There was fresh evidence for the latest miracle cure in the quest for weight loss, slowing ageing, and securing a longer life — namely, fasting, or lurching from feast to famine, caveman-style. The test subjects were aged between 48 and 52 and just a little overweight. Long story short: they ate what they wanted for 12 hours at a time, then fasted for 36, shedding more than half a stone within a month. According to findings from the University of Graz, Austria, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, other advantages included reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, improved heart health, boosted brain function, world peace and the like.
Can I be the only person emitting a weary sigh? I realise that guides to the 5:2, 6:1, 16:8 and what have you are selling like hot cakes. Moreover, whatever the claims to evolutionary biology, I understand the logic that — because our society is engaged in a perpetual Bunterish binge — a penitential period feels called for. And I also know many individuals for whom fasting has become the way, the truth, the life. However, surely the answer to our disordered eating is not more disordered eating? I have come across enough men and women who have suffered from bulimia to feel profound unease advocating some variation on the theme.
Besides, can’t normality be achieved by eating (fairly) normally, as it was before we started stuffing ourselves with massive portions of calorie-clogged fake food? As some of the articles generated by the Graz study conceded, benefits were similar to those seen in dieters who do the traditional thing of reducing calories. It’s just that people find fasting simpler — and doubtless more modish and attention-grabbing, given that a dramatic quick fix is always going to be more appealing than the tedium of good sense; boom and bust more thrilling than bullishly buggering on.
Vaguely watching what I eat
I write this as someone on their first ever — not diet, because diets are a self-defeating, misogynistic trap — there must be some sophisticated French word for it? In prosaic Anglo-Saxon terms, I’m “vaguely watching what I eat”, after a period of illness, ghastly drugs and comfort greed. So I’m vaguely upping the vegetables, vaguely keeping a food diary, and vaguely cutting back by a daily couple of hundred calories so marginal I don’t even register them.
I have no patience whatsoever, but don’t hugely object to this way of doing things. It’s boring, but not hard, and one doesn’t have to engage with diet inanity. I haven’t even engaged in matters particularly religiously — there’s been a weekend of doughnuts and chips, meals out, and industrial quantities of butter, peanut butter and toast. But, then, I was eating like a complete loon before so it’s a relief to feel human again rather than like some great gaping maw.
Yo-yo dieting, whether across years or alternate days, is not a life; it’s a state of shame and terror, in which food is the fetishised enemy.
Novice — and, indeed — mere toe-dipper that I am, for the first time in my life I understand the rhythm of the regime. Viz the daily drama and sense of purpose, the small victories and crushing setbacks, lofty highs and leaden lows. Plus the fact that one increasingly yearns to bury one’s face in a planet-sized pizza, it being a pernicious lie that nothing tastes as good as thin feels. And, then — when you come to the end of this heightened period — you’re still you, with all your you-problems and your you-life. No great metaphysical change has taken place, it’s just you, a bit lighter, which isn’t that great, so why not have a burger and a tub of ice cream washed down with Coke? And off we go again.
My mother spent her entire adult life attending WeightWatchers. She once stumbled upon decades of record books, charting her progress down and up; each time less far down, then still further up. She only stopped dieting when she was struck by terminal cancer, which may or may not have been affected by her weight issues. She immediately lost half her body weight. Six months later, she was dead. Yo-yo dieting, whether across years or alternate days, is not a life; it’s a state of shame and terror, in which food is the fetishised enemy.
I refuse to exist like this, hence the slight cutting back, which I realise will have to be a life option rather than some transitory transformation. As Dr Doug Lisle argues in The Pleasure Trap, too much of our food is engineered to be obscenely, hedonically calorie-laden in a way that nature would find abhorrent — nature manifesting said abhorrence in the size of our rear ends. In this context it doesn’t get much more complicated than food activist Michael Pollan’s axiom: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
I was recently forced to spend an hour behind Regent Street doing nothing but gazing. Very few passers-by were “normal”, the vast majority “a bit big”, myself included. Or, at least, when I say “very few”, so very few that they stood out, looked weird, and one wondered what they could be doing. The most likely answer was nothing: they’re the ones eating normally, it’s the rest of us who are the boom and bust freaks.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2019
Hannah Betts is a feature writer.