'Born Round' by Frank Bruni

I drank Tab on Atkins. I drank Fresca too, and sugar-free iced tea of various kinds. I was concerned less with my choice and range of beverages than with the little paper strips in the medicine cabinet of the bathroom off my parents' bedroom. The strips went along with the Atkins diet, and they were clustered in a tiny, cylindrical container, the way toothpicks might be.

In the morning, in the late afternoon and just before bedtime, I would slide or shimmy one of the strips from the jar, hold it in my left hand and get ready to pee. Then I'd pass the strip through the stream of urine and wait to see if it changed color. If it changed color, Mom had told me, the diet was working. If it changed color, I was in ketosis, and I was melting the fat away.

It didn't change color on the second day. Or the third. But on the fourth, it did, going from white to a pinkish purple. And after just a few more days, I noticed a loosening in my pants. A tightening in my stomach. I was shrinking every second!

I stayed on Atkins for close to three weeks, losing something like seven pounds: enough to land me on the slender side of stocky. Then ... well, Mom hadn't really worked that out. The idea, I suppose, was that I'd be so encouraged by the change in my weight that I'd safeguard it with less gluttonous behavior, and I'd revisit Atkins for a tune-up from time to time.

As it turned out, I didn't have to, and Atkins wasn't what spared me the worst wages of my hunger. Sports did that. Through the swimming lessons that Mom took Mark, Harry and me to at the local Y.M.C.A., we all discovered that my clumsiness on land disappeared in the water, where I was faster and stronger than my brothers — than most kids my age. I started swimming daily, then twice daily, putting in nearly four hours in the pool on many days. By the time I was 12, that commitment made me one of the top-ranked swimmers nationally for my age in many events. It also meant I didn't have to confront and control my overeating the way I really needed to, because the swimming burned away so many of the calories I consumed.

It didn't burn away enough of them: I looked a bit curvier and lumpier than most of the other kids on the pool deck. Whether during a swim practice or at a meet, I kept my T-shirt on until the moment I dove into the water, and I put it back on the second I climbed out.

In the kitchen, Mom would become fixated for short periods on certain dishes, ingredients or culinary tropes, and for a while her obsession was wrapping things in bacon. If something could be wrapped in bacon, speared with a toothpick and broiled, she did precisely that and usually served the results as canapés, disregarding the extent to which things wrapped in bacon might fill a person and diminish his or her readiness for the rest of the meal.

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