The Edge

I didn’t sleep again last night. Perhaps it was the coffee that I had at dinner in lieu of the bread pudding that everyone else shared. But I didn’t want bread pudding or margaritas or rice or any of the other carb-rich options on the menu. It’s Lent, after all. I never give up anything for Lent, but this year I have promised myself to give this carb fast a try.

And now I’m terrified. Terrified of the energy that I feel coursing through every cell in my body. Terrified of the seeming clarity that has come to my thoughts. Terrified of the anger that I feel at having spent so much of my life being meek and nice rather than calling people out for the way that they behave. Terrified of the willingness that I suddenly have for speaking my mind. Not, of course, that I have ever been exactly mute. But, I recognize now, I have been afraid, holding myself back for fear of hurting other people’s feelings. Not. Any. More. Apparently. Because all I feel right now is rage.

Is this what it feels like to be on the Atkins edge?  My friend (and sometimes coach) Ed has been telling me for years that it is important to eat meat.  "It makes you aggressive," he says.  "You need more aggression on the strip.  You're too nice."  Well, I don't feel it now.  Nice, that is.  I feel charged, empowered, bitchy even.  That's me, the skinny bitch in the making.  Maybe this is why skinny women feel so empowered.  Not (just) because of the way other people respond to them, but because they aren't looking at the world through a carbohydrate haze.  They seem bitchy only because they don't buckle under and apologize and then go off to stuff themselves with carbs again so that they won't feel so alive.

It's a theory, in any case. My theory at the moment is that carb addiction is, in fact, just as real as alcoholism, only socially (marginally) more acceptable.  Certainly, a good deal of our food society is given over to encouraging it.  Carbs (that is, starches and sugars) are easy to process and package and stick on the shelves; they last forever (compared to say, fresh vegetables or meat) and they're addictive, in the sense that once people start eating them, they want more and more and more.  But, lo and behold, they aren't good for you, no matter how "enriched" they have been with vitamins, minerals, and whatever else the nutrition fad of the day calls for.  If beer is liquid bread, what then is bread but solid beer?

Carbs (sugars and starches) are an addiction, just like nicotine (been there, done that) or alcohol (my brother's erstwhile--former, previous, onetime, quondam, but no longer--burden [see comment thread]).  They make it easier (apparently) to get through the day with all of its pressures and disappointments.  But at a cost.  At a terrible, self-destructive cost.  With, in the case of sugar, the added difficulty of distinguishing between natural hunger and an artificial, addictive craving, but with all of the same lies that you hear from your body when you are going through withdrawal from nicotine (I don't know about alcohol, I haven't lived that one).  "Just one, then I'll stop."  "I could use a cigarette/doughnut right now, then I'll feel better."  "It hurts so much, it's never going to stop, this is never going to work, why don't I just enjoy smoking/eating and be done with it?  Everybody dies in the end anyway."  And on and on and on, until you don't really care anymore whether you'll fit into that swimsuit, all you know is that you must have that cookie now. 

So, we'll see.  I've quit smoking (twice--with a fourteen-year hiatus in between of not smoking, so I think it counts).  My plan at the moment is to take this one day at a time as a Lenten observance, with the understanding that I am simply experimenting with how it would feel to eat the kind of diet that Taubes and the Atkins folks suggest will make me feel better.  At the moment, just thinking of keeping this fast up for Lent sounds like an eternity.  But, as my fellow parishioner Vinita asked in the sermon that she preached for us on Ash Wednesday, is even Lent enough for such a journey of the spirit?  Yes, she reassures us, yes, it is: "because God does love us, and walks with us, preparing us for everything."  Even, let us hope, for the terrors of being skinny, or, at the very least, well fed.


  1. Not to be a nag, but you're not supposed to have caffeine either. It raises your blood sugar levels just as much as carbs do, if not more. If you truly desire the Atkins edge, you will need to forego caffeine. Do the fast all the way for real, don't cheat, and then you'll truly realize the benefits. -- RNS

  2. Well, I am following the guidelines for OWL in The New Atkins for a New You by Drs. Eric Westman, Stephen Phinney, and Jeff Volek (2010), which I bought from the Atkins website, and they say that some caffeine actually helps with the fat burning. For my own part, I am skeptical of using the artificial sweeteners that they also recommend for the same reason that I gave up chewing sugar-free gum several years ago, but you have to understand that I am approaching all of this as an experiment, not a test. I will go crazy if I think that the point of any of this is to eat according to The Rules. There is a very good reason I have never been on an actual diet other than the Scarsdale back in high school: as soon as it becomes about forbidden foods, rather than (as I have been working on over the past six months) paying attention to the effect that foods have on how I feel physically and mentally, I'm done for. This seems to me to be the whole point: awareness, not perfection. So I am not going to weigh myself either--that way lies the very madness that I spent last summer working through. What I have noticed in just the past week is that I am not experiencing the crashes that I thought were simply part of my metabolism, which suggests to me that the caffeine is very much not having the same effect that even the oatmeal and crackers that I used to eat at breakfast and lunch used to do, never mind the carb hits at the end of the week when I was feeling tired. The biggest hurdle I am experiencing at the moment (other than the insane need to justify myself, vide this comment!) is lack of ability to concentrate, but my physical energy is better than it has been in years. One step at a time--it took me three months last autumn to give up the chocolate that I thought I needed in order to get myself to work.

  3. Oh, and they also say that it is fine to start in OWL, not Induction. The point is to find your body's long-term health, not lose weight as fast as possible, right? As I understand it, Induction is to help you deal with the cravings: you get over them faster if you go "cold turkey." But I have been working on the carb cravings for months now, particularly distinguishing the psychological from the physical. Presumably, if you haven't been working on paying attention to the way your body responds to certain foods in this way, you will be more tempted to fall back into your old comfort eating patterns. What I am celebrating in today's post is the way I feel after a week of really watching the carbs. Have you had the experience of stopping smoking? Well, this is easier in some ways, because it doesn't hurt so much. But it is harder because, of course, it's better never to smoke, whereas society is still somewhat comfier with doughnuts. Thus the need for awareness. It is really easy not eating sugar if you realize how crappy it makes you feel.

  4. Hi,
    Just wanted to say good for you for going through your plan for Ash Wednesday. Sound like it was painful (I can't even imagine right now not even having a little bread pudding when everyone else did.. gargh), but potentially worth it!

    And I so, so agree with the idea of going for what's healthier for *you*, and not The Rules. It's what we're (in med school) told to tell our patients now for everything from eating less to stopping smoking, there's good evidence to show that going "cold turkey" is not as reliable as just cutting back and going for moderation.

    All the best,

  5. Best of luck with the program.

    As for me, hmmm...can't say I see alcohol as my burden. If anything, it has provided me with more insight than anything else in my life from what I learned from overcoming any issues with it.

    It was part of a larger challenge in life that I overcame and learned from and because of which I now live much more on a pathway of gratitude and awareness from the experience. Negative things of our past can often become the lightest and brightest tools of our present.

    Symptoms and problems are often confused. I learned to fuly dis-entangle mine and made the necessary changes. A burden is something that still weighs one down. The point of my blog entry you reference was to explain how it does not, despite the consequences, of which I have paid due diligence to, in full. I have been accountable for everything.

    Life continues. We can chose to be burdened by the past, or we can move forward with the humility of the experience and use it to help others. Hardly a burden. I choose the latter. I would welcome others to make that decision for themselves about what role it plays for me, and (for them), but that is still just an opinion. Each case is different, whether it be carbs, drinking, smoking, sex, drugs, or rock 'n roll. It is up to us as individuals to deal with whether it remains a burden or to do something constructive about it. It is not up to others to make a value judgement about it if one has not in fact walked that pathway.

    I concur with Emily, seeking a Middle Way seems to be working quite well and it is the pathway that I currently endeavor to walk. There is a difference between choice and compulsion.

    It ain't always easy, but, it ain't always hard either. Sometimes, it's simply there.

    Best of luck,



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