Life on the Uncle Sam Diet

The new dietary guidelines are a bit challenging. So one WebMD reporter lived the new diet to see if it's reality or absurdity.

By Paul Tatara
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic

Feb. 8, 2005 -- I have a confession to make -- I don't eat very well. I'm only about 8 or 9 pounds overweight, but my daily regimen too often consists of a round-robin of coffee, doughnut-like objects, sodas, chicken wings, burritos ... you name it.

Dinner is a sizeable portion of carefully prepared meat and some nice vegetables. Which I wash down with a Coke. Then I munch on whatever the snack cupboard holds until I go to sleep at night. The next morning I get up and start the process all over again. "Big wheel keep on turnin'," as Tina Turner used to say.

So now the government has come up with new daily nutritional guidelines, and WebMD has asked me to strictly follow them for four straight days. The mixed results surprised even me. Here's how it went:

Breakfast was a bit of a shock to my system, since a couple of apples, an orange, a bowl of high-grain cereal, and 1 1/2 cups of skim milk is about forty times more food than I'm used to ingesting straight out of bed. No pain, really, except for some bloating. But we'll get back to that. It occurred to me that I haven't had a glass of milk without a cookie or piece of cake to accompany it since Jimmy Walker was considered a big star.

I should also point out that here in Manhattan, you practically need underground connections to get your hands on a decent piece of fruit.

During the winter, it's even harder, so I did my part to keep the miniature Macintosh apple industry in business. Think golf balls with peels.

Lunch is good, if, once again, more than I particularly care to eat. Lots of turkey and/or chicken breast sandwiches on whole wheat. And more milk.

Make that skim milk, which apparently is just water infused with a milky film. I was quickly sick of looking at it. I also had my fill of raw carrot sticks, but I seldom have time to cook anything for lunch, and I can't handle raw broccoli without bleu cheese dressing to flavorize it. So I chewed carrots and sort of made a face when I swallowed.

Nevertheless, I really don't mind a more level-headed midday meal. The chicken-wing route often strikes me as pretty decadent for someone who should know better. I tried mixing up the fruit, by the way -- some plums, some apples, some pineapple. But I bought a big bag of apples in preparation for the experiment, and, by day two, I'd eaten so many I had more gas than an interstate Chevron station.

Loving Cauliflower

My favorite meal of the day is always dinner, and I didn't really miss anything while sticking to the guidelines. I'm certainly not averse to laying a chicken breast or some pork chops on the George Foreman, so the meat end of things worked out just fine.

One night, I also made a big chicken salad with roasted garlic, broccoli, red onions, and tomatoes, and, if I say so myself, it was of restaurant quality. The big surprise here is that I rediscovered my love for cauliflower. I started ignoring it several years ago, mostly in favor of brussels sprouts. But I steamed some up a couple of times and was surprised by its subdued tastiness. Will wonders never cease?


Overall, the food was satisfying.

But my stomach quickly took to making noises that suggested I was harboring a wombat on my person. (I actually slept on the couch one night to spare my wife the symphony.) Simply put, I didn't respond well to the quantities I was expected to put away, whether of milk, veggies, or fruit.

No one should feel duty-bound to consume another half cup of broccoli if they don't really feel like it. And the next time I drink two cups of skim milk at one sitting, it will be at gunpoint.

Thirty minutes of government-suggested "moderate intensity physical activity" each day was easy enough. But, like a lot of people, it's hard for me to find even a half-hour when I can take off for a hard walk. I managed it mainly by pushing my 2-year-old son, Jack, around in his stroller. I enjoyed having him with me, and he enjoyed tooling up West End Avenue at a pace that suggested he was in a big red fire engine ... or that Daddy had finally lost his mind.

I really think the only way I can keep eating like this is to let the guidelines evolve into something a little less iron-fisted, with a lot more variety. After all, the information isn't carved into stone tablets. And if God didn't want us to eat ice cream once in a while, he wouldn't dangle it in front of us in 127,000 different varieties.

Now get away from me with those carrots.

Paul Tatara is a writer for WebMD. His opinions and conclusions are his own.

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Last Editorial Review: 2/18/2005