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Health & Beauty

Diets – Unscientifically

"I really have got to do what we all know is right." Annette Cunningham on how to deal with the problem of weight gain post 50
"I’d worn looser fitting spray tans."

Anyone who has known me more than a week will be aware that I am always on the verge of starting a new diet.

After hours of analysis, what appears to prevent the commencement of said diet is the knowledge, tucked away in the corner of my brain and brought out for emergencies (such as the daily temptation of a slice of hot buttered toast) that I am not, strictly, medically overweight. Nevertheless, I have an obsession with being slimmer than I am, and whilst rarely being my desired weight, I’ve always been able to exert a little self-control at the hint of a waistband tightening.

But then I turned 50. I don’t know exactly what happens when you’ve been on the planet for approximately 18,250 days (give or take a few for the number of leap years involved) but everything that everybody warned me would happen has damn well happened! One minute I was popping the cork on a champagne bottle to celebrate my half decade, and the next day I could only read the label in strong daylight and everyone starting mumbling in films. Bring on the subtitles. In addition, the gap at the top of my thighs closed overnight, all my buttons began to strain and zips on clothes I’d worn just days before had all parted like the Red Sea. I’d worn looser fitting spray tans.

With this weighty problem suddenly upon me, I decided I needed to finally take action, and so with more enthusiasm than normal I embarked on a journey through some of the current diet trends to see if I could shed the spread. Several friends swore by the magical effects of the caveman-style high protein, low carb diet. I tried one, lasted a couple of weeks, lost a few pounds and wasn’t hungry. However, these incredibly restrictive diets work better if you don’t do any kind of socialising or spend any time in the vicinity of other people. Cracking open a tin of tuna for lunch in the office or telling a friend you’d love to come for dinner only if she’ll serve poached chicken and three boiled egg whites doesn’t exactly make you popular, and trying to find a menu option when eating out that complies is almost impossible.

Some of these diets do allow for unlimited low-fat dairy too. This sounds great but is only really an advantage if you have the rare ability to stomach an abundance of cottage cheese. My breaking point came when I found myself craving the diet’s limited vegetables and the forbidden fruit that every ounce of my conditioning shouted I should be eating in abundance – I knew then it wasn’t for me.

I tried one of the meal replacement options. This is when you give up the pleasure of eating a meal a couple of times a day and opt instead to drink a milkshake (although you are allowed one sensible meal and a couple of healthy snacks). Unfortunately, it took me several days to convince my body that a small glass of slightly gluey mixture was in fact an entire meal. I was so hungry by mid-afternoon that I couldn’t resist devouring a second lunch that required actual mastication.

I did, however, persist and finally felt full. This diet might have been more successful if I’d trained myself to enjoy the artificial flavours. Vanilla was the only taste I could tolerate and there is only so much of one thing you can eat, however much you like it. Feeling slightly deflated, but not in the way that I desired, the next on my hit list was the 5:2 diet. I thought this might be ideal for me and had high hopes for success: choose two non-consecutive days a week to consume no more than 500 calories and then eat normally for the remaining five days.

As I spent considerable time in my late teens existing on black coffee, cigarettes and green peppers, I thought this would be a breeze. However, I had overestimated my ability to resist temptation over the years, and could always justify a reason to move my chosen low calorie day to the next – and as tomorrow never comes, I wasn’t very successful. Plus, as I haven’t smoked since my twenties, I (fortunately) no longer had nicotine to fall back on at the first sign of a rumbling stomach.

The Mediterranean diet is a popular option for many. I just happened to try it for real by spending a fortnight with a family in Italy who eat carbs at lunchtime and meat or fish with salad for dinner, fruit for dessert and don’t eat between meals, and most of their food is homegrown and organic.

They all look great and are slender. I ate the same, if not less, and gained four pounds despite being dramatically less liberal with the olive oil than they were. I obviously don’t have the genes for it.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really have got to do what we all know is right. Don’t go on a diet – instead, change your diet so that you eat well and exercise more and maybe, just maybe, come to terms with the fact that when you get older you tend to get a little larger and embrace it – even though I just can’t quite get my arms around it yet. Gastric band anyone?

- Annette Cunningham


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