Whilst waiting for the special ‘feminist edition’ of Bookslam, featuring Hadley Freeman and Caitlin Moran, I read this article in the Standard about Mimi Spencer, author of the 5:2 fasting diet – and also, it’s worth noting, the Standard’s fashion editor – about how her diet’s revolutionised her life. Not only has she dropped two dress sizes from a perfectly healthy size 12 to a skinny size 8 as a result of radically cutting down her eating two days out of seven, she’s also clearly rolling in cash, as her recent holiday to Madagascar is held up to prove.
The timing of my reading the article was ironic, given that both Hadley and Caitlin would soon after read passages from their new books that were chosen specifically to demonstrate that women shouldn’t feel they have to look, feel or act a certain way in order to be a success. Both women would talk about the objectification and suppression of women not only by men but also by the ever-burgeoning women’s magazine market and even their own bodies (Caitlin sharing some particularly graphic details of her first menstruation, and commenting that it was no wonder women struggled to wave the feminist flag before the advent of sanitary products when they were forced to spend vast swathes of their time washing blood-soaked knickers – a fair point).
Whilst many converts of the 5:2 diet will no doubt jump to Mimi Spencer’s defence, it’s hard (for me at least, and I speak as a woman whose love of food cannot be overstated) to imagine really being bothered enough to change your entire lifestyle for the sake of dropping a couple of dress sizes. Take going out for dinner as an example. Does being on the 5:2 diet make it necessary to rearrange every social occasion to fit in with which days you’re starving yourself and which you’re not? Or do you just sip water as your friends devour delicious morsels of tapas washed down with red wine?
But it’s not the 5:2 diet specifically I wish to criticise in this post, it’s more the point that Hadley and Caitlin were getting at; that women should be able to be who they are, without feeling the constant pressure to be thinner, prettier, better in every way. Why shouldn’t we eat what we want, when we want, as long as we appreciate the fundamentals of a balanced diet and a balanced life? Why should we starve ourselves two days each week because the women’s magazines tell us it will make us happier? How can cake deprivation make anyone happier, EVER?
My opinion, for what little it’s worth, is that life’s too short for fad diets. Of course we should eat healthily, but there are limits, and starving for two days a week must surely be one of them? I know proponents of the 5:2 will wax lyrical at this stage about the many health benefits of the diet (concentration allegedly being one of them – now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d be able to concentrate all that well after eating half a carrot and a dry Ryvita for my lunch), but in case they hadn’t noticed there are also rather a lot of health benefits to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach – not least to our mental wellbeing.
I’ll close with an apt quote from G.K Chesterton, who had some sage words on health:
“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”
Quite – now pass the Dairy Milk.