There was a time in my life when I was as thin as a reed. I could hide behind a telephone pole and all people could see was my nose and maybe the tip of my adam's apple. When I sidled into a bar and sat on a stool, the bartender would size me up and say, "What'll it be, slim?"
Well, not anymore. Now when I walk into a bar they direct me away from the stools, telling me that they don't want to be legally liable should the stool fail to hold my weight and send me tumbling onto the floor or even into their basement.
"Please sir," they beg, "sit in a booth!"
Yes, you might say that I've gained a little weight in the fifty-two years since I was 19. I'd like to think that I've gained one pound for every IQ point smarter I've become. If that were the case, I'd now be in the super genius Einstein/Sherlock Holmes range, if not beyond.
My family physician, Dr. Pisberg, tells me that I'm obese.
Sometimes I wonder about him. Mostly, I wonder if he can account for his whereabouts from 1933-1945 or so. He takes what I would consider to be an inordinate amount of pleasure and satisfaction from my suffering. Like any true sadist, he also knows that words can hurt much worse than sticks and stones or reflex hammers and tongue depressors.
"I'm not obese," I tell him, wounded. "Those people on TV who can't get out of their beds so that they have to take their roofs off to airlift them out? They're obese." "Ja," Dr. Pisberg agrees, "those people are also obese."
He explains that it's a matter of body weight to height. I explain that it's all muscle, and then he pokes at my waistline until I giggle uncontrollably.
"Stop that," I say.
"This is muscle? Ja, und I am Pablo Picasso. Very funny."
He tells me, basically, that if I don't lose some weight, I'm liable to become a creature less man than blob. My only option is to feed myself to a bear or become a circus freak, and there aren't many circuses anymore.
So I survey a list of the trendy diets available to me—the Atkins diet, the Dukan diet, the no-fat diet, the all-fat diet, the HCG diet, the ketogenic diet, the intermittent fasting diet, the vegan diet, the vegetarian diet, the pescatarian diet, the whole food diet, etc. It is bewildering at once. And then there's the brand-name diets, like Weight Watchers, Optavia, Whole 30, and more. Needless to say, none of these appeal to me. They sound uniformly hideous. They also sound a little like cults, most of them, with byzantine rules and rites that have to be fastidiously observed.
Why can't there just be a diet with simple, easy-to-grasp rules? And that's when it hit me, a flash of inspiration sure to set the nutrition world afire...
I would invent the Lewis and Clark diet.
Think about it—have you ever seen a picture of Lewis, Clark, or any other member of the Corps of Discovery in which they were even a little corpulent? Never, not one!
And even if there was one, it was probably Toussaint Charboneau, who Lewis tells us spends a day lovingly making something called "white pudding" out of the south end of a bison. Also, he was French.
Well, they must have happened on some slimming secret to keep them so trim!
So I pored over my copies of the journals and devised a strict diet that, if followed, will lead to a sexy, slender new you in no time.
First, and this might seem counterintuitive, is to fry everything in bear grease. Lewis and Clark were wild about the stuff, using it for everything they could and some things they shouldn't, like cooking with it and rubbing themselves with it.
For about $38 including shipping, I was able to buy 1 oz of bear oil on Ebay. Advertised as 100% pure bear oil with shea oil and "a touch of beeswax," the packaging claimed that it was good for everything from eczema and arthritis to hemorrhoids. Wow, I thought. Not only a healthy cooking oil, but a panacea as well!
I had referred to my books and found that expedition member Raymond Darwin Burroughs reports that Lewis and Clark dispatched:
Deer (all species combined) 1,001; Elk 375; Bison 227; Antelope 62; Bighorn sheep 35; Bears, grizzly 43; Bears, black 23; Beaver (shot or trapped) 113; Otter 16; Geese and Brant 104; Grouse (all species) 46; Turkeys 9; Plovers 48; Wolves (only one eaten) 18; Indian dogs (purchased and consumed) 190; Horses 12.
Now this left me a lot of options in terms of protein choices. Turkey? Check. Bison? Check. Deer and antelope? Check. Still got some medallions in the freezer. Plover? Sure, absolutely, I've got so much plover my pantry's almost fully ploved.
Dogs? I've got six of the no-good louts, and all they do is sit around all day anyway. Check. I seem to be set for a while, protein-wise. I settled on hamburger even though, technically, it’s not on the list.
So I plopped the contents of the tiny jar into a hot cast iron pan, which sputtered and gave off an indescribable scent. Then I added a big burger patty and cooked it until it was medium-rare. I then took a bite, imagining it was a plover I had shot on the Missouri.
After coughing and spitting into the garbage, I realized that I was cooking with a skincare product. As I swished my mouth out with whiskey, I reflected that this really was an ingenious way to stay svelte, because food cooked in bear oil hand creme will staunch all but the most avid explorer's appetite. Thank God, I prayed silently, that Distinctly Montana paid for all that bear oil.
The next phase of the Lewis and Clark diet was inspired by one of the most difficult and strenuous parts of their trip, when they had to portage 18 miles around the Great Falls of the Missouri. It took them some 31 days to haul all of their boats and equipment, so I estimated it would take me about three days until I was as lissome as, say, Mission In Action-era Chuck Norris.
So I dug my old canoe out of our storage shed and filled it with dirt and rocks, then struggled to pick it up. My youngest son, the only one who hasn't yet realized his old man's kind of an idiot, stopped to watch.
"What are you doing, Dad?"
"Well, son, I'm reenacting Lewis and Clark's grueling portage of the Falls."
He nodded so, encouraged, I continued. "You see, I'm trying to invent a fad diet. So I can buy an RV."
At the mention of the RV, a familiar song around these parts, he gave me a polite but dismissive nod, then went inside before I could get out an invitation that he'd just have to decline.
So I went back to hauling this canoe all over the yard. At my advanced age, I had to give up on the notion of getting the thing up over my head when it was full of detritus, so I spent a few minutes dragging it by a rope until, exhausted, I went inside for a beer.
I know that beer isn't technically allowed under the strictest interpretation of the rules of the Lewis and Clark diet, but I figured I'd earned it, so I cracked the top of a can of Otter Water and considered trying to fry up a grilled cheese and hand moisturizer sandwich. But, faced with having to gag down more lotion, I decided not to. See? The diet was already working.
So I dumped the rocks out of the canoe, returned it to the shed where it will probably never see the light of day again, and went back inside to finish my beer.
The next component of the Lewis and Clark diet, and the one that I am perhaps least excited to adopt long-term, is also almost certainly the most effective: constant dysentery.
As the inventor of the Lewis and Clark diet, I would encourage you to court dysentery in your own way, getting as close as you are comfortable to actually going out and getting it the old-fashioned way by, I don't know, drinking moose pee out of a puddle or whatever.
As for me, I felt okay with approximating the effects of dysentery by having a glass of milk without taking my Lactaid pills. Soon, I had developed the intestinal distress, dehydration, and malaise associated with that the disease. I passed the rest of the afternoon on the couch watching an old VHS tape of Missing In Action 2: The Beginning and trying to moan loud enough for my son to hear from the other room and feel bad.
If this is inauthentic to the Lewis and Clark experience, then I beg your pardon but I think that some concessions might be made to historical accuracy. That's why I had two or three beers throughout the movie to settle my stomach.
The final part of the Lewis and Clark diet, copyright pending, is a strict adherence to mostly only eating hardtack biscuits. This hideous, tasteless, tooth-shattering treat can be made by combining water, flour, and salt and baking until it becomes a solid brick. It's an uncomplicated source of calories in a survival situation, and can also double as a very formidable weapon if inserted into a sock and swung around your head.
I don't actually have any hardtack biscuits, so I substituted Ritz crackers and ate about a sleeve and a half of them while watching Braddock: Missing In Action 3 and trying not to feel my sore back.
In the end, it was only my first day of the Lewis and Clark diet and I already felt different, if not exactly healthier. I think one day was probably enough for me.
Even so, I'm certain that if you really apply yourself to the Lewis and Clark diet—eating mostly stale crackers soaked in bear grease, hauling keelboats, being ill all the time—you too will become perilously thin.
The only problem is that you might, like Lewis, be tempted to end it all before long, and I don't want to give Dr. Pisberg that satisfaction just yet.
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.