us.
We move to the table, which April has set with the salad course: the aforementioned 24 grams of arugula per plate, dressed with lemon juice and cushioning a couple of scallops sautéed in garlic, white wine, and cilantro. We begin to eat, and I experience a minor culinary epiphany: Mildly sickened by the taste of scallops for most of my adulthood and afflicted, for as long as I can remember, by an aversion to cilantro that borders on the emetic, I find myself now tucking into April Smith’s cilantro-infused scallops-and-arugula salad as if it were the best salad I have ever tasted. And I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t.
It isn’t hard to see the diet’s appeal: You’re skinnier than any social X-ray, you’re practicing a regimen as extreme and as grueling as any yogi’s, and you’ve got some impressive medical science on your side.
“Your sense of taste really does become enhanced when you’re hungry for your food,” Michael observes. “You appreciate it more.” This, on the one hand, is a point so staggeringly obvious as to defy comment, and on the other, it’s a truth whose full depths can probably only be known to people who’ve gone hungry as long and as purposefully as this party has. There are nods of agreement all around the table. “I love to cook, and it is so satisfying to cook for those who enjoy their food,” adds April. “I really hate cooking for people who don’t do CR now.”
Now more than ever, I can see her point. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself how grudgingly appreciative your non-calorie-restricted dinner guests can be—the way they refuse, for instance, to consider themselves properly served unless you’ve given them actual food that they get to actually eat? Contrast this with the far more enthusiastic attitude of Paul McGlothin, who sits to my right before an empty place setting, nursing his water and praising the food on the table almost as if it were on its way to his own mouth instead of everybody else’s. “Looks great! Smells great!” he gushes. “Just watching you guys eat and smelling it, I know that tomorrow, when I break my fast, it’ll just be great. It’ll be terrific!”
Had I noticed the manic gleam in Paul’s eye before this? Maybe not, but there is no mistaking it now, and as I contemplate his peculiar fervor for the food he isn’t eating, I am brought face to face at last with a question that’s been taking shape within me from the moment I met him: Dude, are you high?
I don’t put the question to him in quite those terms, but his answer, basically, is yes: He is high, and chemically so. “When you fast for seventeen hours at a low glucose rate, brain-derived neurotrophic factor is released, which is a chemical which creates optimism,” says Paul. “This brain-derived neurotrophic factor is actually a natural part of the chemical thing that happens to me every day … I feel pretty exhilarated right now.”
I believe him, but only because I’ve felt something like it myself.
It’s no secret. From mystics to anorexics, people who go for long periods without eating often report feeling more awake and energetic, even euphoric. It’s nice for a while, but even the calorie-restricted can get too much of it. When April started CR, she often went long stretches between meals and eventually decided something was a little off. “It makes you feel like you’re on drugs; I got too euphoric,” she says. “You know, thinking you’re in love when you’re not.” She switched to a more consistent, balanced eating schedule, came back down to Earth, and that, she says with a shrug, was that:
“It’s like, ‘Eat something! You’re not in love.’ ”
April brings the main course: a medley of asparagus tips, shiitake mushrooms, and the featured ingredient, an unlikely hybrid of life-giving wholesomeness and bio-industrial hubris known as Quorn.
Quorn, at last! For as long as I’ve been following the blogs and mailing lists of the greater Calorie Restriction community, I’ve been reading about this patented wonder morsel, perhaps the ultimate in CR-friendly foods. Grown in fermentation tanks from a cultured strain of the soil mold Fusarium venenatum, Quorn in its virgin state is almost pure protein and very low in calories. Processing adds various essential nutrients, including a generous helping of zinc, which is concentrated in almost no other food but oysters and which the calorie-restricted can never get enough of. The end product tastes and chews remarkably like an unbreaded Chicken McNugget and can substitute for meat with all the versatility of soy (Quorn dogs, Quorn cutlets, and Quorn roasts are just a few of the faux-flesh varieties on offer) yet with fewer saturated fats and none of the alleged dementia-and/or-male-aggression-causing properties.