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NY Times: January 11, 2000

Low-Carb Diet: Lose the Bun, Not the Burger (and Heavy on the Mayo)


 have eaten nearly 400 eggs since July. Scrambled, mostly. A few over medium.

At home, I fry them in a pool of butter or, better yet, bacon grease. I add some cream while scrambling, a little cheese while cooking. At a hotel or restaurant, I'll go with an omelette, thick with sausage or cheddar (or both).

I know it sounds gross. It is kind of gross. I've lost 28 pounds so far.

I started the low-carbohydrate (read: high protein, high fat) diet on a whim this summer, two weeks after I quit Diet Coke cold turkey, because everywhere I turned there seemed to be people swearing they had lost weight effortlessly on the plan. Also, I was fat.

Now, I have always been fat, or, in polite parlance, overweight. I have not always been particularly bothered by this, and, unlike most of my fellow low-carbers, I have not spent my life failing at other diets. In fact, I may have been the only adult American woman who never dieted. So now there are none.

There are a bunch of low-carb variations -- Atkins, the Zone, Protein Power -- all of which rely on the notion that because carbohydrates take longer to process, the body burns fat more readily if there are no carbs around to distract it). I bought an Atkins paperback for $6.99 and skimmed it, but I don't follow it diligently; I tried Atkins products: the vitamin supplements, shake mix and faux candy bars but found them both expensive and annoying.

So now I just try to eat as few carbohydrates as possible without letting the restrictions ruin my life.

No bread, no pasta, no potatoes. Unlimited meat, chicken and fish, best if slathered with mayonnaise. Green vegetables but no squash, very little fruit but plenty of nuts. The ultimate irony is Atkins says that added fat actually helps it work better; avocado, whipped cream and bleu cheese dressing are your friends.

What I do not do is count the 1 carbohydrate in the cream in my decaf or however many may be in my Cobb salad. And, being a single twentysomething New Yorker who eats out or orders in most nights, I do not stress out about sauces, even though they probably all contain sugar and other no-nos.

It's more funny than it is hard.

In the cafeteria at work, I amble up to the deli counter and ask for a chicken salad "platter" -- a breadless sandwich, down to the pickles on the side. I order burgers without the bun, Caesar salad with no croutons (read: lettuce) -- even, once, eggs Benedict on tomatoes. I substitute spinach for mashed potatoes at restaurants all over town and eat steak and lamb chops on weeknights. Sushi? Sashimi.

There are embarrassing moments. Pulling pizza toppings off the crust while on assignment on a college campus. Unrolling the wrap to get the turkey out of the snack on airline flights. Nixing a burrito joint on an evening out, only to have a friend announce to an acquaintance of his whom we ran into later on the street that we had switched restaurants because I am on the Atkins diet.

And, always, there is the question of whether to reveal.

On a blind date with a vegetarian, I figured I'd just enjoy my Greek salad, no explanation necessary. But then he suggested skordalia, a double-whammy of pureed potatoes slathered on thick bread! I cheated, then copped before the next date, at which I ate guacamole with a fork -- no chips -- and ordered a protein smorgasbord.

At lunch with the secretary of education, I stacked up the triangles of toast on the side of my plate and munched the insides of the turkey sandwich. He was sympathetic -- turns out his son lost 60 pounds on the plan -- and later in the afternoon, he purposely did not offer me a cookie, a gesture that I found sweet.

Now, of course, I am announcing it to the world.

Perhaps because you can eat, say, all the cheese you want, the diet has been surprisingly smooth. When I have chosen to cheat, for a special-occasion dessert or a scrumptious-seeming French fry, I have found myself less than impressed by what I am missing. As for treats, the frozen choco-butter I read about on the Internet crossed my personal gross threshold, but I do occasionally indulge in a special frozen yogurt with just seven grams of carbohydrates per cup. The most yawning absence, surprisingly, is rice: Indian and Chinese food are just not the same straight from the plate.

Dieting is mostly a psychological game, I suppose, and for me, starting by giving up Diet Coke laid a strong foundation. When I crave a soda -- I used to slurp three or four a day -- I compare the satisfaction of a sip with the depressing notion of being a person who cannot quit Diet Coke. Then I refill my water bottle.

Though Atkins and other low-carb gurus are bona fide doctors, most of the medical establishment -- and my brother-in-law, a biology major -- detests these diets, offering ominous warnings of kidney failure, heart disease and other illnesses caused by the lack of fruits and excess of fat. Others have more concrete worries: assuming one is not willing to pass over pasta in perpetuity, won't the pounds just come right back?

Personally, I'm not sure whether this is working because of the counterintuitive, quasi-scientific theories the doctors argue about, or whether it is because I don't nibble at the candy on my neighbor's desk at work, snack in the afternoons or munch chips at parties (I also have been exercising more). But my pants are baggy and people keep telling me how great I look.

Only 20 pounds -- and who knows how many eggs -- to go.

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