Yesterday, the dean of the medical school (and the second-in-command of the entire medical center) invited all the first years over to his house for a “picnic.” This is an annual tradition at my medical school and is a well-attended, casual affair. In the original invitation (which we received on Day One of orientation), the message states, “You Will Swim.”
Other deans over the next few weeks laid down expectations. You will NOT dress up (only in the South does that need to be made explicit; only in the South does a significant percentage of the class show up in pastel pants and a button down anyway). You will wear bathing suits. You will get into the pool. You will throw the dean into the pool.
Part of the tradition, I understand.
So with a week to go to the picnic, my roommate Ryan and I decided that we would begin a no-carb diet to, in his words, “look shredded for the Dean.” (Ryan and I might be the two most vain people in our zip code; sorry I’m not sorry.) Invented by Tim Ferriss, the diet we would follow is actually called the “slow-carb diet” because it builds in a cheat day once a week where you’re allowed to eat carbs. That would be the picnic day.
The diet is based on eating foods with a low glycemic index, the science of which I won’t go into here. All complex carbohydrates are out – breads, dairy, potatoes, most refined products (no tofu for the six of you that like it, weirdos), oatmeal, rice, anything fried, corn, etc. Even fruits are technically off-limits, but we made an exception for one per day.
Here’s what happened:
Sunday night: In preparation for a week of no carbs, Ryan and I cook approximately 7 pounds of chicken each. This is not my usual hyperbole. We legitimately cooked fourteen pounds of chicken, believing this would last us through the week. After a grocery store run, I threw in all the vegetables I thought I could tolerate – onions, peppers, snow peas, broccoli, green beans, whatever. We stored everything in the creepy, Japanese-themed red and yellow Tupperware containers left by the owner of our condo.
Before going to bed, I diligently pack my lunch of chicken-and-vegetables, plus my no-carb hot sauce.
Monday: Normal wake-up routine. Normal breakfast, which is not coincidentally eggs with vegetables mixed in. So far so good. My chicken and vegetables are delicious at lunch time. Apple-as-carb-snack seems to be adequate.
Monday nights our dean of students organizes a “running club,” where interested students gather at his house to run a four-mile loop. Those of you know me well know that my interest in running a four-mile loop is right up there with my toenails pulled out on the Things Nate Likes To Do List. But I’m tryna be shredded, remember, so I go. Four miles on no carbohydrates except for an apple five hours ago is a terrible idea. At one point, with my head feeling like a water balloon that’s about to pop but is still attached to the faucet, I believe I am going to die. Not pass out, not stop running – die.
Dinner is chicken and vegetables. This will be a running theme.
Skipping Tuesday in the interest of word count, and on to…
Wednesday: Normal morning routine. I can still eat eggs for breakfast because my brain isn’t awake enough at 6AM to fight me on it. I attend my 8AM small group session on fat metabolism (irony alert) and feel virtuous until 8:15AM when I catch myself daydreaming about, of all things, a grilled cheese sandwich. You know, with like lots of cheese and butter, and probably some tomato soup on the- What? Oh.
At lunchtime I pull my chicken and vegetables (this time with a different brand of hot sauce, hooray variety) out of my locker. It looks like something my dog would throw up. And then probably eat again, but still. I look miserable. A classmate stops by and asks me if everything is okay. Clearly expecting me to tell him that I lost a family member today, such was my dismay, said classmate was confused when I told him sadly, “All I want is a piece of toast. With some butter on it. That’s all.”
Your body’s capacity to crave specific foods is pretty unbelievable.
I held strong. Shredded pool party. I ate my chicken and vegetables with the gusto of a five-year-old eating the lettuce he has to finish before he’s allowed to have dessert. We’ve all been there, shut up. I was still hungry after finishing my food. Theme number two.
Dinner on Wednesday was, you guessed it, chicken and vegetables. I never want to eat chicken and vegetables ever again. By this time the leftovers from Sunday’s cookfest are beginning to smell like compost. I ate it anyway. I was still hungry after dinner, so I ate more.
Thursday: Normal morning routine, though I caught myself standing front of the pantry for fifteen minutes wondering if I could pass off a protein-enriched all-wheat tortilla, probably with cheese on it, as part of the slow-carb diet. I decide the answer is no and sadly make my eggs.
In class, I spent most of the morning in a fog. I felt dumb and sleep-deprived. When lunch came around I ate my soggy, nasty-smelling and gross-tasting chicken and vegetables in ten seconds flat; afterward, as my friends were still unwrapping their lunch, they caught me sneaking looks at their food like Billy Madison in elementary school.
Flaw in my cooking: I neglected to account for the fact that on a slow-carb diet you are hungry all of the time. The seven pounds of chicken plus assorted vegetables are completely gone. This is probably a good thing given that they were in full decomposition mode by the time I finished them off at lunch. Dinner is, thus, eggs. Again. More. Eggs. Granted, I made a pretty intense three-egg omelet out of it, but still.
At this point I am out of non-carbohydrate food. The refrigerator looks like a teenager lives in our apartment: all that is left is condiments and, well, eggs.
And I AM STILL HUNGRY. During a break in studying pharmacology (no, I don’t know what that means either, please don’t ask), we make eye contact and silently decide that the diet is over.
We head to Maggie Moo’s, our area’s answer to Coldstone, for some ice cream. Yep, we were going to break the slow-carb diet with, of all things, probably the absolute worst food you can have carb-wise besides Olive Garden. Standing in line to order, I pressed my nose against the glass, staring at the chocolate fudge ice cream with glee. As the glass fogged up, the sixteen-year-old girl behind the counter looked at me like I was an alien. Unwilling to interrupt my rapture with a “can I help you?” she stood there waiting mutely for me to come to my senses.
The first bite of the ice cream + brownie + cookie dough + mashed up Reese’s + chocolate chips (YUP) was like being punched in the face by Awesome. Yes I know that’s an adjective, go away and leave me alone. The second bite was a combination of the Fourth of July fireworks show on the National Mall in DC plus the Ravens stopping San Francisco on 4th and goal at the end of the Super Bowl plus beating my dad in chess for the first time.
(I know, you’re thinking, “wait, what?” Again leave me alone that’s like a seminal moment in my life, and why yes I do remember the entire thing, and yes I did make my dad drink from a cup I labeled “THE CUP OF SHAME.” That’s for another day, though.)
I was so happy. I slept that night better than I had slept all week. I popped awake Friday morning more alert than I had been in weeks. I was focused and happy in class. It was like that one dose of carbohydrates – even the crappiest-for-you, worst-sourced carbohydrates on the planet – reset my body chemistry.
Oh, and at the picnic last night? Ryan and I looked exactly the same as always, though we told each other how “shredded” we were.
Very shredded. #vanity