My husband and I have recently embarked on a new journey toward healthfulness with the help of P90X. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this program is designed to increase muscle tone and/or mass by working muscle groups in a coordinated way to maximize muscle confusion and give you that beach ready body.
Oh, and it hurts. A lot.
This program is not for the faint of heart, but we knew that going in. Each morning, for almost a week now, we rise long before the sun (a challenge in itself for a couple of night owls) and pop in the day’s dvd so that we can huff, puff, and sweat for 60 to 90 minutes before the kids get up and the chaos of the day begins. And that part hasn’t been too bad so far.
What I am really struggling with is the accompanying diet. Because with “extreme fitness” comes extreme caloric need. It’s not that I can’t eat plenty of calories (I think I have mentioned in the past how fond I am of cake), but this is a diet specifically designed to help you build lean muscle. So at the same time that I need to be increasing my calories so I don’t “bonk,” I also have to strictly limit my carbohydrate intake (so much for the cake) and greatly increase the amount of protein I consume.
Mostly I eat a lot of meat. I do enjoy meat and I have certainly never been a vegetarian, but when I go to Subway I am just as likely to order a Veggie Delight as I am a Meatball Sub and I have been known, on occasion, to skip a steak dinner in favor of a salad and an apple. So even though I fully embrace my role on planet earth as a devoted omnivore, this has been a big adjustment. In fact, between you and me, I think I have a case of the meat sweats.
Though this diet feels a little overwhelming to me, it is actually pretty healthy. Unlike some far more intense carbohydrate elimination diets, P90X does not propose the elimination of any food groups (except for cake) and over the course of the program, the diet shifts back to a much more balanced approach, similar to what I was eating before (minus cake).
But my struggle with this first phase got me thinking and looking back over history’s favorite diet fads, the most revolting of which, for me, is the vinegar diet as popularized by Romantic poet Lord Byron in the early 19th century. (And yes, the tapeworm diet is up there, too, but it’s on the list of subjects I’d rather let someone else write about).
The first thing that is important (or at least interesting) to understand about Byron is that he was something of a rock star in his day. Though the works of many of his contemporaries are now usually considered greater than his offerings, Byron was, unlike most of them, truly a celebrity. In fact, shortly after publishing his first work, Byron remarked that he “awoke one morning and found [himself] famous.”
In this day and age of overnight stars (thanks to things like reality television and viral you tube videos), this may sound like a familiar story. Perhaps Lord Byron belonged to the wrong era because the rest of his journey through fame sounds shockingly familiar, too. Byron’s legendary promiscuity rivals that of any Hollywood star and his high profile life included a brief, ill-fated marriage, a love child, an affair with a notable married woman, idealistic political activism, wild mood swings, and a tragically young death. Overcoming a deformity in his foot, he strived from an early age to excel at sport and if one can believe his contemporary, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Byron was rather easy on the eyes.
But Lord Byron also had a tendency to gain weight (maybe also a fan of cake), which infuriated him, causing him (like many celebrities of today) to take extreme measures to combat any gains. Both anorexic and bulimic, he survived on little more than biscuits and soda water, though he was known to indulge in a raw egg in his tea. Also among his favorites were potatoes, always drenched in vinegar, of which he consumed copious amounts. His celebrity being what it was, the diet spread through the English high society which (for some reason) prized frailty.
The vinegar diet made a brief comeback in the 1950’s when a Vermont doctor by the name of D.C. Jarvis reported that daily doses of apple cider vinegar caused the body to burn more fat. But don’t get too excited, because although there has never been a study on the effect of vinegar on the human body’s ability to burn fat, nutritionists for the most part say there’s probably nothing to it. Daily vinegar isn’t going to hurt you, but you’re going to have to pair it with healthy eating habits and exercise if you expect anything good to come of it.
So as I contemplate the dietary advantages of large quantities of vinegar, I guess I have to come to the conclusion that there are worse ideas than eating a lot of meat. I will stick to my high proteins and low carbs for the next few weeks. If I do, I think I will have to reward myself with a (small) piece of cake. I suppose I can sprinkle it with bacon if I must.