Dieting: an idiot’s prerogative.

1 Aug

I apologise, because I know this isn’t a recipe or a review, but I need to get something off my chest. I want to talk a little bit about ‘diets’, because as a food lover I am getting increasingly concerned about some seriously unhealthy attitudes towards food.

If you type ‘diet’ into google, the definition you get back is : ‘the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats’. I’d like to point out the two words: habitually eatsI also looked up the origin of the word, and it comes from the Greek ‘diaita’, which means ‘manner of living‘. For anyone still not getting it, it’s referring to our everyday lifestyle, what we eat as habit, the way we consume food on a daily basis. It’s not referring to the latest fad diet craze (which, by the way, I abhor).

I don’t know when the word ‘diet’ became so focused on temporary changes in food intake, or when people became so confused about how to eat well, but we really need to get better at eating healthily for life. It’s like the whole ‘a puppy is for life, not just for Christmas’ campaign, that’s the approach we need to take to enjoying food. I get so frustrated when I see people stuffing their faces with fried foods, biscuits and cakes, but saying through mouthfuls that ‘it’s okay, I’m starting my diet tomorrow’, or eating nothing but half an apple for lunch and justifying it by saying, ‘I’m on a diet’. What an unhealthy attitude.

The problem is that while food has become so readily available in the developed world, and so packed with man-made ingredients, life has also become a lot less physical. We’re eating more and moving less. Food surrounds every aspect of life; we pop round to a friend’s for a cup of tea and a biscuit, we meet up for lunch with friends or we throw lavish dinner parties. It’s a social thing, and it’s often the easy option. If you’re anything like me, I’m a bit of a feeder, and if I have people round for dinner I’m really disappointed if any of my guests leave hungry. This means that we knowingly overcater, unknowingly overeat, and our waistbands slowly increase in size.

Now let me clear something up RIGHT now, before those struggling with weight and body image give me an earful for being ‘fattist’. Size does not define beauty; I know gorgeous people of all shapes and sizes, and their fabulousness is always unrelated to their dress size. Whether size zero or size thirty two, both women and men can be the funniest, nicest and most genuine people I have ever met without any relation to dress size whatsoever. What I’m talking about instead is health. It is a fact that one’s diet directly influences health. Let me give you some examples:

– Those who are underweight often have problems with fertility;
– Those who are overweight are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems, heart disease and joint problems;
– People with a healthy weight but a bad diet may have dietary deficiencies leading to problems such as anaemia, depression, fatigue, problems with bone density (e.g. osteoporosis), or may have too much saturated fat in the diet conferring a higher risk of stroke and heart attacks, or too much sugar causing an increased risk of diabetes.

Evidently, one’s weight cannot always be an accurate indicator of health. This brings me back to my initial point about ‘diet’. Just because one may have a healthy weight, it does not mean that they are healthy. We need to think more carefully about what we put into our mouths, and make it a priority to get more exercise. I can just imagine the hoards of people throwing their hands up in exasperation, ‘how do you expect me to work full-time, raise my children, keep my house clean, keep in touch with friends, be able to afford this and that, etc. etc. etc’. It’s not easy, I know. There are however, easy ways to start living a more healthy life, starting today.

1. Forget about diets. Focus on eating healthily for life. This means portion control, good foods, fruits and vegetables. Less junk, fewer fizzy drinks and a bit more consideration for what goes into our mouths. Let me just reiterate portion control; I see so many people who are grossly overweight (or indeed, underweight) yet argue that they are eating healthily and have no idea why they are not losing weight. The reality is, they may well be eating healthily, but they’re also eating healthily for three or four people instead of for one (or for a five year old instead of a grown adult). If you’re confused about portion sizes, check out a great website by BUPA here

2. Don’t cut food groups out. This is one of my bug bears as I think it’s really quite unhealthy. Additionally, drastically restricting food intake confuses the body into thinking that we’re starving, so the body holds on to any food that it consumed for dear life to protect us. All in all, it’s couterproductive. I live by the motto that moderation is key; if I tell you not to think about chocolate, what will you think about? Exactly. If you really want a piece of chocolate, have a piece of chocolate. Just don’t eat an entire family fun pack in one sitting. It’s not rocket science.

3. Move more. There are so many ways to do this – get off the bus one stop earlier, or take the stairs instead of the escalator. My tube station has one heck of a lot of steps which are split into six lots of around fifteen. I know that it would be easier to take the escalator, but I also know that my heart is pounding by the time I get up the stairs and my legs feel like they’ve actually had a bit of exercise. Splitting them into those six lots helps me to know that the end is in sight. For people who suggest that the escalator is just quicker, I can tell you that after a lot of experimentation marking myself against people on the escalator (yes, I’m that cool), it is in fact often quicker to take the stairs. If you can’t get to the gym (and I know they can be so expensive), home work out DVDs can be a lot of fun, especially when you do them with friends or family. Finally, what happened to going for walks? Kicking a football around? ‘Jorking’, as my mum refers to it, is a lovely little mix of jogging and walking. And why not?! I’m not expecting a couch potato to be able to run 5km this afternoon (although if you are interested in that check this NHS plan out), but I am saying that we need to get more active.

4. Plan meals. This is tough, I know. Especially when you’ve got a fussy household. PD and I are strapped for cash at the moment and we’re trying to be a lot more disciplined about planning meals, reducing waste, and making sure we’re eating healthily. It stops those last minute (and often expensive) shops where you end up reaching home and wondering what on earth you had been thinking with a basketful of hummus, ready made curry, a loaf of bread, some crisps, a bag of frozen peas and one lone pomegranate. Sit down together for an hour on a Friday or Saturday afternoon and decide on a week of meals which can either use similar fresh ingredients or be frozen for future meals. If you’ve got children, get them involved. I’m a huge advocate of getting kids involved in cooking at an early age – where else are they going to learn about what goes into their food and the importance of being healthy if not in their own home?

5. Stay hydrated. Unfortunately my juice lovers, this means with the old fashioned H2O. Often we feel hungry when we’re actually thirsty, so if you’re getting a bit nibbly and you know you’ve got dinner on the way, put down those crisps and nuts and have a glass of water. The common mistakes here are gulping down juice which contains a lot of sugar, or pouring a load of fizzy drinks. Although I’ll maintain that if you absolutely cannot survive on this planet without fizzy drinks, the diet drinks are probably a better choice as they’re low calorie. However (and a BIG however) I will point out that many have received a lot of bad press recently; the artificial sweeteners which are used in diet drinks can actually increase your appetite, and suggestions have been made that they have a detrimental effect on other aspects of health too.

6. Watch the alcohol. Oh, alcohol. There’s nothing I like more on a hot summer’s day than a long glass of Pimms, or a nice pint of beer while cheering on team GB from the comfort of my couch. The problem is that one becomes two, two becomes four and before you know it, ‘Darling, can you pop over to the offy again please?’. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of alcohol now and then, but again our perceptions of a unit are way off the mark. Not only is alcohol highly calorific, too many tipples have can cause damaging effects on both physical and mental health. Alcohol is an interesting one; I think we’ve grown so accustomed to alcohol being around that we no longer really view it as a drug. It’s ‘normal’ to have wine with a meal, it’s ‘normal’ to go to the pub after work for a couple of drinks; we desperately need to readdress the definition of ‘normal’ as it pertains to alcohol if we want to ensure we’re giving our bodies the best chance of health.

Perhaps this has been more of a cathartic exercise for me than will be beneficial to people who stumble across this article, but if someone else tells me that if I eat nothing but half a carrot every second day, a raisin every other day and a teaspoon of black pepper on the second Friday of every month (but only when the moon is full and there are exactly seven rose buds on the rose bush outside the third house on the left with the odd number of paving stones leading up to the front door), I will achieve ‘the ultimate body’ and be the ‘epitome of health’, I think I will scream and throw my computer through the living room bay windows. It’s a load of codswallop.

With the Olympics on for the next few days, It’s really not too difficult to find the inspiration to make some healthier choices. Who knows, you might even end up being the inspiration that other people need to make some healthier choices too! On that note…I’m off to my spinning class.

*Disclaimer: I have no formal training or qualifications in healthcare, just a ‘healthy’ interest in health! 

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4 Responses to “Dieting: an idiot’s prerogative.”

  1. Handmade or the Highway August 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    My God do I know what you mean, my other half (I can moan here where he wont see it 😉 ) has taken to eating so awkwardly in the name of dieting I refuse to cook dinner for him! It wouldn’t be so much of a problem except the diet has REPLACED exercise. You have inspired me here, I’m dragging him out tonight for a wander about the woods, he can’t moan about his ‘dodgy knee’ when he’s walking. Who actually started people thinking this way? Did I miss that particular item on the news/programme/memo?

    • DrinksAndNibbles August 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

      ha – how was the walk? swimming is good for dodgy knees too!

      I believe it all started with Twiggy, and then a sudden fitness craze for women a few years later. It got blown out of all proportion and I guess now that the images of size zero women portrayed through fashion are so unattainable for the vast majority, the idea of ‘healthy fitness’ has become so estranged from normality that people have a really warped idea of what healthy fitness actually is.

      Just realised I’m going off on one again. Oopsies. Apologies – it just makes me cross! Ahem.

      • Handmade or the Highway August 15, 2012 at 7:53 am #

        Don’t worry, its a completely rantable thing, I ranted! Alas we didn’t go, I settled for his word for tonight and watching the Hairy Dieters (its too weird, its like two Santa’s are trying to change Christmas). I can’t really complain though, he is cooking their leek lasagne later and wants to do all the housework, i think he see’s how much I do and convinced himself that’s why I’m not putting weight on. Swimming though! Genius! He has no excuses there, Thank you! =]

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  1. Cheese Soufflés « DrinksAndNibbles - August 1, 2012

    […] of weeks ago. After a lovely relaxing morning – a good 4km ‘jork’ (see earlier post) and a lazy breakfast – I told my mum we needed to talk. We sat down with a cup of tea over […]

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