Yep, 35 years is a long time to finally reach the point where I can hold my hands up and categorically state that diets don’t work- and by diets I mean excessive, food group eliminating, calorie restricting, punishing diets- so you know, pretty much ALL DIETS- which encourage obsessive habits, draining the life out of eating actual FOOD WHICH IS MEANT TO BE NOURISHING AND FUN in the first place.
The word ‘diet’ has been SO irrevocably skewed, it no longer even alludes to what you habitually eat and is now (devastatingly) synonymous with restriction and frankly feelings of confusion over what the heck we should and should not be eating.
For a food-appreciator like myself, it makes me terribly sad we’re officially at this point. The clean-eating, obsessive, trend-following dieters amongst us (yep I include myself here) have jumped onto the ‘I want to live forever, what do I eat?’ bandwagon and have literally driven ourselves to despair.
But I’ve changed, people. Oh yes I have.
The last few weeks have seen me start my journey to relearn how to simply eat and enjoy food and it’s been an eye opening education-to take control and override that negative habits of seeing certain foods as the enemy. Yes, I will eat a wholemeal cheese sandwich for lunch because there’s nothing wrong with any of those food groups.
FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY, friends, so can we please stop vilifying it.
Let me take you back through my chequered past with food for a moment to give you some context.
As an adolescent who seemed to grow breasts and a mono eyebrow simultaneously (lucky me) overnight one dark day back in 1990 going from a naturally slim child to erm, a not so-slim Jim, life felt rather rubbish and food was a way to regain control. Thanks to a growth spurt and eyebrow wax, I regained some sort of ‘normality’ at 13 but yo-yoed my way through life up until my mid twenties not feeling my best.
With the early, then unknown, onset of PCOS, I literally had no clue which foods were foes for my body and felt utterly confused by the conflicting information provided by experts and the media alike on what I should actually be consuming.
A destructive relationship with food ensued.
I used it as a means of control and distinctly remember aged 19 experiencing a real low over Easter which saw me starving myself in preparation of chocolate overload only to binge for days while hating myself for it.This behaviour wasn’t isolated either.
Meeting my husband Peter in my early 20’s was the turning point I needed. His unconditional love wasn’t based on my body size (which he loved at its biggest post-kids and also at its smallest post-quincy (ouch) where liquid food for months for the order of the day)…
And that’s the meaning of love-when you truly, wholeheartedly LOVE someone-it’s got nothing to do with the fickle ever changing dress size or number on the scales.
Love stops you (at least at first) internalising and worrying so much about the banality of life-of weight and all the baggage-love liberates you.
Of course there have been many periods of time since the golden days, where I’ve abhorred my body, finding myself the owner of bulbous thighs and a flabby tummy which stubbornly refused to shrink for years post-sections-but slowly, over time, my body or some of it at least, returned to a healthy weight and shape.
I just feel so much of those diet trials and errors wasted my time when if I’d approached weightloss in a healthy way, I would have saved myself time and tears.
Looking back, I’ve tried a huge catalogue of diets from living on cabbage soup for weeks (yuck) to low carb and low calorie and beyond and while results often came in quick (hello deceptive water weight loss)- long term, those regimes, for me at least, did not work.
Why? Because diets ultimately negate the pleasure of food, of eating.
They de-naturalise that which should be most natural.
I’m with Nigella Lawson who says, ‘I despair of the term ‘clean eating’…it necessarily implies that any other form of eating – and consequently the eater of it – is dirty or impure and thus bad’.
Food should be enjoyable full stop. It should not, in my opinion, be something we break down with an app or obsess over on a night out (how many points was that gin and tonic again?… All diets do, is elevate food/ treats as some sort of mystical reward reserved for those who deserve it-those who have dutifully ticked off a number chart, burned x amount of calories or fufilled their kale and egg quota for the day.
Well I JUST can’t any more.
Yes I know eating white carbs and sugar is bad for me so I won’t-every single day, I’ll reserve the odd croissant for weekend breakfasts and as with the French, won’t feel freaking feel bad about it either-but what I shall not do, is omit whole food groups and I’ll no doubt be happier for it.
As Laura Clark of LEC Nutrition and Honest Mum columnist says, ‘Any diet plan involving strict rules will work if you follow it but what damage does it do in the long term is the question? Effective diet plans are those that don’t demonize certain foods, can be adjusted to fit into a daily routine and allow for sustainable balanced eating for life’.
I have, and will continue to eat varied, seasonal, healthy, filling and ENJOYABLE foods in a well balanced, socially-enriching way.
Because food is about communication, it’s about art on a plate, it’s about CONNECTING and being PRESENT and breaking bread with your family. It’s about feeling and BEING nourished, mind and body alike.
This article by the endlessly wise and witty Ruby Tandoh on ‘The Unhealthy Truth Behind ‘Wellness’ and ‘Clean Eating‘ summises that when we enjoy our food, we retract the most nutritional benefit from it and must unequivocally eat well and without shame.
‘Diets don’t work because they tend to be based on calorie restriction as opposed to understanding what our bodies need.
Before you lose weight permanently, you need to understand why you overeat and deal with these issues accordingly.
Also, you should see dieting as what you eat as opposed to what you don’t. Finally you need to be wary of calorie counting and low fat foods. Learn to listen to your body, eat until you are just content, allow yourself to feel hungry and drink lots and lots of water as 80% of hunger is thirst’.
Pass the water please-
…Oh and those extra pounds I need to lose, they’ll come off slowly as nature intended when I least expect it because I’m enjoying life, food and moving more.
No more miracle, fast-working diets shall be actioned here.
It’s time to go back to basics, to FULLY appreciate food once more.
It’s taken 35 years to get here but finally I have- and it feels good.
Will you be joining me?
Photo by Kirsty Mattsson Photography.