Monday April 29th 2013

Is there a right diet for you…?

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First published here, for Bea Magazine, in March 2013.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not talking about weight loss diets. There are a great many things in this world that make me extremely irritable and angry, but one of the most ire-inducing is the diet industry. I hate the lies it peddles, the unhealthy food it pushes, the pressure it puts on people to conform.

I despair of all the low fat diet foods you see lined up in the supermarket; with some products, the corporations seem to just pre-suppose that everyone in the world wants the fat free version of it. It strikes me that it’s pretty hard to get full fat, lovely, creamy cottage cheese these days. Because retailers seem to assume that you will want the low fat version (bits of polystyrene, I suspect, floating in some sort of yoghurty PVA glue blend).

I also hate the media for making people, especially women, feel as though they ought always to be on a diet. Making them feel as though any time they eat anything that tastes nice, they have to feel guilty about it. Making them feel that they have to behave apologetically if they decide to have cake. Making them feel they have failed at life just because they are not a size six, or a size zero, or whatever else it is that we are all supposed to be these days.

So, now that I’ve got that straight, I’ll get on with what I planned to say, which is all about finding a way of eating which is right for you. A diet that’s right for you; an ongoing diet that’s right for you, not one which makes you lose weight.

This is what sparked the writing of this post: a friend posted a link to a Guardian piece in which a scientist was saying that it’s sugar causing the obesity epidemic, not too much dietary fat. My response to this was… well, of course. Is this actually news? Surely people are starting to get that low-fat isn’t actually the way to go forward? After decades of cutting down to skimmed milk and lower-fat everything, we, in the west, are still getting fatter. Isn’t it obvious that sugar has a lot to answer for?

Reading that article made me think a lot about myself, and the diet I eat, the diet that I have ended up on. In order to stay healthy, I have had to cut down my consumption of sugar. Believe me, it’s the only way I can feel healthy. And this isn’t an emotional response, a response to just feeling as though it’s bad for me. Sugar has an actual, detrimental effect on my physical health, and I am better off consuming only very low amounts of it. If I’m to trust what that scientist said about sugar, I’m not the only person whose health is affected by it. But I also think that there probably are plenty of people in the world who can tolerate it a great deal better than I can, and would, in fact, not do so well without it…

This is all coming out a bit muddled, I think. But what I’m heading towards is this: in my opinion, different diets suit different people. And I think one can probably improve one’s health, and one’s life, if one can only work out what one is best suited to eating.

So, to attempt to prove my point, I’m going to offer the admittedly anecdotal evidence of my own experience.

I can’t eat more than a little sugar and carbohydrate over a sustained period. If I do, I get unwell, in myriad ways. I’m not talking about eating cake every day, but if I were to eat a daily menu of something like… cereal and toast for breakfast, a small sandwich for lunch, and a small bowl of risotto or a baked potato for dinner… I would gradually become unwell. After one day I would just feel a bit under the weather; after five days I would be feeling permanently slightly sick, and dizzy. After ten days to two weeks on a diet like this, or even one quite a lot less carby than this, I’d not only feel sick, dizzy, with a banging headache, I’d also be hyper stressed and extremely irritable, bordering on depressed. This is what happens to me. It does. It’s not psychological.

I should probably see a dietician about me and see what they say, but I’m worried that there are probably still dieticians out there that still adhere to the fat-is-bad mantra who would tell me I need my grains. Plus, there may be some kind of medical reason for this problem, yet it seems to be entirely cured by eating the right stuff. So for now I’m happy to reach the conclusion that me and sugar don’t do too well together. On the rare occasions I eat a big load of sweets or cake in one day, the next day I have a shocking hangover. Truly. It’s as if I drank a bottle of vodka by myself.

But I do know that not everyone is affected this way. Take my other half. He’s followed my diet for a while and lost weight almost dangerously quickly. If he followed my diet forever (it’s low on carbs, reasonably high on fat and protein, and very high on fresh veg) then he’d be close to death, I think. He definitely needs his carbs, and he easily tolerates reasonably frequent sweet treats. And I don’t think it’s a male/female thing. My brother’s tolerance for sugar seems to be about as low as mine.

Anyway, my conclusion is this, really: I think it’s important to experiment with what makes you feel healthy, in order to find a way of eating that really suits you. I’m extremely wary of the idea of some government expert giving out one-size-fits-all food advice – apart from the obvious, eat fresh veg, etc – and I think everyone else should be too.

And finally, if you are a woman who is bothered about her weight, rather than starving yourself, I’d suggest reading ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’. Or taking a bit more exercise. And certainly don’t support the diet industry. They just want you to buy their stuff, and it’s bad for you.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net