Mimi Spencer has spent most of her life surrounded by catwalks and ultrathin celebrities--and she was sick of dieting. So she created the anti-diet. In 101 Things to do Before You Diet, Spencer shares the tips, tricks, and solutions that finally helped her lose those last few pounds and shows women how to trim, flatter, and accept every inch of their bodies.
With ample doses of empathy and irreverence, Spencer offers readers 101 figure-flattering tips, from choosing the right fashion to just saying no to fat traps and calorie pitfalls. Spencer's candid advice (drawn from years spent at the frontlines of fashion) and her uniquely relatable voice (drawn from decades of being a woman on a diet) will keep readers entertained as they knock off a few pounds and learn how to love the skin they're in.
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CHANGE YOUR MIND TO CHANGE YOUR SHAPE
BODY BRILLIANCE STARTS IN YOUR HEAD
First things first: Do not stop eating! Isn't that a relief? But you do need to start loving--not that pretty cupcake, not those great ankle boots with the stacked heel, not J. Lo's new bangs, but yourself. Your head needs to be in the right place from the outset. So get it out of the sand (or out of the fridge--or, now that I think of it, out of that celebrity tabloid) and look in the mirror. This is where your journey begins; a little love and a lot of honesty will be your guides on the road to glory. This chapter is about reassessing your relationship with the world. It's about seeing sense, gaining perspective, and understanding what works for you. Not the girl in the lemon yellow sweatpants, but you.
1 DON'T READ DIET BOOKS*
It is a dispiriting fact that the greatest preoccupation of our age is with weight and its loss. As the world grows ever richer and rounder, we seem to grow ever more fascinated by the heft (or lack thereof) of our fellow men. Though, of course, we're far more interested in the women.
Think about how dieting and all its attendant nonsense have saturated our culture. How much time and effort it absorbs. We've trained ourselves to size people up in the blink of an eye. We're constantly aware of weight-- its cruel lack or its licentious excess. We're hooked on A-list diets, quick-fix pills, self-help miracle cures, and the latest celebrity-endorsed regimes to issue from Los Angeles.
This, dear friends, is Diet Porn, a perverse phenomenon that undermines us all at a critical, visceral level. It gnaws away at our self-esteem as it sucks up vast tracts of time and energy that could be usefully expended elsewhere. While other eras basked in the Renaissance, the Golden Age, the Belle Epoque, we're lucky enough to have a TV schedule that boasts America's Next Top Model. Look, I'm not expecting us to spend our evenings ruminating upon the complexities of our being. But a little bit of thought beyond "Has she had a tummy tuck?" would make for a pleasant change.
The first thing you need to do, when building the platform upon which you will stand as you tackle the flabbiness that has crept into your life, is to Think Straight. You have to rid yourself of the dysfunction that marks our modern dance with diets. It's a ludicrous, exhausting gavotte, and it has to stop. You have to be in the right frame of mind. You have to sidestep the wild promises and wicked propaganda of an industry dedicated to keeping you in its grasp.
So stop staring at Gisele's butt and wondering how she does it, and start living. Stop measuring yourself against a warped societal norm, and start enjoying what you've got. Stop believing the barrage of misinformation and what Susie Orbach calls "the fictions that dominate our culture." Start reading something edifying, instead. Get your sustenance from poetry, from Plato, from dancing the tango in platform heels, a red rose clenched between your teeth. Just don't get it from cake.
* This, I hasten to add, is not a diet book. It is a "not-a-diet" book, designed to help you develop positive relationships--with your jeans, your butter dish, your waist, and your world.
2 BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
You are already gorgeous. You just don't know it yet. To truly absorb this fundamental fact, you may well need to reset your Fat Goggles and recognize that carrying a few extra £ds is not a cardinal sin, no matter what the more pernicious quarters of the media would have you believe. Kerry Halliday, PhD, a London-based psychologist specializing in body-shape issues, says she regularly encounters women who are a perfectly normal, decent size, "and yet they've convinced themselves that a size 6 is fat! So many of the people I see are a healthy weight, but they have a fat head, full of fat thoughts. There's this constant dialogue of guilt. It's there when they go to sleep, it's there when they wake up, it's internal and introverted and isolating."
Enough already! Embark on the new-you project from a position of strength. Loving yourself doesn't make you a narcissist, it makes you a realist, armed and ready to resist the onslaught of our bizarre, thin-obsessed culture.
You do, however, need to be realistic about your expectations. I've known for years that I'll never be a size 4, let alone a size 0. I know that Kate Moss can do hot pants and I can't, that my thighs sometimes brush against one another like old friends, and that a miniskirt somehow makes me look maxi. There's something very liberating about recognizing these small facts, accepting them, and then--whoosh!--letting them go, like so many shiny helium balloons. You're suddenly free.
This doesn't mean letting yourself go, though. This project is not about giving in and giving up, installing yourself in the shadows and waiting for oversize sweaters to come back in vogue. No. This is a plan of action, a quest for change, a manifesto to celebrate all that is great about being a woman.
So accept yourself, right now. Don't live the dream, live the reality. You're not Katie Holmes. You have a soft tummy. You wish you looked better in a bikini, but you accept that you don't. Watch those shiny balloons go, one by one. Pretty soon, you won't even know they were there. And remember all the while that the fat-cat dieting industry is founded upon the expectation of failure; you, my dear, should start with the bracing power of hope.
3 OPEN YOUR EYES AND RECOGNIZE YOUR WORTH
By and large--unless you have some karmic reason to believe otherwise--you only get one body. It may wax and wane, ebb and flow, but broadly speaking, you've been given those legs, that chest, those buttocks, this mortal coil-- and you're not going to be issued another set upon request. Rather than poke your body in the eye with a fork, wouldn't it be better to love it, even just a little bit? But how can you love someone you don't really know?
Before you get started, you really need to understand exactly what shape you're in. Unless you turn on the lights right now, you'll never grasp the truth--so it's time to get a grip. Sneak a look; you won't bite. I'm not expecting you to conduct a microscopic investigation of every inch, but you do need to have a handle on how you really look, who you really are, and whether those wide-legged palazzo pants are really such a good idea.
So stop ignoring your reflection--in shop windows, in the mirror, in those brutal changing rooms where you catch a rare glimpse of your unfamiliar buttocks ... because none of it is going anywhere unless you take notice. Look through vacation photos. Don't shy away from the truth--it's never as bad as you expect. (Though that bikini in Bermuda really was a shocker.)
Once you have had a proper gawk--yes, naked, with the lights on--you can start to weigh your options. I don't suggest you install vast mirrors on every available surface--the aim is not to make your home resemble a gentleman's club--but do administer a good dose of exceptional honesty. If you're the kind of person who likes to keep scrapbooks and ticket stubs from amazing journeys, you might want to take "before" photos (it's probably best to keep these to yourself, though) so that you can marvel at the "after" shots in a couple of months' time.
SHIFT YOUR SHAPE, NOT YOUR WEIGHT
It's worth noting early on that you--yes, you--don't really want to lose weight at all. What you want to do is change shape. If you are round and bottom-heavy, you want to be leaner. If you are wide and wobbly, you want to be taut and toned. I know, I understand--because I do, too.
The issue, then, isn't how much you weigh, per se. It's not even your BMI rating. This score (mine happens to be 21.9) is necessarily abstract, a general theory that cannot hope to measure the particulars and peculiarities of the individual. The equation used to calculate a person's BMI is:
Weight in £ds / (height in inches)2 x-703
Note that nothing in there accounts for body type, ethnicity, or composition--and as such this equation should be treated with informed caution. A perfectly fit, lean athlete can easily be classified as obese using this system. Need proof? According to his BMI, Brad Pitt is technically "overweight," while Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney are both "clinically obese." Even Leila Ali clocks in as a heavyweight.
If you're seriously overweight, or just desperate to have a number stamped on your size, a BMI score may be of use to you. (Indeed, there is no real alternative that does the job any better.) But for a run-of-the-mill, slightly-on-the-chubby-side person, knowing your BMI is about as much use as knowing how to do quadratic equations. And when was the last time you had to solve one of those?
Far better to feel the real. Use your eyes. Use your pants. Use your unforgiving and not-entirely-kind mirror. We all know, for instance, that muscle weighs more than fat. We all know that fat located in certain areas is more troublesome to the eye than others. We all know that one woman's 150-£d hell is another's 150-£d paradise. Find your happy place.
Whatever you see, don't be mirror-miserable. If you face the music and feel fat, don't binge on shame and finger-pointing. You're only on Step 3. We've barely begun! Instead of seeking out and dwelling upon the downers, look for, and emphasize, your positive points, remembering all the while that you're never as fat as you feel. Your task--with the help of the next 98 steps--is to stop feeling fat and start feeling fabulous. Understand now (and recall often, as you read the next 10 chapters) that a gentle softness, a Rubens roundness, is feminine and beautiful and absolutely fine. It is infinitely more appealing than a desperate yearning for a flat stomach and toothpick thighs. (And if you find yourself doubting this for even a second, just ask a man.)
4 STOP WORSHIPPING THIN AND LOVE THE SKIN YOU'RE IN
It is hardly a revelation to note that as a society we are obsessed to the point of distraction by thinness--associating it, as a recent survey found, with "success." By the tender age of 6 years old, most girls are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to be thinner, according to research published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology; almost half of those girls believe they need to go on a diet to lose weight. "Girls seemed particularly aware of teasing and likeability on the basis of weight and shape," the report concludes.1
The psychologist's explanation of this body-bashing is that, in these egalitarian times, when there are few remaining hierarchies based on religion, background, money, or education, we tend to judge people in terms of their appearance. Image is currency. Consider this fact: Until the seventies, only overweight women dieted. Today, only overweight women don't.
Of course, this book is all about putting an end to that. While there's nothing sinister or odd about wanting to feel fit and healthy and look great in a pair of shorts, there is certain danger in persuading yourself that all the troubles of your world could be eliminated if only you slimmed down. Life--fat, thin, or somewhere in between--will always have unpleasant surprises in store, whether you are 160 £ds or 115. Even at your fantasy weight, you'll still have to deal with your husband/ teenagers/aggravating mother-in-law. There will still be bills and traffic jams and that annoying stain on the rug where you spilled red wine. You won't enter nirvana as you finally break into the 120s, so stop putting all of your hopes and dreams into one skinny little basket. Recognize that being thin is not the same as having a good body. Once you've gained perspective, you'll probably lose weight. Life's weird like that.
5 USE YOUR BRAIN, NOT YOUR FORK
Kooky as it sounds, you can "reprogram" your brain to eat well. Along with physiological demands, hormone surges, and social pressures, there is another influence at work on your appetite: Psychology.
A human mind is a lot like a human child. Tell it not to do something, deprive it of something (anything, really--High School Musical stickers, Spiderman lunch boxes, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts), and it will want that thing more than any other little thing on the face of the earth. It will obsess. Ever tried telling yourself "I must not have that cake"? Works about as well as telling yourself "I must not think of pink elephants," right?
In a study by psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, dieting was actually found to increase cravings for "forbidden" foods, such as chocolate. In their experiment, researchers showed 85 women a series of images of enticing chocolate cakes and desserts drenched in fudge sauce--and they found that subjects showed significantly more desire for these than for other covetable objects displayed, such as perfume or a Mercedes-Benz. So far, so what? Well, among dieting women (those who had dieted in the last year or who were on a diet at the time), the responses were even stronger. They experienced heightened cravings and feelings of guilt. "Dieting appears to make a difference to how people perceive food, in this particular instance, chocolate," the study concluded. "Instead of helping people to eat more healthily and to cut down on products which are bad for their health, the negative effect induced by dieting appears to have the opposite effect in that it can increase the desire for the actual foods they are trying to avoid... . If we constantly deprive the brain of the food we most desire we crave it even more." 2
FAT DAYS MAKE YOU HUMAN, NOT HUMUNGOUS
You know how it feels. You wake up all wrong. Your face stares bleakly out from the mirror, demanding to know why you even bothered emerging from the sack. Your wardrobe is a freakish obstacle course, a land of booby traps and trip wires, filled with oddly shaped jackets and cheek-sapping colors. That dress you looked amazing in last Friday? Nightmare. The sexy, sultry siren shoes? Slutty. The red V-neck sweater, the one that made you feel like Marilyn Monroe? More like Marilyn oh no.
There are those days when the very same clothes you wore yesterday (on the very same body, of course) can feel inordinately different--and that difference depends entirely on something as insubstantial and subjective as your mood. We all have days like these. No one is immune to bad hair days, bad skin days, big butt days, days that seem to be full of snagged stockings, broken nails, and dashed dreams. They arise because we're human.
More to the point, they arise because we're women.