WRITING

Nigel Lawson's Diet Book

July 1997

Nigel Lawson's recent book of dietary advice is not quite pocket sized: This is entirely appropriate, as the information within it should not be taken too seriously by anyone whose pockets are of normal proportions.

I say this for two reasons: Firstly because the financial cost of such a diet would far outstretch the capacity of most pockets to fund it. It is not only that the suggested raw ingredients are rarely the standard stock of the British food cupboard. More importantly, you will require the services of a full time chef, or a charming wife to act as one. It is not a diet for those of us who work a ten hour day, shop at the local all-nighter and go home alone.

Secondly, if your clothes, and correspondingly your pockets are not as vastly expansive as those of the old Mr. Lawson, the method of weight loss recommended is probably not for you.

Whilst the book is testament to the ability of an educated mind to research, explore and formulate plans of action, Mr. Lawson's exploration has turned over the top soil of dietary myth without digging deep enough to find the truth.

There are many aspects of his game plan which we can admire. He rejects 'fad' diets, refuses to count calories, abandons alcohol, and uses psychological tactics to enhance self discipline. He employs the Body Mass Index to calculate a realistic goal, and allows himself time to achieve that goal. But then things start to go awry.

Mr. Lawson sets about reducing his weight without targeting a specific type. There are two types of weight: The lean body mass, and the fat. Any attempt to diet should be an attempt to lose fat, not the bones and muscles which constitute lean weight.

He falls victim to the 'Great Protein Myth' of the sixties, and creates a set of guiding principles which set him off in the right direction but then divert him abruptly down the wrong path. The wrong turning is a result of his perception of which foods are 'good', and which are 'bad'.

Carbohydrates were given their bad name at around the same time that protein was awarded its halo. Anyone over the age of twenty is probably conditioned to see carbohydrates - sugar and starches - as 'fattening'. The truth of the matter is that carbohydrates don't contain any fat at all. Many high protein foods, on the other hand, are often a source of hidden fat. Even the 'king' of proteins, lean beef, derives 60% of its calories from fat. Only 40% come from protein.

Although Mr. Lawson explicitly bans 'fats of all kinds', in reality he continues to take on board a sizeable quantity. At the same time he rejects all carbohydrates. This is a little worrying, as the brain is dependant on receiving around one hundred and twenty grams of the stuff every day.

Any reduction in the amount of food consumed will always result in a loss of 'weight'. But in this particular regime, a large proportion of that weight lost will be from muscle.

There is only one method of weight control known to maximise the loss of fat and minimise the loss of lean tissue. It is the combination of a reduced intake of food which is low in fat and high in carbohydrates with an appropriate aerobic exercise programme. The burning of fat as a fuel in aerobic activity will both facilitate the loss of body fat and maintain the muscle mass.

Mr. Lawson announces quite categorically that 'exercise is wholly unnecessary if your sole object is to lose weight and reduce girth', a statement true in itself, but ignorant of the long term reality of weight control. Weight loss through diet alone is successful less than twenty percent of the time. Research shows that within five years most 'dieters' will have regained their original size. We can only hope that Mr. Lawson has a lucky streak.

Mr.s Lawson's advice from the kitchen is at least couched in language which implies she doesn't actually know, prefacing her opinions with 'rightly or wrongly', and conceding that she has deliberately not looked for the facts on the matter.

Rightly or wrongly, that seems like a more honest approach to me.

Mr. Lawson might argue that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if this method worked for him, he has every right to recommend it to others.

If you are seriously obese and unable (or unwilling) to exercise, it may work for you too. But if this is the case, I suspect you are better advised to get your dietary advice from a medical source, and not from a glossy pocket book. If your aim is to improve your health and fitness whilst shedding a little fat along the way, this is not the book for you. Getting thin is not the same thing as getting fit. Save the money and put it towards a pair of trainers.