It’s a bold step to come out and denounce the diet industry like I do – partly because they are huge and very popular, with lots of money and a hell of a lot of influence. But I genuinely believe that they are damaging us mentally and physically – almost as much as junk food, which has been shown recently to be contributing to early deaths in human beings more than smoking.
In all of my books, I talk about my hatred of diets. So for the benefit of anybody who hasn’t read them yet, I wanted to write a short post to explain why it is never a good idea to tell me you are on a diet!
Why do I disagree with diets?
When I was at secondary school, I was carrying a lot of ‘puppy fat’ (and some extra fat, too). I was small and round and podgy with greasy mousy brown hair, a blazer that was too big for me and a skirt hoisted up to my chest. It’s hardly surprising that I was bullied relentlessly – because even though it wasn’t deserved, I was undoubtedly an easy target. So I started to think of ways to be liked. I tried everything. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (forgivably) that I was mainly disliked because I was fat – after all, this was one of the bullies’ favourite jibes. So I started to consume dieting advice like a sponge – absorbing information rapidly and soaking up every last little nugget of crappy information until I thought I had it right. Of course, I didn’t.
I went on a popular diet which involves counting points. I calculated my ‘daily allowance’ and vowed to undercut it consistently so that I would lose weight more quickly. I combined this with all the ‘useful’ information I’d gathered from celeb magazines, and my OCD 12 year old self soon became obsessed with counting points and calories – and more to the point, reducing them. It became addictive – feeling hungry, seeing the numbers reduced. I’d never liked maths, and I’d never been good at it – but suddenly adding and subtracting wasn’t a problem for me if it involved points and food. It wasn’t long before I developed anorexia – which nearly killed me. So you see, I have a very good reason for loathing diets – and a unique perspective when I talk to others about diets and their concerning motives.
A ruined relationship with food
As human beings, we’re not programmed to calculate our food intake to the nth degree. In actual fact, our bodies are designed to live in the wild, to hunt, gather and eat as and when we were able to. They are complex and intricate machines hosting a great number of processes every millisecond. And when you go on a diet, you fuck that up.
Diet companies encourage us to have a poor relationship with food by nature. It is the enemy to be controlled, monitored and reduced – with an end goal of being ‘slim’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘happy’. Of course we all know that this rarely follows – but we are so compelled by clever marketing (brainwashed, almost) to believe that by dieting, we are doing the right thing.
Healthy eating should be for life
Diets are not sustainable. Your body is not designed to live on sugary skimmed milk shake food replacements. Your body is not designed to be starved for hours on end. Your body is not designed to live on paltry offerings of dry toast and crackers to then be doused in alcohol at the weekend. Dieting for a short period of time damages your body in the long-term – especially if you go to the extreme. Adopting a healthy lifestyle for life however is different. And by healthy, I don’t mean eating diet food and living off low-calorie meals! I mean eating proper, wholesome food regularly when your body requires it. Plenty of fruit and veg, plenty of water, carbs, fat, the works.
It’s often too late that we realise we have forsaken what’s on the inside for how we look on the outside. I will always live with the consequences of anorexia – and whilst I don’t lay the blame solely at the door of diet companies and magazines, they played a huge part. I don’t want to see anybody else develop an eating disorder as a consequence of this misinformation – because I know I am lucky to have survived.
So please if you are unhappy with your weight, on a constant diet, have children or family members who care about you and depend on you – please take this post seriously and don’t diet. If you need any more convincing or would like to learn more about my story and how I eat now, you can read more about diets in my books, Tough Cookie, Tough Love, Nutrition in a Nutshell and Recipes for Recovery.