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Leave me alone, I’m on a diet

Published Aug 8, 2011


London - Last week, my mother informed me that she was going to hang up the phone. “I can’t speak to you when you’re like this,” she declared. “Like what?” I snapped. “You know exactly like what... hungry and grumpy,” she said. “Call me back when you’ve had dinner.”

I didn’t call her back when I’d had dinner - my 85th chicken salad of the week - because after chomping through the mini-mountain of lettuce and the bland slab of poultry, my mood had not improved. If anything, it had got worse.

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I fantasised about eating a burger with melted cheese and bacon on top - or maybe a bowl of pralines-and-cream ice cream with chopped strawberries.

My mouth watered - then my heart sank. I would be having none of these delights. The only dessert I was allowed was a handful of almonds. By “a handful”, I mean five. Five miserable nuts.

I am on a diet - and, God, am I fed up. For the past month, I have been striving to cut out carbohydrates, sugar and booze - all the mainstays of my normal diet - in a bid to halt the spread of my ever-increasing behind. The only problem is that I’m not just losing weight, I’m losing friends.

“I’ll see you when you’re back on white bread or white wine, whichever comes first!” joked one. Except she wasn’t joking. “How long does this last?” asked another, after I bit her head off for daring to ask me if I wanted to go for a pizza.

My dieting has made me so tetchy that I am no longer fit for human company. I am what is known as “Oh-angry” - hungry and angry - and I’m not alone.

Three recent pieces of research have documented the rise of what’s been dubbed “diet rage” or “Oh-anger” - the feeling of frustration, irritation and all out fury that comes with being on a diet.

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One US study published in March shows that dieting can “lead to an aggressive frame of mind”, while another found that cutting out carbohydrates, as I am, can make you into an “emotional zombie”.

And, in one curious experiment, Chicago researchers found that people who ate an apple rather than a chocolate bar are more likely to watch an angry or violent film than the happy chocolate eaters. This made me laugh. Or at least it would have done if I wasn’t so cranky.

Normally, in my chocolate-eating life, I have the television viewing habits of a 13-year-old - nothing is too low-brow or fluffy.

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But in the past few weeks I’ve been addicted to the dark goings on of The Killing, the Machiavellian machinations of legal drama Damages and the drug deals of Baltimore in The Wire. This from a woman whose usual idea of grit is Murder She Wrote.

Dieting is bringing out my dark side. According to the experts, there are several reasons for this.

First, there are the physical side-effects of eating less. Sian Porter, consultant dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says: “There is absolutely no doubt that having an empty stomach - and the low blood sugar levels that result from it - affects your mind.”

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Apparently, when your blood sugar is low, two things happen: your brain is starved of fuel and your body produces the stress hormone adrenaline - both make you feel emotions such as rage, violence, nervousness, panic attacks and palpitations.

And cutting out carbohydrates, as I have, can make matters worse, because potatoes, pasta and the heaven that is hot buttered toast have been shown to make your brain produce more of the happy hormone serotonin.

Without it, you go from being “fat and happy” to - pardon my language - “skinny bitch”.

As one diet expert, Dr Judith Wurtman, puts it: “Serotonin is involved in keeping our moods stable, making us serene and allowing us to focus and concentrate. When you take away carbohydrates, it’s like taking away water from someone trekking through the desert.”

Exactly! This must be why for the first couple of weeks of my diet I felt so spaced out that I could barely string a sentence together, and so irritable that when I did put a sentence together it was likely to be short and abusive. It was like having permanent PMT.

And just when you’re in the worst mood of your life, you can’t do the thing that usually cheers you up - eat.

I didn’t realise how much I used food as a treat to get me through various parts of the day.

The mid-afternoon bag of Minstrels to cheer me up, the giant glass of wine to give me that warm, fuzzy feeling after work and the over-sized dinner to help pass the evening... without them my days felt bare and lonely.

All that’s left is the mind-numbing, soul-deadening boredom of eating yet another salad and the agony of trying to not drink alcohol when you’re out with friends who are ordering their third jug of Pimm’s. It’s so miserable, you stay in and become totally anti-social instead.

But no woman - even a dieting woman - is an island. And last weekend, after three weeks of self-imposed isolation, I cracked. On Friday, I decided to treat myself to “just one glass of white wine” after work - which ended with me drinking margaritas at 2am.

The next day, I woke up hating myself so much that I sought comfort in a sausage sandwich, an almond croissant and half a bag of Doritos. By Saturday night, I was awash with self-loathing at my lack of self-control. The bad mood got worse.

So why do we do this to ourselves?

Well, it’s better than the alternative. I realised during my first hangover in weeks that while cutting out all my favourite foods has made me grumpy, my usual life of over-eating and drinking wasn’t really making me happy, either. It was actually making me a bit fat, tired and miserable.

Going without all my usual crutches has been hard, but the sense of achievement of actually sticking to something (well, sort of) has its rewards.

This week, the side-effects of cutting out sugar have finally passed and, amazingly, I’m now actually craving vegetables.

On Monday, I made a stir-fry with broccoli, spinach and salmon - and it was utterly delicious. Weird. I didn’t even want to follow it with a mountain of cheesecake. A miracle.

And, last night, another amazing thing happened. I stood on my scales for the first time and I’d lost just over half a stone. I’m not exactly Kate Moss, but I’m getting back to the kind of shape I know I should be and that has put me in a very good mood.

A few more weeks and I reckon I’ll be back in my favourite jeans - and then I can celebrate.

Hopefully, it’ll be with a single glass of bubbly and some close friends - if I’ve got any left. - Daily Mail

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