Years ago, back when we were in our thirties, a friend of mine went on an extreme diet. She was recently separated from her husband, was feeling frumpy and overweight, getting a bit desperate because ordinary diets weren’t working and generally her self esteem was at rock bottom. So she tried a diet she had come across in some magazine or other, as we didn’t have Google to tell us how to live our lives.
She ate nothing but hard boiled eggs and drank nothing but black coffee. The eggs gave the high protein content and the coffee flushed out her system and prevented her from becoming constipated. And she lost weight, rapidly and drastically. She was very pleased and all her friends were really worried about what she was doing to her digestive system and various internal organs.
I was reminded about this today when I read about a group of people who are advocating a diet which consists of eating 4 pounds of steak every day, and nothing else. No vegetables, no salad, no fruit. One of the main proponents is a certain Shawn Baker, an orthopaedic surgeon from California, nicknamed the “carnivore king” and with a huge following on social media. The diet is an extreme version of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet – which trains the body to run on fat rather than carbohydrates – that has become popular in recent years. Proponents of the diet say it reduces inflammation and blood pressure while increasing libido and mental clarity.
Mr Baker himslef says, “It can be monotonous eating the same thing over and over again, but as time goes by you start to crave it.” He finds it convenient; the diet is easy because he doesn’t have to plan meals or count calories. “I just have to think ‘how hungry am I and how many steaks do I want to eat’,” he said.
He also believes that vegans could easily convert to it. Well, some vegans, anyway. He says, “most vegans are wonderful people trying to do the best thing”. He reasons that people who eat a vegan diet for health, rather than ethical reasons are good candidates for the carnivore diet. One extreme is as good as another. Well, I suppose it’s one way of looking at things.
A whole lot of experts disagree with him about the benefits of his dietary choice. They also disagree about the value of veganism.
As I see it, the thing with extreme diets is that you have to live alone or at least live with other extreme-diet-obsessed people. Otherwise the difficulty of organising your life must be overwhelming. And it can be extremely boring!
The only time we ever dabbled with an extreme diet was when we were briefly macrobiotic vegetarians, when we were in our twenties. Persuaded by some French friends that this was a good idea we embarked on the macrobiotic trail. You had to begin with a ten-day “cleansing”. During that period you lived on boiled brown rice and fresh water. After that you could introduce some stir-fried vegetables, miso soup, herbal teas and so on.
Well, I think we lasted three days on the “cleansing” and grew very bored. So we took an executive decision and skipped onto stage two, which was more interesting and we did stick to it for a few years. But gradually we introduced prawns to our vegetable stir-fry with rice and eventually fish and chicken found their way back into our diet. And salad never really went away - apart from the “cleansing” time. However, red meat is still mostly absent from our diet. So there is no way we are going to transfer to the 4 pounds of steak a day regime.
Looking back, I don’t think one of us alone could have stuck to the macrobiotic cleansing regime while the other carried on eating a “normal” diet - if there truly is such a thing. I have two friends who grew up vegetarian and then met at university and later married non-vegetarians. One of them “converted” and became an omnivore within weeks of meeting her carnivore-for-life. The other stuck to her guns and to this day, forty-odd years down the line regularly cooks double meals, vegetarian for herself and something with meat or fish for her husband. The children, having reached the age of reason, dip into both.
Moderation in all things!