Never say die(t).

Men's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - COL­UMN By Jonathan Ancer

My ed­i­tor handed me a piece of pa­per. “I want you to in­ves­ti­gate this,” he said.

I wanted to be a Wood­ward-and-Bernstein kind of jour­nal­ist – top­pling a cor­rupt pres­i­dent, in­fil­trat­ing drug car­tels and solv­ing mur­ders. This was my first jour­nal­ism as­sign­ment. My hands trem­bled as I took the pa­per from him.

It said: cab­bages, olive oil, cel­ery, onions, green bell pep­pers, car­rots, gar­lic, toma­toes, spinach.

“Um… I think you’ve given me your shop­ping list by mis­take,” I said. My ed­i­tor shook his head. “No, that’s your as­sign­ment.”

I was look­ing at the Mir­a­cle Diet, which had taken Johannesburg’s trendy set by storm. The Mir­a­cle Diet promised that – in just seven days – it could make you half the man you used to be. Well, 5 to 7kg lighter, any­way. All you had to do was guz­zle gal­lons and gal­lons of cab­bage soup.

More Soup­gate than Water­gate, I thought. But you have to start some­where.

“Don’t worry,” I re­as­sured the ed­i­tor, “I’ll find a vic­tim of the Mir­a­cle Diet.” I could see the head­line al­ready: “Rookie Reporter Solves Killer Soup Mys­tery”.

The ed­i­tor shook his head again. “No, your as­sign­ment is to go on the diet, and write about your ex­pe­ri­ence… and close the door on your way out.”

That night I boiled up a big batch of bub­bly broth and read up about this diet, which emerged in Amer­ica in the 1950s. It was used as a quick fix by mod­els and air hostesses, be­cause if they were found to be a kilo or two on the wrong side of su­per­skinny, they risked los­ing their jobs.

Over time it lost pop­u­lar­ity; but al­most half a cen­tury later, it reap­peared among Johannesburg Gen­er­a­tion Xers, and for months the Jozi sky­line was en­veloped in a haze of cab­bage fumes.

Sup­pos­edly, the more cab­bage soup that went down your throat, the more weight would mirac­u­lously fall off you. It wasn’t ex­actly hard science, but the the­ory was the dou­ble whammy of cab­bage be­ing so rich in fi­bre and yet such a low-kilo­joule food, your body would burn more kilo­joules di­gest­ing it than the cab­bage it­self con­tained.

I can do this,I thought, as I held my nose and gulped down a spoon­ful of the ran­cid weight-loss elixir. I nearly be­came a vic­tim of the Mir­a­cle Diet my­self, af­ter I choked on a piece of soggy cel­ery.

The first two days were fine. Fine-ish. Events took a turn for the worse on the third day, when hunger pangs re­ally set in. The mis­ery in­ten­si­fied the day af­ter: I was lethar­gic and grumpy. But I was a hard­core journo in the soup trenches – I had to suck it up. Which is to say, I had to slurp it up.

On days five and six, all hell broke loose: aw­ful headaches, ex­treme dizzi­ness, and ex­cru­ci­at­ing stom­ach cramps. To make mat­ters worse, my flat reeked of boiled cab­bage. But none of that was as bad as the un­spo­ken side ef­fect of the Mir­a­cle Diet: wild, un­con­trol­lable, nox­ious flat­u­lence.

I stayed in bed on the sev­enth day, groan­ing, cry­ing for my mother, and fart­ing like a how­itzer.

I con­cluded that the Mir­a­cle Diet was a heavy price to pay for be­ing lighter.

Fast for­ward (more than) a few years: I wake up to the sad dis­cov­ery that an ex­tra scoop here and a beer or two there have added up to a few too many un­wanted ki­los.

I de­cide the best way to lose the spare tyre around my mid­dle is to in­vest in two tyres – so I find my­self in a bi­cy­cle shop, try­ing my best to look like I know what I’m do­ing. I kick a bike’s tyres, ring the bell, and tap the frame know­ingly. Then I ride my spank­ing new bike for 500 me­tres and push it the rest of the way home.

But I start cy­cling; and soon I’m on the road four days a week. And I dis­cover that when you ex­er­cise (and don’t in­crease the amount you eat), you lose weight.

“The Jozi sky­line was en­veloped in a haze of cab­bage fumes.”

Who knew?

The lighter I be­come, the eas­ier it is to go up hills; so I eat bet­ter, and be­come health­ier.

I learn that the best way to lose weight is not try­ing to find a se­cret “sil­ver bul­let” Mir­a­cle Diet, but just know­ing how weight works. For me, that means un­der­stand­ing what kilo­joules go in, and what en­ergy goes out.

But believe it or not, my big­gest weight-loss weapon is still the cab­bage soup. Be­cause when­ever I’m too lazy to ex­er­cise, I think, Well, I can al­ways lose weight by go­ing on a cab­bage-soup binge from hell.

And that’s all the mo­ti­va­tion I need to get on my bike.

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