A features editor called me the other day: "Laura, can you just give me a tasty sound bite about why calorie counting doesn't work?"
I paused momentarily with this horrible quandary: to turn down a mention in a major glossy in a tough economic climate vs. doing a U-turn on my ten year,'eat less, move more' belief. "But it does work", I ended up saying, "And diets work. Returning to your previous, excessive eating pattern and piling it all back on in a feast or famine frenzy is what doesn't work." Not to worry, there'll be other mentions, I'm sure.
I've lost count of the number of times over the last decade I've been told that 'eat less, move more' isn't quite sexy enough as a concept. On occasion, I've even toyed with the idea of doing a career U-turn and jumping on a '12-hrs-a-week-of-crazy-living-room-leg-swinging-exercise + no-carbs-after- ten-past-eight' bandwagon so I can gain many more column inches/mentions. For some reason people don't want to read that eat less, move more works - and work well it does. This baffles me because the stuff that makes headlines and grabs people's attention is infinitely harder. To my mind, getting takeaway/snack-savvy, being accountable to yourself for your daily food intake and upping your calorie burn during the course of your daily routine, is infinitely more do-able, sustainable (and rewarding, actually) than embracing a diet and exercise regime that allows for no human impulse. If you're contemplating one of the current popular plans or 'methods', you can forget a mini Starbucks splurge after a tough meeting; there'll be no nicking a finger of your daughter's KitKat while you wearily rustle up dinner, and as for that oversized class of Rioja - forget it. You can have a green tea instead though.
This is not to deny that action needs to be considered for our big weight problem. A massive change in our lifestyle over the last 50 years or so has made a big impact on our calorie expenditure (the human body was, and still is, built for exercise) and an abundance of tasty, cheap and readily available food makes it a tough old mountain to contemplate climbing. But we're losing sight of the hows and whys as we try and make this stuff wacky and sell-able. When we should be concentrating on making the truth palatable and do-able, we're getting too waylaid with endless discussion of good carbs vs bad carbs; we debate whether vibrating platforms can take the place of a cheap set of dumbbells (only if you're Onassis with stacks of time on your hands); we gloss over the fact that food acts as a huge emotional crutch for many people, and we're omitting to say, "Hellooo, that muffin contains around a third of your daily calorie burn". As SHAPE magazine, the US health and fitness mag that offers sound diet and fitness advice, put it in one fabulous feature: "You ate it, now negate it". I have a dream whereby I'm running up and down the country waving a dumbbell and a thong in the air shouting, ""Downsize the burger and ditch the Spanx pants! I'm going to show you how to REALLY look good naked." I suspect this may remain a dream.
I am walking talking proof of practising what I preach. I'm a size 8 and I don't drink power smoothies for breakfast, nor have I inherited the DNA of a gazelle - my before and after pics are impressive. 70% of what I eat is good (i.e. evidence-based) calorie-counted nutrition. But I have been known to eat dolly mixture for breakfast - because I'm human; because I pound the streets of Tower Hamlets to keep cardiovascular disease and a bulging waistline at bay, and because I was brought up to believe that a little of what you like will do you no har