I’ve never met anyone with more diet experience than I, simply stating the fact. On the American skid rows I sup elbow to elbow with the bums with little indigestion, and dine among smiling peers on the back streets of Calcutta. This is a short history of why.
In the first twenty years of my life there was a full belly four times from age 10 to 14 when the family had enough money to go on mother’s birthday to go to the Swedish Smorgasbord. The other 364 days of the year at the family tables in California, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Michigan we did not starve but there was never seconds, and I was active and got the same meager portions as my smaller brother and parents. To this day I don’t understand why they chose to keep the family slim; perhaps a hangover from the Depression.
With little to compare hunger to I assumed it was a way of life. So the four trips to Swedish Smorgasbord began a revelation to have the stomach full and feel the food surge in the blood. Then for four years from age 12 to 16 there were annual four months during wrestling season of starving to make weight while working out heavily daily. Plus, I had became the Forrest Gump of running– not fast but steady– and the topic of ridicule for it. Besides wrestlers, other sports who know little food and much workout are boxers and horse jockeys; read Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent Seabiscuit where down the backstretch appears a three page analysis of weight loss among jockeys before stepping on the feared scales. The methods include spitting for hours to reduce ounces, jogging in a sauna for 30 minutes in a rubber suit to sweat off precious ounces, laxatives for an extra boost, and a dozen other techniques we employed in high school wrestling. Then you stepped off the scale, took the first drink of water in two days, and wrestled. The feeling was extraordinary and exhilarating.
Continuing in veterinary school I became interested in the scientific end of food in nutrition class and observed animal diets, sampling dozens of feeds from dogs, cats, horses, cows, chickens and geese, and studying their teeth. There is no better way to get to know the runt of a litter than getting down on all fours with them around the communal bowl.
I began diet experiments and once ate McDonald’s hamburgers for one week for breakfast, lunch and dinner when they were 15 cents and two million sold. Then I gained as much weight as I could drinking eight instant breakfasts daily plus as many meals as I could stuff, and more than once was asked the price of milk by grocery shoppers, $.25 a gallon, who assumed I was the stocker. I wrote the Carnation Company to endorse an early weight gain program but they sent gift certificates and hand claps for more instant breakfasts to climb from a fighting 175 lbs. to 200… and absolutely could put on no more weight.
After university I read James Clavell’s epic Shogun and was so taken by the starvation black pits that I fasted for one week on water. In another experiment in a two month period I reduced from 175 to the goal 150 lbs on a daily fare of 1500 calories while working out six hours as a professional racquetball player and accomplished it, and then ate a single long carrot that I will never forget.
I vowed at the tip of that carrot never to go hungry again, but have, and always to treat myself to seconds and more when I like, which I do. Yesterday in Yurimaguas, Peru, I went to the ice cream parlor and bought four cones for $1 each. Then down the street another store scooped four in new flavors at $.75 each. I stepped outside to a street vendor who dished five for $.50 each. On comparison, the first store had the best ice cream and I returned for three more cones.