When Saga Magazine started back in 1984, I was Editor of a monthly title called Slimmer. Slimmer - and Slimming, edited for years by the famous Audrey Eyton who wrote The F Plan, one of the first diet books to sell millions throughout the world – were the only two diet titles in W H Smith, and what rivals we were!
Being a hoarder, I'd kept quite a few old copies both of Slimmer and Slimming at home and for interest I dug some out today, eventually finding several copies from the early 1980s. Slimmer always had a celeb of the day on the cover and here were Susan George, Suzi Quatro, Jenny Agutter, gymnast Suzanne Dando, in all their young glory, all moaning about their weight or eating problems.
But it was the contents of these magazines that had me interested for hours. Back in the 80s every issue was filled with talk of calories – little else mattered. The best way, we thought, to lose weight was to count them as if our lives depended on it. We'd also recently discovered the 'low-fat' mantra, following Government guidelines that fat was bad for us, and at 9 calories a gram, reducing our fat intake was the best way to cut those dreaded surplus calories and lose weight. Slimming magazine even had pages in each issue devoted to printing the 'fat units' in every food we might possibly wish to buy. The advert content was largely for low-fat or fat-free foods. Fat was the enemy!
We journalists tried to be responsible – we said what we knew, i.e. what respected researchers and the Department of Health told us. But thirty years later, the pages of these mildewed old mags look, and read, so old-fashioned. It turns out that much of what we thought we knew then about fats, health and weight control was far from the whole picture and that some of what we wrote was plain wrong in the light of the mass of research that's been done since those days.
Calorie counting – i.e. keeping a record of the calories in everything you eat and drink and sticking to a regimented amount every day – is laborious, boring and almost bound to be abandoned within a short while, many experts now concur. And calories, we now know, are not always equal, the calories in fats, carbs and proteins being absorbed in different ways and at different speeds in our bodies.
Low-fat has also been losing friends fast in recent times - there's been a growing backlash against cutting fat from our diets – and that includes animal fat and dairy – for several years now. If anyone's interested, there's a useful book* just published in the UK explaining the new research, most of which I think is a responsible look at where we are now on the subject (I fall out with the author over some of her statements on olive oil, which I still believe is, certainly if cold-pressed, even more health-promoting than her favoured butter, and she also picks and chooses some of her research to support her own argument, but then so do most authors of popular books!)
All that said, maybe in ten or 20 years' time, there will be another wave of research saying fat is bad after all, and calories are king again. But meantime, here are my own pretty failsafe tips for healthy weight loss which I'll bet will still be just as valid thirty years from now:
- Reduce your portion sizes at all meals by a third, except for vegetables and salads.
- Eat as natural – i.e. unprocessed or minimally processed - a diet as you can.
- Eat some protein, some fat and plenty of plant foods at every meal.
- For carbs, go for wholegrains for preference and eat sparingly of white carbs such as white pasta, bread and mashed potato.
- Cut out all sugary drinks and snacks.
- If you really must have a between meal snack, make it a few unsalted nuts or a small square of good hard cheese.
- Cut right back on coated fried foods and pastry of all kinds.
- Make a list, as long as you can, of all the foods that fit the above criteria and that you enjoy. You'll see there should be masses of choice, which should keep you eating well for years to come.
- Be more active, every day.
PS: I did promise to let you know how my short break in Pembrokeshire went last week. It was brilliant – lovely weather, seafront hotel in Tenby, masses of beach and cliff walking by the end of which I will be honest, my hips were killing me but they're OK now and I've got back into the habit of moving my body, which is always good. And we found an excellent new restaurant opened since our last visit, The Moorings on the High Street, whose large prawns in a divine spicy white wine sauce-come-soup are five-star.
* The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, Nina Teicholz, Scribe, £14.99.
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