The post-festive diet – by chef and author Ian Downing
The two bestselling sections in any bookshop are the cookery books and the diet books. One tells you how to cook beautiful food and the other tells you not to eat it. What do cookery writers and TV chefs do when sales of their books and their popularity begin to flag; they write a diet book of course? It will always be a sure-fire winner because it’s about food and what we all want is to be gorgeous and slim and eat wonderful food.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work for me because if I were to bring out an honest book on losing weight it would only have two words in it – EAT and LESS. Somehow, I think this might struggle to make the best-seller lists.
How do the French manage it; as well as being considered the sexiest race on the planet they have a falling birth rate, they are also the gourmets of the world but mostly remain slim? You only have to look in the window of a patisserie anywhere in France to put on a couple of pounds. So what’s the secret; maybe it is something to do with fast food. The fast food nation of the world is the USA with a burgeoning obesity problem and we are fast following in their footsteps so perhaps we should begin to ape the French rather than Americans and start having three hour lunch breaks with several courses and a few bottles of Chablis.
Oscar Wilde said: I can resist anything except temptation. With all the best willpower in the world and with the government entreating us to lose weight there are still those moments of weakness that have us raiding the fridge for something sweet at midnight.
Legislation can reduce the sugar in fizzy drinks and the number of ‘buy one get one free’ offers in supermarkets but how far can it go? It is a food seller’s job to tempt us. Nearly every other shop in the high street is a take-away now that most of the banks and bookshops have gone. In-store bakeries waft out the smells of baking bread and buns. Ready to eat rotisserie chickens turn on a spit so that if you ever go shopping when you are hungry you are likely to come home with enough food for an army.
In Regency times it was fashionable to be fat and pale-skinned, not only to prove you were wealthy enough to eat loads but also to show you didn’t have to work outdoors in the sun. Some society women even blacked their teeth to advertise they were rich enough to afford sugar – an expensive commodity at the time. Today’s ideal is to be as skinny as a model and have a nice tan with contrasting flashy white teeth. The problem is that the food around us is too tempting and too easily available. Fifty years ago you might have struggled to find something to eat if you were out and about. You might get a bun from a bakers or even a cheese roll in a pub. It you wanted a meal you had to cook it from scratch. Nowadays every pub is a restaurant or a bistro and microwave meals can be had at the push of a button.
In 2006 an experiment took place at Paignton Zoo. They asked nine (human) volunteers with high blood pressure to live in an enclosure and just eat raw food on the assumption that if our diet was more like that of our animal cousins it would be healthier and therefore lower their blood pressure. Not only did the experiment work there was a surprising extra benefit. Even though they could eat anything they liked as long as it was raw and they could eat as much as they wanted they all lost weight. When you think about it there are only a few animals that eat cooked food – our pets, and they are also the only animals that ever get fat.