Yo-yo dieter Martin Saunders wonders if France’s latest food fad will be the answer to his problems
My name is Martin, and I’m a yo-yo dieter. It’s a sad but important confession to make; my relationship with food has always fluctuated between passionate embrace and coldshouldered abstinence. I tend to apply the all-or-nothing principle to eating: if something’s worth doing, it’s worth sautéing in red wine before being smothered in a blue cheese sauce.
I’m not a glutton; I’m certainly not one of those people who seem unaware they have bits of cookie stuck to the side of their face. That said, the unfortunate flotation-aid-style side effect of a passion for food, which so brilliantly hides my rippling six pack, means I am rather more experienced in the diet arena than most men of 32. Of course I’ve done Weight Watchers.
Of course I’ve been on the Slim Fast plan. I sidestepped Atkins when I heard it made adherents smell of cabbage, and plumped (pun absolutely intended) for the Montignac diet, a sounds-too-good-to-betrue French eating plan which allowed plenty of cheese, dark chocolate and red wine, as long as you don’t eat carrots. Almost inexplicably, it worked, and the weight fell off, although I also found that I couldn’t climb the stairs without doubling over in exhaustion. That too, fell by the wayside.
In each of these cases, I successfully dieted for between three and six months, losing a stone in weight or more every time. Then, inevitably, I found myself tumbling off the wagon – one night I was nibbling on a cereal bar and convincing myself it was nutritious, the next I was walking through the door of the place where diets go to die – the all you can eat buffet.
Of course, if diets really worked, they wouldn’t be so popular. They make sense to us when we’re feeling chubby and vulnerable, but they invariably treat the symptoms of weight gain, not the cause. That’s why they’re generally unsustainable, and why a whole industry is in business forever when theoretically it should be in decline; the dieting trade is reliant on the long-term inadequacy of its own products.
The newest kid on the diet block calls itself ‘France’s bestkept secret’, and has made its creator a five-million-selling author. The Dukan diet, designed by nutritionist Dr Pierre Dukan, is an adapted version of the less catchily titled Protein Sparing Modified Fast, which was developed in the 1970s to help the morbidly obese. Like Atkins, it centres on avoiding most carbohydrates, and on some days eating only protein.
Dukan, like most other diets, is broadly a two-stage process – the part where you lose the weight, and the part where you keep it off. In the early stages, dieters are encouraged to eat protein almost exclusively, before being eased back slowly into ‘normal’ healthy eating. The only catch is that for the rest of your life, you agree to one Protein-only day a week, which prevents your body from building up reserves of carbohydrate-turned-fat. Which sounds too good to be true, and in all probability, is.
The biblical diet?
I’m torn of course. Part of me (the fat part) wants to believe the Dukan (or should that be Kan-Do?) hype, and throw myself into no-carb Thursdays. Another part wonders whether this is simply another twang of the yo-yo string.
I wonder why we’re so easily taken in by fad diets when our experience tells us they don’t work in the long term. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of our buy now, pay later society that we’re happy to enjoy quick-fix results and turn a blind eye to the underlying problem. With all the media-driven pressure we suffer over body image, perhaps we’re content to stave off feelings of low self-esteem with short-term ‘success’. So whether or not Dukan works, it doesn’t address those root issues, but simply feeds the diet dream with the mythical promise of ‘miracle’ weight loss. As Christians our self-image should not be based on how thin we are, or how much we look like Angelina Jolie. Not that this is a personal goal of mine.
Having said that, there are a couple of interesting principles behind Dukan’s diet which, even if they don’t originate from the Bible, resonate with its teaching. Proverbs 23:2 might suggest you ‘put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony,’ but the whole of scripture is littered with references to eating and feasting, often – as in the story of the Prodigal Son – as a picture of the kingdom to come. Many crucial moments in the life of Jesus come at a meal table, and his grand invitation in Revelation 3 (v20) is a request for dinner. Even the ritual he has given the Church to remember him by is a meal.
It seems to me that the biblical perspective on food is that sometimes it should be lavishly prepared, and then relished, but that it should never become a consuming passion in and of itself. In all the biblical feasting examples, the food is secondary to the relationships being enjoyed through the relaxing atmosphere of a long meal time. The Dukan diet, like many others, tries to focus its adherents on enjoying food, and being able to do so extravagantly at times, but with the caveats of avoiding gluttony and agreeing to the six-and-one rhythm of a day of carbohydrate rest.
You may have the feeling you’ve come across this six-and-one rhythm somewhere before. It’s the rhythm of Sabbath, God’s own holistic self-help strategy. Since this is the measure applied to work and rest, could it also make sense to apply the same equation to our consumption of carbohydrates – which we now know to cause weight gain. Like the zookeepers who realised their animals became tired and irritable during their seventh unbroken day on public display, Dukan may have inadvertently stumbled upon a profound rule of God’s created universe.
The idea that God should be the architect of healthy eating shouldn’t come as any great surprise of course. Nutritionists have told us for years that the healthiest way to consume food is in it’s most natural (or created) state – as unprocessed as possible – while theologians and mystics alike have always held the spiritual and physical benefits of fasting in tandem. Rediscovering discipline – spiritual and otherwise – sees us treating the root problems rather than the symptoms, and there lies the secret of sustainable self-improvement.
Avoiding the crash
I’m not suggesting for one moment that Dukan has created the biblical diet, although several plans of that name are available, rather predictably in America. However his focus on behaviour change, and on giving our bodies a regular rest from processing carbohydrates, does make more sense than most fad diets, and chimes with Christian thought.
Like all diets that offer fast results however, there’s a warning attached. The early stages, if not followed properly, could spiral into crash dieting, which is no better than a short-term eating disorder. Other diets, such as the dust-based Lighter Life plan, positively encourage such behaviour. To my mind – having watched people dramatically yo-yo on that diet – not only do I discourage this approach, I counsel you to keep an eye out for friends who might be considering it themselves. If a six-andone rhythm is God-ordained – eating powdery dust is positively dehumanising.
Having said all this, we should not lose perspective. Yes, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should treated with respect, but whatever our shape or size, we must never forget that we have been ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14). Whether we’re 15 stone with flabby midriffs, or the svelte poster-person we’ve always dreamed of being – our selfimage should remain in our relationship with God, not with food or a French nutritionist.
Martin Saunders is the new regular writer of this column. He is an author, screenwriter and the editor of our sister title Youthwork magazine.