THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE
Never say die(t).
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.”
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.