They are my favorite three words. They used to be a joke with a hint of truth and now they are just the plain truth. The “fat jeans” I bought a year ago were beginning to get a little tight. After one particular weekend splurge of beer, pizza and Chinese food, I turn to my college roommate and utter my three words: “Diet starts tomorrow.”
[book]Drastic measures need to be taken. I only have so many pairs of sweatpants and double-chin pictures of me are becoming more frequent. “Eat Healthy” just doesn’t cut it anymore; I need a plan, and fast. Diane, my roommate, also a senior, feels the same way. It’s one thing to be fat on campus, but the world outside the graduate door wants thin, thin, thin. We brainstorm ideas until deciding on one of the more reasonable recent fads. She goes out that day, spends $14.95 on the shiny blue book and we vow to start tomorrow. We are both unhappy with our bodies and it’s now time to give ourselves a life of skinny supermodel happiness. The life we are promised is by Dr. Arthur Agatston, author and creator of The South Beach Diet.
It’s no secret that many Americans are overweight and in a constant struggle to lose it, otherwise the words “low-carb” and “Weight Watcher points” would have done nothing for their multi-millionaire creators. But how does it play out in our own world, in the heartland of a Big Ten campus founded to grow food and where generations later, well-rounded students eat a diet consisting of fast food and beer? So, naturally, I decided to focus my research on MSU, home of the Spartans, the “Green and White” and the freshman dorm cafeteria.
Scanning my younger sister’s ID card (we look a lot alike), I snuck into the Case Hall cafeteria one Saturday for the first time since my days as a wide-eyed freshman. Since I had already eaten lunch, I made myself a soft-serve root-beer float, something I’d like to think we invented three years ago when much of our social time was consumed in the dorm café. I sat down with a sophomore, Colleen Myles. Wearing baggy sweatpants, a t-shirt and sporting smeared eye makeup from the night before, she looked like every other student in the café. Tired and hungry, her tray was full with tacos, a slice of pizza, and some juice.
Myles’s favorite café foods include omelets, pineapple, turkey stew and Italian grinders and says although she was healthy in high school, she’s not really anymore. “I would say that the café is 10 percent healthy and 90 percent fattening.”
The café does offer the healthier choices like fresh fruit, a salad bar, and cooked vegetables, but on this particular day, the “Mexican corn” vegetable medley seemed to be coming in second to the other vegetable option: tater tots. With temptation meeting them at every turn, it’s difficult for many students like Myles to eat a balanced meal and keep the pounds off. Is the “freshman 15” a myth or a reality for these hungry co-eds?
For me, the weight came my sophomore year. And it wasn’t 15, it was 20…ok, 22. I started working at a specialty bread place where free bread, bagels and pastries winked at me all day. I studied abroad in Australia for a summer, a country with no light beer and Chinese take-out on every corner. And then I began eating late nights after drinking… and the next day when I was hung-over…whatever I wanted…
[erin]“I was at Taco Bell at 2 a.m. last night and the line was 10 minutes long. I’ve never been in there late at night when there wasn’t a huge line,” reports Myles. Her friends live right next to Taco Bell and they go there a lot after a night of drinking. “Last night I had a soft taco, a cheesy gordita crunch and a chili cheese burrito.”
These long lines, packed with mostly inebriated college students ordering huge amounts of unhealthy foods, are common here at MSU. Taco Bell even has a security guard to keep the food mobs under control. Pizza, Mexican, Chinese: all varieties of restaurants down the main strip in East Lansing off Grand River Avenue. Most are open until early morning, delivering and serving student cravings after their night at the bars or house parties. How much of a caloric fat intake is that for Myles and her friends?
According to the Taco Bell nutritional guide, her three items totaled 870 calories and 38 grams of fat. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 43.5 percent of daily calories, 58.5 percent of daily fat grams. Of course that doesn’t include the five (or so) Bud Lights Myles says she usually drinks on a weekend night. At 110 calories a pop, we have a grand total of 1,420 calories for a typical weekend gorge; 71 percent of one day’s recommended consumption. And that’s just for Taco Bell and beer.
It was time for me to turn away from these staples of college diets, the culprits behind the “freshman 15.” It was now my time to turn back the clock and start losing. I picked up the shiny blue South Beach Diet book, took a deep breath and began reading.
Within the first two pages, Agaston says the dieter will lose 8 to 13 pounds in the first two weeks. Thirteen pounds! That’s how much I had gained while studying abroad, the trip that cost me $10,000 and my waistline. Oh but there was a catch.
In order to do this, I would have to sacrifice everything that had basically been my diet for the past three years of college for 14 days; Phase 1. No bread, sugar or alcohol. It had to be an impossible mission for the average college student like myself. With my apartment situated comfortably above Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and next to Taco Bell and Cottage Inn Pizza, getting food had always been so easy. It was a five-minute walk to just about any bar in town, not quite enough distance to burn the calories I consumed inside. I was about to become that loser who brought her celery and nuts to dinner because there was nothing on the menu she could eat. The loser who couldn’t go out for ice cream. And that loser who asked for water at the bar. South Beach Diet was underway and I was determined to be the loser who could stop worrying about her “fat pants” and concentrate instead on living life.
[jimmy]I continued reading. Three balanced meals a day, plenty of cheese and nuts, dessert is a necessity… No problem there… “For the next 14 days you won’t be having any bread, rice, potatoes, pasta or baked goods. No fruit, even… No candy, cake, cookies, ice cream or sugar for two weeks either. No beer or alcohol of any kind.” There it was, the catch. In order to do this, I would have to sacrifice everything that had basically been my diet for the past three years of college. No bread meant no sandwiches. No rice meant no burritos. No potatoes meant no French fries. No pasta meant no Easy Mac. No ice cream meant NO ICE CREAM. No sugar meant only sugar substitute. And no beer or alcohol meant no bar/partying/college. It had to be an impossible mission for the average college student like myself. I was going to starve and be sober on this diet!
The South Beach Diet is broken up into three phases. Phase one (the hell I just described), lasts two weeks and is considered the “strict phase.” Agatston says in his book that the reason for this strict phase is to eliminate cravings and you will have “corrected the way your body reacts to the very foods that made you overweight.” After 14 days of saying no to carbs and sugar completely, you are allowed to slowly begin adding them back for Phase 2. In Phase 2, you have to pick and choose what indulgences you want to have in moderation. Then, during Phase 3, you can “forget about the South Beach Diet” because after saying no to temptation for this long, the diet seems less like a diet and more like a lifestyle. So now the question is, does it work?
Day one of the diet. Diane and I decided we needed to go to the grocery store and basically start from scratch. The South Beach Diet in hand, we strolled through the aisles, grabbing various kinds of cheese, vegetables, chicken and olive oil. As we checked every item against the list in the back of the book, I glanced around at the local grocery store at my fellow shoppers. The store was littered with college kids stocking up on personal pizzas, frozen French fries and ice cream, their carts screaming BAD CARBS! GOOD TASTE!
After an hour in the store, it was time to check out and get a price on a diet that seemed both perishable and expensive, the epitome of everything a college student avoids at the grocery store. $56.08. Although this was approximately the amount I typically spent at the grocery store, this time I had fewer items that I knew would spoil quicker. Some of the South Beach recipes include fish like Mahi-Mahi and Orange Roughy, rather expensive when compared to frozen fish sticks or canned tuna. According to an article in Forbes magazine, a person on the South Beach Diet spends an average of $78.61 a week on food compared to a non-dieter’s $54.44. That’s a difference of $1,256.84 a year, almost enough for liposuction.
The next day, despite staying up late the night before to do homework, I woke up a little early to whip up some eggs for breakfast. The South Beach Diet requires a lot of preparing; there is nothing other than string cheese that is on-the-go. Later that day, after eating turkey meat rolled with cheese and lettuce for lunch, I decided to try my hand at a little chicken stir-fry for dinner. I made a mess chopping vegetables, couldn’t figure out the defrost button on the microwave and hot oil from the pan splattered on my face. Oh, yeah, and the fire alarm went off when I forgot to turn off the stove. As I opened all the windows in the apartment and the smoke slowly began to disappear, I thought maybe I missed the warning on the book that said, “If you suck at cooking, do not attempt this diet.”
Since I started the diet on a Monday, the rest of the week was much the same. The real challenge of a dry and deprived weekend arrived. I was determined that this diet would not hinder my social status; I know plenty of people who don’t drink. By plenty, I mean two. The problem with my group of friends is that they like to drink…a lot. Since my non-drinker friends were busy for the night (figures, they ditch me when I really need them), I decided to head out and have a good time sans alcohol. First, my roommates and I went to a friend’s house. After graciously saying “no thanks” to the red beer cup, the interrogation began.
“Why aren’t you drinking?”
“Why are you being a baby?”
[flippy]Calmly, I explained my mission. In my mind, I pictured my fellow partiers to pat me on the back exclaiming, “Good for you, that must take a lot of willpower! You’re amazing!” Unfortunately, my dreamland-mind was brought back to the reality of house-party-college-life when I was hit with an orange slice from the Jungle-Juice concoction. For the rest of the party, I was referred to as “the South Beach Pussy,” and I actually poured myself a cup of the pungent drink so that it looked like I was drinking and the harassment would stop.
After another hour, my friends were liquored-up and we decided to head to the bar. I was relieved because the last place I wanted to be sober was a dirty college guy’s house whose bathroom hadn’t been cleaned since his mom arrived on moving day and whose hamburger patty from the week before was still encrusted on a plate in the kitchen. Strolling up to the bartender at The Post, I was greeted with a smile. They were always pretty friendly there and it was never too crowded, a nice atmosphere for the casual drinker (or non-drinker). The smile on the bartender’s face slowly faded when I asked if I could have just a Diet Coke. As I began searching for my wad of bills, he waved his hand and said, “don’t worry about it” while setting down my alcohol-free soda. Forget buying pop at the store, just go to the bar and it’s free! My biggest worry now was a caffeine overdose, so I nursed my Diet Coke for an hour until I decided I was far too tired and far too sober to deal with the bar scene and it was time to head home. On the short walk, I glanced in the Taco Bell windows at the line already forming at 12:30 a.m. and felt relieved that I had at least saved myself 1,420 calories that night.
In Phase 2, a South Beach person can begin to reintroduce wine but you can forget about beer. For a college student, the problem is that wine is more expensive than beer (except the embarrassingly cheap-boxed Franzia), and when was the last time a college kid played any sort of drinking game with wine? Beer pong is called BEER pong for a reason. One night during Phase 1, I was forced to sit out while everyone played the drinking game “Flippy Cup” because they said playing with water would be unfair. God forbid there should be any unfairness in a serious round of “Flippy Cup.”
The shiny blue cover of The South Beach Diet is probably what makes so many people buy the book in the first place. “The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss.” Sounds golden, the solution to obesity and my fat-jeans blues. First, I wouldn’t call it Delicious. A Delicious Diet would consist of ice cream and Snickers bars. Yes, it’s Doctor-Designed, Dr. Arthur Agatston is a cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. It’s Fast if you lose the 13 pounds in the first two weeks like the claim, and it is rather Healthy once you get past Phase 1 and add back the “good carbs.” I’ll be honest; I did lose about seven pounds in the first two weeks. If you stick to it, you will lose the weight so in a sense it is Foolproof. Being Foolproof doesn’t necessarily mean it works. Almost all diets are foolproof… if you stick to exactly what the diet says.
[south]After Phase 2, you are supposedly allowed to eat anything as long as portions are limited and you eat only the “good carbs” like whole grains, fruits, cereal and pasta. Agatston says in his book that people begin to fail when they get bored and begin returning to bad old habits like beer and cookies.
Agatston is, of course, referring to me. Phase 1 wasn’t too bad, I made some sacrifices but they felt good. The problem was, after two straight weeks of eggs for breakfast, turkey roll-ups for lunch and chicken and vegetables for dinner, I was bored. On the 14th day, all I wanted was a huge ice cream cone and a cold beer.
“I can’t see myself ever being on this diet for a long period of time,” Diane says. “South Beach is difficult to do. I mean I have never tried another diet, but I just think in general I don’t have very much willpower.” Diane says she does think it is a good, healthy diet and it made her more conscious of the things she was eating. It just wasn’t right for her. And it wasn’t quite right for me either.
Although I had finished Phase 1 and even lost about seven pounds, I realized that my senior year of college was probably not the right time in my life to do the South Beach diet. I am victim of the “freshman 15” and I’m probably not the minority. Pretty soon, in the real world, I probably won’t be playing “Flippy Cup” three times a week and Taco Bell will probably be more than a 15-second jog from my apartment. Without keg stands and pizza binges, in time my “fat jeans” may magically loosen up. Until then, I’m going to take advantage of the town, and enjoy the best four years of my life. Maybe one day after college I will head back South, but for now, I kind of like it here in East Lansing.

2 thoughts on “Headed South”

  1. Super article

    There’s nothing like being healthy. In today’s era of fastfood, we really need toworkout more often and throw off our bad diet habits. It’s not difficult. You only have to stick to a workout program and keep going until you reach your objectives.

    Thanks for sharing this with your us.

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