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RIP dieting: why I've stopped counting calories for good

by Lucy Cavendish
RIP dieting: why I've stopped counting calories for good
Image: © Sophia Spring / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2017

Lucy Cavendish has spent four decades trying to lose weight, but she's now stopped counting calories for good. Here's why...

It occurred to me the other day that it had been a long time since I’d seen the word ‘diet’ on the cover of a glossy magazine. Could it be that dieting has left the front pages for good? Have we finally cast of years of starving ourselves in favour of balanced meals and an eye on our health rather than the scales?

All I can say is, thank goodness for that. I went on my first diet aged 10, and have spent the past four decades continuously dieting. It’s only now I have turned 50 that I realise I am sick of it. I am fed up of hearing how poor Liz Hurley has starved herself for decades and hasn’t eaten a crisp since 1974 and I don’t want Kate Moss telling me ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’

Today, we engage in mindful eating – enjoying and appreciating what we are eating – rather than fretting over a mouthful of dessert. We want to celebrate and enjoy our bodies and that means enjoying food in a new, liberated way. I’ve had enough of my 80-plus mother asking me if her bottom looks big and tutting every time I reach for a biscuit. She’s still on a diet, and until my recent change of heart, I think I might well have been heading that way too.

In many ways, I was set up for a lifetime of dieting. When I was about 12, I’d cut out pictures from magazines and stick them in my ‘look book’. But I didn’t buy the clothes, because I was a ‘larger’ size. Or that’s what I believed.

I’d been told for years by my mother that I had ‘thunder thighs’, that maybe I didn’t need a second tiny slice of cake, that if I kept on eating rounds of buttered toast I’d be ‘large Lucy’. When I was about nine, I desperately wanted a pair of blue jeans. The assistant looked on in horror as I tried to squeeze into a pair that were obviously too small. ‘Too much cake!’ my mother said. She was joking, but it felt so humiliating.

From then on, my relationship between my body, dieting and general self-loathing took hold. My body became something I was ashamed of. I went on a diet. I started by cutting down on carbs, then dairy and then, by the time I was 14, I’d pretty much cut out everything. I plastered the walls of my room with pictures of thin models and I became obsessed with calories. Ever since, I have been stuck in this horrible circle; eat, feel guilty, eat more, feel more guilty, exercise like a lunatic, look in the mirror, feel fat, hate myself. I have tried to control my weight by dieting – in fact, I have done them all, including the South Beach, Paleo and even the Montignac, where I got to drink red wine and eat dark chocolate.

Yet my yo-yoing weight is a testament to the fact that diets don’t work. I have spent years reading the science behind dieting; every diet comes with its own fact box. But none of it is about letting go and giving our bodies a chance to tell us what they need or want. The dieting phenomenon didn’t really take hold until the 1960s. During the war, rationing meant everyone was tiny. My grandmother had the appetite of a small bird, but that was partly due to the lack of food available. She had trained her body to eat very little.

It was only with my mother’s generation that dieting crept in; their increased sense of freedom and readily available food meant they became bigger and more well-fed than their parents. My mother went on about her weight, comparingherselftosuper-slimmodels, and the upshot for my generation was that we picked up the habits of women eating cottage cheese, Slimcea, and Lean Cuisine. It’s no surprise that many women in their 40s remember being put on their first diet by their mother.

And what have all those diets done? Our emotional health has been sabotaged and we have grown up disliking our bodies. All those diets have done is create a sense of self-loathing and a fear of failure. We have been set up to fail by an industry whose main motivation is to keep us failing.

So recently, I decided I wasn’t going to do this punitive regime anymore,and I don’t think I am the only woman who feels this way. I am eating what my body wants. One day it’s quinoa with kale, the next chicken and rice, sometimes a slice of cake.My weight has balanced out and I’ve realised I have been wasting my time and money on myriad diets. I also realised I had a choice. Was I really going to spend the next few decades hating my body and punishing myself to lose a few pounds that noone, bar me,cares about?

The new clean-eating fad and our generally better-informed attitudes towards nutrition seems to imply that our obsession isover. Hallelujah! Dieting has ruled, and ruined my life for years. What a relief it is, that we can finally let go and this time, lead by example.

What are your experiences of dieting? Tweet us to join the conversion. 

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