EST. May 2000 (AD)


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Diets of the Cheap and Desperate

By Elaine Langlois

The holidays are over, and we are left with a lot of wrapping paper, a little money, and some of our less cherished traditions; for example, the resolution, made every New Year's for the past two decades, to lose weight. We've had it with the dietary flip-flops of experts: low-carb, high-carb, low-protein, high-protein, anti-food. We're through investing in best-selling diet books and slavishly following every hot new fad: the Marshmallow Diet, the Evaporated Milk Diet, Secrets of Anorexic Models with Toothpick Legs. We're finished with the communal humiliation of weight loss groups, StairMasters, treadmills, and similar forms of personal torture. So now it's time to try diets of the cheap and desperate. They probably won't work, but at these prices, what do you want?

The Leftover Diet. This diet consists of your children's leftovers. Crusts of toast, browning apple slices, the red stems of Swiss chard, and congealed clumps of cold macaroni and cheese are some possible menu choices. Yum!

The Back Shelf Diet. Restrict yourself to whatever's in the very back of your refrigerator (that's been there for months) or pantry or freezer (that's been there for years). Comestibles might include some dubious stubs of cheese, stiffened pita wraps, ancient beans, tofu with a smudged pull date, and the smoked salmon you got last (?) Christmas. Is it possible for uncooked pasta to get moldy?

Fasting. Come on, you haven't done this since you were a teenager. Go without food for 48 hours. It's amazing how clear things become and how you can sort out what really matters. You might notice a slight lag in your thought processes; for example, between thinking that you ought to brake for that stop sign and actually putting your foot to the pedal.

The Sampler Diet. Many stores offer free samples of food and coffee to customers, especially on weekends. At the grocery store, you can grab a cup of java and dine on quarter-cookies, plastic cups of sugary cereal, squares of desiccated sausage on toothpicks, Veggie Stix, and other items.

The Literary Diet. Take one of your favorite books and follow a character's diet. In Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Cody Tull loses 11 pounds because he's so enamored of country cook Ruth Spivey that he can't eat her cooking (though he gains weight later in the process of winning her). In the same book, Jenny Tull loses unwanted pounds by confining herself to lettuce leaves and lemon water. Authors are smarter than we are, so this one might actually work.

No weight loss program is complete without a regimen of grisly, tedious exercise. Here's how to do it on the cheap:

Early Morning Exercise Programs. Get up at the crack of dawn and put on one of those boring exercise programs with peppy music, led by overly cheerful, extremely physically fit people in electric blue leotards. Actually doing some of the exercises will help.

Mall Walking. Walk. Around the mall. Around and around. But you can't buy anything. You're broke, remember? Try to get past the fact that you look really stupid and that the salespeople are giving you contemptuous glances. To get your heart rate up even further and force yourself to do some running, try walking in the parking lot after dark when the muggers are out.

Floor Exercises of the Past. Make up a routine of your own from all the exercises you were pitifully inadequate at in childhood: sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, the hideously torturous leg lifts, jumping rope backwards. An added bonus is that your stomach muscles will probably be so sore that you won't be able to eat.

If you faithfully follow one of these weight loss programs, there is definitely a faint possibility that, in a mere three to five years, you could be a shadow of your present self, able to see your feet and cheekbones and fit into those size-2 jeans you wore in college and have had at the back of your closet ever since. Try diets of the cheap and desperate.

Elaine Langlois writes from many years of dieting experience.