Dieting 101: Back to basics
17th March 2016
When I was a kid, my Mum took me to see the musical of the life of the great American impresario, businessman, showman and occasional conman P.T.Barnum. Aged around 8 or 9, I suppose she thought the bright lights, circus performers and screeching sopranos would brighten up a grey Hull afternoon.
However it wasn’t any of those sideshow acts which gripped my hungry little mind that matinee afternoon. It was the fact that in my head, old Barnum was a whopping big crook who knew how to get people to part with their cash for whatever he could convince them was worth seeing. All the singing and dancing midget shows, “giants” that weren’t really giants, bearded ladies that don’t even compare to some of my elderly relatives back in Italy…you name it, he could package it, sell it and convince you it was worth paying for – can I get another amen!
I never thought my world and Barnum’s would ever cross, what with him owning a circus and me setting a course into the world of food. However, this year I think our worlds collided quite spectacularly…
We are part of the generation where everyone is going nuts for expensive fad diets!
Barnum, was he alive today, wouldn’t have bothered conning people to go to a circus tent to look at the torso of a monkey, painstakingly stitched onto the body of a fish. Nope, not at all. Old Barnum would have found some Dr Nick Riviera style doctor, put his face on a box with some liquid distilled from the heart of the Yuaca plant, mixed it with snake oil and then finished with chia seeds – guaranteed as a meal replacement that could see you lose a stone a week.
He would have written a book to go with it claiming that for 5 days a week, you would have to purge your body of carbohydrates, sleep upside down, run backwards and only eat red meat by the light of a blood moon. And I am confident many people in this day and age would have paid £50-£100 for this baloney!
Fad diets. Celebrity diets. Tabloid approved diets. All a load of tripe (sadly none of them recommend eating tripe, which would actually be of massive benefit to your diet as it is low in fat and high in protein!)
Dieting is now something you can buy off the shelf and it freaks me out. Yes, it is just another part of one of the most natural acts we all have in common – eating – that has become an expensive (and in the case of dieting, boring) past time. If any of them work, I would be totally shocked, and would love to hear about it.
6 years ago I could have given Shamu a run for his money in “Free Willy 4: Escape From Pirates Cove”. Not because I could effortlessly leap from the water through the burning rigging of a galleon (I can) but because I was so unfit that couldn’t make it up 2 flights of stairs without a defibrillator and a Mountain Dew. It’s been well documented how I developed chest pains one night and was rushed to the student medical centre only in my boxers where a smoking hot doctor prodded my flabby carcass and diagnosed obesity and not a premature heart attack. *Yawn*
How I lost the weight is the more unappealing, yet pretty simple bit. I changed my attitude to food and exercise. I asked myself who was the healthiest person I knew, who wasn’t a millionaire who could afford a gold plated gym and regular training sessions off Wolf from Gladiators. It was my Grandpa (the Italian one, not the foul mouthed rum swigging, chain smoking English one.)
His diet was simple. A little of what you fancy, mixed with hard work and exercise, granted…for about 50 odd years. Sounds tough, eh? Well I am kind of convinced that eating pasta, cheese, fresh vegetables, a little bit of meat, some fish, chocolate, olives, salami, fresh fruit and a glass of wine everyday beats sipping wheat grass juice in a hyperbaric chamber whilst listening to Paul Mackenna telling you to lay off the crunches through an iPod.
Like most things in life, there is no quick fix to getting in shape. Since my Yokozuna (for you WWE fans out there) diagnosis 5 years ago, I decided I would eat what I wanted but in moderation and at the right time.
I’d also experiment with mind bending ideas such as going for a half an hour walk after a meal, or getting back into sport. Its a really simple formula that costs you nothing and gets you in shape (granted in time) without compromising what you eat. It’s living a little bit like our ancestors did I guess.
I see this approach to dieting as not so much changing your eating habits, but coming back home to them. Eating and living a little bit more like we used to, back in the days before convenience, the abundance of choice and industrialisation. Live a little more frugally, treat yourself on the weekends, but ultimately eat what you want in moderation, off set with a drop of excercise and a little consideration.
During my rotund years, I was studying the life of Giacomo Casanova for my university course. Casanova was a bit of a philosopher/crook/conman, but his simple philosophy on food is something that always stuck with me and has greatly influenced how I eat in my life:
“I always made food congenial to my constitution and my health was always excellent”
Basically: eat what agrees with you, have fun, do some press ups, mind your biscuits and life will be gravy.