In a cloud of utter boredom, I drag my feet to the school cafeteria. It’s chaos, as usual. I blink in a slow, salamander-like motion and head toward my table, resigned. All around me are the wonderful smells of empty carbohydrates: soup, garlic bread, macaroni, French fries…. The list goes on, but it doesn’t really matter, because I can’t eat any of it. I’m a low carber.
My friends sit beside and around me, each with a school lunch full of carbs. The conversation drifts from what to feed small alligators (small fish, if you’re interested), to which Beatle was the “best” (John), to whether my necklace is satanic. (Maybe it’s supposed to be, but since I’m the one wearing it and I’m not a Satanist, then no, it’s not.) Then the talk turns, as it often does, to why I stay on the low carb diet.
My friends ask me why I don’t just drop it. They tempt me with money for “real food” and, in general, try to get me to consume something with more sugar than a large, blue wad of cotton candy. It’s difficult to refuse. It’s hard to remember why I’m low carbing when Jessica offers me half of her eclair. It’s almost impossible to remember why I’m doing this when Adrian offers me some of his cheesecake. My friends. They’re there for me even when I don’t want them to be.
Once lunch is over, so is the hardest part of my day. I am perfectly content to low carb at home, possibly because there’s absolutely no carby food there. And as nice as the garlic bread at lunch smelled, I’m glad a didn’t eat it. I’m determined to be thin someday, and garlic bread won’t get me to where I want to be.
When the wonderful sound of the last bell of the day floats above the hallway I plod toward my locker. I methodically turn the combination of my lock, step back…. and the entire world slithers out of my locker. Books, papers, one snakeskin cowboy boot (left foot), a fossilized manatee rib, a roll of duct tape, 2 forgotten lunches… Where did all this stuff come from?
I throw on my navy greatcoat and begin the long walk home. The bitter wind stabs me like a thousand spearheads, and my gloveless hands turn into blocks of ice in my pockets. I tell myself that I’m burning up calories just trying to stay warm, and whistle the theme song from “Andy Griffith.” When I finally reach home, I strip off my coat and make a vain attempt to wrestle the computer from my mother, but I don’t succeed. Sighing, I fix myself a snack (5 chicken legs and some cheddar cheese) and take it up to my room to munch on while I do my homework.
My life is not that different from a normal teenager’s life, but the diet sets me apart. After all, a lot of teenagers get together over ice cream and sodas or burgers and fries. Not many get together over strips of bacon and bottles of tepid water. The school cafeteria is one of the worst places to try and stay low carb. It’s so difficult to watch your friends gobble down carbs like they’re the cure for a deadly disease. It’s particularly hard if your friends are the type to rattle on about how “unhealthy” they think your diet is.
It would be nice if there was a magic pill that would take all the cravings away. It would be nice if there was an easy solution, but there isn’t. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s very hard, especially for teenagers. We’re supposed to be naturally thin – without effort. For some of us, it doesn’t work that way. My friends sometimes tell me that diets are for adults. I’m ridiculed as a “conformist.” (Of course, they’d make more fun of me if I was still fat.)
My health teachers tell me how unsafe the Atkins Diet is. (Talk about conformists!) Luckily, I actually enjoy arguing with teachers, so this isn’t much of a problem for me. Last year I took Jeff David’s “Food Pyramid From The Low Carb Point Of View” into my Foods class just to show my teacher MY nutritional point of view. She still made us make cookies the next day. I didn’t manage to dodge that bullet.
So, how do I manage to continue to low carb? The answer’s simple, really. I gut it out. There is an old saying from the most elite military unit in the United States, the Navy SEALS. “The only easy day was yesterday, and that’s because it’s over.” For me, this is remarkably true of low carbing. I forget how much I wanted something high in carbs yesterday, and in my mind yesterday becomes an easy day. Today is never an easy day. It’s just a fact of life.
The entire issue is one of mind over matter. If I let it, my mind will win the battle over carbs every time. That means convincing myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I want to do it, and I will do it because I can do it. It helps to be contrary, and it helps to be stubborn. Rather than to feel sorry for myself when something that I can’t have tempts me, it helps to get mad.
And if I can do it, anyone can do it. Be stubborn. Get mad. Win.
Chris Bauer is a sophomore at Oak Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a member of the Earth and Drama Clubs, plays in the band, and has a part in an upcoming play. Chris is also a volunteer in the LAB RATS program (Learning About Biodiversity, Researching, And Teaching Science) at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, and is a member of the Museum’s Youth Advisory Council and the Youth Alive program. He has been a member of the Greater Cincinnati Herpetological Society for 6 years.
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