This Diet Book Has No Flavour and is Kind of Cardboardy

I call it Operation Look Less Like a Dalek. It’s not a particularly catchy name, nor does it lend itself well to acronyms, but for me it’s better than ‘diet’. The name fits in well with some particular goals of mine: I would like people I am chasing to stop being able to escape me merely by climbing stairs. I would like my personal theme song to be something like ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ or ‘Superfreak’ (not as done by Bobby Flynn from Australian Idol, or I might cry), rather than the Timelords’ 1988 classic ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’. Also, even though he has not said as much, I suspect Stuart would really appreciate it if I would stop yelling “EXTERMINATE!” during intimate moments.

I’m trying to establish a healthy point between making lifestyle changes (quite easy, so far), and becoming completely and ridiculously obsessed, as is my wont with any new hobby. I just don’t want to go overboard in one direction, lest I swing back even faster in the other, and I fear that composing poems in my head called ‘Ode to Stomach Crunches’ may be just that wee bit on the obsessive side.

So, while this will by no means become a diet blog (that’s what my secret anonymous new blog is for!), allow me to pontificate, for a moment, on the weight loss industry.

Although I’ve been overweight for longer than I care to think about now, the presence of the weight loss industry left me uninspired to do much about it. A short spell at Weight Watchers a few years ago left me unimpressed with the diet factory approach to weight loss, and although I’ve mostly been okay at exercising regularly, I lacked the knowledge to make sustained changes in my life. Dieting and weight loss are so much a part of Western culture now, and there is so much emphasis on good vs bad that it’s like a new religion. Well, I resent the idea that there’s virtue in literally, physically being less, I resent the idea that as a woman I should be small and meek and not take up space. I’m deeply cynical of the purposes that keeping women majorly obsessed with their appearances (and those of others) serve: the money and energy women spend on trying to make themselves acceptable, the sheer mental, emotional and physical energy that the average woman – let alone the eating-disordered woman – spends thinking about food and her body. It annoys me that a woman’s worth is still judged so majorly on her physical appearance and sexual desirability to others, and that rather than changing this so that women are judged on the same basis as men (brains, ability, character – all that pish-tosh minor stuff), men are now increasingly being judged as women have always been, their insecurities being played on in different but similar ways. So, because I refuse to pay $15 per week plus a joining fee to get weighed and be told stuff I already now, and untold more dollars to eat fake food, I’m doing it on my own now.

But the industry still rears its head. Much as I try to escape it, my interest in fitness and weight loss affects my perspective on things, and has become a hobby in itself. And when I am interested in something, I read about it. And I ask you, reader, a genuine question: is there anyone out there writing books about this stuff who manages to do it without sounding like a sadistic no-life loner or a sanctimonious harpy? Over the years the number of diet books I’ve read have melted into an amorphous memory-mass, with a few stand-outs, like the one telling people to never, ever eat cheese again (because forbidding something is an effective way to stop people from wanting it!). Just the other night, however, I finished reading The Clothesline Diet, by one Karen Gatt. It sounded promising – all the clotheslines you can eat – and Ms Gatt made headlines a few years ago by literally losing half her body weight. I liked the idea that she’d done it without buying into the weight loss industry and its myriad products, although the fact that she’d used her experience to make a weight-loss product (and start an online business) did not escape my attention or amusement.

But holy hell, I can see why she didn’t call the book The Take Some Personal Fucking Responsibility Diet. Gatt is a prime example of why someone should not be held up as a role model just because they’ve managed to lose weight. After a lifetime of being miserable about her weight but refusing to do anything about it, which leads to her leaving school in year nine after physically assaulting a student who teases her about her weight, Gatt marries young and becomes a housewife. Which isn’t necesessarily a bad choice per se, but she emphasises how happy it made her while glossing over the fact that she was so bored she turned even further to food. Not an uncommon thing, certainly, but Gatt is so sanctimonious in her views and judgements of others that it was hard for me not to respond in kind. Desperate for a baby, she discovers she is infertile, a problem linked directly to her weight, but rather than try to lose weight, she and her husband elect to undergo IVF. When this fails, she tries to adopt a child through a private adoption (ie, a friend of a friend goes through an unwanted pregnancy), and completely loses her shit at the 18-year-old birth mother when she decides to keep the baby – long before anything has been officially decided. While undoubtedly a difficult and heartbreaking experience, Gatt’s account of this incident in the book is accompanied by a sermon on how if someone is going to have sex, they should take responsibility for their actions. Um, lady, you’re the one who was too fat to have a baby and wouldn’t do anything about it. Pot. Kettle. Hypocrite. (Later, after her weight loss, she also undergoes cosmetic surgery because she can’t wait to look good any longer – but let’s not forget, this is an “inspiring journey” of a woman who did it all by herself.)

Perhaps all this wouldn’t have bothered me so much (oh, who am I kidding, sanctimonious fucks and the don’t-have-sex-if-you-don’t-want-a-baby brigade will ALWAYS bother me), if it weren’t for the fact that the book is marketed as a health/diet book and not the memoir that it is: Gatt spends less time talking about how she lost half her body weight (which, despite my opinions about her opinions, is a pretty remarkable feat and takes some doing) than she does talking about how inspiring people find her and how famous she got and how she even became a model. Read Margaret Clark’s wish-fulfilment YA novel Fat Chance instead – it covers the same ground but is far less irritating. In fact, after 150 or so pages of “I was fat, I felt bad, my husband and family loved me but I was too busy being a psychotic hosebeast to enjoy my life, boo hoo hoo LOVE ME”, the actual weight losing gets brushed off in a chapter or so (forgive the vagueness but it’s been a little while, and I returned the book from whence it came quick-smart so can’t refer to it directly). There is little mention of the struggles she must have experienced – the struggles anyone trying to lose weight experiences. I know weight comes off easier initially when you’re very overweight but that doesn’t mean it’s actually easy, and after being walked through Gatt’s psyche earlier in the book, it would have been interesting to get some insight here; perhaps a deeper treatment of Gatt’s weight-loss experience would have redeemed the book, but the effusiveness with which she writes seems offhand, perhaps even emotionally dishonest, and for me nullified what I had been lead to believe the book was about. I’m not sure I see the point of a book about a weight-loss “journey” (sorry for the quotes, I hate that fucking word at the best of times) that doesn’t actually talk about weight loss all that much. And sure, maybe it’s a topic that’s hard to write about – it’s personal and it leaves you vulnerable and I hesitated about writing about my own feelings even though a large percentage of the very small number of people who read this blog know me and have, obviously, seen me and know I am no waif. But still, writing a weight-loss memoir and glossing over the bit where you actually, you know, lost the weight is a little like writing a sex memoir about all the times you couldn’t get a shag.

8 Responses to “This Diet Book Has No Flavour and is Kind of Cardboardy”

  1. kathryn Says:

    Is that the book where she says she used to spit at her reflection in the mirror when she was fat? I read that and found a lot of it disturbing. I also read the sequel where she renews her wedding vows. Most of the book is plugging the reception centre, the florist etc who gave her free stuff. Dodgy as hell.

    And, while I’m bitching, I found it really worrying that she had a tummy tuck immediately after losing the weight. Most people say you have to wait 1-2 years because your skin keeps shrinking, but obviously some surgeons are more interested in the money.

    Have you read the books by Geneen Roth? They are prolly some of the best out there – more about the emotional/mental side of weight loss than dieting. Although she does go with the ‘eat what you want and forbid nothing’ approach which I’m too scared to try because I’d go bankrupt! I’ve got a couple of them and if you want to borrow them, let me know 🙂

    Btw, I just noticed your title on your last post was ‘Shiny’ and I used that on one of my posts but I didn’t do it to copy you, honest. How embarassing, is that like turning up to a party in the same dress?

  2. aimee Says:

    Yes, that’s the one! I didn’t know that about tummy tucks, how interesting. And how further to illustrate my point!

    I’ve never read any of Geneen Roth’s books, a lend would be great.

    Also! I noticed that about the Shiny! too, but I think you got in first, so technically I am copying you and should return the dress to the shop. Although I think I called the post that because I had been watching a lot of Firefly around the time I posted, so everything remotely decent was shiny. I am nothing without my quotes from TV.

  3. Scott Says:

    I would really love to have a conversation with you one day about health, weight loss, the weight-loss industry, life, the universe and everything – but I’d probably just end up standing on a chair farting on someone. Again.

    I liked “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” I suspect you’d hate it a bit, but get over it and read it. It’s a good common sense primer to eating well – seasonal foods, real foods, the value of making foods, the importance of portion control, etc.

    “The Zone” is by far the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of prescriptive dieting. There are several Zone books out now and as long as it’s not a Zone cookbook, it will probably have the basic gist of the diet – which is balancing the proportion of carbs, fats and protein in each and every meal. Taken a bit further, it sets out how to find out exactly how much you should eat for your body mass and activity level. When I rowed, I followed it and was the healthiest I’ve ever been. Some of the uber atheletes I’ve know have been religious about it, increasing mass and decreasing subcutaneous (bad) fat to almost nothing. And the diet is very fulfilling.

  4. Chris Says:

    Wow. Firstly, huni, you have to realise that you’re not on the rolly-poly obese side of the spectrum, so all you have to worry about is how comfortable you do or do not feel (Obviously, it’s do-not, and i’m so resisting sticking a donut pun in here right now.) I so wanna go new-age all over your arse and tell you that it’s lifestyle change, not diet that matters, but that’s because i’m oh-so-much older and wiser than you 🙂 That means i know everything and you don’t, and wot i do know is that if you wanna get comfrotable with yourself you don’t have to lose very much. I’m trying to teach this to Child 1 at the momet, and it’s hard work because of the world’s diet mentality.

    My new ambition with you is to help you develop a healthy relationship to food etc. If you relax about some things, you won’t find it so hard. i hate seeing you unhappy about yourself, you’re way too spunky for that.

    More on this in person, over lunch 🙂

  5. gypped Says:

    hola chiquita. I loved this entry. my better half and I are currently attending the gym and eating healthy where we can and going through the plateau phase right now of ‘we’re doing all this work and nothing’s happening’. it’s nice to get some perspective.


  6. aimee Says:

    Scott, your farts are as charming as farts come. Which isn’t very charming, but still. Let’s have that conversation one day. You have everything you need to stalk me. I’m interested in getting your perspective. I’ll give French Women… a go, even though I snorted when I first heard the title, and yelled out “portion control? WELL DUH!” when someone leaked the secret to me.

    Chris, my dear – thank you, you’re lovely, and it is about feeling comfortable again. It’s about learning balance. I’m not enjoying physically being in my body (although that’s starting to pass, and as I’m seeing results I’m feeling better), and that’s no way to live. My extremes are perhaps more extreme than many, as you know, which is what makes me cautious.

    Gypped: Hello missy! Glad I could help. It can seem so lonely at times, no? I hate plateaus, and it’s so hard to remember they’re temporary (although I just busted the hell out of a two-weeker, yay me). It’s good your fella’s doing it too, that really helps. Stuart is supportive of my efforts, but steadfastly refuses to come to the gym with me, the big sook.

    KATHRYN! Just thought of another reason to hate TCD, triggered by what you said about the weight loss surgery: she lost the weight by walking, but if she’d been doing any sort of weight training, it would have helped with the skin going back into place. She doesn’t mention anything about doing any exercise other than walking, which makes the fact that she’s giving advice to others even dodgier. Grr.

  7. naridu Says:

    I avoid reading most of those self help/losing weight books though I do have the ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’. I loved its idea of compensating your eating throughout the week rather than going without any of the fun foods. There is an amazing chocolate soufflé recipe in there too, that I admit to be too scared to try…but it looks SO good.

    Looks like you beat me to the punch with the Dalek reference too, so in that case it would be me copying you, oh the thief that I am. 😉

  8. Bryan Says:

    Psst! It’s almost May. Write something writerly.