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London - Anyone who has been on a strict diet, lost weight, and then accidentally slipped up and put it all back on again, will share my pain.
You know the shameful guilt and self-loathing that ensue when your determination to succeed wanes and you find your trousers getting tight and the scales tipping - once again - in the wrong direction.
At least I’m not alone - 95 percent of us find sticking to a diet long term a lot harder than we think it will be when we start and are bursting with enthusiasm.
At first, I did wonderfully well on the Dukan diet, which involves eating nothing but pure protein (fish, lean meat, skimmed milk and fat-free cheese and yoghurt) one day, then protein and carb-free vegetables (sprouts, spinach and lettuce) the next. I lost just over 5 stone (about 32kg) in less than a year.
I even went public with my efforts in the Daily Mail, chronicling the dieting ups and downs of a middle-aged woman who loved food, wine and good company but was determined to change herself for the better.
Then came a long holiday with the family last September, the delights of New Zealand fish, chips and fine wine, and the realisation that the seatbelt on the plane back fitted a lot more snugly than it did on the outward journey.
By New Year, after an enjoyable, diet-free Christmas, I was back to the fearful 19st (120kg) I’d been when I began.
Did I beat myself up about it? Of course I did, knowing that I would be perceived as a failure who was LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre).
So I tried to look on the bright side. I kidded myself that I could be fat and happy - the jolly one known for her sense of humour, well-stocked mind and acerbic tongue - and lay aside any more plans to be the slender, fit and active creature of my younger years.
I would no longer deny myself my greatest pleasure - dinner out with the best of friends - and, if I wanted chocolate fudge cake or treacle sponge pudding, I would have it. There would, quite simply, be no more diets.
In reality, I was fat - but far from happy. It was back to wearing my signature baggy, black tops and trousers with a scarf over one shoulder to conceal the imbalance caused by my mastectomy and the pot belly that, in a younger woman, might have been mistaken for a burgeoning pregnancy.
I’d gone back to boring shoes which were flat and clumpy, and was only too conscious of my resemblance to a chubby penguin as I waddled along the road.
It was a meeting with the BBC’s science guru - Dr Michael Mosley - that prompted a rethink. I was to interview him about his latest programme, The Truth About Exercise, in which he expounded the scientifically proven theory that one minute’s high-intensity exercise, performed three times a week and combined with a daily 20-minute walk, is the only fitness regime the human body needs to remain healthy.
We also discussed an earlier programme, The Truth About Diets, in which he analysed the latest research on why some people get fat and others don”t.
There is, unquestionably, a genetic element which means some of us can eat treacle sponge until the cows come home and not put on an ounce, whereas others, like me, only have to look at a bowl of pudding and start to expand. As a result, the unlucky ones will always have to watch what they eat.
Even having a gastric band fitted is no guarantee of success. He told me there’s evidence that some people who’ve had the surgery respond to having a smaller stomach capacity by liquidising Mars Bars or sucking on mountains of ice cream to satisfy their cravings!
He concluded by saying: “We don’t have enough long-term studies to show why some slimmers succeed while others don’t, but we do know willpower is greatly over-rated. Even people who have lost weight with a GP or dietician tend to put it all back on again.
“Of all the diets we examined scientifically, only WeightWatchers has a high success rate and seems to be sustainable.”
Bingo! Dr Mosley’s final comment gave me renewed hope. At last, a diet that might actually work.
At first, I was worried about what it would involve. Who can forget the bossy group leader and humiliating meetings attended by the “Fat Friends” in Kay Mellor”s TV drama?
Plus, I had flashbacks to a brief period in the Seventies when my mother joined and would carefully measure out every crumb she consumed. Could I really put myself through the same thing?
Well, I had considered, albeit only in passing, having gastric band surgery. So joining WeightWatchers felt a lot less drastic. It seemed a trusted, scientifically respected dietary regime that was at least worth a go.
WeightWatchers has clearly come a long way since my mother dabbled in it. All that obsessive weighing and measuring seems to have gone and now what you’re given is a daily ProPoints allowance based on your height, weight and age. Mine is 36 and, on top of this, everyone is given an extra 49 points that can be consumed across the week.
Those help take the guilt out of the odd glass of wine (4 points for a medium glass of red) or the occasional portion of fish and chips (30 points). Fruit and most vegetables have no points so you can eat as much of them as you like.
As I write this I am only three weeks into it, so cannot claim to be an expert in how or why it works, but the healthy eating message comes over strongly and I’m 100 percent committed to sticking to it.
The only thing I haven’t quite summoned enough courage to do is attend the famous WeightWatchers meetings. I’m not ready yet for the public humiliation of standing on the scales in front of other people.
But I do have a leader, Julia, who’s available on the phone to give me support, answer questions and monitor my progress. Recently, we met for lunch in my favourite local restaurant and she helped me work out the points in a platter of Turkish mezze (15, as long as I eat only one piece of wholemeal bread and a small amount of the hummus). Their advice on portion control is interesting, too. For example, you learn that if you bunch spaghetti together and hold it upright, its circumference should fit on a 5p coin for it to be a correct portion for one. That seems surprisingly small, but it does swell up nicely in the pot.
A baked potato (3 points) should be no bigger than a computer mouse and you should only have one in a meal.
This feels like a regime that takes account of the fact we all have real lives to lead and that it’s a sense of deprivation that drives us to fall off the dieting wagon with a bump.
As for exercise, there’s no pressure to become an Olympic athlete, just advice that “being active is vital for healthy weight loss” and the recommendation to start by doing a bit more than before.
I admit I am getting a little extra help. The Christie Hospital, where I was treated for cancer almost six years ago, has a complementary therapies department where one of the therapists, Lynne, has developed a programme she calls “Emotional Eating and the Ethical Gastric Band”.
I’ve already had a few sessions with her in which she’s hypnotised me to believe I should eat only enough to satisfy my real hunger rather than my emotional hunger. I now have a CD to which I listen regularly as it plays the sound of Lynne’s soothing voice reminding me of what I need to do about my eating. It really is like a gastric band without the surg ery. For the first time in my life, I’m acutely conscious of when I’m truly hungry and when I’m full.
These ideas fit in perfectly with WeightWatchers’ attention to portion control - in reality, the stomach is rather a small organ and it doesn’t take mountains of food to fill it. Amazingly, I haven’t felt hungry except at meal times!
So, so far so good. In just three weeks I’ve lost over 6lb (about 2.7kg) and feel much more positive about the long-term sustainability of this diet. I’ve also accepted it will be a much slower process than other quick-fix diets - on average, say WeightWatchers, you should lose 2lb a week, so I’m right on track.
I thought I’d find it hard to note down everything I consume - another important aspect of the WeightWatchers regime. I also worried it would take all the pleasure out of a good meal.
But it isn’t and it hasn’t, and it’s making me vigilant about what I’m eating. I’m more conscious about making healthier choices and, far from feeling deprived, I’m beginning to feel liberated from the obsession I’ve had since childhood to gobble up everything on the plate that’s in front of me.
Now, when I’m full, I stop eating. Long may it continue. - Daily Mail