Give your system a well-earned break

Increasingly poor diet and a lack of exercise will bring about a sorry state affairs

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The Independent Online

Every day, we are assailed with rather alarming statistics about the nation's health. The one which caught my eye recently was that, by the year 2030, three-quarters of British men will be overweight or obese. Blimey. By the time the 2030 World Cup comes along, we'll have difficulty finding 11 men fit enough to take the field, never mind have a chance of winning.

A perfect storm of lifestyle factors - increasingly poor diet and a lack of exercise - will bring about this sorry state affairs, according to a pan-European study by the World Health Organisation, which took in 53 countries and which revealed some scarcely believable regional variations. In stark comparison with Britain, only 15 per cent of men in Belgium will be obese by 2030. When we're lagging massively behind a country whose contribution to global cuisine is chips and mayonnaise, it's obvious things are pretty bad.

However grim the predictions, I have a very real statistic which concerns me: the daily reading on my weighing scales. With this is in mind - and obviously not wishing to add to Britain's future health crisis - I took myself off to a clinic in Austria where they don't mess about when it comes to inflicting denial on a person.

I am paying for the privilege of eating nothing more than a yogurt and a small bowl of broth every day, but here they believe that your system deserves a rest. It's all about the guts. And given that a week ago my lunch comprised asparagus with gulls' eggs, followed by roasted turbot in lemon and fennel sauce, and complemented by the finest wines from Bordeaux, they could probably hear my intestines screaming for mercy from miles away.

I am nothing if not generous in my dispensation of advice in this column, so I'll pass on what I've learned without your having the expense and trouble of going to Austria, not to mention the hardship. First, it's quite possible to survive quite cheerfully on relatively minuscule amounts of food. Try it. We tend to eat vastly too much, and two handfuls of food is as much as you need at any meal time. And if you eat slowly - here, they say you should chew each mouthful at least 20 times - it's possible to feel satiated with a hugely diminished intake.

We all attended a lecture the other night on the dos and don'ts of this particular regime, which is less the 5:2 diet than the 0:7 diet. For example, uncooked food is strictly verboten in the evenings: in fact, no raw after four is the mantra. When it came to questions, the British people in the gathering had only one area of interest. What about alcohol? It was a curious form of plea bargaining. If we have to drink, what should we choose? Alcohol is a poison, came the response. When pressed, the lecturer said that to have one or two glasses of wine a month (yes, I know) was acceptable. When pressed further, she said a bitter spirit is ok for an aperitif. Afterwards, I was left with one thought: salad bad, Campari good. That was almost certainly not the message I was meant to take back home to the land of the obese.