Abdalah El-Barrad sat down inside of Peking Express on Court Street and placed his Styrofoam box, filled to the brim with assorted rice, vegetables, and meat, down on the small metal table and snapped a photo of his copious meal.
Looking at his phone, El-Barrad reluctantly said, “Oh that’s not even a good photo. You know, it’s all about consistence,” and took another one. “I can’t eat until I take a picture of it and put it on Instagram. It’s part of the whole ritual. I also have to sit and make sure that it goes through, so I have to wait and check everything. Because like if it messes up sometimes I feel like I would be obligated to get another one if I eat part of it and then find out it didn’t post.”
El-Barrad, a Junior studying Applied Math and Economics, has been eating what he has dubbed “The Peking Diet” for over 40 days. His diet consists of eating at least 50% of all of his daily food intake from Peking Express.
After he was satisfied with his photo, El-Barrad began crafting his caption. “Peking Diet day 35…” he then clarified “but that includes the cheat days. See, typically a lot of Saturdays are cheat days.” He usually eats only one meal a day, and since he started the diet, that meal has been Peking.
The photo posted each day also comes with a pun. “I try to keep them all prepared ahead of time, but then sometimes my phone malfunctions and I have to come up with one on the spot,” he explained. That was his first dilemma of the meal.
Once the pun was created, El-Barrad tapped “share.” Rubbing his hands together and longingly glancing at his food, El-Barrad waited until he could see the photo on his feed. “It takes a lot of restraint,” El-Barrad said. “This is the part when you’re the most hungry because you have the food right in front of you but you can’t eat it until you post it, and for some reason it’s not letting me post it right now.”
The photo successfully posted, it was time to dig in.
This diet started at the beginning of spring semester, when El-Barrad realized the small amount time he had during the day to go home and make food. “I typically leave at about 8:00 a.m. or so every day, and I don’t come back until probably about 11:00 p.m. sometimes, so I’m basically gone all day… it’s just easier than actually going home and making food. And the one meal a day thing is pretty funny,” he said.
To some, eating one meal per day may seem like an arduous challenge. However, for El-Barrad, it has become a bit more familiar. “You know, it’s really not too bad,” El-Barrad said. “It’s pretty hard sometimes, but I get used to it because my family is Muslim so we fast, so it’s similar to this except I eat the same thing every day at the end.”
What started off as a 30 day challenge quickly shifted into five weeks, and has now extended with no official ending date in sight. El-Barrad explained that social media was a big part of what kept the diet going.
“Part of the reason why I kept it going is mostly because it’s less of an actual diet now, and more of a Facebook stunt,” El-Barrad said. “A lot of people have been talking about it.”
People have become invested in the progress of the diet, as well as skeptical of its legitimacy.
“At first people thought that I was taking multiple photos of the same thing and I kept on posting it, because people didn’t think it would be an actual thing,” El-Barrad said. To combat this, he began taking his photos with the latest copy of the Athens Messenger underneath the meal, making sure the date was visible.
El-Barrad generally bases his order off of the pun he wants to make for the day. One of his more regular puns comes on Fridays, when he orders fried rice for “fried-days.” However, when he can’t think of a pun off-hand, he sticks to the things he likes.
“My favorite is the eggplant potato, and then also the green beans, and bourbon chicken,” El-Barrad said. “But, I also like spicy food, so I typically get that stuff, but they don’t taste as good… I try to diversify what I get. I don’t always get the same things, although I do always tend to get my favorites.”
So far, El-Barrad has lost around 11 pounds since starting the Peking Diet. While each meal that he is consuming may be around 1,500 calories, El-Barrad explained that he thinks he’s losing weight because it’s generally the only thing he eats for the entire day.
“I’ve been really tired, but at the same time I’m always tired, so I don’t know if that makes a difference,” El-Barrad said. “But…there are times that I feel like I’ve had a decent amount of energy. Around noon, I’m starving. But, I have to wait until after all of my classes and after work to eat.”
El-Barrad confessed that cheat days have been a major help in his success with the diet. Although he doesn’t take them every Saturday, a break from Peking and eating something different helped when he was feeling a bit too tired of his everyday meals.
“I haven’t necessarily gotten tired of it,” El-Barrad clarified, “but it’s definitely not as good as the first day that I ate it… I never have problems with wanting to stop eating Peking.”
El-Barrad said he chose Peking Express because not only was it cheap and came with a lot of food, but it was also a lot more clever than choosing to eat somewhere healthier.
“I guess I could have done Chipotle, but it wouldn’t have been the right joke, because you know chipotle is generally known as healthier food. This isn’t,” El-Barrad said. “If I picked any other diet, like let’s say I chose to only eat salad, that would be so boring. If I do something like this, people not only want me to stop, but they are also so mind-baffled.”
While he is unsure whether he will continue the diet after spring break, El-Barrad said he is hopeful that he will pick up where he left off when he returns.