The Boston Phoenix
June 1 - 8, 2000

[Out There]

High-pro gloat

There's only one thing to say about the protein-diet fad: Pass the bread!

by Gloria Fallon

I don't mind the occasional Hollywood fad that trickles down into society -- pin-straight hair parted in the middle, python prints, smudged eyeliner. These are all harmless moments in the game of Celebrity Simon Says. But the protein diet is one trend that's been around for about a year too long.

You know the one I'm talking about -- the diet that renounces bread and pasta in favor of pork chops and bacon (and salad, of course). After becoming a near-religion among fashionably emaciated celebrities, the protein diet infiltrated the rest of society and has now taken over, turning lunch dates into exasperating protein pitches and creating a hostile atmosphere for innocent carbovores everywhere.

It's not that I'm against protein. I really like tuna, eggs, and chicken -- when they're on a roll or over rice, where they belong. What's a protein without a carbohydrate? For someone like me, whose diet regularly includes cereal, bagels, and bowls of pasta (carb, carb, carb; bad, bad, bad), the thought of a 100 percent protein and vegetable diet is appalling.

The only place where adherence to this insane diet is even vaguely understandable is Hollywood, where it came from. I realize that actresses and models often have masochistic eating habits -- if weighing less than a miniature poodle means keeping your job and having Brad Pitt ask you out, then I think most ladies would agree that eating only protein and vegetables is a small price to pay. But for us normal people who don't watch ourselves on TV at night, is the loss of a few pounds really worth a life devoid of fettuccine Alfredo and garlic bread?

For those of us who haven't jumped on the protein bandwagon, the ordinarily pleasant experience of eating out with friends has become an unbearable annoyance. We have to sit and listen while the protein dieters consider the options:

"Maybe I'll have the fillet of sole without the linguine."

"I'm going to see if they could make me a side plate of steamed broccoli."

"I think I'm in the mood for a chicken patty, but without the roll and no fries."

Then, after distracting us from the menu with their inane blather, all the protein clones end up ordering chicken caesar salads.

Going out to eat with my friend Keri in Los Angeles, Protein Diet Capital of the World, was a complete disaster. I don't belong in LA in the first place -- with my dark hair, pale skin, and black clothes, I am instantly recognized as either a transplanted Northeasterner or someone doing her best impersonation of Angelina Jolie at the Academy Awards. The last thing I needed to do in Los Angeles was rebel against their beloved protein diet.

Keri and I sat down at a restaurant filled with thin, protein-eating people. When I asked her what she was going to have for lunch, she immediately launched into her protein-praising spiel. What is it about this diet that turns people into preachers? I tuned back in just as Keri was reciting "I don't eat bagels, I don't eat bread, I don't eat popcorn" like a personal affirmation. To top off her riveting speech, Keri asked me: "Guess what I eat for a snack?"

She took my blank stare for a green light and said, "Spray cheese on celery sticks!"

I almost laughed, but I could see in her exuberant smile that this was the most exciting thing she'd eaten in weeks. Feeling sorry for her, I charitably offered up a "Yum!"

While Keri was talking about overcoming her carbohydrate "addiction," a blond, skinny waitress placed a basket of rolls on our table. Nice, puffy rolls that looked freshly baked. As I reached for one, Keri looked at me like I was reaching for a crack pipe. "I don't eat rolls," she said.

It wasn't just a statement of preference. It was an accusation -- a preachy-voiced "I don't eat rolls" that really meant "You shouldn't eat rolls either, fatso."

My hand paused in midair between the basket and my water glass. I had two options: eat the roll and look like a pig, or sip my water and give dirty looks to the offending basket of carbohydrates. It was a tense moment. When my hand finally grabbed the water, I could almost hear the entire crowd at the restaurant breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Skinny Waitress soon came back to take our order. Keri opted for -- surprise! -- the chicken caesar, and although I was craving a veggie burger on a bun, I gave in to the peer pressure and ordered a chef's salad. The waitress then had the nerve to ask, "Hold the croutons?"

I looked up at her in shock. Croutons are my favorite part of a salad! And they're tiny. This is where normal people have to draw the line.

"No thanks," I answered. "I'm splurging today -- load on the croutons."

After the crouton incident, the topic of food and weight loss became taboo between Keri and me. We still had a great time together, but staying at her apartment gave me a glimpse into the deprived life of a protein dieter. Egg whites, turkey-jerky sticks, and Dr. Atkins protein shakes filled the kitchen. Not a Pringle or a pita in sight.

The protein diet knows no boundaries -- it can sneak up on you in the most unexpected social situations.

When my friend Amanda and I recently met up for drinks, I noticed her eyeing me suspiciously as I nibbled at the bar-supplied pretzels. I should have recognized this anti-carb behavior and gone home, but I was unsuspecting.

When the bartender came around, I ordered an Amstel Light, and was surprised to hear Amanda say, "Grapefruit and vodka."

"Since when do you drink vodka?" I asked.

"Since there's too many carbs in beer. I'll swell up like a balloon if I drink beer."

I'd never known her to do any swelling when we drank our share of carb-ridden beer in college. But I knew the speech I'd get if I commented, so I let it go, giving a private farewell toast to the fun-loving keg-stand queen I once knew.

The protein diet obviously works, but you won't see me trying it anytime soon. Life's too short not to enjoy the croutons. It will be a happy day for me when carb-loaded foods are socially acceptable again, and we can all eat and drink together as we did in the old days. And until then, unless I land my own sit-com or Brad Pitt asks me out, I'm sticking with my bagels and pasta.

Gloria Fallon is a freelance writer living in Boston.

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