You would think by now we should know exactly what to eat. For decades, we have been bombarded by advice about how to lose weight, lose fat and stay healthy. In the past, this advice was more about appearance than health, and predominantly aimed at women. We still obsess over the size and shape of women’s bodies, in real life as well as in the media. Now men have joined the ranks, albeit not to the same extent.
The fight back from bigger women by creating the ‘real women have curves’ movement has angered many. Remember one internet meme, that was presumably meant to be empowering to the larger amongst us, which compared diet ‘guru’ (I use that term lightly) Dr Gillian McKeith and Nigella Lawson? The clear message was that the one who eats cake rather than kale is infinitely more sexually attractive to men. But why judge one over the other at all? They are entirely different women, of different ages, with different body types. Neither needs to be judged on their shaggability. And lest we forget, they are both human beings who have feelings. As much as she has possibly courted the food as sex thing in the past, I’m sure Nigella doesn’t to be told by thousands of Facebook users that they would rather fuck her than McKeith to feel empowered.
We often make the assumption that all tiny, size zero women eat roughly one salad leaf a day and live their lives in a misery of ‘on the side’ food faddism, starving themselves for an insane ideal and designer clothes that would more easily fit a skinny, ten year old boy. I’m sure that is the case for some, and we’ve all heard the stories of damaging comments made to already slim models and actresses. That said, the issue of fat shaming and abuse of women (and men) who are bigger is undeniably more of a problem, as anyone who has ever been overweight will know.
Anyway, I’ve become side-tracked here; as someone who has battled the chub most of her grown-up life, I can easily get carried away with ranting about the body fascists, which is another post for another time. What I really wanted to discuss was the food fascists. Let’s put the weight issue to one side by making an assumption: that most of us would agree being healthy, fit and neither alarmingly skinny nor dangerously fat is the way forward. What we seem to obsess over now is how we do that and judge others by their food choices.
The most simplistic, and frankly patronising, message is ‘eat less, move more, it’s easy’, usually quoted by people who have never been fat in their life and have no understanding of why people become overweight. It may be true to a point, but it’s irritating as hell, so we can instantly discount this smugness.
The rest of us need something more, and usually rely on the failsafes: Weightwatchers, Slimming World or other variations. And they do work to help shift the pounds, there’s no doubt. The problem is keeping it off. There will be many who lose weight successfully using these methods by cooking healthy food: loads of green veg, lean protein, complex carbs, lower sugar and healthier fats. They have the best chance of maintenance of their weight loss. Many others will lose weight eating shitey diet food: low fat, high sugar crap which provides no sustenance and keeps the hunger at bay for mere minutes at a time. They will lose weight if they stick to the rules but will put it back on because they haven’t learned to cook proper food.
People passionately defend these diet companies because they have lost some weight some time ago and it worked, but if they cured everyone they would be out of business. You might view their low cal, chocolate ‘flavoured’ bars as a godsend for your sweet tooth, or you may view them as a money spinner, which delivers none of the cocoa hit you get from real chocolate, solely giving you a sugar rush. And you might eat three packets of their low fat crisps in a row without a hint of the pleasure and satisfaction you get from one bag of cheesy McCoy’s, and be left with a vague sense of hunger and emptiness.
Most of us recognise that eating this type of food will help us lose weight but lead to the yoyo dieting effect that keeps us all in membership of fat clubs. However, if it works for you and you are happy to eat processed food then who am I to judge? Because you know the other thing that leads to yoyo dieting? Being a human being.
Those of us who love food and drink will always be susceptible to this. After I lost two stone on the WW, then plateaued above my goal weight, I discovered low carb eating, as advocated by Dr John Briffa, a GP and nutritionist. It broadly follows the Paleo diet with a bit of extra dairy. There is a lot of science behind it, showing how it improves heart health as well as ‘bad’ fat around the organs, and the shortcut for what you can eat is this:
I followed this fairly strictly for a while (although I’m not sure my cheese consumption could have been considered as moderate) and the weight started to come off. Including that pesky under belly button flab and the double chin. I still eat this way much of the time, but I have my treats. Mostly I find it easy, enjoyable and healthy; I thought it would be impossible to give up pasta, but it wasn’t. The one thing that was really hard was bread. Bread is bloody amazing; not white sliced rubbish, but fresh bread like sourdough, multigrain and ciabatta. It is one of the pleasures of life and I find it hard to give up, even if too much makes me bloat like the Goodyear blimp. Bread is not the enemy.
There are crazy things about this though – no pulses or beans? They might make me farty, but I don’t think lentils or chickpeas are unhealthy. The other problem with this is meat and fish. I love it, and do try to eat good meat less, but the reality is that if you are vegetarian or vegan, you would be screwed by this type of diet. No doubt there are veggie Paleo website around that show delicious food, but unless you spend all your spare time cooking, you will probably struggle to find the time to shop and cook them all, and end up bored eating the same stuff all the time. And you can shoot me down, but meat and fish taste good and are quick and easy to prepare from scratch.
If you follow various health sites on the net, or lift weights, or go the gym, you’ll know the latest foodie obsession is clean eating: abolish all sugar, eat locally grown, seasonal produce; grass fed meat, organic this, artisan that. if I had a fiver for every hipster opening an overpriced food shop in this town, I’d be rich enough to afford their products. Don’t get me wrong, these shops are amazing, but they are SO bloody expensive. And who gives a toss if your salt comes out of a cheap shaker or is hand dived by mermaids off the coast of Italy? It all tastes the same. And people are flagellating themselves over the fact that they like a bit of chocolate, equating sugar addiction with a heroin habit. Yes, it’s a major problem if you can’t stop stuffing mars bars in your gob, but it’s hardly the same. And remember:
The thing is, once you find a way of eating that works for you, or helps you lose weight, it’s hard not to get all messianic about it. Food has become a national obsession. Remember when in the opening rounds of Masterchef they were all a bit crap and had loads to learn? Now it’s all pistachio crackles and crab foams in episode one. If that’s your thing then good for you. But most of us who are working hard, and maybe have kids as well, just don’t have the time. Or maybe we are just too lazy, or too skint to eat that way. We need cheats.
At one time, the Mediterranean diet was held up as the ideal way to eat. It probably still is by some and why not? Lots of veg and protein; some pasta, bread, cheese, wine, sugary treats allowed. The trick is surely to eat a bit of everything that’s good, not overdo the unhealthy stuff and enjoy life. Unless your demise is directly related to excessive amounts of cake, you are unlikely to regret that delicious slice of chocolate cheesecake you once had, on your death bed.
We can’t all ‘eat clean’ all the time. And we can’t spend our lives preaching about whatever other people eat and do with their bodies. It’s their choice, as is yours.
Until next time,