Sarah Vine: 2014, another year of not getting thin

December 15th 2014 / Sarah Vine Google+ Sarah Vine / 6 comments


There may be no elusive diet secret but in 2014 Sarah Vine realised that weight loss is much easier for some people than others

This was going to be The Year. Mid-December, and I was going to be jaw-droppingly svelte. Shimmying about the place in something fabulously small and soignée. Smiling gracefully as the congratulations rolled in - "Oh my, I hardly recognised you!" "How much weight did you say you had lost?" "Two stones? Really? That's fantastic!"

It wasn't for want of trying. James Duigan, Mr Bodyism himself, was funny, charming, endlessly encouraging. Then there was the lovely Ollie, who chased me around the park with kettle bells and elastic bands and all manner of strange fitness contraptions. Handsome Luke at Ten Pilates, ever patient, ever tolerant.

Amelia Freer, she did her level best. Sent me daily deliveries of her delicious food: delicate poached salmon fillets, lovingly soaked seeds, little notes of encouragement. The nice people at Victoria Health gave me some raspberry ketones. I spent a heavenly week at Grayshott, eating tantalising healthy titbits and nodding sagely as I learnt all about good fats and bad fats and the evils of sugar.

And yet here I sit, lardacious as ever. Well, not quite. Ladies and gentlemen, in 2014, under the tutelage of some of the most effective and experienced experts in the business, I have lost precisely three and a half kilograms.

I have no one to blame for this appalling failure but myself. I am lazy, ungrateful and very possibly criminally irresponsible. I am the sort of person who shows up in government statistics about fat people costing the NHS a fortune.

And I'm a hypocrite too: I am the co-founder of a health and wellness website, for heaven's sake. Surely on that basis alone I should be a size 10.

The thing is, I have a funny suspicion that, bad as I am, I am not alone. That my behaviour is not as abnormal as, on paper, it would appear.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that being a healthy weight is as much to do with the mind as it is to do with the body.

Not a day goes by when I don't wish I could be two stone lighter. I flick through my wardrobe: nope, too fat for that; can't wear those trousers; that shirt gapes at the bust; that dress pulls on the back. I have to resist the temptation not to spend my days in giant black sacks.

And yet if I desire slenderness so much, why then does it continue to elude me?

Is it because secretly I don't really care? Am I perhaps just pathologically lazy? Or is my inability to slip into a pair of size 12 Joseph leggings simply a reaction to the relentless fat-shaming that seems to dominate today?

If there is one thing I do know about the psychology of weight it's that the more you nag a fat person about their size, the hungrier they become. That is because very often being overweight - especially in young girls - is not a sign of indolence or greed; it is a symptom of unhappiness.

MORE GLOSS: 10 things they never tell you about diets

I understand comfort eating because I do a lot of it myself. Food can ease anxiety in me like nothing else. I would far rather tuck into a piece of hot buttered toast with Marmite than smoke a cigarette or have a vodka and tonic. It is the best emotional anaesthetic I know.

If food is your principle source of solace, then you have a real problem. For while it is possible to give up cigarettes and alcohol and enjoy nothing but positive effects, humans cannot give up food and remain alive.

That is why people who suffer from anorexia also tend to be binge eaters. They fear food in the way an alcoholic fears a shot of vodka. They're terrified that if they have just one, they won't be able to control themselves. In the end they feel the only way to overcome their compulsions is to stop altogether. Which of course is not possible.

Anorexia is really just an extreme form of food phobia; obesity, meanwhile, is at the other end of the scale: a food addiction. Both are equally damaging; and in both cases the symptoms may be physical, but the disease is mental.

That is why cajoling the overweight into exercise programmes and lecturing them about dietary regimes is about as effective as force-feeding an anorexic.

Their conscious mind understands that their behaviour is abnormal; but their subconscious can't reform. Most people with weight issues fall somewhere in between the extremes, myself included. And every year, around now, we tell ourselves that this time it's going to work. That we will embark on the 5:2, or the High Intensity Training, or whatever it happens to be - and we will stick to it. But deep down, we're lying. We know that, come February, we'll have fallen off the food wagon - again. And what little we've lost will start creeping back on again.

Those people I know who do succeed in staying slim well into their 30s and beyond all have one thing in common: they have absolutely no emotional engagement to food. For them it is simply a fuel, their stomach a tank, to be replenished when empty, like that of their car.

They are the ones that interest me. I want to know which switches in which part of my brain I need to flick in order to be able to think like them.

Meanwhile, I wish you a happy Christmas. Enjoy those mince pies.


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  • anna perry
  • July 30th 2016

Your hypothesis is wrong, Sarah. I am a slim (comfortable French size 38/40, English size 10/12) 50 year old with a strong emotional attachment to food. Far from food being mere fuel, it offers me unparalleled aesthetic pleasures. I love shopping for food, thinking about food, cooking, reading about food, going to restaurants. And I have no weight issues at all. The secret? I eat proper food: traditional recipes that have stood the test of time, at mealtimes, made from high quality ingredients.

  • Cristina runa
  • December 17th 2014

Reading this article reminded me of my 20 years of dieting. As Emma mentioned, the only thing that has helped me was Overeaters Anonymous (OA). It's not glamorous or trendy but it works. The last 2 years in the programme have been the best of my life. For the first time I am able to eat without worrying and trust myself around food. For the fist time I do not dread trying on clothes or worry about a new diet that I will fail at. OA is not a diet and calories club and does not endorse any particular plan of eating. To find out if OA is for you there are some questions to help determine if you have a problem with compulsive eating. These can be found on the OA website:

  • Emma Greenwood
  • December 16th 2014

I relate to everything you write here, Sarah. The only thing that has worked form me is joining Overeaters Anonymous (OA). The programme is based around that of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and all the principles are the same. Through the programme, and working with a sponsor, I have learnt to manage my food behaviours and triggers. It has given me a completely new perspective about why I overeat. I am releasing weight constantly, and I'm not dieting, which is amazing to me. You should give it a try.

  • J Chloe
  • December 16th 2014

Brilliant article Sarah and absolutely talking about a problem that thousands are struggling with. As someone who personally had a very disordered relationship with food and then has come out the other side , here are few thoughts from my soap-box: -

1.. You are not a failure and thinking about the problem in this way is part of the problem. Critical and judgmental self-talk fuels the deeper feelings of inadequacy and you will want to eat more to self-soothe or feel hopeless to change so eat anyway.

2. Diets do not work. All the research backs this up. Compare a whole range of diets. Short-term people lose weight. 18 months on - only 3% (yes that is all!) keep the weight off.

3. As human-beings we hate being controlled and told what to do. We are naturally spontaneous beings. A diet is a big, fat set of rules and shoulds. For a while we can placate and be the 'good girl' but after a while, we tend to rebel and think 'sod the diet!

4. Diving into health programmes/personal trainers etc can just become another diet if it is not something you genuinely LOVE and enjoy. These programmes are not sustainable if too intense or unreal for your life-style or if they feel like an obligation.

5..Short-term food solves problems and very effectively - escape; distraction; ease emotions; pleasure - and if you have been doing this for years, stopping it is not easy. The roots of this might also run quite deep and need unpicking.

6. Coming from a place of kindness, compassion, self-care and self-nurture helps massively in the whole process. When you are feeling good about yourself, you don't want to self-punish with food.

7. The long-term way out and staying slim- for many does not involve some new plan, trainer or regime. It is finding sustainable changes that work for you. It is about understanding the things that are keeping it going and unrooting these. It is really about loving yourself in a whole new way.

Harriet Frew and

  • J Chloe
  • December 16th 2014

What a fantastic piece! Your message hits the spot. I embark each year with a similar quest to find the million dollar solution and 2014 has given some insight to the 'flick' and a comfortable lost of 10kg ( i.e. didn't count a single calorie). Whilst there is nothing wrong with any of the listed programs (paleo, 5:2, etc) the fundamental part of the missing puzzle is two-fold. You need to first ask yourself: 'Can I do this everyday for the rest of my life?' - this is where the yoyo dieting happens because most of the time you start the regime with such gusto that you can't realistically keep up with it forever (so instead of hitting the gym 6 days a week, a walk 4 days a week might be more realistic). The second thing of course is the motivation - you need to find something that is going to motivate you to maintain these changes. This motivation needs to be deep and meaningful for you so it's not good enough to make changes for an event then revert back once the event is over. As someone in their mid 20s my motivation was the realisation that I'll probably have children later in life and for this to happen I needed to keep the 'machine' in pristine condition and hence make the changes ( diet and exercise) and maintain them.

  • Claire Vardon
  • December 16th 2014

You are not alone. This could be me speaking. A big family wedding still didn't get me on the right track. I cant bear to look at the photos.
My daughter is a newly qualified nutritionist and we are tackling it together. Nothing forbidden, eat to equalise hormones which leads to a lift in mood. Early days with some slips of course but it's not a diet. I have lots more energy and do feel positive but we've all been there before.
I do agree that the mind/food/weight is all connected. I lost a lot of weight three years ago and my doctor said 'well done. That's the easy bit. Now you have to identify how to maintain it.' I didn't and its all crept back or rather I've allowed it to creep back.
As usual its a work in progress.

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