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Say No to all things Lo

Throw away that diet water and low-fat cheese, tomorrow is No Diet Day. Rosie Millard reports
Have you ever spent £50 on three felt-tip pens flavoured with "food essence" at which you desperately sniff in order to curb your appetite? Or worn plastic knickers, to enable you to sweat all those pounds off your hips? Body Wraps? Slim-Patch weight control? Bought Fat Breaker Miracle Diet Capsules? Sainsbury's sparkling diet water? Or, miracle of recent dieting miracles, Thigh Tone 1, a body cream to shrink away your thighs - a snip at £24.95 for a month's supply?

Welcome to the insane world of dieting, a world that ensnares millions of women, every day of the year. All over the country, kitchen cupboards are bulging with synthetic trophies - diet cola, diet ice-cream, low- fat cheese, low-fat bread, sugarless muesli - all of them substitutes for real food, all costing a fortune and all holding promises ofbreaking that fat barrier or beating that paunch. The fact that they rarely, if ever, deliver their promise is somehow disregarded by the women, and the handful of men, who utilise them. Only four out of every 100 women who go on a diet will be successful.

Tomorrow all that will change. For tomorrow is International No Diet Day. This is not an excuse to shove 20 sugary jam doughnuts into your mouth in the shortest possible time, says organiser Mary Evans Young, but a day put aside for "celebrating the health, creativity and beauty of all people". Ms Evans Young, a crusader against the curse of dieting, founder of the organisation Diet Breakers and author of Diet Breaking, doesn't give a damn about those four successful dieters out of every 100. This feisty woman, who looks as if she could easily withstand the disingenuous charms of a fat-free peanut, wants us to stop dieting altogether.

The launch for International No Diet Day set the mood for this chocolate- chomping, doughnut-dunking utopia. The much-derided Sainsbury's Diet Crystal Spa water was given a special award for "summing up the madness of the diet mentality". The actress Dawn French was acclaimed for "showing women it is possible to feel good about themselves and their bodies"; and there were large plates of crisps at which large, well-dressed women were picking in a careless kind of manner.

Diet Breaking ('Diet Breaking', Hodder & Stoughton, £6.99), published to coincide with International No Diet Day, should help, too. Designed to "deal with the diet scam", it is full of such depressing revelations as how one in four women feels bad about her stomach, and case histories from ordinary-sized women who cry themselves to sleep because they feel fat.

"It's not about health. People always say they are dieting to be healthy," says Ms Evans Young. "Weight loss for health reasons only applies to a minority. There is a vast difference between a health diet and a weight- loss diet. Show me a woman who diets for health, and I'll show you a man who reads Penthouse for the editorial."

Diet Breakers, which Ms Evans Young set up in 1992, aims to help women break free from this mindless cycle of dieting. Her invective is reserved not for the country's legions of dieting women (apparently about 90 per cent of them between the ages of eight and 75), but for the £1m slimming industry. "Each product seems the perfect solution. It promises so much, and when it doesn't deliver, the consumer blames herself and goes on to the next product," says Ms Evans Young. She should know; she first started dieting at the age of 14.

The turning point for her came in 1991. "I was a career consultant specialising in women's issues," says Ms Evans Young. "One day at a conference, I noticed that when the biscuits came out, there was a real buzz. But only from the female delegates. They were saying things like, 'Well, I'll have just one now, and cut down later,' and milling about the plates of food as if they were the most important thing in the room. I suddenly said, 'Why don't you all spend as much energy talking about your career as you do about food?' It was as if I had lit a match. I realised I was on to something."

She then developed a course of workshops entitled Do You Really Need To Diet? and out of these the Diet Breakers club was born.

"You always see photographs of women who lose five stone with slimming clubs; well, I'd like to see a photograph of the same woman, one year later," she says. "But we seldom see the same woman a year later because the chances are that she will have put the weight back on.

"Meal replacements, like bars and biscuits, can be just as bad as slimming clubs. They cost far more than ordinary food, they encourage unhealthy eating habits, they are high in salt and additives, and they may not be significantly lower in calories. Oh yes, they'll say they are low in calories, but lower than what? A Mars Bar?"

So Lo-Bars are out and Mars Bars are in. "We only want to eat the Mars Bar because it's not allowed," says Ms Evans Young. "I advocate healthy eating, and removing the concept of good or bad food. People must first relate to food in a healthy manner. My grandson can have as many crisps as he wants, but he doesn't binge out on them; he's not forbidden them, so their interest is removed for him."

But does No Diet Day stand any chance of beating the diet moguls? "I think it will go some way towards counterbalancing the effects of our culture," says Dr Janet Treasure, a specialist in eating disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry. "And it may add a note of realism. Some of us are simply plumper than others."

The Labour MP Alice Mahon believes that "public awareness of the dangers of slimming is now growing". She is presenting a Bill to Parliament in an attempt to "draw attention to the perils and futility of dieting", and to regulate the diet industry. "In New York City now, all diet supplements have to carry official warnings stating that the product does not guarantee weight loss, and that there are serious health risks in losing too much weight too fast.

"I would like to see similar restrictions here; and with that, better education about healthy eating, particularly for young people. I would also like producers and editors of women's magazines and daytime television to stop contributing to this madness. On No Diet Day I will be eating what I eat every day," snorts Ms Mahon. "Exactly what I want!"

To join in with No Dieters in Britain, the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Russia tomorrow, you could wear a pale blue ribbon of support, take a loved one out to lunch, or enjoy a picnic; develop a positive body image, for you and for children. And bin that tub of thigh cream.