Diets are unspeakably dreary, but when my friend Helen whittled herself down in a few short months from a pleasingly plump profile to a lean, mean, marathon machine, even I was willing to follow her lead. Helen had banished the middle-aged wattle under her chin, her skin glowed, and her muscles flexed insouciantly. If she didn't knock it off, I would have no choice but to hate her.
Helen claimed that her transformation was all due to fiber, and that I must try it, too. That's when I began to have my doubts.
"No thanks," I said. "Pure fibers may be ecologically friendly but they are too high maintenance for me. I bought a linen dress once, and the dry cleaning costs alone nearly killed me."
Helen patiently explained that she meant comestible fibers, such as bran, garbanzo beans and broccoli. As evidence, she whipped out a nutrition bar made of flaxseed, ground apricot pits and at least 25 percent recycled greeting cards.
"Try this. Fourteen grams of fiber in this little powerhouse," she said. "But don't say I didn't warn you," she laughed.
It was a strange laugh, perhaps the kind of laugh you get after ingesting too much fiber. She also told me, sotto voce, where I could get even stronger, prescription fiber bars on the cheap from Canada.
And so, desperately trying to become sinewy and taut like Helen, my main food groups became split peas, collard greens and psyllium husks. I doused my cereal with soy nuts and lentils. One night, I dreamed that I was drowning in an open barrel of hulled barley at the local Whole Foods store. I developed indigestion.
After two weeks of uncompromising fidelity to fiber, I had not lost any weight, but my pantry was four pounds lighter, because I had eaten most of the lentils and canned kidney beans.
Then I saw Helen again, looking more buff than ever. My indigestion flared up immediately. Probably too many raw red peppers at lunch. Bad idea.
"What gives? You can't look this great just because of fiber," I accused. "I've eaten so much fiber I could be the poster child for the National Colon Health Foundation and I've only dropped four ounces. You must be doing something else. Come on, spill it!" I demanded.
"I work with a personal trainer three times a week," Helen said. "I'm sure I told you."
This vindication was bittersweet. My diet of chickpeas and cantaloupe might earn me poster child status for colon health, but would not get me on the cover of Shape magazine. The green stuff of Helen's success wasn't only kale; it was cold, hard cashola for the trainer.
Nevertheless, I've remained faithful to fiber, but sometimes I pine for an empty calorie. Fibrous diets aren't really that bad, if you don't mind constant indigestion. And while I can't afford Helen's personal trainer, at least I know the secret of her success. Commitment, self-discipline and money. Who knew?