Leading Article: An end to unhealthy dieting? Fat chance

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The Independent Online
EGON RONAY's assault yesterday on 'slimming' cuts down to size a diet industry that increasingly dominates and oppresses the lives of men as well as women. The Hungarian-born gastronome who helped rescue restaurant menus from the curse of school food does Britain further service by lauding the virtues and pleasures of guilt-free eating. As he says, fashion's ideals for the human form are often unhealthy, unnatural and uncomfortable to achieve. Many diets simply do not work, reducing bank balances rather than waistlines. In any case, sudden weight loss can do more harm than good.

Yet neither Mr Ronay's wise words nor the current feminist backlash in favour of fat are likely to reverse the trend towards food angst. This is an age of competitive self-improvement, of identity crises and widespread striving to avoid mortality. In all these areas food can play a key role, be it to improve individual desirability, alter shape and image or influence life expectancy. Food is also a central aspect in life's first and arguably most formative relationship - with one's mother.

For all these reasons, a problem-free relationship with food is difficult to achieve. It usually requires a maturity that results from individuals feeling at ease with themselves, the world around them and with death.

The difficulty of achieving this feat is compounded by the cacophony of advice from the diet and fashion industries. Denial, indulgence, self-control and gratification are just some of the contradictory ideals people must reconcile. Whatever chance they had in the past of coming to the terms with themselves have been vitiated by all the alternative and conflicting ways of life on offer.

The simple facts about how to eat in a healthy manner that is likely to prevent obesity are also drowned out. Maintaining a physically healthy body means consuming no more than enough calories to provide energy for daily tasks. Exercise, to keep the cardiovascular system strong, is a necessary adjunct. There is no sound way of losing weight other than by consuming fewer calories or taking more exercise.

These are simple and money-saving answers, yet they fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the dieting industry and obesity continue to expand - grossly.