Strange myths about weight loss
For most of her adult life, my mum was overweight. She was invariably on some strange diet or other but nothing ever worked. This was largely due to her odd (and often very funny) ideas about food, what puts weight on and what to do about it.
Of course, I can’t blame her. Mum had been born in 1928 and when she was growing up, there was little information available about diet and nutrition. The little bits and pieces she ‘knew’ about what was good for you and what wasn’t was probably taken from erroneous articles in women’s magazine in the 1950s and 60s.
But it was funny sometimes.
I well remember going to her house and finding her in the kitchen with a chunk of cheese, the kitchen scales and a knife. She was carefully cutting slices from the cheese, then weighing the remaining lump. This, I think, was during a bout of Weight Watchers membership.
‘What are you doing, mum?’
I watched as she carefully took another slice from the cheese, ate it, and then weighed the larger piece. ‘Not quite right, yet’ she murmured and repeated the process.
‘I’m trying to get this chunk of cheese to weigh three ounces’ she said, slicing off another piece of cheese and eating it. I knew that my mum never followed recipes so I wondered why.
‘Well,’ she explained ‘I’m just about to make my lunch and I’m allowed three ounces of cheese’.
It hadn’t occurred to her that she’d probably eaten twice that amount when shaving slices off the cheese to attain the required lunchtime portion.
There was a cupboard in the kitchen for her slimming supplies. Woe betide anyone who ate anything from her special stash. There were Ryvita and some strange light rolls made by Energen. There were the curiously-named appetite suppressing toffees; they were called Ayds. There was low-calorie this and low-fat that. The problem is that she, and many of her contemporaries, thought that these foods were somehow ‘slimming. In other words, have a bar of chocolate but if you eat a Ryvita after it, then the chocolate magically loses its calories.
Grapefruit were evidently the same; they somehow provided ‘negative calories’.Enjoy that fatty steak but eat a grapefruit afterwards and all that fat will simply melt away.
Food that was cold had no calories, either. After all, that’s ‘salad’. So a large and hefty pork pie, served cold, was salad and therefore exempt from any calorie counting. Especially if it was garnished with something fresh and green. A parsley sprig, maybe. Or the tiniest possible lettuce leaf.
Drinks were exempt too. How on earth can anything liquid be fattening? So, a pint of Guinness, several daily cups of milky coffee, that’s just fine. And remember that this included pop, salad dressings, olive oil, whiskey…
Things that she had been brought up in the war to believe are ‘good for you’ – meat, cheese, milk – well, they were naturally fine. Otherwise there was a danger of malnutrition. You need your vitamins, after all. And she didn’t want to get too thin. What if she was ill and couldn’t eat? She needed some fat to be prepared for such an eventually.
If ever I coughed – which I did, largely due to sneaky cigarettes on the school bus – it was because ‘you don’t have enough grease on your chest. Let me cook you some lovely fatty bacon…’