Book Shelf: 101 Things To Do Before You Diet

When is a diet not a "diet"? And are fashion/beauty journalists qualified to dish out dietary advice? These are two questions that came to mind while I was reading Mimi Spencer's 101 Things To Do Before You Diet (Double Day; $32.95; out May 1).

I love Spencer's witty writing style, which calls to mind fellow British journalists Hadley Freeman, Camilla Morton and India Knight; the cover alone is delicious enough to warrant a look-in; and the book's premise, that dieting is pointless and, ironically, the more we obsess about it, the fatter we get (I would add dumber to that, too), really got me excited. But Spencer lost me at chapter two ("The No-Diet Dozen").

The book starts out well, with Spencer condemning our celebrity-driven dieting culture and giving a serving of to the stupidity of Atkins, Hay and the Zone. She espouses the virtues of viewing appetitie as "part of a wider picture, a realistic picture", which "encompasses body image, self-esteem, lifestyle and the regular ups and downs of normal life, and not one only suitable for Hollywood starlets, heiresses, models and people who have staff to juice their morning beetroot." Yay to that.

Spencer believes that confidence and self-belief are key to being the best (slim) you – and she is living proof: "In writing this book, I ditched the diets and started to find ways to feel better about being me. And guess what? I lost that pesky half stone." This is where things get murky, like a cold cup of Starbucks: essentially, Spencer is saying weight loss = a happier you (she wants you to be slimmer and will tell you how); but on the other hand, she wants to free us "from the shackles of thin and the torments of dieting." A contradiction, no?

Chapter one has all the good stuff – in fact, read it, then skip to the sections on style, beauty and fashion (which are wildly fun yet practical) and then to the final chaper ("Love Thyself"), while passing over chapters two, four ("How to eat petite part 1: what to put on your fork), six ("How to eat petite part 2: master the art of calorie killing) and nine ("Make a date with your metabolic rate: where exercise fits in).

While the aforementioned food/exercise chapters beef out the book, they are essentially a compilation of every magazine diet/"health" story you've ever read. Some of Spencer's thin pointers (supported by scientific – it is a well-researched tome – or celebrity evidence) include:
  • Cameron Diaz's dinner for breakfast (chicken with broccolini), Angelina's post-birth calorie consumption plan (vast morning meal, vegetable soup for dinner) and Madonna's porridge brekkie;
  • Curb carbs after 5pm;
  • Have a small supper at a reasonable time;
  • Eat more brown food, go for greens, pick purple and "learn to love the lentil";
  • Eat meals not snacks;
  • Drink more soup;
  • Drink green tea (shrink to Sophie Dahl size);
  • Think Japanese;
  • Eat grapefruit (don't go on the grapefruit diet but know that it is a "kick-ass fat-fighter";
  • Order two starters and no main;
  • Lose the sugar in your tea;
  • Give the bread basket the cold shoulder;
  • Buy only 80 per cent cocoa-solids chocolate;
  • Be the last at the table to start eating;
  • Buy smaller spoons;
  • Dining out? Sit opposite a mirror;
  • Ditch diet drinks;
  • Go for high-protein canapes;
  • Get yourself a pedometer;
  • Have more energetic sex;
  • Tape a picture of bad Britney to your fridge.
In the opening chapter, Spencer writes: "while our glossy magazines are populated almost entirely by sparrow-models and syrup-skinned celebrities, the back pages are dedicated to fat-busting fad diets, liposuction ads and essays on why five-bite meals will turn you into a glamazon in a lunch hour (as long as you don't actually have any lunch)... If the celebrity template starts to look reasonable to your eye, then stop staring. Shut the magazine. Go for a jog instead."

There are some really positive messages and tips dotted throughout, and Spencer has a wicked sense of humour, but the ultimate goal is still thinness and to get there requires adherence to the same set of rules fed to us (and legitimised/normalised) via the media. And the road to dieting hell starts with rigid rules – whether you're adhering to Atkins or eschewing carbs after 5pm.

Over recent years, a slew of seemingly revolutionary books giving a new spin on thin have entered the marketplace, and we've eaten them up (gluttonous bunch we are). From Skinny Bitch to French Women Don't Get Fat, they promise to illuminate the ultimate path to thinness. Yet the evidence continues to suggest that a boring, moderate, common-sense approach to food consumption, which aids in one's ability to function mentally, physically and emotionally (a skinny bitch is a moody bitch) and is coupled with regular (not daily) exercise, is the best way to maintain a healthy weight... your healthy weight being the one at which you function best.

So, buy the book for the writing, the beauty and fashion tips (Spencer's site Wonderstuff, which she co-edits with Camilla Morton, contains even more great advice in these departments), but proceed through the "non-diet" dieting chapters with caution.

Visit Spencer's site,, and pre-order the book here.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

This `no carbs at night` thing really bugs me... do carbs at night` thing really bugs me... do people actually believe the human body is so unsophisticated as to fail to burn carbohydrates - and instead turn them straight to fat - at certain times of day?! It makes no sense! If you`ve given up nighttime carbs and lost weight as a result, I bet it`s because whatever you`re eating instead, you`re eating less of.

jess said...

That book does seem like a contradiction. All those tips take the fun out of eating!

Death Wears Diamond Jewellery said...

taping a picture of "bad Britney" on your fridge?

i dont even know where to start with this helpful tip!