New York Magazine had a fascinating cover story this week on the practice of “CR”, or “Calorie Restricting”. The idea behind CR is that if you reduce your calories to some bare minimum (I am still not sure what that bare minimum is), you will be able to (something like) double your life expectancy. This is based on studies of lab mice (Ahimsa?) and anecdotal evidence provided by the practitioners of the CR lifestyle. Among these practitioners is April, a 31-year old woman and blogger, who looks fairly normal, and not particularly gaunt by Ashtangi, or for that matter, Hollywood, standards, at least.
In a strict CR lifestyle, every, and I mean EVERY, calorie is counted. Meals are prepared using digital scales, calculators and even software. Arugula leaves are counted. Four scallops are placed on a plate, and then one is removed when it is remembered that the meal will include a 45-calorie serving of cheese. One practitioner of CR eats exactly 639 calories for dinner each night. Each. Night. Ad infinitum. This particular guy stands approximately 6 feet tall and weighs approximately 137 pounds.
The obvious question: What is the difference between CR and anorexia? From what I can tell, it would appear that there are more similarities than differences, particularly when you factor in the high level of obsessiveness with food that both CR and anorexia involve. However, CR advocates maintain that anorexia is about appearance, while the CR lifestyle is about health, that anorexia is about deprivation, while CR is about what you put into your body (i.e. the nutrients, which are as carefully counted and measured as the calories). To wit, April does not have a single photo on her blog, from what I can tell. There is not even a hint of “thinspiration” to be found.
The CR lifestyle and the Ashtangi lifestyle appear to have quite a bit in common as well, namely eating efficiently (in order to absorb the most nutrients from the least calories), the exertion of a great deal of restraint, employing methods of fasting and cleansing, reliance upon meat substitutes for protein (CR-adherents use something called “Quorn”), as well as the begging another question: Is this actually just another manifestation of an eating disorder?
I have to admit, I am intrigued. I already am fairly restrictive in my eating. It’s a way of life that is so engrained, I hardly notice it. Last night, while watching a rerun of Sex and the City, I was shocked and appalled to see a commercial for KFC (I think that’s what they are now calling Kentucky Fried Chicken these days, which I have NEVER eaten in my entire life, I kid you not), which, get this, has created a “salad” composed entirely of fatty, starchy, kill-you-within-an-inch-of-your-life “favorites”. Imagine, if you will, a bowl into which is slopped a big ole mountain of mashed (and I am sure, reconstituted) potatoes and melted butter (or, more likely, the cheaper and more trans-fat loaded substitute therefore, margarine). On top of that, a thick layer of creamed corn. Layered over that is a layer of fried chicken “tenders” (which I am pretty sure is a euphemism for a reconstituted, extruded mixture of white meat, dark meat, organ meat, soy and breadcrumbs). Over that, I don’t know, you tell me: what’s your favorite side at KFC? Coleslaw? Potato Salad? Buttery Biscuits? It’s your choice!
This advertisement appeared twice during the Sex and the City episode. The first time, it merely skimmed the outer layers of my consciousness. The second time, my eyeballs bulged. It seemed like one of those fake commercials they use as filler on Saturday Night Live, like “Mom Jeans” or “Colon Blow”. But it wasn’t. It was real.
My mind was reeling. Do people really eat like this? If so, why? Why would anyone want to eat a gloppy mess of disgustingly fatty foods all thrown together in some satanic version of a composed salad? Then I began to wonder, a la Carrie Bradshaw (who is ALWAYS depicted scarfing junk food – strawberry milk shakes, McDonald’s apple pies, big slabs of Ray’s Original – notwithstanding muscles so shredded that my dog cowers from the t.v. screen whenever I have the show on, and whose scapula are so sharp that one time they cut a slice right through my flat-screen TV – okay, that part is not really true – I don’t actually have a flat screen TV): Am I thin because I find that sort of food repugnant….or have I merely coerced my mind into believing that that sort of food is repugnant so that I can BE thin?
All of which begs the obvious question: could I pull it off? Could I partake in the CR lifestyle? Today I saw that Yogamum is planning on participating in a Write-a-Novel-In-November event. I certainly don’t have any faith in my ability to pull THAT off. But eating less? I could DO that. Obsessing about nutrients, calories, input and output? Totally. I wrote the book on obsessing. Or one of them, at least. Many of you out there have also written quite a bit on the topic!
To tell you the truth, I would much rather write a novel in November than start counting arugula leaves and weighing Quorn on a digital scale. But what would I write about?
Nothing EVER happens to me.