How a Nutritionist (Nearly) Wrecked My Writing Career
By Theresa Montana
â€œSugar,â€ 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. â€œI didnâ€™t put any sugar in that cappuccino, only Splenda.â€
She arched an eyebrow. â€œLactose,â€ she informed me. â€œMilk is at least half sugar.â€
â€œBut the South Beach dietâ€¦â€
â€œDidnâ€™t read it.â€
â€œDonâ€™t women my age need lots of calcium? I have a family history of osteoporosis.â€
â€œThere are other sources of calcium, you know.â€ She made a notation on the â€œVitamin and Supplement Scheduleâ€ on the counter by the sink.
Theresa, I silently scolded myself, you paid $500 for this consultation. Donâ€™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. â€œHunters and gathers ate lots of meat and vegetables, maybe some nuts and berriesâ€ She explained. â€œOnly an occasional tuber and fruit only when it was in season. Certainly none of this tropical fruit we now get year round.â€
Tropical cave people ate tropical fruit year round, I thought.
â€œAnd no grains! Grains came with the advent of the farming.â€
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 didnâ€™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 CafÃ©. 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.
â€œWhat the hell?â€ Jen, one of my writing partners, asked loudly. Suddenly every patron in the cafÃ© was silent and looking in my direction.
â€œDonâ€™t even go there,â€ I warned all three of my writing partners. â€œLetâ€™s get to work.â€
Char frowned over my manuscript. â€œWhereâ€™s your heroineâ€™s usual wit and warmth? This dialogue makes her seem soâ€¦nasty.â€
â€œNot all heroines are nice and compliant,â€ I informed her. â€œI decided she needed a little edge.â€
The next weekâ€™s consult with the dietician went a little better, until she found the macaroni and cheese listed on my food journal.
â€œI used whole grain pasta and low fat cheese,â€ I told her. â€œIt went over really big with my kids.â€
Apparently she missed the sarcasm. â€œTheresa, Theresa, Theresa,â€ she shook her head sadly. â€œYou just donâ€™t get it.â€
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. â€œTwo glasses of wine?â€ she shrilled. â€œTortilla chips? Havenâ€™t you heard about trans fats?â€
Somewhere I had read about them. â€œOnce a week my husband and I have a couple of drinks with my next door neighbors. The wifeâ€™s from Guatemala. Sheâ€™s a fantastic cook.â€
I stared into the incredulous eyes of the nutritionist.
â€œThey eat lots of black beans,â€ I offered weakly. â€œTheyâ€™re healthy, arenâ€™t they?â€
â€œYour friend is sabotaging you. I donâ€™t think you should go over there too often.â€
â€œI wonâ€™t,â€ I promised. â€œJust donâ€™t put me on that scale, pleaseâ€¦â€
I humbly bought another $250 in supplements, but I just had to ask her one thing. â€˜Hunter and Gathers didnâ€™t travel around with shopping bags full of pills and powders, did they?â€
â€œModern farming techniques have depleted the quantity and quality of nutrients in the food supply. And youâ€™re nowhere near as active as a hunter-gatherer.â€
â€œWhat? I go to Curves.â€
Critique group of the same week didnâ€™t go smoothly either. We went over Charâ€™s synopsis. Like all novelists, Char hated writing a synopsis, and it showed. This one lacked her usual graceful style. It was downright choppy.
â€œChar,â€ I exclaimed. â€œWhatâ€™s up with this sentence structure? These sentences are just horrible!â€
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.
â€œWhat is in those pills youâ€™re taking?â€ Jen inquired.
â€œNot sugar or caffeine,â€ I lamented.
At the next meeting of my writing group, no one could follow my muddy prose. My plot wasnâ€™t logical. My characters were not consistent. And I got confused trying to jot down so many comments.
The week after that, I didnâ€™t bring any writing submission at all. â€œI havenâ€™t written a word,â€ I confessed. â€œIâ€™ve had this nagging headache all week.â€
The next time I saw the dietician, I told her that I was feeling crappy and that I had â€œusedâ€ sugar once or twice during the past two weeks.
â€œDonâ€™t lapse back into your sugar addiction!â€ she begged me.
â€œLook,â€ she continued. â€œYouâ€™re just serotonin-seeking.â€ She turned toward her locked cabinet of pricey vitamins and herbal concoction. â€œMaybe some amino acids or more B vitamins,â€ she murmured.
â€œYouâ€™re damn right Iâ€™m serotonin-seeking!â€ I answered.
My outburst caught her off guard. She pointed to the Janet Evanovich book in my hand. â€œWhat are you reading?â€ she asked me in an obvious ploy to distract me.
It worked. I never could resist talking about books. â€œThis little gem is just hysterical. Itâ€™s laugh-out-loud funny. Thereâ€™s even nutritional humor.â€
â€œIn one book the protagonistâ€™s side kick tries out the Atkins diet. In another thereâ€™s a scene where a recently divorced women hijacks a Cheetohs delivery truck and by the time the authorities track her down sheâ€™s covered in yellow dust.â€
The crisp young woman stared at me blankly. â€œI donâ€™t read fiction.â€
â€œWhat? What do you read for pleasure?â€
â€œI mean for leisure reading.â€
â€œI really enjoy reading medical journals,â€ she insisted.
â€œYou put medical journals in your beach bag? On your bedside table? Even in the bathroom?â€
She looked at me askance. â€œI donâ€™t read in the bathroom. Yuck.â€
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 didnâ€™t really want to model my eating habits after Clan of the Cave Bear. True, most cave men didnâ€™t develop chronic diseases, but that was because they didnâ€™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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