With the new year now firmly with us one can not avoid reading about resolutions ad nauseum in magazines, television programs or online, particularly on the social networks. The number one resolution has not changed for donkey years: losing weight and how, still the perennial holy grail of the well surrounded. How to stop a tobacco addiction comes in at a distant second. Regaining a youthful waistline offers a number of diets, some wackier than others and none too sensible, tagged alongside a plethora of exercises.
Much of the research on health recommendations still comes from the American College of Sports Medicine, which has been studying levels of public fitness since the 1950s. So you may ask, what sort of exercise should I be taking part in, having read that the World Health Organization says physical inactivity is the fourth largest contributor to global deaths, and increases risk of some cancers, diabetes and heart disease? According to quite a few health sites, to benefit your cardiovascular system, a minimum of 20 minutes of walking every day, and no more than 20 minutes of sitting at my computer or in front of the telly without getting up and moving around. Ha! At last, a very good idea! I like it better than the fruitcake who devised a three minute-a-week intensity program, supposedly to get you ultra fit! This is obviously invented by some feverish bloke who thought, in a momentary softness of the brain, that a whole three minutes would suffice to turn one into a super-god or goddess!
I have done some reading on diet fads and all of them strike me as pretty useless. Nothing seems to work unless one eats sensibly (less meat and more vegetables, pulse & fruits), walks or exercises regularly and watch the alcohol intake. It is as simple as that, and of course it must come with a strong will, one that is unperturbed with the daily sights of deep fried goodies advertised just about everywhere and hallucinogenic visions of sugar plums!
As early as the Greeks and Romans people have been dieting (I’m not talking about the fabled vomitoriums here for which Imperial Rome was famous for, sending guests to the troughs after ingesting copious amounts of food and wine so that they could ea tand drink more!) The sage Roman philosopher, Cicero, wrote these eternal words of wisdom: “Eat to live, not live to eat”. The Greeks, on the other hand, did promote some strange weight-loss methods too, including wrestling, avoiding sex and walking around naked (I’m not making this up!) But while it was largely about health, fitness and physical games back then, it is really the crazy Victorians who started the asinine fad diet.
“The Greek word diatia, from which our word diet derives, described a whole way of life,” says Louise Foxcroft, a historian and author of Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years.
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People really got a taste for strange diets during the 19th Century. A number of quacks came up with wacky ideas and made huge amounts of money riding on the gullibility of the newly minted middle classes. Lord Byron, for example, advocated drinking vinegar to remain thin and fashionably pale (he did spend a considerable time in the bathroom, vomiting). Diet drugs, pills and potions became increasingly big business, liberally mixed with poisons like arsenic and strychnine. By far the most bizarre, IMO, is the one where they give you injections of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) from pregnant women’s urine while following a strict 500-calorie-a-day diet. Another oddity is the tapeworm diet, favored by the famous opera diva, Maria Callas who ate the parasites to
try and lose weight. It was risky in many ways. Not only can a tapeworm grow up to 30 feet (9m) in length, they can also cause many illnesses including severe headaches, meningitis, epilepsy and dementia.
Dieters would swallow beef tapeworm cysts, usually in the form of a pill. The tapeworms reached maturity in the intestines and absorbed food. This could cause weight loss, along with diarrhoea and vomiting. Once a person reached their desired weight they then took an anti-parasitic pill which, they hoped, would kill off the tapeworms. The dieter would then have to excrete the tapeworm, which could cause abdominal and rectal complications.
My own mother tried a number of diets during her lifetime (as well as religions). The one I remember clearly consisted of three ingredients only: a boiled egg, a slice of Gruyere cheese, and a glass of port. She lived on this for some months. I’m not sure if she lost weight. In the 1970s, an osteopath by the name of Robert Linn created a diet plan that revolved around fasting and drinking his proprietary concoction of ground animal byproducts like hooves, tendons and horns. Apparently, some 2 to 4 million people tried the diet, and at least 58 suffered heart attacks while on it.
Here is one thing to remember: a small chocolate bar, or a single bag of corn chips won’t ruin your health plan. In fact you must allow yourself to have an occasional treat, it’s good for the soul.
As for me I’m going to eat less meat, more vegetables and kick-ass salads, starting with this lentil recipe: it has no name as yet but it’s delicious and nutritious.
For six persons you will need 1 x 250 gram packet of green lentils (or Puy lentils, if you prefer), six medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, 2 yellow bell peppers, two or three celery sticks, a dozen artichoke hearts from a good deli, quartered, 8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced, 2 to 4 Thai chillies, finely minced and 2 small green onions, finely chopped.
For the dressing: a large spoon of wholegrain Dijon mustard, 4 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar (or a simple red wine vinegar will do as well) 6 tablespoons of walnut oil, a handful of finely chopped chives and a strong arm, as you will have to whisk it manually, mustard first, then vinegar then oil! Check for salt and pepper (I use fleur de sel from Guérande).
Soak the lentils for 1 hour, rinse well, and cook into a pot till done, but not mushed up (roughly 12 to 15 minutes), they need to remain slightly al dente. Rinse the lentils under a cold tap and set aside in to a large wooden bowl. Pan-fry the yellow peppers or bake them into a moderate oven, then cube them. To the lentils add the quartered (and drained) artichokes, the chopped onions, garlic & chillies, the halved tomatoes and the chopped up celery. Mix well then pour the dressing and mix again, gently. This is a good basis for a grand salad. You can add boiled eggs, new potatoes, roasted mushrooms, rocket leaves, asparagus and just about any kind of vegetable you have in your pantry.
The next piece will be about home made cannelloni, a dish that is close to my heart, and stomach.