Psychology to Diet For

If diets are ‘for the thick who are tired of it’ (as a Times leader recently claimed) which dieting option would suit your personality?

Published in The Times January 3rd 2004

1 – Slimming Club This is a reliable diet for sociable extroverts. Those who would love to belong to any club that would have them as a member. You believe in the emotional safety of numbers. Previous experience as a Boy Scout, Girl Guide or choir-person is therefore an advantage. You relish a public challenge when properly encouraged. After an initial shyness you are rarely embarrassed. Your attitude to fat is self-mocking. You speak of your curves as though they were disobedient children. You itch to clap when a colleague sheds a few pounds so they will applaud you in return. You dream of becoming the group’s prize pupil one fine day. You have always responded well to guidance. This is why your discipline goes to pot when you are alone. You long for the group to act as Norland Nanny and impose order on your life. Possibly, you still wish you’d never left school or you dream of joining the army or the police force. You are the sort of person who could enjoy role-play games. My suggestion is to play the games for real. Try the siege of Mafeking with the food running out. Or spurn Dr Atkins altogether and do a convincing version of ‘Wartime Rationing’ with parsnip cake. That’ll do the trick.

2 – Calorie Counting Not even a potential gastronome, you see food as fuel. You may also be notorious for making those rather deadly remarks at dinner parties when the soufflé falls – “Oh well, not to worry, it all ends up in the smallest room anyway”. Given your unromantic dining style, we’re surprised you even managed to get fat in the first place. That’s not a ‘sensual fondant’, you insist, ‘just 381 killer calories’. Here is the traditional diet for those who prefer meticulous facts to modish theories. You have no time for the Scarsdale cranks but are certain that if you eat less your size will shrink. You take advantage of this truth with a precise, mathematical cut in rations. Morning noon and night you can be found with a cardboard calorie counter in one hand (computers being far too modern) and an assortment of potentially dangerous foodstuffs in the other. No detail is too small. How many calories in pepper, you ask yourself? Do seventeen and a half potato crisps really equal a whole can of baked beans? No allowance will be made for personal metabolism or the differences between food groups. The diet for those who admire the courage of accountants.

3 – Internet Dieting This is the regime for those who still want group support but through a Broadband filter. Welcome to the virtuous circle of online tuck buddies. Cyber dieting appeals to those for whom control counts. You feel safer on a keyboard than in person. You possibly sign on as ‘Ample of Surrey’ or ‘American Ice Cream Lover’ as insurance. It’s like Bill Clinton’s sexual relations – if the worst comes to the worst, everything’s deniable. You would like to confront your fears, compulsions and comfort binges, you really would. But you’d hate to show your face at Overeaters Anonymous. You could also be the person who keeps a special locked drawer ‘for the chocolates to be comfy’. This tendency toward secrecy and denial may be strong. An obsessive, addictive nature may also be demonstrated by your mastery of technology and also an inability to submit to routine. Why else would you still be online at two in the morning thereby provoking a small hours’ snack attack? Oh those sneaky snack attacks! In your haste to lose an inch through your Internet Service Provider, you may gain several more. The diet for the person who needs to eat less cereal in bed.

4 – Low Fat Diet As a dieter you operate most from commonsense and caution. You believe in the current guidelines that lowering fat is best. Not for you the risk-taking recklessness of low carb fataholics who would sell their mothers for a sausage or remortgage their homes to meet the Jersey milk bill. You, by contrast, pay your credit card off in full every month. You disapprove of blithering optimism of any kind and would never gamble a healthy heart for a shrunken waistline. It cannot be true, you insist, that drinking cream while guzzling pork can make you slim. The notion is silly. God would not be that unfair. You are the arch-disbeliever in having it both ways. A certain Calvinism of the soul persuades you that good things only happen slowly. As a child you may have been given a pack of cards with “Patience is a Virtue” embossed in gold letters on the carrying case. It’s now your catechism. You value long life more than achieving svelteness at any price. You also consider the needs of other family members when dieting. Taking separate meals does not appeal because you have no wish to be dismissed as a prima donna, especially one with halitosis and acne.

5 – Meal Replacements The diet for people who eat to rule and on the run. It also suits those born under an obsessive star. Think Jack Nicholson in the film “As good as it gets” taking delivery of a Complan takeaway: “But Tuesdays is banana flavour. Where’s my banana flavour? You’ve sent me strawberry”. It’s also for people who hate cooking. You own a kitchen, of course, but it never gets dirty. The fact that you probably hate food too is only partially disguised by your need to lose weight. The gain was almost by accident. You carried on chewing just because you’d started. By not bothering to relish the taste, you never noticed when you’d had enough. At the root of your trouble lie discomfort with change and an alarming failure to get bored. You crave familiar meals day after day and appear fatalistically set in your ways. It will perhaps come as a complete shock when you eventually discover that drinking a glass of Star Trek powder does not fill you up. Nor that dried oats in cranberry juice make few dinner parties go with a fizz, except unfortunately. But you’ll stick to the diet because, well, you’re crazy about the new habit.

6 – Detox diet Here’s a diet favoured by fundamentalists everywhere who share St Augustine’s view of the flesh: all is corruption. Do not attempt this one at home if you wish to remain cheery. The purpose is nothing short of energetic pain. The martyrs of the Early Church knew all about purges and scourges and here’s the dietary equivalent. It appeals to radicals of both right and left. Hail the gastro revolt. The idea condemns all previous food habits as routine poisoning – ‘Lord let us now shed our toxins’. Toxins are hard to shift so there is fasting followed by colonic lavage and a demand for water that threatens the entire country with a hosepipe ban. You even discover it’s possible to die of drink without once getting drunk. Dining with friends becomes one long Sermon on the Mount. So if you enjoy a little domestic S and M while lecturing your friends on the evils of carnality, here’s the one for you. Be prepared for ultimate disillusion, however, because that Indian gentleman who claimed to live entirely on hot air turned out to be a faker.

7 – Celebrity Diets By far the most worrying diet of the lot when you consider what Hollywood and celebs really know about either common sense or good nutrition. Question: Who would follow the ‘Princess Diana’ diet? Answer: A compulsive exerciser with anorexia and bulimia. This cannot provide the nation with a helpful role model and therefore holds appeal for vast swathes of Cheshire, Lancashire, Essex and South London. Celebrity diets loom large in the thoughts of readers of picture books like ‘OK’ and ‘Hello’. They want that glamorous thinness to rub off on them but their interest is vanity not health-related. If Posh Spice, for instance, swore she kept her figure by swallowing a lorry load of laxatives, the pharmacy shelves would empty faster than Gordon Brown can get the nation into debt. The celebrity diet is the opposite of a scientific counting of calories or examination of food labels. Instead, we are dealing with consumers who really prefer the adverts to the programmes; who enjoy retail therapy regardless of cost and who have absolutely zero interest in finding the thinner person inside themselves unless she is married to a footballer, wearing Jimmy Choo shoes and at the very least does the weather on telly.


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