Health

Thursday 31 July 2014

Why diets are ridiculous

International No Diet Day

Fruit loopy: food long thought to be healthy for us such as food can actually have the opposite affect, some scientists think
Tomorrow is International No Diet Day

I'm not sure what the etiquette is for International No Diet Day.

Do we buy each other a multipack of salt and vinegar Walkers?

All head down to the Count On Us section in M&S for a minute's silence?

I jest, of course, because while International No Diet Day may sound like one of the many international days that pop up on social media and in journalists' inboxes on a regular basis – amusing, faintly ridiculous, without much purpose – it's actually a million miles away.

The day, celebrated annually on May 6, promotes body acceptance and body-shape diversity. It declares a day free from worry over body shape and diets and it highlights the inefficiency of most diets and the potential dangers of some. Its ethos is something that I shout from the rooftops (or, more likely, the restaurant tables) because I love food and I detest the concept of diets. Healthy, balanced eating and sweaty games of tennis, yes. Diets, no.

I lost a stone as soon as I stopped counting calories, but obviously this wisdom – as with most of life's wisdom – only arrived around the time that I turned 30. Anyone else who's been the 15-year-old telling their mother that from now on they're only eating Quorn chicken-style slices, and lain beneath their Take That posters thinking they're going to be hungry for ever, knows that the no-diet message is often the most crucial for young people.

But there is a downside.

And that is that No Diet Day (founded by the British feminist Mary Evans Young in 1992 and now in its 23rd year) still has to exist at all, as do diets.

A belief still endures that a certain odd combination of food, or eating on some days but not others, is going to be the magic thing that makes those Topshop jeans your friends for life.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary – the Institute of Medicine points out that most people who lose weight on diets regain two-thirds of it in a year and almost all of it in five years – we still believe that it is this, rather than walking to work instead of driving and learning to cook a healthy, filling bowl of chilli, that will keep the weight off forever

You see, the Western world appears to suffer collective and repeated memory loss. I'm not talking about the people who are medically obese and do a one-off controlled programme to lose weight, but those who are eternally tweeting about their latest diet fad, even though in a few weeks the Atkins, or the 5:2, or the South Beach will inevitably send them – stomachs rumbling, hands shaking – to the nearest newsagent, where, if someone asked, they would hand over £50 for the last packet of milk-chocolate Hobnobs.

It's no one person's fault, of course. We've created this monster with a diet industry worth £2m in Britain alone and a belief that there must be a quick fix. We live in a world of plastic surgery and credit cards: there's always a quick fix. Except that in this instance, there isn't.

Everything about International No Diet Day is great, except for the fact that it's not the unofficial name of every day of the year. A day free from body worries and calorie-counting isn't enough.

Diets are ridiculous. They make you hungry, they make you obsessed with food and if the Institute of Medicine's stats are anything to go by, they don't make you thinner anyway, at least not for anything longer than a few weeks, making the whole thing so depressing I want to bang my head against a brick wall. Which, given our insatiable hunger for new diet regimes, will probably be plastered with posters advertising the latest weight-loss plan.

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