This diet will change your life.

Another day, another inflammatory article about Britain’s eating habits. This time it’s in the Daily Mail (shock horror), and concerns a new book entitled The Obesity Epidemic by Zoe Harcombe.

In her book, Ms Harcombe supposedly blows the traditional myths of what makes us fat wide open, advising that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight, carbohydrates are the dietary bad boys, and that the modern lifestyle is not to blame for our collective expansion.

Is it just me, or is the fad diet bandwagon simply groaning under the weight of the self-righteous and their bulging files of questionable research?

I think the problem seems very simple. A lot of people don’t know how to cook, and ready meals and junk food are the cheapest things you can buy. The manufacturers of these products pump them full of additives and sweeteners to compensate for the inferior ingredients. People eat them, develop a taste for over-sweetened and artificially-flavoured foods, and so keep eating them. Because the nutritional content is minimal compared to the sugar and fat contents, they eat more to keep feeling full, and the weight piles on.

I don’t know exactly when this series of events began, but it’s certainly been going on for many years. Frozen ready meals were around in the fifties – the era of the eponymous ‘TV Dinner’. When I was a child in the eighties, my all-girls high school had recently dropped home economics from the syllabus as it was considered, and I quote ‘not in-keeping with feminist principles’. How feminism dictates that there should be a generation of women who don’t know how to feed themselves is anybody’s guess. Whether or not for the same reasons, I know that most schools now don’t offer home economics, and subjects like ‘Food Science’ are often more concerned with teaching students how to market ready meals, than with how to cook basic dishes.

And, contrary to what Zoe Harcombe says, I do believe that the modern lifestyle is having an impact on our weight levels. With fewer and fewer women staying at home during the day now, the concept of a home-cooked family meal in the evening has dwindled alarmingly. There seems to be very much a grab and go attitude to eating which I find rather sad. Although my mother worked a (very) full-time job when I was growing up, she still insisted that we all ate together in the evening, and what she cooked was proper food. Not fancy, not time consuming, but balanced, filling and nutritious. This simple act of taking time to eat and appreciate what we were eating has stayed with me, and I believe is one of the secrets to maintaining a healthy diet. The times I find myself putting on weight are when I’m rushing around from one thing to another, grabbing a sandwich here and a croissant there, snacking all day to keep my energy levels up. It’s surprising how quickly you notice the difference.

So how can we help matters? I’m rather in the Jamie Oliver camp with this one. I think children need much more education about cooking and food, and they need to be encouraged to take an interest. And the prices of ready meals have to be raised. It’s absurd that you should be able to buy any complete meal with meat in it for £1. Where are they getting their meat from?!

And please, please, the next time you read an article claiming that it can change the way you eat, take it with a very large pinch of salt. As long as it’s not over 6g of course. We don’t want you getting heart disease…

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “This diet will change your life.

  1. lynden

    What a depressing read, having just come back from the Middle East and Abu Dhabi where they have the highest incidence of Diabetes in the world due to eating too much cake, too many dates and too much sugar and taking no exercise. Those of us approaching middle age have to watch the spread and avoid ready made meals as unhealthy, usually not enough and expensive……give me a home made chicken and vegetable stir fry any day, cheaper, more filling and less fat than any of these meal deals!

  2. Rosie

    At least it was a healthy cake! My daughter struggled with designing packaging for a ready made pizza for her GCSE. Very depressing. And they didn’t even learn to cook pizza. Market bought fruit and veg is even cheaper than meals for a £1. Bowl of pasta with steamed or stir fried veg couldn’t be simpler or cheaper adding a topping of tomato, grated cheese and/or herbs. And if you want to lose weight eat a little less and move a little more!

  3. Marlene

    What a sad state we are in when someone can publish a book stating that lack of exercise and life style doesn’t contribute to weight gain. It is true that young families are often too busy to sit down together for a nutritious daily family meal. Even more disconcerting to me, is the trend in “bagged” lunches I see children eating in school. It seems that parents no longer have time to make a lunch for their children to take to school, so the front office becomes a depository of various fast foods brought in at the last minute for their child to pick up. One hopes that they are not getting a repeat fast food dinner as well.

  4. Mandy

    Sadly, I think you are absolutely right here. I think basic cookery should be standard fare in all schools — I was really lucky to do a term of cookery when I was at school because anyone with academic potentialwas actively discouraged from doing so, but it formed a really strong foundation — how to make a simple sauce, bread, soup, pastry etc. When my daughter electedto do ‘home economics’ as one of her options I was delighted but all she did was design a healthy cake for marketing in a supermarket. She had to make the same recipe again and again refining it slightly each time with cost of materials in mind. Such a pointless activity and very, very dull.

  5. tsi

    I couldn’t agree more. Because I have such a sweet tooth I need to have something sweet after lunch everyday, call a nasty habit if you like, I call it my treat for making it through the day till 14:00. So when I buy my lunch I am often drawn to sliced fruit or dried fruit but it is so much more expensive than a nasty old chocolate bar. And when you have to stick to a budget, a 50p chocolate compare to a £2.50 fruit salad makes a huge difference.

  6. Katharine

    I agree, the most depressing thing to see is an overweight child, with a chicken and chips takeaway in hand. My mum was exactly the same and whilst cooking wasn’t exactly a high priority in student days, my love for it has grown and grown. Planning in advance for the weekday meals is the only way I manage it – seeing wasted food in the fridge is sacrilege in our house.

  7. Jo

    I totally agree with you, Truefoodie. It’s so depressing to stand in a supermarket queue behind people whose trolleys are full of ready meals. I’ve yet to eat one that I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed. Even after a busy day’s work, it gives me great pleasure to prepare a simple meal for my family – especially with a glass of chilled white wine to hand! It’s high time cookery was back on the national curriculum.

  8. Frank

    Hear, hear. The prevalence of bloated-yooves these days is a testimony to the complete rejection of a sensible diet by the last (and current) generation of parents. It is almost beyond belief that a ‘food’ product can be successfully marketed packaged in a bucket (KFC). The irony is that these lumpen slugs are invariably in sportswear.

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