Fuck This Fucking Fasting Diet, Seriously




Whenever a magazine that the Vagenda has been featured in does something wrong, we sort of feel honour bound to declare a relationship before we take to the task of savaging them (or in this case giving them a disappointed telling off) So here goes: The Sunday Times Style, well, they gave us a double page spread and they let us wear masks in the pictures, proving that not only are they a women's magazine willing to cover a blog whose bread and butter is taking the piss out of women's magazines, but they also have a fairly high tolerance for letting young women dick about wearing the cardboard face of Kate Middleton. So they seem pretty cool at the Sunday Times Style. 

And I'll admit, I quite like them. I'm a bit of a fashion geek, and its one of the few Sunday supplements that truly indulges that (what? You think I'm going to get my fash fix from the lefty diversity of the Observer 'All Ages' section? Bitch, please), with a bit of irreverent sniping and posho-worship thrown in. I suppose I sort of see it like a kind of mini-Tatler. Being the unmannered, oafish daughter of a single mum on benefits, I know its not really for me; it's for the upper-class broads, but I love it anyway. Plus, as I declared earlier, the Times has been very, very nice to us. Surprisingly so. Indeed, they initially took far more interest than the 'feminist left-wing media'. 

But (and herein lies the nub), when one of our contributors who had battled eating disorders admitted that she had often used the Sunday Times Style for 'thinspiration' when she was anorexic, and I wasn't surprised at all. Like Vogue, the other thinspiration bible (although they'd hate being called that, you can't deny that its page adorn kitchen cupboards across the county, next to biro scribbled admonitions 'Sophia don't eat'- I've seen it with my own eyes), it's full of pictures of skinny women. But in terms of the damage women's magazines do, I've always seen Vogue as pretty far down the list compared with say, Grazia (declaration of interest: I used to intern at Vogue) or Cosmo or Glamour (likewise the awful Glamour). Say what you like about it, but they don't feature diets, and it's pretty hard to sustain a large amount of anger at a picture of a skirt when a Grazia hack is yelling at you  to 'TAKE YOUR BUTT TO BOOTCAMP' (though believe me, I've tried). 

Sunday Times Style, however, does feature diets, and this is what was getting all up in my grill yesterday while everyone else was furious at kindhearted empathy-machine Julie Burchill declaring her love for all humanity regardless of what they do with their genitals, in the Observer. Suffice to say, this 'fasting diet' article in the STS had me making the kind of facial expressions you'd see Dear Julie making at a 'Free Palestine' meeting. Namely: WTF? I don't understand this.

I first heard about the 'Fasting Diet' at our literary agency's Christmas party, when one of the girls I was talking to declared that her office had become an extremely unpleasant place to be since half the inmates started doing this 5:2 diet, where for two days a week they eat practically nothing, and for the rest of the time stuff their faces. As someone who is genetically predisposed to have to eat every couple of hours lest I become an Angry Woman, being holed up in an office with a load of hungry lasses is basically my worst nightmare, even in the beatific environment that is publishing. 

I got the need to eat from my mama, and I knew from a young age that if she didn't top up her energy reserves that I'd slowly start to see her facial expression change, kind of like that scene from an American Werewolf in London (0-Angry in 30 seconds), before she blew her top and yelled GIVE ME A BISCUIT NOW in the middle of a supermarket with everyone watching. 

It's important to eat for a multitude of reasons, not least because if you don't, you eventually die. Considering the fact that we have what is essentially an anorexia epidemic in this country, I am extremely disappointed with the STS's decision to publish a guide to fasting yesterday. Before my grandfather died, he was a Sunday Times subscriber, and every weekend he would save the STS for my teenage cousin. It was like a little thing that he did for her, without fail, because he knew that she loved it. In fact, teenage girls in general love the STS. Teenage girls also have a propensity to go anorexic (thankfully my cousin is fine, but I know others who are not). One teenager I was talking to, who went to a private London girls' school, said that five girls in her year had been sectioned for mental health problems, another had committed suicide, and many, many more had succumbed to anorexia. This isn't a pretend problem guys, this is real.

The Sunday Times has a circulation of just under one million, which means that it will have entered quite a few houses at which teenage girls are resident yesterday. At least some of those girls are going to be feeling fat and will have picked up the STS and had that validated for them. How many of them will have gone to school hungry this morning because a national broadsheet newspaper have told them it's a great way to lose weight?

And all because it worked for some chump on BBC Horizon.

Here are a few excerpts from the STS article. You can make up your own mind as to whether it counts as thinspiration:

- 'take two days off eating every week and the pounds will disappear'

- 'The idea is that you restrict or totally eliminate calories for part of the week; the rest of the time you can eat what you like. And yes, you will still lose weight, and lots of it. It’s the ultimate “have your cake and eat it” solution.'

- 'The funny thing is, they may cook bacon, eggs, sausages and toast, but when they sit down to eat it, they often say they can manage only about half of it. If you are constantly snacking, you feel like you’re always hungry. Fasting teaches you what it really means to be hungry and what it means to be full.'

- 'If you are having more meals, be very careful about measuring exactly what you eat. Don’t guess. People don’t realise how calorie-dense certain foods are. You can blow 100 calories in less than a minute, which, in this scenario, is not good.” When starting off, Varady suggests that if you want to eat twice a day, eat half of a ready meal for lunch and save the rest for dinner.'

- 'If you find a valid reason why — despite craving it — you don’t really like cake, then you can focus on that,” suggests Jane Ogden, professor of psychology at Surrey University. Think about feeling bloated and full afterwards or how sugary icing might make your teeth hurt. “I don’t want to eat cake because I don’t like it” then becomes a viable mantra.'

- 'attach greater meaning to what you’re doing than simply losing weight for its own sake. '

- 'set up a system of immediate rewards. For example, if I get through the next two fast days, I can buy a new lipstick or treat myself to a massage. If I stick to four fasts, I can buy that new pair of shoes. Obviously, do not use food as a reward.” A less expensive but surprisingly effective system is to buy a pack of gold stars and put a kids-style reward chart up on the wall. “It sounds daft, but it does work, because you have a visual reminder of your progress.'

- 'It’s going to be obvious if you’re eating too much on nonfast days, because you won’t be losing any weight. So, in the initial stages, keep a log of what you eat and how much weight you’re losing.'

- 'you must learn not to be afraid of hunger. When was the last time you were properly hungry? I know nutritionists bang on about the importance of breakfast, but I’m with Joanna Lumley on this one: why wake up Annie appetite before you need to?'

- 'There is something addictive about waking up feeling hungry.'

- 'You get a kind of psychological high when you fast'

- 'After two days of not eating, your stomach shrinks, so you don’t want to eat more.

Oh, and starving yourself two days a week apparently also holds the cure for cancer, depression, and Alzheimers. 

Would you want your teenage daughter reading that? 

Last week, we did a talk at the IPPR think tank, where we were asked about policy recommendations. I'm starting to think that perhaps we need some proper strict fucking guidelines about inciting behaviour with potentially damaging health implications. Because it isn't just the Sunday Times, (seriously, sort it out guys, we quite liked you) it's everywhere. And it needs to stop now. 

P.S. If you're reading this and thinking 'oh, that sounds good actually, I might try that', know this: doctors still maintain that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is through a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise. Not only does it work, but it also stops you becoming the grumpiest and most unreasonable person alive, not to mention loneliest, because you'll have no friends. And really, what's the point of being skinny if no one wants to hang out with you because all you talk about is how many calories your cocktail has in it.?