The Only Diet Tip You Need

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I’ve been on a few diets in my time, and done my fair share of calorie maths, salad-munching and plain old not eating. But as I’ve gotten a bit older (and hopefully a little bit wiser) I’ve come to appreciate the old cliché, “everything in moderation”.

It’s not a trendy viewpoint, these days, but then proper common sense rarely is. The latest dietary wisdom seems to boil down to cutting out all nice things, forever – salt, sugar, fat, it all has to go – with the idea that the more extreme you go, the better. The only aim is to be as physically fit and healthy as possible.

It can be difficult to argue with this (even inside the privacy of your own head) because being fit and healthy is a good and desirable thing. The thing is, there are a lot of good and desirable goals in life, but we don’t approach any of the others in the same way.

For example, if we were to follow the same logic when it comes to our brains, we’d only ever listen to weighty philosophical debates on Radio 4, read classic literature and do extreme Sudoku puzzles, cutting out all the distracting mental junk food of sitcoms, soap operas, trashy novels and gossip magazines. Our minds would be lean, mean thinking machines, able to whip up a General Theory of Everything at the drop of a monocle, and we’d all be focused on being as clever as we can possibly be.

But hardly anybody really expects you to do that, and if they did you’d probably write them off as pretty boring. In fact, most people would agree that being equally able to hold a conversation on Shakespeare or Lady Gaga is a sign of a healthy, balanced intellect.

The same thing goes for how we spend our money. If we were to be really, properly sensible, then we’d budget for only the most practical things, like mops and supportive shoes and vitamin supplements, and save the rest of our money for emergencies like the washing machine packing up or the car getting totalled. Nobody would ever go into their overdraft, payday loans would be a thing of the past, and none of us would ever have to worry about money as we’d all be as thrifty as humanly possible.

But can you imagine how crushingly dull we would be? Instead, we sometimes splash our cash on impractical handbags, time-wasting video games and unnecessary sunshine holidays, and what good fun it is, too.

In both of those situations, I reckon most people I know would agree that both extremes are undesirable, and that just as it’s good to give the mind both vegetables (incisive Times articles on the Middle East) and doughnuts (Game of Thrones), it’s also perfectly normal and desirable to save some of your money for a rainy day and spend the rest on a pair of shoes you don’t need but really, really want.

Yet somehow, when it comes to what we look like on the beach, rather than, say, how we’d do in a surprise random general knowledge test, we come over all ridiculous. Instead of agreeing that eating half a packet of biscuits in one go is probably okay, as long as it doesn’t happen every day (just like it’s okay to spend some of your time on trashy telly, and some of your money on new clothes you don’t really need), we don’t cut ourselves any slack at all.

I guess what it really comes down to is this: if I consumed only raw vegetable juices and ran ten miles every day, then I would be pretty damn healthy, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be very happy, because preparing, serving, eating, talking and writing about food is one of my favourite things. For me, there’s got to be a balance between the two things. Being fit and healthy is a good and desirable thing, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of life, even though it’s often treated that way.

That’s why I think I’ve cracked it. Everything in moderation: it’s the only diet tip you need.