Archive for May, 2018

The Whole 30

I started the Whole 30 diet almost a month ago to lose the little pouch I’ve been growing under my navel ever since I turned 48. I don’t even want to wear t-shirts anymore for fear someone will ask me when I’m due. The Whole 30 diet doesn’t call itself a paleo diet, but when I finally went to the paleo restaurant by my house, I felt like I was coming home. Burgers with duck fat, sweet potatoes with duck fat and truffle oil, steak and eggs…with duck fat – all of which were allowed on my diet. Even the owner of the restaurant had done the Whole 30 diet, though he was a little underwhelmed.

“Yeah, I did the Whole 30. It didn’t do shit for me,” he said.

At other restaurants, it’s been a challenge to find things on the menu that I could eat. On the Whole 30, flour, sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, and sadly, alcohol, are prohibited. But the hard part hasn’t been refraining from eating those foods. It’s that I’m being forced to express my needs, to complete strangers, something to which I’m not accustomed. Every time my husband and I have gone out over the last month, I’ve had to ask the waitress a barrage of questions, many of which will send her back to the kitchen: “Is the fish pan fried or grilled?” “Is the steak topped with butter?” “Does the dressing have sugar?” I’m comfortable with one or two questions, but my strict diet usually requires me to ask four or five, and after awhile, I start to feel like a nuisance. It’s genetic. When my father was dying of cancer, he was less consumed with his imminent death than with feeling like a burden to his family.

My nature is to feel like I shouldn’t be privy to some of the basic things to which a person is entitled. As a reporter at a press conference, I don’t feel comfortable asking questions because I don’t want to waste people’s time with my ignorance. At conferences, I sit in the first row so if I want to speak, I forget there are other people in the room. During a recent home renovation, I didn’t want to go to the tile story anymore because the salesman would talk and talk, and I didn’t feel right telling him I had to go. I was late one day picking my son up from school and nearly missed the first part of a Seder this year on account of his endless prattling and my inability to stop it.

We went out to dinner for my brother-in-law’s birthday last weekend at a fancy restaurant on the Delaware River, with white tablecloths, wide pine plank floors and a menu included mignonette sauce and truffle oil. The waitress couldn’t be more than helpful, but I was once again in the uncomfortable position of having to state my dietary needs – this time, in front of my husband’s whole family. I’d already ordered the seared foie gras mousse for an appetizer but what was stumped on my choice of entrée. Did the duck dish contain butter? It did. The mashed potatoes? Yes. How about the chicken? Butter. Soon, the waitress brought over the owner, a skinny older woman with thinning straight hair and piercing eyes, the kind of woman I might meet at a party and complain to my husband afterward that she’d been mean to me in our conversation.

“Your best bet is the salmon,” she said. While she didn’t really want to play the, “Why don’t you try..” game with me like the waitress had, she was still in the business of making sure I had something to eat.

She then dispensed with my appetizer like smacking a piece of candy out of the hand of a fat girl.

“The foie gras has dairy,” she said. “If you ever see mousse on a menu, think dairy. It’s probably made with cream. How about a salad?”

“Well, my husband and I are splitting appetizers, and he’s already getting a salad.”

“How about the chowder?” she said.

“Is it good?”

“No, it’s bad. That’s why I put it on the menu,” she said.

I smiled, a little embarrassed. I guess it was a silly thing to ask the owner of a restaurant – though when people let you know of your indiscretion with a baseball bat when a tweezer would have sufficed, it doesn’t engender empathy.

“And the chowder is not made with cream?”

It was hard to imagine a “chowder” without cream.

“No,” she said.  “It’s fish, vegetables and broth.”

“Okay, then, I’ll try it.” I just wanted the conversation to be over.

Soon, the waitress brought out the soup, and she was right. It was delicious: lots of fish, vegetables, and a nice creamy broth. So creamy, in fact, I couldn’t believe it had no dairy.

“Are you sure this has no cream?” I asked the waitress.

“I’m sure,” she said and then paused. “One second.” And with that, she disappeared into the kitchen.

Moments later, she and the owner were back in a panic, sirens were blaring. “The soup has cream!” the waitress blurted out as I was taking my sixth spoonful.

The owner looked at the waitress and said, “Did you say ‘no dairy’ on the ticket?!”

I looked at the owner because I knew she was the one who moments earlier had suggested I order it, knowing full well I couldn’t eat dairy.

“It didn’t used to have dairy. The chef—“

“The chef just changed it,” the owner said.

In the last 10 minutes? But they looked so alarmed, I quickly said, “I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s a voluntary choice. I’m just on a special diet.”

Suddenly, the blaring sirens stopped, and the owner said, “Oh, ” and walked away. It was like a whole city had been erected overnight for my benefit, with tents, bonfires, a school, a hospital and a tent for discussing military strategy by flashlight, and in a second, the whole thing was disassembled and gone.

The waitress lingered to help me choose an alternative appetizer, though I could see her heart wasn’t in it. I said I was fine without.

I felt silly for having made everyone work so hard to the point of panicking that they’d made a life threatening error when in fact I was simply on a diet – so silly in fact that didn’t even see the waitress walk right by my husband – with whom I was splitting my appetizer – and hand the chowder to my husband’s brother, who in seeing all the fuss raised his hand quickly and said, “I’ll take it!”

As the meal went on, I didn’t even say anything when my fish came with quinoa, a grain I couldn’t eat, and when the waitress offered me plain berries for dessert and then didn’t bring them. I felt I’d made enough of a pest of myself for one evening. But like all programs meant to help you kick an addiction, I’m taking it one day at a time and know that if I keep on this path, I’ll one day be able to express my needs without guilt or hesitation. Oh, and I may lose some weight in the process.

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