Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Against diets

"Ye are the salt of the earth", Jesus told his disciples. I've thought more than once that there's an entire generation growing up that were they to hear this, they'd fail to understand that he was doing a bit of a self-esteem raising exercise here. Because in Middle Eastern climes the reference to salt would be immediately be understood to connote good things: salt as an essential preservative was nothing less than a giver of life.

Whereas today the notion that these disciples must have been a pretty toxic bunch would be the most likely message the youth of today would draw from such a comparison - which brings me to this story, a parable of our times you could say:
"A mother of two has won more than £800,000 in damages after a radical detox diet left her brain-damaged and epileptic, it emerged yesterday. Dawn Page, 52, was told to drink an extra four pints of water a day and reduce her salt intake in order to prevent fluid retention and lose weight. Within days of starting the "amazing hydration diet" she began vomiting uncontrollably but was assured by nutritionist Barbara Nash this was "part of the detoxification process". Mrs Nash even urged Mrs Page – who weighed 12 stone – to increase the amount of water she drank to six pints per day and eat fewer salty foods. But Mrs Page, of Faringdon, Wiltshire, suffered a massive epileptic fit brought on by severe sodium deficiency less than a week after she started the diet in 2001. She was rushed to intensive care, but doctors were unable to prevent permanent brain injuries."
Salt: generally most of us consume too much but if you don't get enough, you'll die. An obvious point this isn't. Not these days.

The story also illustrates the way in which modern food fads like to ignore the basic mechanisms the body has to tell us when we need something. Not getting enough fluids? The mechanism that usually comes into play here is called thirst.

Today when it comes to food, assuming no basic knowledge should be the default position. Lemme give you another example. One particularly obnoxious pupil I taught last year, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, convinced himself that he was fat. So he didn't eat for three days. He asked me - and I swear this is true - if not eating can make you tired.

I said, "Of course it can, disagreeable cretin. Food has calories in it, calories are units of energy - so if you don't eat, you'll lack energy. Moron."

Then I bitch-slapped him with my revolver.

Ok, I didn't really. I did try to get the whole calories point across to him though. In fairness to him, while he was and is a complete asshole, in today's world he could be forgiven for not knowing this because we have as with the salt thing a whole generation that think calories per se are evil - rather than what they are: something we actually need.

And this is where we are, it seems to me: there are a lot of things that while most of us consume too much of them, are actually necessary to keep body and soul together - but this fact has eluded an astonishing number of people.

Like fat, for example. It's not intrinsically evil - you do actually need some, y'know.

Here's some free food advice: eat a balanced diet with fruit, veg, carbs (these too actually not evil) - and protein. Yes you need this too - amazing the number of vegetarians there are who don't get this. "The vegetarian diet is so healthy", they bleat. Not if you're not getting enough protein it isn't - but I digress...

Wanna lose weight? Eat less and/or take more exercise. That there is such a thing as the 'diet industry' is testimony to the fact that there are an astonishing number of people who don't get this. Thing is, it is in their interests to perpetuate a situation where people don't get this - so that they can continue to sell their mental food regimes. The idea that there are any foods that are intrinsically evil is a damnable lie. But what are intrinsically evil are faddish diets. I don't know this from experience but it's something I've always instinctively known is true. Who the fuck can live on these programmes that were clearly designed for tortoises or rabbits or something? No human being. This is why people go on them, lose the weight and then put it on again. No, no - this is no way to live. If you want to lose weight, you have to change your lifestyle permanently - and attempting to eat a calorific content appropriate for a fucking cockatiel just ain't sustainable in the long-run.

There's something else as well: don't want to lose weight? My advice would be to not let it worry you. Or at least not let this weird notion going around these days that what you eat and how much you eat is something that is imbued with moral significance. That self-regarding actions can be thought of otherwise is indicative of an illiberal spirit of the age, I feel. I'll illustrate this with a degree of honesty about myself that I'll no doubt regret later. Slim, toned, fairly fit is where I find myself at my age. Take exercise, all that shit. But as I still also treat my body as a repository for various noxious chemicals, this has slightly less than fuck all to do with healthy living and mostly to do with a narcissistic attempt to delay the comedy of evolution for a few more years so that I can still persuade women younger than myself to sleep with me. Because if there's any truth in the saying that everyone gets the face they deserve by the time they're fifty, I'm gonna look like shit having a bad day. So until then, I'm making the most of it. Nothing moral about this in the slightest - if anything commensurate with the opposite.

But I prefer this to going around hectoring people. I'll have another drink instead. Because alcohol, to the chagrin of the puritans, isn't bad for you - it's just that so many of us consume too much of it.

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