Sunday, July 01, 2007

Call me Ptomaine Toni

About six weeks ago, I decided it was time to lose some weight. The catalyst for my decision came in the form of an old pair of shorts. Actually, it wasn't the shorts as much as it was the zipper ... and its reluctance to zip. That. was. it. I started the South Beach Diet the next day. Roy joined me, which made the whole thing easier. Although the word "easy" is perhaps misleading.

South Beach was developed by a cardiologist for his patients and spread by word-of-mouth until he eventually wrote a book that has sold a gabillion copies (give or take 12). Phase 1 of the diet lasts two weeks and is pretty strict: no pasta, bread, juice, fruit, corn, peas or alcohol. Other than the pretty hardy breakfasts and fish allowed, you might as well pack yourself into a cardboard box full of lettuce and sugar-free Jell-O and eat yourself out in 14 days.

Phase 1, for all its restrictions, worked like gangbusters. But not before, in the first few days, I felt hungry enough to suck the toothpaste right out of the tube, not before I got so SICK of grilled chicken salad I couldn't bear the sight of a freshly mowed lawn. But because Roy and I were doing it together and because it became a matter of pride for me, I stuck with it.

About four days into it, I was throwing dinner together in a hurry, trying to get things on the table before Roy had curtain call. (My renaissance man was in the local production of "To Kill a Mockingbird.") I grabbed a bowl, marinated and seasoned several chicken breasts, popped the chicken in the oven, heated some green beans (minus a dab of bacon grease. sigh.), sliced and diced for the salad and washed up a few dishes. Roy was running out of time, so I went ahead and threw the salad together and sat with him to eat while the kids played. He left. I set the table for the kids, got the chicken out, told the kids to wash up and put dishes in the sink.

That's when I grabbed the salad bowl. The perfectly empty, spotless salad bowl. I stared into it, at the tiny oval reflection of the overhead light, the one covered in asymmetrical yellow daisies painted there by my grandmother. I stared stupidly, as if by not moving, I could alter the reality that I had served salad in the same bowl used to prepare raw poultry.

My response was a cross between panic and self-rage, with liberal use of a word rhyming with shmum-ash. I called Roy at the theatre to let him know if at some point in the second act he began to feel a little queasy, it likely wasn't nerves, but the first twinge of a horrible bout of food-poisoning that might have both of us curled in the fetal position with our faces pressed against the cool, cool bathroom tile.

Rather than acknowledge the fact that he had, sadly, married a shmum-ash, he assured me it would be just fine. That the bacteria from the uncooked chicken surely wouldn't be a problem. I responded by lovingly assuring him that, no, we were both about to die, thank you very much, and I'm pretty sure Harper Lee never envisioned Boo Radley projectile vomiting on Atticus.

The only silver lining was that, thankfully, the children hadn't eaten the salad.

About half-an-hour later, my friend Cathy pulled up. Her children were in the play, and she had heard from Roy about our impending date with acute gastro-intestinal cleansing. She pulled a bag out of her car and explained that her family used some products that might be very helpful to us. Out of the bag she pulled items I'm pretty sure even Whole Foods doesn't carry: a 32-ounce bottle of Liquid Chlorophyll; another of Whole Leaf Aloe Vera and a little squeeze bottle of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). The GSE is a "bit tart," Cathy warned and would be more palatable mixed with fruit juice. I didn't bother explaining fruit juice was a Phase 1 no-no. With a few directions, she left me with the sack, on her way to deliver one large Chlorophyll/Aloe/GSE cocktail to Roy at the theatre.

Now, look. I don't particularly like green vegetables. I eat green beans because I know they're good for me. I eat asparagus and steamed broccoli, as long as it's smothered in butter. I don't care for much else green. So standing over my sink holding a white bottle of Liquid Chlorophyll stained green around its lid was similar to that moment right before the technician yanks the wax off.

The prospect of food poisoning, however, was sufficient motivation for me to dutifully mix a teaspoonful of chlorophyll into eight ounces of water. The smell isn't actually that bad. It's rather minty.

The smell lies. If you've shockingly never enjoyed a glass of chlorophyll, imagine gathering two large handfuls of grass clippings from your yard. Grab a few pine needles if they're handy and four or fives leaves from any available shrub. Place your harvest into the blender, add a little water and, voila!

If you don't remember your science that well, chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that helps out with photosynthesis. According to Nature's Sunshine Products, Inc., it's also useful as a digestive tract detoxifier and supports intestinal health. I clung to that bit of propaganda as green water dripped down my gulping throat.

Next: Whole Leaf Aloe Vera. This time I mixed an ounce with water. The bottle assured me I was in for a "refreshing and pleasant tasting vegetable juice drink" which would be "intensely cleansing."

Refreshing and pleasant my ash. It tastes precisely how one might imagine it would if you broke a leaf off your aloe plant, jammed in a straw and sucked. Except maybe not that good.

I just managed to fight back the gag reflex, reminding myself what I was drinking would combat the bacteria in my digestive system. Fortified by that thought, I proceeded to put several drops of the grapefruit seed extract containing Citricidal into a third glass of water and knocked it back.

I like grapefruits fine, cut open and served with a sprinkling of sugar. I have nothing against grapefruit. But this stuff was so intensely tart that hours later I could still taste it on the back of my throat like a sour paste. I couldn't finish this drink all in one take, stopping to stomp, slap my hand on the counter and gasp.

A couple of hours later I repeated the process. The good news is, neither Roy nor I were ever sick. I can't say whether we just got lucky or the stuff we took really lived up to its billing. Either way, we were very, very fortunate -- if you call eating Salmonella Salad with a chaser of Liquid Plant fortunate.

In this case, I suppose the glass of liquid chlorophyll was half full.