by Marjolaine Tremblay
“No vice is so bad as advice.” It’s a quote I recall reading years ago, god knows where, and I definitely can’t remember the speaker. Googling it would be easy, but there’s something about a quote attributed to ‘unknown’ that makes the wisdom therein seem infinitely more profound—as if it were an amorphous directive of the cosmos rather than the pathetic chatter of humans.
Anyway, it’s a phrase that came to mind a few days ago. In the moment, it definitely seemed like something the universe would say (a bit of anecdotal confirmation of my cosmos theory that I’m prepared to run with).
So let’s run.
Last Thursday night, I was meeting a friend for drinks at a bar on Montreal’s lovely Boulevard St. Laurent. Trendy place, with one of those big industrial garage doors that turns the front of the bar into something that’s too sheltered to be considered a patio but too exposed to be considered indoor seating. It was only 5:30, but all the tables were taken. St. Laurent is a happening place, and most Montrealers have absolutely no regard for the distinction between weekdays and weekends; Thursday might as well have been Saturday.
Luckily, there were a couple of empty stools at the bar, one of which I promptly snagged. Shortly thereafter, I get a text from my friend saying she would be a little late leaving work. With all due respect to writers, my friend has a real job, so the fact that she was making me wait was forgivable in a way that it wouldn't be had our roles been reversed. I knew I was going to be there for awhile, and I was quite hungry, so I asked the bartender for a diet Coke. I’m not normally a soda person, but the carbonation is a great way to dull your appetite, and the sweetness tricks your brain into thinking you’re actually satiating some caloric demand. These are phantom calories, but they’ll convince you that you just ate a real meal. In an hour, when I would be eating my actual meal, five or six bites of a salad would be enough to fill me up (lol, this would totally piss off my friend). It was a phenomenal plan, and I was ready to execute.
As my drink arrived, the stool next to me dragged back. In it slumped a tired, slouchy looking woman, fairly large and very sweaty. 40, if I had to venture a guess, but she could have been younger. Without looking at a menu, she hailed the bartender.
“I’ll get a Coke,” she mumbled, just clearly enough to make out.
The bartender hadn’t asked, but nevertheless obliged. He looked like he wanted to throw her a towel, or perhaps a sponge, anything to combat the torrents of sweat.
A few minutes went by before she turned to me and noticed the little, grey-labelled glass bottle in my hand. She looked down at the red-labelled bottle in hers and said to me with an air of derision, “You know that diet is actually worse for you, right?”
It’s one of those tropes that health-conscious contrarians instinctively repeat. We’ve all heard it enough for it to be a sort of casually assumed though rarely challenged fact.
Now, I’m someone who is categorically on board for the whole body positivity thing. Most people could lose weight, and life is too mean and short to worry about that perfect BMI. But the oblivious hypocrisy of this woman was really fucking wild. As a matter of dietary practice, and of good health more generally, diet soda is only an issue if your other indulgences don’t kill you first.
I can’t pronounce most of the ingredients in diet soda, but I know that sugar isn’t on the list.
Maybe that sweet zero-calorie elixir will give you some sort of abdominal cancer when you’re 85, but it’s not going to give you diabetes or heart disease when you’re 30. Get your priorities in line, people. If a little, bubbly friend is what you need to stay at a normal human weight, get sipping.
“Oh,” I replied to her while letting out a sort of nervous chuckle, “that’s interesting!” I pressed the bottle to my lips and pivoted so that any further comments would be made to my ponytail.
Notwithstanding the opening quote, here’s some advice: Make sure your indulgent tendencies are less destructive than the ones you denigrate in others. You’ll both be dead before too long, but it would be great if you were less of a bitchy scourge in the time being.