Monday, January 17, 2011

Why even diets that work, don't work

An untitled spring painting by Joe Brainard
from Writer's Almanac this morning:
There's a diet named after Nobel laureate economist George Stigler. The Stigler Diet is actually a mathematical model for the cost of subsistence eating — a linear programming problem on how to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. Specifically, Stigler's math problem was this: Say you have a man who weighs 154 pounds. Out of 77 foods commonly available, how much of each one should be eaten daily so that the man gets the right amount of nine essential nutrients — at the cheapest cost? The nutrients Stigler took into consideration: calories, protein, iron, and some vitamins.

The solution to the optimization problem: In one year, that man should consume 370 pounds of wheat flour, 57 cans of evaporated milk, 285 pounds of dried navy beans, 23 pounds of spinach, and 111 pounds of cabbage. In 1939, dollars, this would cost about 11 cents a day. Today, it'd be close to $1.75 per day. Stigler was subjected to a barrage of ridicule for suggesting this dull and bland diet, and he tried to remind people that it was just a mathematical model. He issued a statement: "No one recommends these diets for anyone, let alone everyone."
Last week Tom's sister Diane visited for a couple of days.  One night for dinner we went to a German restaurant/social club for which I had recklessly bought a coupon months ago - a coupon about to run out.  This turned out very well.  We liked the place, one of those last-century phenomena about to disappear, its decor untouched since the fifties.  And we loved the food, starting with sauerkraut balls. I went on have bratwurst, hot German potato salad, and sauerkraut.

Midway through this journey, I realized that before the transplant I could not have eaten a thing on my plate.  Bratwurst and sauerkraut, way too salty.  Potatoes, too high in potassium.  But now I was taking it for granted, eating what I liked, as much as I liked. 

Here's the little insight there:  for years, as I struggled to stay alive and off dialysis, I had to think about everything I ate, including a few cashews (nuts are high in phosphates).  And I had this lingering almost unconscious desire.  Now the desire was being fulfilled, and guess what - it didn't much matter. Not being able to eat what I liked, that gave rise to this craving.  I take it from this that getting what you want is not the answer.

1 comment:

  1. It certainly follows for me, any diet that involves "don't eat _____" ensures cravings for that very food. So I have to agree with you.