One recent morning, purely in the interest of research, I added eight ounces of "cold, purified water" to a packet of chocolate granules you can only order from the United States, and voîlà, breakfast.
Never mind that this chocolate shake was gelatinous and fairly hideous to taste, and at 240 calories contained more than my usual bowl of delicious oatmeal, skim milk and berries. This was phase one of a liquid diet, variants of which three of my women friends have been on, shelling out big bucks in the hopes of dropping weight. For all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is to look good for summer. Tis, after all, the season of the big reveal.
These are smart women, attractive women, successful women, who will drink the same awful concoction for breakfast and lunch, and then splash out and have real food for dinner. I love them all, but they are crazy, and I will explain why scientifically in a moment.
But first, let's talk about the height of such madness, as reported last month in "Bridal Hunger Games" in The New York Times. Apparently some brides-to-be, determined not to be fat or even puffy on their big white lacy day, are, for $1,000 or more, getting fitted out with nasal feeding tubes under a doctor's supervision. Some are losing up to 15 or 20 pounds.
That means for 10 or so days before that final fitting, these women are promenading around town with a tube in their nose and a bold new accessory – an 800-calorie-a-day feed bag of carb-free nutrients. How romantic. Or as the Time magazine blog NewsFeed subsequently put it: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something ewww."
News of this tube diet, which originated in Italy and has been popular for years with European women who want to shed pounds before a big event, went viral and the reaction was predictable. Alarm. Disgust. And "where can I get it?" Even humour writer Dave Barry joked on his Miami Herald blog: "You may now remove the bride's nasal-feeding tube."
I could rant on here about our relentless obsession with being thin (as we grow fatter and fatter), about the sad fact that the feed-tube diet is just an acceptable way to be anorexic, about how liquid diets in general reflect our unwillingness to do the hard, disciplined daily work of moderate eating and exercise. But what's the point? Any young or not so young woman who feels absolutely no shame publicly parading around with a feeding tube through her nose – which should only be the province of the dying or the very sick – isn't going to be swayed by that kind of societal tut-tutting.
What's next? Ballet dancers, who have a desperate career interest in staying slim, quickly doffing their feeding tubes as they step on stage and then, after they are finished pirouetting, rehooking them? Teenage girls, happily clicking away on Facebook in their bedrooms, adjusting their now hiply accessorized feeding tubes? How about a neon trend? It's a marketing nightmare waiting to happen.
So let's look at the science. Sean Wharton, who lectures at Toronto's York University and heads the Ontario-based Wharton Medical Clinics, which promote a healthy approach to weight loss, said in an e-mailed response that these kind of quick weight-loss procedures for specific social occasions are "a real problem" and should be "highly discouraged."
Not only are they medically unsafe, warns Dr. Wharton, not only do they result in "malnutrition and lowering the immune system," but they also end, "100 per cent" of the time, in the ultimate horror – "rapid weight regain."
The weight regained, continues Dr. Wharton, will be "primarily fat mass, not muscle, resulting in a higher percentage of fat compared to where the person was at the start of the diet plan." This regain "has nothing to do with a lack of will power" but is just a physiological principle: "The weight has to come back because the person has put themselves into a state of starvation," he says, which will quickly result in the dreaded rebound.
You can't be any clearer that that: Yes, by donning a feeding tube, a bride could look charmingly slender as she marches down the aisle, but unless she's willing to honeymoon in Paris with that same icky nose tube, she'll be lumpy by the time the wedding bills need to be paid.
There's slimming down for special occasions – a wedding, a bar mitzvah – and then there are all of us who simply long to look better in lighter, smaller clothes. And as summer approaches, we'll consider our tactics. The liquid diet, not as extreme as the feeding-tube fiasco, has been around for decades, and comes in and out of fashion, not to mention medical scrutiny. Meal replacement has its benefits – if you're on the run, if you can't be bothered to prepare food.
But for those who are healthily overweight, meal replacement or liquid diets are not about a lifestyle or attitude change, they are just lazy and short-sighted ways to be thinner – until, that is, you get fatter again.
One of my friends has already caved. "I couldn't stand the taste," she said. "And besides, I missed my egg on toast."
Food is not our enemy, I thought, as I happily consumed a salade niçoise at noon.
When it comes to weight loss, there is no such thing as a free lunch – even when it's no lunch at all.