My friend Trixie says, if you want to lose weight close the larder door and go for a walk. That’s a simple solution that has the ring of a complex truth about it; like that time an advertising campaign tried to convince us unreformed smokers that we were stronger than cigarettes. I couldn’t see it; whenever I tried to give up the cigs, the addictive drugs contaminating my bloodstream did a Cha Cha through my system in spiked heels. I did overcome the chemically induced pain in the end, but rage had a lot to do with it and zero tolerance. If only I could do the same with food, I’d be home and hosed. I say that with feeling because I’m the sort of person who lives to eat. Some people I know can get so absorbed in dinner party conversation that they can forget for minutes at a time that they’re holding a fork laden down with bits of lamb and roast potato. Not me. I’m not capable of keeping up an impersonal relationship with lamb and roast potatoes. Especially if there’s gravy involved.
When I quit the cigs there was a compulsive personality lurking in the wings, waiting to take their place. What that meant was that while my mouth was still constantly on the move, it was now munching, crunching and masticating. I would only have to think food to want it. To see a packet of chips was to finish it, down to the very last crisp. Then, if there were any crumbs left in the pack I’d chase after every one with the tip of my middle finger, before declaring myself all done. Like the good nineteen fifties child I used to be, I cleaned my plate; I still do, but I’m a lot more careful now about what I put on it. Nothing fried, if you’re interested; I steam or gently poach my meat and veggies now and I add herbs for punch, or a bit of white wine. I’ve discovered that my next best alternative to giving food up altogether is to be more creative about how I prepare it.
The trouble is that we have too much on offer to tempt us these days. There are the supermarkets and delicatessens there’s al fresco dining and boutique bakeries on every corner. Trixie is eighty plus; her influences and experiences are vastly different to ours. ‘We would close the larder door if we could, Trix,’ I’d say, ‘but there are much yummier things in it than when you were a girl;’ and our lifestyle is more complex. But she refuses to understand about us foodies.
Trixie and her contemporaries grew up within cooee of the Depression years and experienced World War II rations; we worship at the altar of nouvelle cuisine. They ate their meat and three veg without too much fanfare and discussed how 4 lamb chops could fit into five people; we have dedicated a whole TV channel to food and speak of nothing else. My heart does a bit of a tap dance when I see those chefs shovel quantities of salt and pour generous amounts of oil, cream or butter onto every dish as if there were no tomorrow and for those of us who are inspired to do the same there probably isn’t.
Our food is refined; and I don’t mean well bred. Science has found a way to suck all the nourishment out of a product, replace it with chemicals and food colouring, then pump some vitamins and minerals right back. There’s ‘diet lite’ to confuse us, extra light, salt reduced, no added salt, virgin, extra virgin; it’s enough to make your head spin. The supermarket has brought the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker under the one roof. Convenience is the name of the game and trekking down the ever lengthening aisles is as close as we busy types will ever get to the daily workout.
Things are so stacked against us; what hope have we modern girls got? But some of us persist. If we can afford the fees we lug our exhausted bodies across to the gym fondly believing that we can make a regular feature of it. We might know that three brisk walks in the hand are worth more than a dozen diet books in the bush but can’t help preferring the quick fix of the glossy magazines that tell us in twenty-four point bold type that we can eat what we want and still lose ten kilos.
There’s this symbiotic relationship we have with the diet industry. It feeds off our unrealistic dreams of immediate success and we eagerly eat up its latest miracles on offer. Want to look like Oprah? Follow her diet or hire her chef. Want to have flat abs like the models who demonstrate it? Buy this machine or an upgraded version of the previous machine. We have a gym’s worth of gadgets at home. We believe in them in the same way we were once sure that the right underarm deodorant would do fabulous things for our social life. Every other day there’s a new guru to follow, a food replacement shake that will do the trick or an exercise machine that’s an improvement on the last one that we bought; but how many machines can we fit under the bed?
There’s no one diet fits all, that’s what I discovered for myself. But as Pandora won’t go back into her box I’ve learned to use her to my advantage. I’ve begun by accepting my flaws and limitations and working around them. I’ve dusted off a manual treadmill for the times I can’t go for a walk and have given the rest of the stuff away to needy friends. Like actress Kirsty Ally, I’m ‘a work in progress.’ I make my own cups of soup and TV dinners and freeze them against the day that my granddaughters will once again grace me with their presence. And I’ve cleared out my larder.
I’m a hard core compulsive who needs to overcome my psychological bent and I need to work out my addiction one day at a time. I don’t say that I’m stronger than the lamb roast, just that I’ve found a way to distance myself from the gravy.