Hilary Fannin: No more fasting and failing, failing and fasting

I can’t stand the Christmas-fatty-New-Year-skinny tripe that we swallow down like a laxative every year

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock


Mid-January: bleak, bloated, broke. Here we are again: groundhog day. The Christmas decorations have finally been airlifted from the stairs, the spent wrapping paper has disappeared from the green bin, the Santa jumpers are festering at the bottom of the wash box and, gag me with a sticky teaspoon, the lifestyle magazines are ablaze with diet and fitness advice.

I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the same tripe year after year: the Christmas-fatty- New-Year-skinny tripe that we swallow down like a laxative.

It’s endemic. The supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of celebrity diets, and half the bloody country is supposedly on a kale-and-chewing-gum regime (nope, I’m not making it up), while the other half is bidding to shed the seasonal pounds by stirring lumps of butter into their espressos.

Bulletproof coffees (oh, come on, you have heard of them) became a bit of trend last year, certainly among the gloriously youthful gods of celebrity, and specifically, if memory serves, with Harry Styles, who became the poster boy for the brew, sipping it behind his luxuriant locks in riverside cafes while he was thinking about terribly important things (ducks, maybe).

Essentially, you’re supposed to stir butter (preferably butter from grass-fed cows called Clara-Belle and Daisy, owned by a farmer who warms his hands before he milks them) into a cup of organic coffee (possibly made from Himalayan beans, hand-picked by three vestal virgins and a theologian in a grass skirt). Oh God, don’t ask me. The oily soup is supposed to fill you up for the day while simultaneously burning your backside off.

Paint-stripper perfume

And yes, a new year is a time to reassess, to re-evaluate, to chuck out the thrice-reheated red cabbage, to abandon the paint-stripper perfume Auntie Betty won at bingo, to visit the bottle bank, vowing with each smash and clash of the empty Chardonnay bottles to try going on the dry until Easter. And for many of us, myself included, there will be the temptation, the obligation, to try and lose some weight.

Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. You will live to regret it. Five years after dieting, 40 per cent of us will have regained that weight, and put on more besides.

I’ve been converted. I watched a Ted Talk given by the neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, and I swear on a butt-burning buttered coffee I’m never ever dieting again. No more bean sprout-and-miso misery, no more fasting and failing, and failing and fasting.

According to Aamodt, rapid weight loss simply induces your body to push you back to your “set point”, the place where your body thinks it should be to function normally. And sure, if you eat a lot of crap and don’t do any exercise your set point has probably gone on holiday to the Bahamas and left you to fend for yourself, and set point or no set point, chances are you won’t risk a pair of disco shorts.

But Aamodt’s philosophy is that regular, healthy “intuitive” eating – in other words, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, and not eating just because you’re bored or angry, or because someone on the television is having a box of deep-fried battery chicken, so why shouldn’t you? – will ultimately allow us to find our natural healthy weight.

Aamodt calls it eating mindfully, meaning something not dissimilar to what your mother used to call having your breakfast and dinner and tea, three adequate meals a day, followed by a brisk walk to the post box to send off the Green Shield stamp collection and once around the block on the way home. Don’t diet. Eat mindfully, cut out crap, go for a walk.

Peach cocktail dress

The conscious mind is easily distracted, she says, so willpower is a limited resource. You won’t be able to stick to a lifetime of kiwi smoothies, believe me; in no time, you’ll find yourself slumped in a kale-and-egg-white alleyway. Stop, reverse, sit down at the kitchen table and eat your dinner.

Aamodt talks about the balance we have to strike between our ancestral past, when starvation meant death (as opposed to self-denial so that we can fit in to a peach-coloured cocktail dress for Auntie Lily’s joyful second nuptials to her mate, Eithne), and our abundant present of drive-throughs and all-you-can-eat buffets.

I like it; I like the notion of being circumspect about our abundant present, even if it does mean a sad goodbye to midnight pizza.

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