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Caragh Little


New Year, New... Who?

Posted: 16/01/2013 00:00

The New Year is only two weeks old, and I'm already exhausted.

I've been busy. I haven't slept well. The bad cold that's got everyone has had me by the throat. But it's not just that. I'm exhausted by the bombardment of conflicting pieces of advice which have been assailing all of us from every side since before the nation's dishwashers had finished processing the wine glasses from New Year's Eve.

The weekend papers make me want to enter hibernation. Reading through their supplements of right-thinking, ever-so-slightly pompous advice, I'm writing my own sick-note in my head. 'Please excuse me from daily life for the next eight weeks. I am now entering my annual period of hibernation. All being well, I shall return with the arrival of spring.' No... I don't think it would convince my boss; likewise the endless advice from the self-righteous-brother health columnists do not convince me. They make me want to do something desperately unhealthy. Like sit on the sofa and eat chocolate. January rebellion at its finest.

According to the weekend colour supplements, we should be exercising almost incessantly to prolong our lives. We should be eating sufficient calories to keep ourselves alive, but making sure that we avoid all those things without which, just a month ago, we were told that life was not worth living. Christmas would just be quite inadequate, columnists carolled from the weekend pages, without vintage wine and Belgian truffles, cognac-laced cakes and brandy-inflamed puddings, the chocolate on our Yule Log deep and crisp and even. Now, it seems, the lifestyle pages are like that person who has overindulged tragically the night before, and who has woken up, his head throbbing, the daylight strobing through his barely open eyes, his stomach dissociating itself from its contents. He's never - and he means never - going to drink again. Or eat anything unhealthy. It's decided.

And on it goes - with each week, there's a new diet, a new recipe, a new way to live our lives. The last weekend papers I read told me how to lose weight by the 5:2 method (eat whatever you want for five days each week, and fast for two days), and how to shape up by doing exercises such as squats and lunges and reacquainting yourself with your toes. I also found out how to cook a low calorie meal, how to make my make-up look like no make-up at all, how to bring up a daughter and how to bring up a son. By the time I'd finished reading two or three such supplements, I felt as though I'd finished my week's work. And it was still only Sunday night. The agony.

It's not as if I don't care about these things, and it's not as if I won't accept advice. Like many of my friends, I have a 'health and fitness' app on my phone, which balances calories consumed against exercise done, and gives me a disapproving look now and then. I tell it the truth, and everything: every shameful square of chocolate, every time I couldn't go any further in the gym. But if I don't remember, it won't pester me, and that's a world away from the market-trader style shouting, from all sides, of the hectoring articles which throng our newspapers every January.

And the advice is always so contradictory. If I'm going to be patronised like this, then I'd like to have a good understanding of what I'm being patronised about. In the last two weeks I've been told to eat nothing at all after about 5pm, nothing at all on two days of each week, five small meals every day; drink tea instead of coffee, coffee instead of tea, and tea made from the leaves of the coffee plant. I've been told to run, not to run, to work out for long sessions three times each week and for 10 minutes only every day, in effectively supporting trainers and only in bare feet. Even before I finish reading all this stuff, I am disheartened, weakened and confused.

Sometimes my bedroom mirror seems to be the mirror of a fairground, showing me a reflection of someone older, fatter, unhealthier than I hope I am. In the grotesque hall of mirrors of our diet nanny state, the government is taxing pies and the opposition are trying to have sugar-laden breakfast cereals banned. We're being bombarded by this fitness plan and that diet, in a deictic disapproval of the shape we're in. Somewhere all this shrill advice and all this cereal killing, there's truth. Eat less. Move around more. Don't take too much notice of the mirror and don't listen to all the screaming doom.

Otherwise, helping yourself live longer is just elongating a bewildered misery which doesn't feel worth living as it is.

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