Sophie Morris: Supersize Sweeney offers slim pickings

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The Independent Online

I can't think of a single excuse or defence for switching on the television on Tuesday evening to watch Claire Sweeney eat until she was fat. I was already caught between a great novel, series two of The Wire (I'm a dedicated late adopter) and an early night. More importantly, if I'm honest, having only just reached the end of a typically indulgent festive two months or so, I know exactly how to eat until I am fat.

So why the fascination with watching an apparently sweet but uninteresting actress eating fish and chips and drinking wine – sins she would otherwise never consider? Chefs cooking up amazing dishes, that's good telly. Close-ups of over-glossed lips trying to swallow a Magnum in one gulp: not good telly.

I was suspicious of Sweeney from the get-go, when she opened her fridge to reveal a half-eaten box of chocolates in which some of the individual chocolates were actually half-eaten. No wonder this girl was looking forward to a good feed. Yet there I was, riveted.

Like all these docu-reality personal "journey"-type shows, My Big Fat Diet began with a confession: Sweeney admitted to keeping fit through a combination of monitoring her food and drink intake and sessions with a personal trainer. I know. I was shocked too. The premise of the show was equally shocking: if you eat and drink everything that takes your fancy, and do no exercise, you will develop a flabby tummy.

As this was clearly new ground in the weight debate, ITV got a celebrity to test the findings. Sweeney went on to discover that once you cut your exercise regime down from frenetic to zero, the next time you hit the gym you'll huff and puff much more than before. And – the money shot this one – she even crossed the Atlantic in the name of research, only to be told that if you're pushing 12 stone, you won't even get a toilet-cleaning job in Hollywood.

My own fascination was Sweeney's claims that she hadn't been gorging herself, just choosing foods she fancied. This meant full cream milk and pizzas, and cocktails instead of wine spritzers.

To be fair to Sweeney, she didn't seem to eat more than three meals a day and a snack or two. No doubt her past abstinence did her no favours. The 37-year-old began watching what she ate when she started stage school as a teenager. After 20 lean years, her body must have been determined to cling on to every last crumb of her six weeks of feasting.

The only surprising thing about her choices and the consequences is the huge gulf that has emerged between what is considered a "normal" meal, and how much less than this most people can eat to maintain what is considered a "normal" figure. Sweeney's typical meals have been shaped by supermarket shelves offering buy-one-get-one-free deals on boxes of brownies. Her choices have been shaped by the horrors of food corporatism which dictate the size, form and taste of so many meals eaten in the UK. Her turn towards the least healthy food available was urged on by the omnipresence of takeaway shops on our high streets.

She also reached for the fattiest foods because by taking on My Big Fat Diet she was allowing herself a hiatus in her otherwise micro-managed eating regime – the equivalent of a six-week binge – which only serves to emphasise the polarity between the sort of food being pushed by manufacturers and what we should be eating to maintain sensible weight and fitness levels.

So what, then, was the point in watching a woman learn that feasting would size her out of her favourite dress? The whole thing smacked more of a covert threat to any wannabe Claire Sweeneys – eat and be damned – than an illustration of the middle road that does exist between feast and famine, and between obesity and eating disorders.

I can't imagine what you mean, Cheryl

Cheryl Cole looks good on the cover of Vogue, really good, but the interview inside proves much more interesting than the photo shoot last month, which provoked the (denied) rumours that she stormed out.

Once you've dug through the interviewer's doorstop-thick crust of saccharined awe at Cole's beauty, we find a few nuggets which start to build a character around the porcelain doll-like singer: she was bullied for wearing second-hand clothes when she was young; she is happy to leave the house without a full manicure; her first boyfriend was a heroin addict; and she can't stand posh food like goat's cheese.

She also asked footballer husband Ashley Cole to say, in his wedding vows, that he would love her "for fatter or thinner". He refused.

It's not clear what he meant by this. Was it, "Stop obsessing about your weight and get a move on with fixing the OK! deal, won't you?" or, "There's no way I'll still love you if you get any thinner, Chezza, You already look like a cricket in a huge wig."

She also discussed Ashley's shameful and sloppy infidelity. She couldn't try and cover it up, seeing as everybody knows about it already. But there's a snub for erstwhile best friend Vicky Beckham, who didn't call to offer support when the story broke.

What are you thinking Cheryl? In what sense would Mrs Beckham be able to offer solidarity about a story your man had cheated on you?

Clegg has hands full on paternity leave issue

Well done Nick Clegg for calling for longer paternity leave for new fathers. At present men only get two weeks, and are back in the office while flowers and well wishes still dominate the experience.

Clegg has suggested fathers be allowed up to 12 months off if their partners return to work after six, stressing the importance of a positive male role model for children. No doubt the number of stay-at-home dads is on the rise anyway with so many job losses – could this be the beneficial fall-out of the credit crunch?

Clegg should be careful what he wishes for, though. If he were to get his way before his pregnant wife gives birth, he'd have three little ones to drag up with one hand while keeping leadership rivals down with the other.