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Don't bother with new diet books just brush off last year's'

Don't bother with new diet books just brush off last year's'

Monday 04 January 2016

 Well, here we are. Three days into the New Year, still within the 12 days of Christmas - but what is already eating at us, lurking quietly at the back of our minds, is how we are going to do better on the diet in 2016. We've happily pigged out for Ireland over the past two weeks - and I guess we're almost looking forward to getting back to whatever is the straight and narrow for each one of us - but not today, Lord, we still have Little Christmas for a last blast!

I am an expert on diets: a failed expert, that is. For I have done every diet down through the years, been miserable, and never yet managed to keep the weight off.

I am, in fact, more confused now about food than I ever was. The past four or five years has focused heavily on no carb/gluten/wheat-free eating - yet bread has been anything but on the decline with fabulous new bakeries opening apace. I cut out the wheat and lost a lot of weight four years ago - but I'm as fat as ever again now.

I also wonder how the French maintain their weight and yet the typical Frenchman is parodied as always having that great staple, a baguette, under his arm.

For the past 30 years we've been told butter was bad for our cholesterol, as butter substitutes with stabilising additives were recommended. Now butter is wearing a halo again and even the substitutes are adding butter to the mix to boost sales. Is it any wonder we're confused?

I always liked dairy products because, with my mother coming from a farming background, that is what I was brought up on. I looked at my eight aunts, who all lived into their Eighties and Nineties, consuming the best of butter, cheese and milk.

Sugar is now the wolf at the door - it has become a dirty word. I don't believe there is anything wrong with sugar per se, just with the amount that is used, with far too much of it hidden in our foods - and let's not forget the proliferation of HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup), a much cheaper, unnatural, nasty form of sugar, which is both addictive and appetite-increasing, which has allowed portion sizes to explode at little cost to the manufacturers, while causing a massive increase in conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, cancer and even dementia.

The Dutch originally brought sugar cane from Brazil to plant up the British West Indies in the 17th century.

The demand became so great that respectable merchant traders in Europe could make vast fortunes from the misery of the slaves working on their sugar plantations, so that the upper echelons of society could enjoy the sweet life. I imagine it's where terms like "fatcat" come from.

In those days, though the rich indulged, sugar was not the staple it is now. The fact is that nowadays we have ready access, on a daily basis, to what once were treats.

When I was a kid, I was only allowed a mineral on a special outing, as even then they were not considered good for you. As to sweets, my father brought home a Club Milk from the golf club on a Saturday night, which I enjoyed on a Sunday. Nowadays, we are eating more and more preprepared convenience foods, and we really need to start reading the labels with a magnifying glass and demanding lower levels of sugar and salt in these products.

The diet industry is not squeaky clean either. It's a money-making machine cashing in on our shame and humiliation - but as each new hot diet comes on stream (with a best-selling book and DVD and the authors interviewed on breakfast TV), I think to myself, "I did a variety of that one about 20 years ago".

The High Fat Diet by Zana Morris and Helen Foster was launched last year - and I know it works because I did everything it recommends when a similar regime was advocated by Dr Atkins in his sensational New Diet Revolution in the 1970s, which had us all suffering bad breath and testing our pee for ketones.

However, he was not the first either. In fact I also have, in my large 'diet' library, the forerunner of the Atkins book: Eat Fat and Grow Slim, published in 1958 by Dr Richard Mackarness, which I found in an old bookshop years ago.

The good Dr Mackarness back then proposed a non-carbohyrate "Stone Age" diet of protein and fat with no restriction as to the amount eaten. Paleo diet anyone?

We then had the similar Scarsdale diet designed by cardiologist Dr Herman Tarnower. His diet also enjoyed popularity for a while - but his high profile and penchant for the good life saw him murdered in 1980 by his jilted lover, school headmistress Jean Harris, when she found him playing away with a secretary in his office.

The high-protein diet continued its popularity in the 1990s when the French gastronome Michel Montignac told us we could eat all the good stuff in restaurants such as cheese, chocolate and red wine, once we ignored the bread roll on the sideplate and other such obvious carbs.

Move on another few years to the noughties when another Frenchman, Dr Pierre Dukan, launched his sensational Dukan diet in France and in the UK (his book sold 11m copies worldwide, was translated into 14 languages and published in 32 countries).

This diet is based on eating as much as you want of 72 almost pure protein foods - such as lean meat, fish, skimmed milk and fat-free cottage cheese in the first 'Attack' phase, then adding in carb-free veg such as Brussels sprouts and spinach.

He was credited with Carole Middleton's endorsement and with Kate being able to squeeze into her tiny wedding dress.

However, in 2013, Dukan was censured by France's national medical board for breaching ethical regulations, by prescribing the drug Mediator - an amphetamine derivative believed to have killed up to 1,800 people in France - to a patient who wanted to lose weight.

So guys, take it from me, one fatty to another, you don't have to buy any more diet books. Cut out all the white carbs and sugar, eat greens and walk more and the weight will fall off. I'm armed with my Fitbit, Nutribullet and Spiralizer and vowing to give it another go - until the end of January anyway!

First published in the Sunday Independent