It is never very interesting to read about being good. The only thing that is maybe less interesting than reading about being good is writing about being good. Or, wait. No. The only thing that is definitely less interesting than reading about being good and writing about being good is actually being good. Goodness is not interesting because being good means being clean. Goodness is not interesting because being good means absence. Goodness is not interesting because being good means being empty, and there’s nothing of interest in a void. But the process of getting to that state of nothingness? The act of attaining a spot in that perfect place where every decision (even what you eat!) is made in such a pure and moral way that it’s impossible to deny that you have finally reached a place where you are good? Well, that becomes much more interesting, because the process is necessarily messy, and the reactions people have to your goal of being good and eating well range from contempt to enthusiasm to annoyance, and the sad, dark truth is that you know deep inside that you will not only never manage to be good, but you will never even manage to be good enough. All of which is to say, I went on a diet.
I should probably mention first that I’ve never said that I’ve been on a diet before. I’ve never even used that word. “Diet.” For me—and probably this is a generational thing, but maybe this is just a me thing—the word “diet” always conjures up images of Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers dinners packed in a freezer, low-fat dairy products crowding refrigerator shelves, and daily morning weigh-ins on the scale in the too pink guest bathroom. The weigh-ins, of course, were always in the morning because the body hasn’t spent all day retaining water. I’ve never done anything like that. I don’t even own a scale. I never would have said that I’ve been on a diet before, because I don’t think of myself as ever having been on a diet before. And maybe I hadn’t been on a diet before, at least not on a regimented one, but I had definitely, consciously manipulated what was going into my body before, and denied myself certain things for a whole range of reasons, some of them more sound than others.
This time was going to be different. The impulse that I had to try to live healthier came from a better place than had any other changes I’d made in my eating before. This time, I wanted to change my eating and drinking habits because I want to drink less alcohol, and I wanted my face to be less puffy in the morning, and I wanted to have more energy and I wanted to get rid of everything extraneous and harmful in my life, which maybe wasn’t just about food, but also definitely meant that I was interested in going gluten-free. But I didn’t want to do this on my own. I didn’t, actually, even think that I could do this on my own. I wanted to be held accountable. I wanted conditions. And so I went to a nutritionist.
I went to see Stephanie Middleberg, founder of Middleberg Nutrition, after having spent a week recording everything that I ate and drank. I went to Stephanie because her nutritional advice is not prohibitively restrictive and because she is incredibly hands-on and communicative with her clients and because she has the shining hair and glowing skin that make you convinced that eating better really is the key to everything that is healthy and good. But also I went to Stephanie because we went to high school together, even though we were different years and never knew each other (full disclosure: this is probably because I was terrible) and so I hadn’t spoken to her since then, if I’d ever spoken to her at all (fuller disclosure: probably I didn’t, I was incredibly anti-social).
It had been an unsettling thing for me, recording what I ate and drank for a whole week, and it was even more unsettling to know that my ridiculous diet was going to be looked over by a professional. There were things I felt bad about. And while it might sound obvious, those things that I felt bad about were exactly the things that I wanted to change. I wanted to stop having 5 drinks during one long dinner. I wanted to start eating breakfast so that I wouldn’t be starving at 3 every workday. I wanted to figure out what it was that I was eating that was making me break out in hives. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong so that I could fix it and everything would be better—inside and outside, everything would be fine.