As I write this column, my current sandwich book, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, lies open before me. For the uninitiated, a sandwich book is my terminology for the fun books you re-read between the more intense ones: the literary equivalent of a comfort meal, an old friend or a familiar lover.
Going back to Bridget Jones, who though not exactly the epitome of healthful living, is trying (like me) her very best to get there. At one point, she does something that most trainers and dieticians swear by: she makes a list of all the things she has eaten that day. Her diet, a farrago (sorry, I’ve been dying to use the word) of the grapefruit-dependent Scarsdale diet, the decidedly bovid raw-food diet and the flatulence-guaranteed F-plan, also allows for things like hot cross buns, chocolate, wine, etc., to slip in. A hot cross bun is the perfect substitute for the single slice of wholewheat toast that the Scarsdale diet allows, while a Mars bar is a “slight variation on specified half grapefruit”, she says.
By the end of the exercise, she does make the insightful observation that, “it has become too easy to find a diet to fit in with whatever you happen to feel like eating, and that diets are not there to be picked and mixed, but picked and stuck to, which is exactly what I shall begin to do once I’ve eaten this chocolate croissant.”
Now, I must admit I have done this, more than once. When I embarked on the first of my many diets — the cabbage soup or GM diet, I ate fried eggs instead of the required roast beef and snuck in a banoffee pie on the milk and bananas day. When I went paleo, I eschewed the very core of the caveman diet, the meat, choosing instead to get my protein from milk and legumes, both absolutely forbidden. My attempt to go gluten-free, never really took off, since I persisted in eating oatmeal (usually processed in the same factories as wheat). And I was probably the only vegan in the world who drank four cups of milk-laden filter coffee and polished off most of the curry of the chicken dish that graced our dinner table.
Right now, I am on a “no-diet” diet, aka intuitive eating; a nutrition philosophy that trains you to become more attuned to your body’s hunger signals. Basically, you eat when and what you want to eat, but mindfully. Apparently, the concept has been around since the time of Aristotle (I’m sure those ancient Greeks had to watch their weight; those one-shouldered chitons can be rather unforgiving). While I do admit that there is probably (nutritionally-speaking) a difference between mindfully supping off olives, figs and dried meat, vis a vis ice cream and banana chips, I am not going to be bogged down by the details.
As Marian Keyes (another sandwich book author) once said, “I suppose I wanted to have my cake and eat it. But then again, what were you going to do with your cake if not eat it? Frame it? Use it as a sachet in your underwear drawer?”