Orange Boy: My Year With Carotenosis


         When your is skin generally the shade of greek yogurt, you feel like any added color looks good.  So, for the first three months of senior year, I felt absolutely great. I was back in my hometown, going through my normal routines, and my skin was getting progressively darker.  Now, at some point, I realized the tone change wasn’t exactly uniform - my hands, feet, and nose were getting a bit darker before everything else. But, even that seemed reasonable; it was summer, and all three of those parts protruded rather prominently from my body.  My summer’s positivity changed, however, when a good friend made a grave remark.

      “My god Stephen. Your hands. They’re… orange.”

        “Clarice”, as I later realized, is a hypochondriac who sees my body as an extension of her medical obsession. She said my liver had failed. I went to the doctor.

        When Dr. Dyer (pronounced - “Dire”, e.g. “Liver failure is dire”.) entered my room, I showed him my hands. Now, these hands were not a flaming orange. They were not the shade of a tangelo, and they in no way resembled Willy Wonka’s aboriginal work-force. However, they were a nice strawberry-blond - a happy burnt-orange that nicely complemented any fall wardrobe.  After a cursory glance, Dr. Dyer excused himself, and returned with a small train of residents.

He lifted my hands for the students to see. “I haven’t seen this in years.” Oh no. “And never in a grown man.” Oh no. “This man is.” Oh jeez. “A vegetarian.”

Now this was, as you might imagine, a shocking diagnoses.  I’d had salmon the night before.  But, before I could object, he quickly explained the diagnoses. I had a rare form of Caratenosis. An affliction that generally affects only infants and vegetarians. Its one cause is the excessive consumption of beta-carotene (i.e. Carrots, and Green Veggies).  Its one symptom is orange-colored skin.      

       Now anyone would be rattled at this diagnoses. But, as much I grappled with the symptoms (which is only being orange),  I struggled more with the cause of my disease.  Did I really eat too many vegetables? And, more importantly, is that a thing?    

       You see, I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater. I’m blessed to have grown up in a family that provided a lot of healthy options at home. And, as I grew older, I realized that eating healthy made me feel both physically and mentally better. But, as I began to enter my later teens, my “health-food” focus began to turn extreme. I removed all sugar from my diet my junior year of high school, and after a year living in vegan-friendly Taiwan, I subconsciously stopped eating most meat. By the time senior year arrived, my diet consisted almost exclusively of fresh fruit, salad, and taunts from male friends.       

        Having my skin turn the color of fresh-yam was a bizzare wake-up call - but it was one that I sorely needed. For the next year, my hands served as a constant reminder that though eating "healthy foods” is good, it does not mean you necessarily have a healthy diet. For example, I ate carrots because I thought they were healthy - which is true: they are high in vitamin C, fiber, and low in calories. But, as my diagnoses would attest, there is a limit to that logic. Eating carrots regularly is great, but eating three pounds a day probably wasn’t. (probably)       

         Changing my diet, at its most basic, meant I had to go against years of advice: “Eat spinach, avoid sugars, etc.”.  But,  as I slowly added back meat, dairy, and the occasional King-size hershey bar, crepe, Dino-Nuggie, and scooby-doo gogurt, I realized moderation not only was healthier, it actually made me quite a bit happier too.  I tried new foods. My skin returned to a creamy-white.  And I got to hang-out with friends in a food-making context. (Try inviting over friends to make beet salad. I dare you.)      

         No, what was most difficult about changing my diet was that it made me question a number of my other “good” habits. Should I always avoid drinking because it’s “unhealthy”?  Should I never see friends before finishing work? And, do I need to sleep more than seven hours every night? And though, I still believe these are great habits, becoming orange taught me that none of them are going to be true all of the time.         

        We shouldn’t mistake a habit for a goal. Finishing your homework is good, but not if it means you're too tired to learn in class. Just as eating vegetables is great, but not if it means you neglect protein in the process. Figuring out the difference between your habits and goals is difficult - but its worthwhile to puzzle out. It might help you reevaluate an entrenched routine, or, as in my case, it might save you from turning a violent pastel shade. 

        So, today I urge moderation in the context of eating “health” food.  As a result, I think it is fitting to end with a favorite childhood joke about fruit. 

Knock Knock Whose there.  Banana

Knock Knock Whose there Banana.

Knock Knock Whose there.  Orange you glad this post ended with this knock knock joke.

*Drops Mic.