Day Twelve: Biotics, Are You Pro or Anti?

Day Twelve of a Whole Thirty: I didn’t quit today, either. It’s primarily for the noble purpose of debunking the wild claims of the vegetable-eaters, I think. I’m holding out past at least Day Sixteen, which I am informed is “Tiger Blood”, which sounds promising even if not strictly true in the literal sense. At present, though the prospect of tiger blood coursing through my veins does have a certain appeal, I think I would rather be sopping some off my dinner plate with a large chunk of homemade bread.

I have chronic heartburn/acid reflux/whatever the chic term is, which the Whole Thirty people claim is caused by degradation of the stomach lining or something to that effect and fixed by their diet. Naturally, I was interested in fixing heartburn, but having given elimination diets their due in the past, I remain skeptical of this one being any different. It is my held opinion that diets such as these are generally cooked up to sell books, a rather cynical outlook supported by the existence of many contradictory diets. If measurable, repeatable results were behind any of these, there wouldn’t be so much argument about which is best.

To properly assess this diet’s effects on my personal metabolism, I stopped taking omeprazole (which typically manages the hearburn very well) earlier this week. The heartburn remains present. Doubtless the mere twelve interminable days consisting of this diet plus apple cider poison plus digestive probiotics aren’t enough to cure heartburn outright. It requires more time.

I haven’t talked about digestive probiotics yet, have I? They come recommended to me by my personal home medical amateur. And you know I follow all the advice of my personal home medical amateur, so I’m taking a capsule filled with who-knows-what (its contents involve approximately fourteen syllables and appear to be a dingy white powder) once daily. This capsule’s end is to help restore “friendly” bacteria in the recipient’s guts. I have taken the liberty of scanning the front of this product’s box for your viewing pleasure:

Digestive Probiotics for Happy Tummies

I have given no small amount of thought to the picture on the box and I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to draw from it. Do digestive probiotics cause pert tummies? Is the picture supposed to demonstrate the target demographic of digestive probiotics, viz. people who like to show off their midriff with saucy hip action? I note that they do not show the woman’s face. I like to imagine that her face is screwed into a horrible grimace suggestive of a recent dosage of apple cider vinegar. I briefly considered reenacting this photo myself for comparison purposes, saucy hip and all, but I quickly decided such imagery is not to be borne on a family-friendly blog. Sorry.

Anyway, on to the medical claims. The first thing we may notice is that the box is liberally sprinkled with daggers and asterisks. There is at least one dagger symbol on all sides of the box except top and bottom, and they follow most paragraphs of text. The dagger leads to the following statement, in bold:

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

As far as I can tell, this translates to:

† We pretty much made this stuff up so you would give us your money. We don’t know whether it will do anything to you or not, and we’d rather not have the government find out because the resulting loss of marketing copy from our label would be even worse than this disclaimer we now have to include here.

That helpful disclaimer out of the way, what exactly are digestive probiotics? I was helpfully informed of the answer according to digestive probiotic manufacturers when I examined the side of the box.

Poor diet, age, stress, travel, antibiotics and other prescription medications can tempt bad bacteria to flourish in the digestive system. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that help restore natural balance in your intestinal tract. TruNature® Digestive Probiotic has been scietifically shown to help maintain digestive health and support a healthy immune system; promoting a general sense of well-being.†

I do not doubt most people consuming digestive probiotics have a general sense of well-being, as I am a firm believer in the placebo effect. Unfortunately it’s not working for me, as I was convinced these were a placebo from the start. The quotes around “friendly”, however, lend this paragraph a more sinister aspect. Are these bacteria only pretending to be friendly? Is this like the “mother”? Actually, I still don’t know what that really means, only that I find it vaguely disturbing. Same deal here. I don’t want my bacteria to have any lingering questions about whose side they’re on.

On an unrelated sidenote, I’ve decided not to write a new post for every day of the Thirty. I hold a general principle that if one has nothing to say, one should be quiet. On most days I now find that I have little to say that has not already been said. If the blog is silent, you may safely just insert some grumbling about how slowly time passes, or how empty my belly is, or how all is vanity and of the writing of diet books there is no end, and I’m sure you will be reasonably close to whatever vapidity I would otherwise have written.

Day Twelve. The end is kind of in sight! If you can see more than two weeks into the future, anyway.

Day Ten: The Slow Slog of the Deprived

Day Ten of Thirty down. There was no Day Nine, because the plague reared its ugly head and briefly incapacitated me. In fact, it was so serious I think I missed my dose of apple cider vinegar. However, today I’m back in action.

It’s diets like these which make one realize how slowly days do pass. Often and particularly at this time of year we are tempted to look back and reflect upon the year(s) gone by, and how time, like an ever rolling stream, does bear its sons away. Perhaps this sensation comes from eating well, and what those people who bemoan their lost youth need is a Whole Thirty diet to make them realize what time really is: an ever trickling jar of molasses, slowly dripping into a puddle on the floor. On the other hand, I will say that if anything’s making me old it’s the Whole Thirty diet. Strange paradox, this.

Owing to an unexpected opportunity for cross-verification at the doctor’s office, we learned that the bathroom scale in our house is not in fact displaying things five pounds on the heavy side. This is good news for me because it means my weight is not quite so low as I might have feared. This is bad news for me because this sort of news never seems to be taken as good news by the female members of the species.

My advisor informs me that Day Ten is the day when everybody quits, because it’s when you feel most like quitting. This is plausible to me, but I will refrain from making any final judgment until the end of tomorrow. After all, this entire diet has been one day stacked upon another, each full of desire to quit the ridiculous thing and fry a doughut already. So far as my experience takes me, every day is the day when you feel most like quitting. As yet I have no frame of reference for a day on which I would think of quitting this diet as a less attractive option than it was the day before.

Still, that’s one-third of a whole thirty days safely behind us, and apparently the best is yet to come.

Day Eight: and Feelin’…wait.

Day Eight down: we are 25% of the way done with the whole thirty days. Not that anyone is counting.

Curiously, day eight was marked by a lesser degree of inner emptiness. Unfortunately this was not true of all the troops, as half of the personnel on the diet reported continued famine-like conditions dominating their interiors. Perhaps one thing helping me was my decision to spread the chewing exercise across a greater portion of the day by saving the purely vegetable portions of my lunch for slowly consuming throughout the afternoon.

There’s not really much to report today. The local culinary specialist continues to do amazing work with the limited resources she has to work with, and I continue to think of how pleasant it will be to eat a largish bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough accompanied by a largish glass of red wine. Average morale today is fair. In fact, my morale was good enough that I revived thoughts of doing some work on my oft-started never-finished Morale-O-Meter project. It would be just like this Whole Thirty diet to spur to completion something like that.

Day Seven: All Aboard the Chew-Chew Train

This is Day Seven of Thirty, and life has become one big chewing exercise.

The food allowed by this Whole Thirty diet is grotesquely inefficient. It requires so much chewing for so few calories! I neglected to get an accurate weight measurement before this diet started, but today I did and I came up five pounds short. I attribute these missing pounds to having to chew so much. The chewing of all this wholesome food is burning more calories than I can afford.

Take olives, for example. My goodly wife suggested offhand that I eat a can of them. Do you know how difficult it is to eat an entire can of olives? The law of diminishing returns kicks in like nobody’s business! The first quarter or so of the can is enjoyable. The next quarter is okay, but lacks that certain je ne sais quoi. Following that it becomes apparent that you’re actually consuming pencil erasers or octopus eyeballs or something like that. What I mean to say is, the thing loses its appeal, it becomes a mere monotonous exercise in chewing. And yet the chewing has only begun! After all, a can of olives is a mere drop in the bucket of a man accustomed to eating four or five 6-inch pancakes of a morning.

Green beans are another example. These things take forty bajillion bites and half an eternity to chew. And for what? A few calories, probably barely enough to make the whole exercise worthwhile. Or take hamburger patties. Chewing a hamburger patty by itself requires more or less the same amount of effort as chewing it with a bun, cheese, and all the fixings–the hamburger itself is the limiting factor, and everything else comes along for free. But when you’re not allowed to have cheese and a bun and all the fixings, this chewing action becomes inefficient. This Whole Thirty diet might fix my gut, but I’ll need a new set of chompers by the end of it.

In other news, the viral blight which afflicted the camp chef has been spreading. Your correspondent succumbed to the thing last night, and the ache continues to make itself known, blending in beautifully with the (likely permanent) dull ache in my stomach. At least it’s not the vomiting kind of blight. I think at this point if I contracted a vomiting kind of blight I’d probably just die. The sheer effort of vomiting (burning those calories again!), combined with the effrontery of carelessly discarding all that food I worked so hard to ingest, would break my spirit at last.

As Day Seven draws to a close, morale is poor, but we are driven on by iron wills. Any pusillanimous talk of turning tail and fleeing before the enemy has been shouted down, and so the expedition continues.

Day Six: On Apple Cider Vinegar

Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is the sluggard to those who send him.

– Proverbs 10:26

To some modern people this proverb is purely metaphorical. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

In fairness, I would imagine that many (if not most) folk have experienced smoke in their eyes at some point, unless RV camping has become so prevalent as to eradicate the experience entirely. However, up until a few years ago, I don’t think I was aware that anyone voluntarily consumed vinegar apart from sald dressing, much less raw and for its alleged health benefits. And yet here I am, duly taking my daily dosage of 2 teaspoons (more or less) of apple cider vinegar on a daily basis.

Let me explain some things about this stuff, apple cider vinegar. These things will be nothing but entirely factual, being drawn from my vast experience and knowledge of the human condition. Firstly, I’m pretty sure the “apple cider” portion of the name was tacked on by marketers. Perhaps the resulting product once upon a time had something to do with apples, but I regret to inform you it has nothing to do with apples anymore, nor cider. This stuff is vinegar.

I am informed that vinegar is useful for a variety of things. Reader’s Digest, for instance, has a helpful list of 150 Household Uses for Vinegar which range from clearing clogged drains to cleaning concrete off your skin. There’s no denying the lamentable fact that this diet is unclogging some drains, loosely speaking, but I would not previously have chalked this dubious benefit up to apple cider vinegar. Note that even Reader’s Digest in its extensive list, however, does not suggest it as suitable for digestion; all of its focus seems to be on cleaning, disinfecting, or deodorizing things. And while I admit that at times I am disagreeably odiferous, voluntarily ingesting a cleaning product would heretofore have never suggested itself to my mind as a viable remedy–at least not a remedy lacking certain undesirable side effects of a permanent nature.

Then there’s the curious issue of motherhood. All the “best” apple cider vinegar advertises it as “with the ‘mother’”. Make a special note of the quotation marks; they are sic. I don’t exactly have wide exposure to brands, but the two I’ve seen (Bragg and Heinz) both put that word in quotes. I’m not sure exactly what they mean by this, but I don’t like any of the possibilities. For one thing, it reminds me that the kombucha quaffers also refer to the large chunky mass of mold in their drink as the “mother”. (Recall: kombucha is the stuff that looks something like tea that’s been sitting on the counter for about seven months too long. I’ve never had any because I don’t eat moldy things whenever I can help it.) Depending on which brand of vinegar you like to believe in, they have different descriptions of this “mother”. Heinz rather conservatively refers to it as “a compound created naturally during vinegar’s fermentation process”, whereas Bragg goes further to describe it as “amazing” and occurring “naturally as a connected strand-like chains of protein enzyme molecules”. (As a sidenote, the adjective “natural” conveys no meaning to me, positive or negative. Botulism is natural, Pillsbury biscuits aren’t, and that just goes to show you.) All in all, I would like to keep ancestry out of my cleaning products.

I have special objections to the Bragg vinegar. Not for anything about the vinegar itself necessarily, but rather the “guilt by association” of being sold by supremely strange people. On my barometer of friendliness toward any given product, something sold by someone billing himself as a “Life Extension Specialist” wins the default prejudice of “snake oil” and will have to earn its way back from there. Using your label as a way to push copies of your vegetarian cookbook, promising healthy life to 120, is another strike. And lastly, anyone who describes apple cider vinegar as adding a “healthy, delicious flavor” to anything is surely lying through his vinegar-smitten teeth.

Heinz isn’t exactly the paragon of truth in advertising either (they do, after all, claim that their product is “sure to please”, directly contradicted by my personal experience), but at least their packaging communicates pretty clearly what their goal is: “We’re here to make money. We may not know why you want this stuff, but here it is. Pay us the money.” At least, that’s what it says to me.

So here I am, consuming acid every day in the vile form of apple cider vinegar, just to disprove the claims that it will heal me of my woes and restore my youthful vigor. Make no mistake – if it does do these things, I will be just and express a proper degree of gratitude to ‘mother’ and my wife and all the crazy things she reads on the Internet. But I will not stoop to liking the stuff. The proverb’s intent is to teach us about sluggards, but it also says something about vinegar.

Day Five: (Wo)Man Down!

Day Five and still alive, though my unfortunate wife might quibble with the definition. Alas, she was laid low not by any weakling fad diet but by some form of insidious virus. Morale among the men dropped accordingly, particularly since the plague struck our camp chef. Eating a Whole Thirty diet without an accomplished culinary specialist on board is no joke.

Today I subsisted primarily on eggs, coffee, fruit, and mixed nuts from Costco. Then I went to Costco this afternoon to replenish the milk supplies (for those happy folk who still bathe themselves in it), where I discovered that the mixed nuts I had been carelessly consuming cost about three times what I had surmised. The moral of the story is either that an appeased belly has no price or one should go easy on the nuts. At the moment I’m leaning toward the latter.

Also resulting from the incapacitation of our praised lady of the kitchen, I purchased a Costco take-and-bake pizza for the kids. Personally, I ate ground beef patties and rabbit food, and I drank saliva. I don’t think a Costco pizza and the thought of homebrewed beer on tap has ever been quite this appealing.

We’re one-sixth the way through this diet thing, and morale is fair.

Day Four: No Killing

As Day Four of the Whole Thirty Days draws to a close, your intrepid correspondent is pleased to report that no one has been killed. I counted.

In fact, I did not even have the desire to kill anything today, except for every morsel of food set before me, and those figuratively. The fourth day has, on the whole, been the same as the previous day and the one before that. It is marred by nothing but that vague ache of emptiness and the urgent desire for an enormous slab of fresh-baked bread covered with butter and honey. Or a biscuit ring. Or three.

Have I ever shared the recipe for biscuit ring? I’ll do so now, just in case. It won’t take long.

Biscuit ring

  • 1 can of Pillsbury biscuits (buttermilk work best, I think. The blue ones)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • A pat of butter, to taste – this might be a teaspoon or a tablespoon or maybe more

First, put the brown sugar into a pie pan, or some similar conveyance, right in the middle, preferably in the shape of the measuring cup. Put the pat of butter in the pan also, but off to the side someplace where it won’t get in the way. I’m not sure why this is important but it’s just the way things are done. Then, turn on the kitchen sink just a little bit so there’s just a tiny stream of water coming out, or maybe only some heavy dripping. Drip the water onto the brown sugar until it’s just beginning to get saturated and slide into a formless mass. (This is an art. Practice it.) Make sure all the brown sugar got some water, then put the pan into the microwave for 45 seconds or so to melt the butter.

While that’s happening, open the tube of biscuits. These days, you get bonus points if the biscuit can actually pops open when you peel the paper back instead of requiring you to wrench it open or bash it against something hard. Man, back when I was a kid, Pillsbury knew what they were about. Back then they manufactured biscuit cans under so much pressure it’s a wonder they didn’t spontaneously explode as soon as they started getting warm coming out of the fridge. Some of those cans made such a bang that unsuspecting passersby in the next room might start wondering if someone nearby was on Day Four of the Whole Thirty. But I digress.

Cut the biscuits into quarters. This should leave you with a large gelatinous pile of biscuit quarters. You’ll want to separate these out a bit, then stir up the now-melted butter and sugar mixture and put the biscuits into it. Stir the mass around and make sure all the biscuits get coated up. Then clear out a hole in the middle, grab a drinking cup or a mug, and put it upside down into the middle of the pan. This forms the ring, which is important for both functional and aesthetic reasons. Put the pan back into the microwave and cook to taste. My taste generally runs to about 2:30, but if you like your microwaved biscuits well done or if you have a substandard microwave then go for three minutes.

For a healthy variation on this theme you can add walnuts prior to cooking, but in my eyes there are two downsides: 1) I don’t like walnuts in my biscuit ring, and 2) I don’t like healthy in my biscuit ring.

If you’re one of those “read the package”-type people, you may also notice that every tube of Pillsbury biscuits warns you not to microwave the biscuits. They have said this for at least two decades and I still don’t know why. Most likely microwaving the biscuits causes them to be poisonous or something, and you will die an early and painful death as a result. I guess you can take comfort in the knowledge that if and when this happens to you, it probably happened to me already.

Back to Business

So anyway, here’s Day Four in the can. I did not eat a biscuit ring, or even three of them, but I won’t deny that the option did cross my mind.

I’m mildly curious to see what Day Five will be like, because thus far this whole venture has not lived up to expectations. Even Mystie said she didn’t feel like killing anything today, though she did go to bed early with a terrible cold (doubtless brought on by gluten shortage). Starting today I have experienced some mildly distressing effects in the gastrointestinal system, but as I daily strive to keep this a chaste and discreet blog, I will refrain from providing lurid details. It’s also difficult to say whether any perceived symptoms or benefits are actually thanks to the Whole Thirty diet or if credit goes to the apple cider vinegar and/or the probiotics I’m being compelled to ingest each day. I’ll certainly have more to say about each of these in turn.

Day Three: Not Much to Gripe About

Day Three of the “Whole Thirty”. We are 10% done with this wholesome folly.

As it turns out, it is possible to subsist on vegetables and protein, albeit for limited periods of time. The feeling which previously characterized my lower torso, viz. that of having been wholly scooped out by a strong man wielding a shovel, has today subsided. This may in part be due to having smoked two pipes of tobacco, but it is more likely thanks to the stellar culinary accomplishments of my beloved wife. She also says that she is glad, in some perverse fashion, of my continually dripping attitude toward this “Whole Thirty” fiasco, because if I wasn’t incessantly complaining about it she probably would be. Whereas now that I’ve nabbed the role for myself, and the only option she’s left with is to play the cheery-eyed foil to my rendition of Oscar the Grouch.

Breakfast today was the becoming-customary four eggs, two slices of bacon, and a veritable heap of sautéed vegetables. Lunch was a suitable amount of leftover beef accompanied by cucumber, salad, and pears. Dinner was a meat stew (I think there were some carrots in there, but when everything starchy is verboten, “meat stew” means “meat stew”) with a side of yam and a salad which also had pears in it. Yams are a staple of this diet, and I’m not complaining, even though it seems like nothing more than sheer hypocrisy that potatoes are forbidden while yams are not. Vegetables are also a staple of this diet, and I will continue to complain about that because nobody should have to eat vegetables for breakfast.

Part of the problem with this diet is food boredom. You can’t even chew gum to alleviate the food boredom, nor can you drink tea with honey in it. You are permitted to drink tea without honey in it, but seriously, who does that? Maybe I’ll take up pipe smoking as a daily habit in order to stave off food boredom.

I’ve been informed that tomorrow, Day Four of Thirty, is a day on which the prevailing theme is “kill all the things”. Apparently this is the point in the diet when the dietee becomes homocidal for want of normal-people food. Coincidentally, it’s also the day I return to work after a lengthy Christmas vacation. Good thing I work from home?

Day Two: The Whole in My Heart

The men awakened this morning complaining of a certain hollowness in their midsections. This demonstrates conclusively that sleep does not cure all ills, for said hollowness is the precise malady they complained of last night. I must beware that the quiet grumbling already beginning among the ranks does not spread into general mutiny if we are to survive the month.

–excerpt from the journal of an anonymous expeditionary force leader

It’s a curious thing how one can consume vast quantities of vegetable matter and yet have one’s vital organs report no change in status. I used to marvel politely when informed that an elephant can eat up to 330 pounds of food each day, but I don’t anymore, because it’s all leafy greens. I could probably eat 330 pounds of leafy greens each day, if I had big enough teeth. The stuff has some kind of antimatter properties once consumed; it takes up no space.

Today’s “Whole Thirty” lunch consisted of a salad left over from yesterday’s lunch. Yesterday, having consumed a sizeable quantity of yam in the morning and a no less significant portion of pork and raw carrots for lunch, I did not consider myself equal to the task of consuming the large and handsome salad my wife had prepared (topped with frozen raspberries). This was before I remembered the physics-defying properties of leafy green vegetable matter. Thus, I put the ill-fated pile of rabbit food back into the refrigerator with the noble intention of eating it today. When today rolled around, I was once more painfully reminded of what should be an axiom of the kitchen: leafy greens, removed from their protective wrapping, are a one-way food. They can come out of the refrigerator, but having done so they may never return, upon pain of consuming a slimy, sinewy green mass. Fortunately, though I may not be a thinker, I am a man.

My wife is a kindly soul, and I think she feared that my constant relaying of personal inner emptiness into the surrounding environment might result in the formation of some kind of vacuum or black hole. Therefore, today’s lunch was accompanied by an indeterminate (but significant) number of mixed nuts she made a special trip to procure this morning. I was surprised by the appearance of nuts on the menu and asked if therefore peanut butter is acceptable on this diet. (As a staff officer, I strive to keep myself above the operational details, leaving such things to my trusted lieutenants.) She replied that no, peanuts are verboten because they are legumes. I responded (after a hasty inspection) that this package of mixed nuts contained peanut oil. Verboten? Nein, said she, that is fine. You can have the oil, the fat, but not the entire legume. This as opposed to fruits, where you can have the entire fruit but not individual parts of it (viz., the juice). It is important for any fad diet to have plenty of arbitrary rules, because it gives the disciples many things to think about.

Day One: A Man Can Do Anything for Thirty Days

“Whole Thirty”: Because everyone loves fad diets!

I woke up well before the crack of dawn this morning with a vague sense of trepidation. It was not because I knew that the glass of wine and many pieces of fudge I had consumed the night previous would be the last for a very long time. Nor was it because I had been given to understand that the morning’s breakfast would consist of yam and eggs, though this might have shaken the morale of a lesser man. Rather, I awoke because the baby was throwing a fit, and my vague sense of trepidation arose from the fact that these little predawn adventures are always liable to start a sort of chain reaction of personal needs among the younger set. I got the baby a bottle and went back to bed. The night before I’d rashly suggested that I’d be getting up on time this morning to start this “Whole Thirty” thing off rightly, but the multiple nocturnal expeditions set me straight on that. I’m on vacation. I went back to bed.

Considerably later this morning, I rose again, this time on a semi-permanent basis. My lovely wife, whose sheer dedication to the art of ascetic dining prompted me to join her in this crazy adventure, had of course already prepared my first meal of The Unholy Thirty (as I prefer to call it). I set myself to work surrounding it, and although I think breakfast yams are generally improved by a zealous omission of garlic, on the whole breakfast was satisfactory. Bafflingly, in a diet seemingly calculated to eliminate any physical pleasure that might be derived from eating, coffee is not prohibited by the “Whole Thirty” diet. I acted accordingly, and morale was subsequently improved.

The day ended with a delicious beef roast and a thoroughly fancy salad, both of which were delicious, and both of which (when consumed in gratuitous quantities) left my insides feeling utterly hollow. (Protein alone never makes me feel full, and as for vegetables–nothing more need be said about vegetables.)

One might ask why I am participating in the “Whole Thirty” madness at all. My wife is in it for the weight loss aspects, and I’d like to make a show of solidarity, but I’m 6’1” and 165 lbs. and would consider any weight loss on my part to be a fresh new health concern. However, the local proponent (a.k.a. wife) around here claims that “Whole Thirty” is also good for healing things like chronic heartburn/stomach acid, which I do suffer from. On top of that, that proponent (not a medical professional) seems convinced that I have a “leaky gut” (which mere phrase causes me to wince and clutch my midriff), and this solid 30 days of vegetables and apple cider vinegar is supposed to fix that right up too. Thus, here I am!

As you might possibly have observed, my general attitude toward this venture is one of mild skepticism. (Dare I say, wholesome skepticism?) However, I’m unwilling to make a blanket judgment without actually trying it myself, and besides, outright condemnation of fad diets carries considerably more weight (heh) from one who has actually experimented with it. These, then, are the journal of an expedition, an expedition to either validate or wholly debunk the whole diet.

Day One: morale is good.