For most women from their early teens on, food means dieting. Ninety-five per cent of women are said to diet at some point in their lives and virtually all put back the weight they lose. And more.
Yoyo diets, especially diet drinks which replace meals, are probably the most futile. Amphetamines are usually a waste of time and may also prove dangerous. Almost any attempt to lose a lot of weight very quickly is doomed and extremely bad for your health. (Although there may be exceptions to this when diets are carried out under strict medical supervision.) Your body doesn’t understand that what you want to do is get into that slinky little black dress; all it comprehends is famine. So it pulls out all the stops to deal with the looming food shortage, shutting down your body systems to save energy and, as it perceives itself under threat, making you search ravenously for food.

We’re not saying ‘don’t slim’. We are saying ‘don’t diet’. If you want to lose weight permanently, you can. Aim to do so slowly and safely, with a combination of well-chosen, delicious food (which puts you in harmony with your body rather than at war with it), plus exercise (which is vital to help tone and reshape your body and keep it functioning at peak level).

If you were brought up being told that the food you couldn’t stand was the one which did you the most good, forget it. Dietbreakers, the effective self-help organisation which enabled many women and some men to kick the dieting habit, suggests always choosing food you fancy, which you can really taste and enjoy. Depriving yourself is a short cut to bingeing.

Many people also find it useful to de-tox once in a while; some practitioners of traditional medicine suggest fasting as often as once a week. This doesn’t mean eating nothing, unless you are resting in bed and expending no energy (which we positively enjoy from time to time), but, instead, giving your digestive system a rest by eating lots of fruit, salads and vegetables and drinking pure water and herbal teas.

If you have a real problem with food, whether it’s overeating, under-eating or bingeing, feeling ashamed or frightened won’t make it go away. Many of us have been in exactly the same situation, not knowing where to turn or what to do. There are good sources of help, including the international self-help organisation Overeaters Anonymous. Nutritionists and naturopaths, amongst other complementary therapists, can suggest sensible eating plans. Counselling or psychotherapy can help with low self-esteem. The Eating Disorders Association also provides excellent information packs for the estimated one in ten people with serious problems.

Learning to eat well and enjoy your food will give you health, prevent illness and provide you with that energy and joie de vivre which are essential to beauty.



The joy of eating well is that putting good food into your body gives you more energy, which in turn means you rush around more, boost your metabolism (the rate at which you burn up food energy). Then you can eat more than many of us would ever dream of allowing on our plates.

Nutritionists Gillian Hamer and Kathryn Marsden make the following recommendations:

Each day, aim to eat…


  • one serving of protein (eggs, cheese, soya, meat, fish)
  • at least five servings of vegetables and fruit (preferably more vegetables than fruit)
  • at least 1 tsp of good quality oil (extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil, sesame, flax)
  • at least one serving of carbohydrates (large jacket potato; cupful of cooked rice, pulses or cereals; up to four slices of bread, made with stoneground, unrefined flour, preferably rye rather than wheat)

Drink lots of water  This will keep your kidneys working well, de-tox your system and improve your complexion. Start by drinking a litre of pure, still water at room temperature throughout the day and work up to 2 litres. If you like, a glass of good wine a day is fine.

Cut down on fat  But don’t count fat grammes or go on a fat-free diet. Your body needs natural poly- and mono-unsaturated fats to work properly (try vegetable oils and seeds or oily fish such as mackerel, trout, sardines and salmon) as well as sensible amounts of saturated fats (butter and cream). So kick the cakes, biscuits, take-aways, chips and hydrogenated margarine spreads. Use olive oil for cooking and salad dressings, and small amounts of butter, not hydrogenated margarine for spreading. Never deep-fry food – instead, grill, steam, sauté, stew or stir-fry in a wok.

Eat more fibre  However, banish wheat bran – it can actually irritate your colon. Go for brown rice, pulses, rye bread instead. Grind linseed, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle onto salads or on your breakfast, which could be either non-wheat cereal, porridge or sheep or goat’s milk yoghurt.

Wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly. Supermarket apples have probably been sprayed about 18 times with chemical pesticides. Fruit, vegetables, meat and fish may contain antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals (not to mention Genetically Modified Organisms, in some countries), so we recommend buying organic produce wherever possible.

Begin with a good breakfast  Then aim to eat four or five smaller meals a day. Grazing on nutritious foods and snacking are now believed to be good for you.

Eat slowly  Only until you are comfortably full – then stop.

Prepare meals in good time  Don’t leave it until you’re so starving you’ll hoover up anything to quell the pangs of hunger. If you do come home ravenous, drink a home-juiced vegetable or fruit cocktail (or commercial fruit juices with no added sugar) – this will keep you going for at least 40 minutes while you prepare your meal.



Although we think diets are the work of the devil, there are times when women feel desperately unhappy if they do not lose some weight quickly. If you only have a few pounds to lose, try food combining or light de-tox, but if all else fails, don’t stop eating. This high-protein eating plan, recommended by London doctor Dr Richard Petty, can be safely followed for a week or, at most, two.


  • Avoid dairy produce, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, root vegetables, wheat and fruit.
  • Four times a day, eat 2–3oz (56–85 g) of protein (tofu, egg, fish, chicken) with as much salad or vegetables (not root) as you like, and any sort of dressing (yes, that does include mayonnaise).
  • Drink at least 2 litres of water (you will feel ill if you don’t) and take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement daily.



Although many doctors are reluctant to support it, food combining (also known as the Hay Diet) has helped millions overcome health problems, from migraine and skin problems to aching joints and irritable bowel syndrome (which affects about one person in four). At one time a gourmet gloss was put on this approach by Michel Montignac, whose bestselling slimming books adopt virtually the same theory in a rather more sophisticated form.

The basis of food combining is knowing which foods you should – or shouldn’t – eat at the same time. Fruit is eaten on its own (i.e. at least 30 minutes apart from other foods), while protein and starch are eaten separately from each other with vegetables and salads. For instance, you wouldn’t eat roast chicken with bread sauce and roast potatoes; instead you would combine it with vegetables or salad and a thin gravy. Food combining is therefore somewhat easier if you are vegetarian.

Food combining has the wonderful bonus of being a very effective slimming plan. Whether this is because you eat much less (as sceptical doctors insist but food combiners dispute) or whether it is because your body functions better and stores less fat (as Hay Diet followers believe) is not clear.



If you suffer from wild cravings for chocolates or jam sandwiches, don’t feel guilty – there may be underlying physical factors. The most likely are candida (the yeast-like fungus linked to thrush and to what’s charmingly called leaky gut) and food allergies or intolerances which can, paradoxically, cause cravings. Wheat allergy, for instance, which is very common, often triggers an apparent addiction to the substance in sufferers. Blood sugar imbalance is another condition which can trigger people to binge, almost invariably on sweet, fatty foods.

Food cravings are often combined with flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, lethargy, tiredness, depression, fuzzy-headedness, PMS and painful periods. Sufferers of vaginal thrush may also have itching and the typical white curdy discharge. There are several useful books and we recommend you consider consulting a reputable nutritionist or naturopath.