Daniel McLaughlin wants you to diet. But first, he wants to change your understanding of “diet” from something Cathy shrieks about in the funny pages to something easy—from temporary OCD agony to a natural way of life. But which way?
Over the last 10 months and counting, McLaughlin, who had never dieted before, has used himself as a guinea pig for a different diet every month. These diets range from the most mainstream to the relatively obscure, and he chronicles his exploits through his now well-known blog, thethirteenthdiet.com, where his trials and tribulations are described in detail.
“I wanted to help people and coach them through their diet phobias and help them understand that diet is not a four-letter word,” he says, tongue in cheek.
McLaughlin wanted to include as wide a variety of diets as possible. Some were philosophy-based, like vegan and vegetarian; some were lifestyle, like local/organic and minimum wage. A medical diet made it into the mix (gluten-free), as did fads like the blood-type diet, the Zone (which he is currently undertaking) and Atkins.
He organized the diets mostly by season; he went raw in July because of the abundance of fresh vegetables; September featured local/organic foods because of the harvest. He even threw in a gluttony/gastronomy “diet” in May, both a sanity break for himself and an experiment in indulging more than he normally would.
“If we could argue that gluttony was a diet, that was the easiest,” McLaughlin says. “There was no editing.”
Having never dieted before, he began the year with a three-day cleanse, which involved drinking liters of a water/lemon juice/maple syrup/cayenne pepper concoction, designed to give him the minimal caloric load necessary. He then kicked the year off with the macrobiotic diet, which emphasizes whole grains and green veggies, but no meat (save for white fish), alcohol or caffeine. While he encountered some difficulty in terms of the cost of living, (according to his blog, he spent $376 on food that month), he recalls feeling invigorated and energized by the lack of unnatural substances in his system.
“I’m used to having a beer on weekends, having a beer after work, but once you took those things away and I started to feel how different I felt, how invigorated I was, and how naturally energized I was just from food—it was such an encouraging start,” he says. “That’s the whole idea, is that you should be deriving your energy from your food.”
That’s not to say there were no speed bumps. The blood-type diet was very restrictive for O-negative McLaughlin; the raw diet, he said, was the most difficult due to the “cold and crunchy” meals of fruits and vegetables that left him unsatisfied and constantly hungry.
“I believe in a lot of the science behind raw, but in terms of day to day lifestyle, it’s hard having cold meals all the time and not having much contrast in texture.”
But he always had one meal to look forward to: his monthly feasts. At the end of each month, McLaughlin would host about two dozen people at his apartment on 18th and Wharton streets for a four-course meal centered on the diet of the month, with the menu executed by the man himself. The feasts were a hit, mostly attended by strangers looking to venture into a world of food that they may have only read or heard about.
“The feasts have been a ... great connection for me to the community,” he says. “But it’s not a cheap date—so it’s something that I wish was more accessible to the communities that needed it, so this was a way of making that happen indirectly.”
His project ends Dec. 31, but he says the mission has just begun. He plans on writing a book under the Thirteenth Diet banner that combines the lessons and recipes of the past year. He's already recruited several people to live on his diet for three months as case studies, and also hopes to lean on some food experts and professionals to better understand the scientific and nutritional end.
“I feel like people get such a constrained and ascetic picture of what their life would look like on a diet, and I think a lot of it is appreciating the source of your foods and knowing what your limits are,” he said. “And realizing that you can live a bountiful and healthful life by just considering those things.”
Visit thethirteenthdiet.com to read more about Daniel McLaughlin’s diet experiments.
Bittman doesn’t suggest eliminating meat, or white flour, or sugar, or any of the so-called “bad” foods from your diet, just eating much less of them. He calls his diet a “Two out of Three Plan” or “Part-Time Vegan” or “Vegan Before Six”; i.e. consuming mostly vegan fare during the day, and then for dinner essentially eating anything you want.
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