January 27, 2000
A Diet You Can Live With
It seems like only yesterday that everyone who could possibly afford it made sure to consume a lot of eggs, milk and red meat. In my case, come to think of it, that was yesterday.
It's not that I'm unaware of the part that nutrition plays in one's overall health. It's not even that I don't care about the possible consequences. I'm well aware, actually way too aware, that forks and spoons kill off more Americans than guns and knives. I just wish everybody wouldn't harp on it constantly. For, as a topic of conversation, diets are right up there with soccer, insurance and flossing.
In our society, it strikes me that the same folks who are always talking about the quality of life spend an undue amount of their waking hours counting calories and tabulating fat grams. That may be somebody's idea of the good life, but it's certainly not mine.
As an ex-smoker. I pride myself on not being too ardent a convert to the other side. I'm glad I no longer smoke, but I don't talk trash to those who do. If anything, I sympathize with their plight when I pass them, huddled together like homeless lepers, outside office buildings. I am humble enough to realize that there, but for the grace of God, puff I.
In terms of health, the only positive thing I do is play weekend tennis. And I only do that because it's fun. I have nothing against exercise for its own sake, so long as gym attendance isn't mandatory. My philosophy, as you may have guessed, is live and let lift.
I marvel at those people who are forever working out, marching up and down steps that lead nowhere, pedaling away on bikes that stay in one place and rowing on oars that never touch water. It always struck me that these poor souls could get just as much exercise if they worked part-time at minimum wage jobs, flipping burgers and bussing tables. Plus, at the end of the week, they'd had a few extra bucks to show for all the sweat and strain.
Even the words that go with a healthy regimen have unpleasant connotations. Consider that the word, exercise, is a single little vowel away from exorcise. And anyone who ever saw Linda Blair's head spinning like a top, while vile green liquid spewed from her mouth, would definitely favor a change in nomenclature.
If that's not bad enough, consider diet, a mere consonant away from die. It's no mere coincidence, either. What is dieting, after all, but a form of wasting away? One day, there's you, and a month later, there's 10 or 15 fewer pounds of you. Day by day, week by relentless week, you shrink away. If people didn't insist it was the healthy thing to do, it would certainly sound an awful lot like a lingering disease. Is it any wonder that people on diets are inevitably testy and short-tempered? They're wasting away, after all, without the compensation of being drugged up and tended to by a bevy of pretty nurses.
Some of you, the overly skinny and judgmental, will no doubt take me to task. You will claim that I'm advising people to eat foolishly and to avoid any physical activity that's not fun or profitable. Close, but no cigar. What I am recommending is that people quit fretting so much about their waistlines. I, myself, am confident enough to make a wager that worrying kills more people than cholesterol.
Years ago, when I went into bookstores and saw all the tomes devoted to various diet fads, I was mystified. The two things I wondered about were, one, how anybody could turn a diet plan that was based on, say, three grapefruits-a-day-into 250 pages of printed matter; and, two, who were the numskulls shelling out $30 for it.
I finally solved both mysteries. Diet plan books are basically one-page pamphlets repeated 250 times. Because diets, themselves, are sobering, I suppose it's fitting that the literature should be equally dull. And the reason that there exists a market for the books is because the purchase itself makes people feel better about themselves. In buying a book on the subject, they feel they've taken that all-important first step in doing something about their weight; namely, recognizing the problem. Plus, they are already $30 lighter. And, at the vary least, they have a jump on Christmas with one gift ready that requires only wrapping and a ribbon.
Perhaps this whole health racket would make more sense to me if the devout live forever and the rest of us dropped like flies in our 40s. But, the fact of the matter is that the majority of us will make it to 75 or 80, whatever we do or don't do, and the ones with the nifty genes will make it to 90 and beyond; though, frankly, why anyone would want to is beyond me.
Perhaps the reason I have this casual attitude is because I'm really not afraid of death; what I'm scared stiff of are doctors.
Burt Prelutsky has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Los Angeles magazine. He has also written for such television shows as "Diagnosis: Murder", "Dr. Quinn", "Mary Tyler Moore," and "Rhoda."