SubScribe: New Year diet advice: eat less and drink more (water - not booze!) Google+

Monday 13 January 2014

New Year diet advice: eat less and drink more (water - not booze!)

Daniel Lambert weighed over 50st when he died in 1809.  Cheryll Hicks wrote in the
 Telegraph  that the UK now has 100,000  'Lamberts'. Photograph:

How's the diet going?

Which one have you chosen? The DoDo? The Two-Day? The Every Other Day? The No-Sugar?

If you've obeyed all the rules and followed all the recipes over the past week, you should be 'up to' 7lb slimmer by now.

Note that 'up to'. Chances are you've lost a couple of pounds. But you'll probably feel a better even with that little success - because we've just emerged from the binge eating and drinking season, and any easing up is going to help us to feel less bloated.

Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany on January 6 to mark the coming of the Magi to see the infant Jesus in his cowshed.

Newspapers celebrate the fast of Epiphany to mark the coming of the New You Diet season.

This should not be confused with the Spring Clean diet season, the Bikini Diet season in the summer or the autumn Party Dress Diet season. The January detox is the daddy of them all.

Odd then, that as a nation we are getting fatter, not slimmer, so that we now have the worst obesity rates in Europe.

Today the National Obesity Forum has published a report calling on the Government to take concerted action to tackle our weight problem, along the lines of the anti-smoking campaigns of the past.
(I have a slight problem with this, since tobacco=lung cancer was a simple message that took 50 years to get across. There isn't one single item, such as chocolate, you can give up to avoid obesity. There are plenty of other monsters waiting in the larder.)

The story made the splash in the Mail and the Times, both of which have been plugging diet and fitness regimes over the past week. Joined-up journalism - or old-fashioned marketing?

In his foreword to today's report, the forum's chairman Professor David Haslam points to a 2007 Foresight review which predicted that half the population would be obese by 2050, compared with about a quarter now. He concludes:
"The doomsday scenario set out in that report might underestimate the true scale of the problem..."
(Or, to give you the Express translation, it  "vastly underestimated the true scale of the catastrophe facing the nation".)

Well done, Professor David. The Press will always sit up if you use the doomsday phrase.

The Forum produced its report The State of the Nation's Waistline to coincide with the start of National Obesity Awareness Week, which it describes as
"an opportunity to engage with the public and raise awareness of obesity and weight management – but more importantly to discuss and highlight how these issues can be addressed at national, business, societal and individual levels".
It is clear that there is a problem - the Government reckons that obesity costs the health service £5bn a year - and now is obviously a good time to focus on it, as healthy resolutions briefly replace over-indulgence. So plenty of experts are offering their two-penn'oth.

This has led to jumbled reporting. The Mail, for example, says that the forum blames 'junk food firms for confusing the public', when in fact this criticism came from Dr Aseem Malhotra in a column in the Observer about the dangers of sugar.

It also means that the core recommendations of the forum report are at best truncated and at worst neglected to make room for the talking heads. This is a pity because the report is well-considered and newsworthy. Not because it says we are getting fatter faster than we thought, but for its suggested solutions.

The calls for a hard-hitting campaign and for GPs to be taught how to confront patients about their weight are understandably given the most prominence in the two splashes. But neither picks up on what may be the root of the whole problem: the nation is dehydrated.  

We are not drinking enough - and what we are drinking is the wrong stuff.

Half of children and a third of adults do not drink the recommended 1.5 to 2.5 litres of fluid a day, and water accounts for less than half of that intake.

The forum doesn't put it as baldly as this, but we need to turn our backs on the fancy coffees, the booze, the cans of fizzy drinks, the fruit juice - and turn on the tap.  It might also have added that if we drank a bit more water, not only would our digestive systems and our brains work better, but we'd feel more full and might not eat so much.

This element of the report could usefully have been combined with Professor Susan Jebb's call for fruit juice to be excluded from our 'five a day' calculations because of its high sugar content - a suggestion put forward in an interview with Calgary Avansino of the Sunday Times.

The Mail made Jebb  - "the Government's obesity tsar" - an inside page lead under the splash turn (without attributing the Sunday Times); the Telegraph put her on page 8 (with attribution). Jebb oversees the 'Responsibility Deal' that is supposed to encourage businesses to reduce salt and sugar in their products and to make it easier for people to choose their foods and drinks wisely. She was also one of the authors of that 'doomsday' Foresight report in 2007, though neither daily mentioned that.

Jebb's comments on fruit juice coincided with the launch last week of the Action on Sugar campaign by Dr Malhotra and others. They denounced sugar as the 'new alcohol' and called for a 30% cut in our consumption.

So the experts have identified the new villain and they have the recruited the Sundays to their side. While Avansino was writing about the Sugar Trap in the Sunday Times, sweet-toothed Viv Groskop was 'divorcing' sugar in the Independent on Sunday.  Both pieces were choc-a-bloc with statistics and learned opinion. Last week the Mail on Sunday was promoting Sarah Wilson's book I Quit Sugar and today the Mail is promising Sugar Detox 'a major series you can't afford to miss' from Saturday.

So this year's newspaper diets are all about cutting out the sweet stuff, then? Nope.

Long-term change and self-denial don't sell papers. Instant gratification does.

So it's the DoDo for the Express, the Two-Day Diet in the Mail, Slim Without the Gym for the Telegraph and Fast everything with the Times: 10-minute meditations, 8-minute exercise plans and 4-minute lose-your-paunch workouts. The paper has also advocated the Every Other Day Diet and is today telling men how to lose their paunch (again) with the Seven Day Diet.

I can tell you for sure that the body illustrating this feature was not in a possession of a paunch last week, if ever (see below).

And none of these will do any good: 95% of dieters regain all their weight (and often more) within five years. If they didn't, we wouldn't have a £5bn obesity strain on the economy and a £2bn diet industry.

Diet books occupy eight of the top twenty titles in the Amazon best-sellers list, six in the top ten and two in the top two. A search on its site for 'diet books'  produces 62,239 results.

Two million people go to Weight Watchers in this country every year.

Nearly half a million people buy Slimming World magazine.

We've had the F-Plan, the GI, the GL and the IF.
We've slimmed along with India Knight, the Hairy Bikers and even Alan Sugar.
We've followed Hay, Atkins and Dukan.
We've put our faith in Rosemary Conley and Paul McKenna.
We've been to South Beach and Hollywood.
We've tried food combining, low-carb and low-fat.
We've slurped Cambridge soup and cabbage soup.
We've turned to the Juice Diet and the Red Wine Diet.
We've bought every pack of promises on the supermaket shelves.

And still we come back for more.

Gameoldgirl knows of which she writes. She is living proof that diets make you fat - weighing in a good three stone over the point at which she first started a lifetime of calorie counting, aged 15. The Beryl Cook avatar is a sylph compared with the real woman.

But never say die. Ever say diet. Today is day one of the latest 'new regime'. It involves cutting down on the booze and spending less time at this laptop. I won't keep you posted - you don't want to know - other than to say it's time for one last glass of fizz.



  1. Good post.

    Most diets don’t work in the long term because they’re usually temporary. The best thing to do is make lifestyle changes of habit which are sustainable in the long-term.

  2. You have the whole shebang summed up beautifully, Liz. l know you are right in the approach you are personally adopting and l am trying to do likewise (although l am not too sure about NO booze, might have to waver a teensy bit at the weekends). Exercise is a challenge but l think l may have a plan for that. However, when is some genius going to produce a Willpower pill? " Moderation in all things" is all very well but l have found the people who recommend that route are natural ectomorphs anyway Maureen Graves.