News Analysis

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Lorraine Courtney: Instead of fad-diet torture, let's try something different this year – realism

Published 10/01/2013 | 17:00

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A UK government minister is battling magazine editors by asking them to drop fad diets and fitness myths from their January issues. She reckons that editors owe their readers more, saying: "Much better would be for the magazines to use the power they have to promote body confidence and perhaps a new year's resolution that will get rid of the self-critical body talk and celebrate the diversity that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, skin colours and ages."

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After a Christmas of three mince pies for breakfast, afternoon films and mindless grazing on Quality Street, there is a lot of pressure to go on a diet each January. It's like we want to imagine that we can erase all our bad habits with the old year. If you can't make a fresh start in January, then when can you? But the timing is most definitely all off.

Why begin a new year on a downer and with a creeping sense of failure? Who can, in all seriousness, attempt to lose weight in January, when there is still more than a kilo of Stilton sitting in the fridge? What are you supposed to do, just throw it out?

Then there's the fact that we're supposed to start all these resolutions simultaneously with nothing more than the endlessness of January, the cold, the drizzle and a whole heap of willpower that should suddenly show up at midnight on New Year's Eve.

Women crave any media that obsesses over the supposedly ideal female body shape and the media is only tapping into a cycle that dates back to the soap, lard and carcinogenic agents that the Victorians swallowed in their quest for thinness. Back in the 16th Century, women were lacing themselves into metal and bone contraptions to diminish their waists and create a more erotic kind of figure.

But the 20th Century went even further as Edwardian hourglass shapes had to be modified and squeezed in to create the straight up and down body that showcased the flapper dress at its best. We've had the 1960s' mini and heroin chic, bodyshapers and Karl Lagerfeld saying how the fashion world was about "dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women".

One hundred years ago, we didn't have all these diets, yet we are much bigger now. The slimming industry doesn't make money by helping people, it makes a profit by keeping us on an eternal diet. It's a brilliant business model because a diet is forever. Around 90pc of all dieters gain back any weight they lose within one year. In Ireland right now, 39pc of adults are overweight and 18pc are obese.

You see, just as soon as a country is rich enough to buy more food than it needs, people lose connection with their appetites. We don't eat because we are hungry, we eat because we can. So we have a radically different food environment and a rampant diet industry that ultimately leads to the tortured inner dialogue most women have about food.

Is there anything much we can do about it?

Well, we can shout a bit louder and clearer about the plastic surgery clinics that normalise needless and sometimes risky operations to suck out fat; against the publicity machines of celebrity-endorsed diets of maple syrup and baby food; against an ideal of beauty that is barely adolescent, botoxed, malnourished and digitally enhanced; and against any other fad diet on the block that offers a fast fix.

Instead of desperately devouring the latest diet fad, instead of the hype and the hoopla, we can be realistic and ignore the resolution bores.

The diet wars haven't been won and the dream of being thin isn't going to disappear any time soon. There will always be extremes and extremists.

But somewhere in the middle ground there is clearly an alternative way of thinking, one that supports slow and steady changes seasoned with a dollop of moderation and a whole lot of common sense.

It will still make you look very fabulous in an itsy bitsy bikini. Because that, after all, is what we all want.

Irish Independent

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