Culture of dieting enrages food guru: Egon Ronay sinks his teeth into the 'hysteria' over slimming

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The Independent Online
EGON RONAY, the food critic and former restaurateur, made a savage attack on the slimming industry yesterday, accusing it of promoting an unnatural ideal and claiming that certain diet books should carry a government health warning.

It was an unsurprising condemnation from a man who has spent more than 30 years publishing restaurant guides that have helped to encourage the enjoyment of rich meals and who, in 1989, published a book entitled The Unforgettable Dishes of My Life.

Writing in his airport magazine Egon Ronay Recommends, he said: 'The harmful and nonsensical diet recommendations of some diet books are a scandal. Some of them should be condemned by the Department of Health.'

He added that crash diets were particularly dangerous and could damage the heart, while diets which 'played yo-yo' with weight were the worst, in his opinion.

'The culture created by advertising, the fashion world, the media and films glamourises an 'ideal' that is unhealthy, unnatural and uncomfortable to achieve,' he wrote. 'The diet industry arrogantly claims it always knows better than nature. It originated, and widely spreads, the all-pervading hysteria to the point that dieting has become part of life almost for its own sake.'

His comments provoked John Garrow, Professor of Human Nutrition at Bart's Hospital, London, to respond: 'Egon Ronay, I am sure, knows a great deal about food but little about nutrition and less still about obesity.' He went on: 'Eighty per cent of what he's saying I agree with. But he also seems to be saying that dieting is a bad thing in general, despite the fact that 16 per cent of the adult population of the UK are overweight to the extent that it decreases their life expectancy and makes them more liable to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks. They would do well to diet.'

Mr Ronay is not the most neutral critic of Britain's pounds 850m diet industry. Since emigrating from Hungary to the UK after the Second World War he has dedicated himself to improving food standards in restaurants, airports and cafes, and his taste buds carry insurance cover of pounds 250,000. But his comments did attract support from some experts.

Figures show that nine-tenths of women will diet at some point in their lives and that the vast majority of diets do not work. Within five years all the weight they managed to lose, and more, will be regained.

Dr Jane Wardle, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who has conducted psychological studies into dieting, said she believed he was broadly right in his comments.

Since the start of the century women had been put under increasing pressure to be thin, she said. 'The evidence is that the majority of women are uncomfortable with both their body shape and their eating and the cause seems to be largely the cultural representations of the ideal body size.'

Leading article, page 15

Death of a diet guru, page 19

(Photograph omitted)