It’s a tough old life ……

Exactly this time last week, I was lying with my feet up at the Sanctuary, having a head, neck and shoulder massage courtesy of those darlings at Special K. Yes, I know, it’s nice work if you can get it ….. but in fact, and you may find this hard to believe, I did struggle with myself before accepting the invitation.

Like many women, I have a complicated relationship with food. In my teens I came as close to an eating disorder as you can get while still remaining terminally greedy and addicted to chocolate. In my twenties, I was simply a rubbish cook, hearing the ping of the microwave more often than the ding of the oven timer. In my thirties, with children, I went through the authentic motherhood experience of lovingly straining swedes in the mouli mill for babies who would spit the resultant mush at me, the floor and themselves. Now, in my forties, I have become quite a good cook and see my own teenage girls developing their own love/hate relationship with the food I provide. I try not to equate food with love, and to feel that I myself am being rejected when they turn their noses up at a creation which has taken me hours – but it’s hard.

Since my teens, I have been well aware of the dangers of obsessing about food. There was a time when I could tell you the calorie count of every item on my plate and also inform you of my current weight, correct to the last half-pound. My whole life ended up revolving around food – eating it, hating it, loving it and not eating it. I had to consciously turn away from that, as many women do, and for me the epiphany was Dieting Makes You Fat by Geoffrey Cannon. This book was first published in 1983, and at regular intervals since it has either been revamped or taken further, by other writers like William Leith, who has chronicled his own problems with food.

The basic premise of the book is that the very act of dieting, or suddenly restriciting your food intake severely, tells your body that it is under siege and must, therefore, store as much fat as possible. You may look slimmer while you are actively dieting, but when you relax, your body’s metabolism has changed, tragically, to make you more efficient as a fat storage unit. So you become even fatter than before, so you diet harder, so you get larger ….. and so on. This, according to the book,  is why the diet industry makes millions, and why so many people are fat.

Cannon’s message is that the only answer to weight control is to understand food and what your body needs – and it does NOT need to feel that it is under threat of starvation. A lot of people may well disagree with him, and may have found dieting works for them, and if so, bravo. For me, dieting is something I would never, ever consider again. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not thin, not by a very long chalk. But I am not really really vast either. I am somewhere in a fluctuating middle region, and most of the time I am not terribly unhappy with that. Every now and then (particularly after Christmas) I wake up and think, ‘yikes! It’s all gone horribly wrong,’ and I try to move around more or eat less chocolate.  And now I am attempting to reach an accommodation with middle age, which is doing its best to throw a girdle of flab around my middle and sling many extra chins around my neck. Not easy. So please don’t think I’m smug about this. I’m really not.

Nor am I criticising anyone who does want to diet the traditional way. There were people on the pampering day who had lost staggering amounts of weight and had clearly transformed their lives, and well done to them, it’s a terrific achievement and I feel only admiration for them. There are loads of bloggers currently dieting together, and I’m sure they’ll all do really well, too.

And who knows, I may soon need to eat my own words (ha!) and take more drastic measures than usual to get things under control. But what I certainly will not be doing is following any short-term fad diet. So when Special K so sweetly asked me to come along to the Sanctuary, I did worry. For quite some years, one of Special K’s ‘things’ has been a two-week, drop-a size diet, which for me is a straight crash diet, which could lead, in my view, to a jolted metabolism. Of course they are absolutely by no means the only people who have advocated a short, sharp shock approach to weight loss – there are a billion diet plans out there which will say you can drop a dress size in a fortnight. And no doubt you can drop a size. Whether it will stay dropped or not is the question, and I didn’t want to seem to be promoting two-week diets on my blog, as I really do not believe they are a long term solution to maintaining a healthy weight.

Luckily for my massage, which was hanging in the balance there for a while, Special K’s new website, MySpecialK, features a very sensible Maintenance Plan, with lots of healthy recipes and suggestions, which would keep anyone on the straight and narrow for life. All the plans take into account your personal circumstances, for example the size and age of your family and how much time and inclination you have to cook. The menus are either very simple or more complex, but all use nice fresh ingredients and look really delicious. There’s also a body mass index calculator which can help you determine where you are in terms of health. And it’s all free.

That can’t be bad, can it? And the massage was absolutely lovely.

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