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(Mis)Adventures in Writing

May 1, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

How a Nutritionist (Nearly) Wrecked My Writing Career

By Theresa Montana

“Sugar,” the young professional woman sitting across from me declared. She picked up an orange highlighter and uncapped it with a vengeance, and then she drew a neon orange line through the very first entry of my eating journal.

I shifted on the uncomfortable little exam table. “I didn’t put any sugar in that cappuccino, only Splenda.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Lactose,” she informed me. “Milk is at least half sugar.”

“But the South Beach diet…”

“Didn’t read it.”

“Don’t women my age need lots of calcium? I have a family history of osteoporosis.”

“There are other sources of calcium, you know.” She made a notation on the “Vitamin and Supplement Schedule” on the counter by the sink.

Theresa, I silently scolded myself, you paid $500 for this consultation. Don’t argue with the nutritionist; shut up and listen.

I watched in horror as the lady highlighted three-quarters of the entries in my food log, including fruit, milk and whole grains. She then went on to explain to me how men and women from the Paleolithic period ate. “Hunters and gathers ate lots of meat and vegetables, maybe some nuts and berries” She explained. “Only an occasional tuber and fruit only when it was in season. Certainly none of this tropical fruit we now get year round.”

Tropical cave people ate tropical fruit year round, I thought.

“And no grains! Grains came with the advent of the farming.”

She silenced my skepticism by putting me on a body fat scale. While I was still recovering from the trauma of learning how much of my body consisted of fat, she sold me $350 of high end vitamins and supplements.

Evidently she didn’t think that my gummy vitamins were doing the trick.

Later that week I met with my writing critique group at the Barnes and Noble Café. They managed not to comment when I showed up at our usual table with herbal tea, instead of my usual ice mocha with whipped cream. I put a baggie full of celery amidst the array of chocolates and pastries on the table, and then I reached into my little white shopping bag and poured out seven pills from various bottles onto a napkin.

“What the hell?” Jen, one of my writing partners, asked loudly. Suddenly every patron in the café was silent and looking in my direction.

“Don’t even go there,” I warned all three of my writing partners. “Let’s get to work.”

Char frowned over my manuscript. “Where’s your heroine’s usual wit and warmth? This dialogue makes her seem so…nasty.”

“Not all heroines are nice and compliant,” I informed her. “I decided she needed a little edge.”

The next week’s consult with the dietician went a little better, until she found the macaroni and cheese listed on my food journal.

“I used whole grain pasta and low fat cheese,” I told her. “It went over really big with my kids.”

Apparently she missed the sarcasm. “Theresa, Theresa, Theresa,” she shook her head sadly. “You just don’t get it.”

I tried to tell her how my kids were eating over at their friends more and more often, how my husband was working late every night at the office.

But she merely pointed at another entry. “Two glasses of wine?” she shrilled. “Tortilla chips? Haven’t you heard about trans fats?”

Somewhere I had read about them. “Once a week my husband and I have a couple of drinks with my next door neighbors. The wife’s from Guatemala. She’s a fantastic cook.”

I stared into the incredulous eyes of the nutritionist.

“They eat lots of black beans,” I offered weakly. “They’re healthy, aren’t they?”

“Your friend is sabotaging you. I don’t think you should go over there too often.”

“I won’t,” I promised. “Just don’t put me on that scale, please…”

I humbly bought another $250 in supplements, but I just had to ask her one thing. ‘Hunter and Gathers didn’t travel around with shopping bags full of pills and powders, did they?”

“Modern farming techniques have depleted the quantity and quality of nutrients in the food supply. And you’re nowhere near as active as a hunter-gatherer.”

“What? I go to Curves.”

Critique group of the same week didn’t go smoothly either. We went over Char’s synopsis. Like all novelists, Char hated writing a synopsis, and it showed. This one lacked her usual graceful style. It was downright choppy.

“Char,” I exclaimed. “What’s up with this sentence structure? These sentences are just horrible!”

Later in the evening I suggested to another critique partner that she give us her chapters in sequence so I could actually follow her plot. To top it all, I told Jen that she might stick to writing one novel at a time so that she could actually finish one of them.

“What is in those pills you’re taking?” Jen inquired.

“Not sugar or caffeine,” I lamented.

At the next meeting of my writing group, no one could follow my muddy prose. My plot wasn’t logical. My characters were not consistent. And I got confused trying to jot down so many comments.

The week after that, I didn’t bring any writing submission at all. “I haven’t written a word,” I confessed. “I’ve had this nagging headache all week.”

The next time I saw the dietician, I told her that I was feeling crappy and that I had “used” sugar once or twice during the past two weeks.

“Don’t lapse back into your sugar addiction!” she begged me.

“Look,” she continued. “You’re just serotonin-seeking.” She turned toward her locked cabinet of pricey vitamins and herbal concoction. “Maybe some amino acids or more B vitamins,” she murmured.

“You’re damn right I’m serotonin-seeking!” I answered.

My outburst caught her off guard. She pointed to the Janet Evanovich book in my hand. “What are you reading?” she asked me in an obvious ploy to distract me.

It worked. I never could resist talking about books. “This little gem is just hysterical. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. There’s even nutritional humor.”


“In one book the protagonist’s side kick tries out the Atkins diet. In another there’s a scene where a recently divorced women hijacks a Cheetohs delivery truck and by the time the authorities track her down she’s covered in yellow dust.”

The crisp young woman stared at me blankly. “I don’t read fiction.”

“What? What do you read for pleasure?”

“Professional journals.”

“I mean for leisure reading.”

“I really enjoy reading medical journals,” she insisted.

“You put medical journals in your beach bag? On your bedside table? Even in the bathroom?”

She looked at me askance. “I don’t read in the bathroom. Yuck.”

I never saw her again. We were just not on the same page. Heck we were not even reading the same books.

Furthermore, I decided that I didn’t really want to model my eating habits after Clan of the Cave Bear. True, most cave men didn’t develop chronic diseases, but that was because they didn’t live long enough. Many hunter-gathers died young from consuming parasites in their meat or munching on poisonous leaves and grasses. I can imagine that some cave dwellers might’ve died from eating hallucinogenic berries and mushrooms and throwing themselves off a nearby cliff or into the closest fire.

But I know of no Paleolithic human who wrote a novel or even a memoir–because coffee houses had yet to be invented.

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