The Disappearing Ones

For the past two years, my favorite health writer has been shrinking before my envious eyes. For two years, it is said, he hasn't eaten any carbohydrates.

For the past two years, my favorite health writer has been shrinking before my envious eyes. For two years, it is said, he hasn't eaten any carbohydrates. This would be an incredible feat of self-control for me, but a small one compared to the gaunt assistant editor whose daily menu since 1998 has consisted only of proteins, cigarettes and diet cola. The political commentator told me, when I met him two weeks ago and he was more svelte than ever, that he never misses his hour of running on the treadmill in the health club, for which he compensates himself with lots of proteins and fats.

Five months ago, when I expressed amazement at her slim figure - just because she never seemed to be making a big deal of herself or her shape - my favorite actress and broadcaster told me she had decided several months earlier that the time had come to stop all this business of being fat, and since then she has been avoiding carbohydrates like a virus. None of them intended it, but as has been happening since I stopped smoking and started to gain weight, I interpreted the shrinking going on around me as a challenge aimed directly at me.

I had already almost managed to convince myself that character is the main thing (especially when you're alone, dressed from head to foot, in a room where not a particle of light penetrates) when I discovered via the Internet that the person who for me had become a model of resistance to diets - for feminist reasons of refusing to surrender to masculine dictates - had herself recently shed 30 kilograms, for health reasons of course, and now the only thing in the world that she dreams about is a tomato, any tomato, which as we know is a carbohydrate, and is therefore forbidden in the Atkins Diet, which she has decreed she will follow, as have I.

Then I went to India. My feet, which swelled to monstrous dimensions during an 18-hour bus ride, led me to the metal shop-like Tibetan hospital in Mcleod-Gange. After a comprehensive examination, the Tibetan doctor explained to my eldest son in excellent American English (in India, even doctors who are Harvard graduates consider women incapable of understanding what is said to them) something that could have been diagnosed long ago even without the use of a stethoscope, and that was the fact that my son's mother is a heavy woman.

"Very heavy," explained the doctor, in order to remove any doubts. "Heavy and deaf," I said to the doctor, asking him if it were perhaps possible not to dwell on this subject, and immediately picturing in my mind's eye the newly svelte figure of the health writer in his brand-name clothes.

Five carbohydrate-free months and 19 kilos later, my clothes from the period before I stopped smoking fit me again, and good souls are already warning me "not to lose too much weight because it won't be becoming to your face." I could perhaps have breathed easy and even considered the possibility of allowing myself to eat like a human being (in other words, to nosh an apple slice) at the Rosh Hashanah meal, and to fast the next day, but then I read in Gallery, the Haaretz culture and lifestyle section, that a literary editor I admire, whom I never considered a fat person, has lost 20 kilograms and that occasionally his daily nutrition consists of only one large salad, with an addition of pieces of chicken, tuna or cheese.

Nothing frustrates me more than men who eat less than I do, and my spirit of competition was even further aroused, and therefore I told Yael that I am apparently doomed to avoid carbohydrates to my dying day.

But Yael remarked to me that there are still enough skinny people in the world who eat mainly carbohydrates, even empty ones - most of the inhabitants of Asia, for example. I really have noticed the fact, I told her, that in my neighborhood, where the homeless are multiplying at an impressive rate, there is no homeless person who suffers from overweight, despite the fact that none of them, as far as I can tell, sticks to the Atkins Diet or is a member of a health club.

On second thought, they engage in lots of physical activity, in the not-very-fresh air, since they are forced to wander from bench to bench in the burning sun. They are also involved in recycling, I told Yael: They remove from the garbage everything that can be re-used, don't overuse fuel for heating purposes, don't own a vehicle, don't pollute the groundwater by using cleaning or washing materials, and we can reasonably assume that their contribution to creating the holes in the ozone or the greenhouse effect is very small and perhaps nonexistent. Because they don't do much shopping, they can be considered partners to the struggle against globalization and the domination of brand names.

We agreed that the homeless implement in their lives all the principles and ideals that environmental protection activists preach from their air-conditioned offices, and were they able to find in the garbage through which they burrow remains of organic food that was not grown with poisonous fertilizers and pesticides, and at the same opportunity meat that was not fed with antibiotics and eggs laid by free-range hens, they could easily write another humorless newspaper column praising the healthy life. This, on condition that they are not fated to end up like the horse in the anecdote, who almost became accustomed to eating nothing, but just then up and died.

"Should I fry an omelet for you?" asked Yael. "Could I have an apple?" I replied. "And if I'm already having an apple, then a mango or a peach would be preferable. And let the juice drip down my chin."