Can you be slim forever?
Maybe. But first you'll need to change the way you think about eating and dieting, which means taking a cue from your continent
The way we diet here is the way women all over the English-speaking world diet. We notice the encroaching kilos. We go about the obligatory self-flagellation. Then we draw up a Spartan eating plan (no carbs, no fat, nothing but maple syrup and water), and hit the gym for a session or five of aerobics. Three days into the new regime, we crack and eat the entire contents of the fridge.
And that’s why our approach to eating needs a rethink. If the diet industry’s 90% recidivism rate isn’t enough to convince you, consider this: The ‘2010 Food: Body: Mind’ report found that six out of 10 UK women were on a diet at any one time, yet four out of 10 female dieters ended up heavier than when they first started. And a recent, a Gallup-Healthways survey found that 63,1% of adults in the US were either overweight or obese, yet on any given day, almost half the women there were on a diet.
So why are we still in thrall to the Anglo-American model? Perhaps because something about the binge-purge-binge cycle rings a puritanical bell. For Helena Frith Powell, author of the Gallic style handbook
Two Lipsticks and a Lover, a country with a stern Calvinist history like South Africa is always going to have a tricky relationship with pleasure. The French, she says, have no such problem.
Another thing they don’t have a problem with? Obesity. Just 10% of French people are obese, and the women are the slimmest in Europe. Indeed, there’s a raft of books dedicated to solving how Gallic women scoff all that cheese yet stay a soignée size 10.
Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, says it’s because the quick-fix mentality has never taken hold there: ‘We know... the body will take revenge. French women like to eat a bit of everything in moderation, and use all their senses at the table.’
Which basically translates as exercising strict portion control, rather than cutting out whole food groups; eating slowly, so your body has a chance to register when it’s full, and enjoying a little controlled indulgence (read: a square of good, dark chocolate).
Guiliano recommends making small changes you can stick to forever. Incorporating more fruit, vegetables and soups into meals; drinking more water and taking a daily dose of plain yoghurt, which helps burn fat cells.
As for detoxing, the sybaritic française would rather jump-start their weight loss with a spa weekend. ‘We go for thalassotherapy,’ says Agnès Poirier, author of Touché: A French Woman’s Take on the English. ‘There are centres in seaside towns like Dinard...where you’re treated with sea water and algae.’
Europe’s second-slimmest nation, Italy, takes a similar approach. Despite all that pasta, the Italians have an average BMI of just 23,3. Like the French, they eat mindfully – good food, prepared from scratch, in small portions. And like the French, they don’t ‘diet’ in any way we’d recognise. ‘When they want to lose weight, they just cut down slightly on the pasta,’ says Frith Powell.
Neither French nor Italian women are big on the gym. Instead, they integrate movement into their daily lives; taking the stairs rather than the lift, cycling to the shops, swimming after work and walking everywhere.
‘The French, says Frith Powell, ‘would rather not eat too much on a daily basis, not drink too much... than have to go to the gym. They want maximum gain for minimum effort.’
Last year, a GlaxoSmith-Kline report found that 61% of South Africans were overweight. Clearly, abstinence isn’t keeping us thin. It could be time to drop the Anglo-Saxon attitudes and sign an entente cordiale with our bodies.
4 of the best continental spa breaks
The Leg School, Capri Palace Hotel & Spa, Capri
Professor Canonaco, medical director of the Capri Beauty spa designed a 7-night programme specifically targeting circulation and cellulite after he heard clients complaining about the state of their post-pregnancy legs. Expect lots of powerplate sessions, anti-cellulite massages, mud wraps, Kneipp therapy and ‘nature walks’ up the island’s steep hills. A week here doesn’t come cheap (R41 000, since you ask), but then what price perfect pins?
Les Sources de Caudalie, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Martillac, France
A retreat with a Michelin-star restaurant and wine cellar appended – and a stone’s throw from Bordeaux. The spa is the brainchild of Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas, founder of the Caudalie range of skincare, a line made with polyphenol-rich white grape seeds. And the treatment menu here reads like a wine list: go for the anti-cellulite Barrel Bath (in wooden tubs of grape-infused water), followed by the Crushed Cabernet body scrub.
Santé Winelands Hotel and Wellness Centre, Klapmuts, South Africa
Santé Spa is about as continental as you can get without actually leaving the country. Surrounded by vineyards, it backs onto the Franschhoek Valley, which means great wine with dinner. As you’d expect, out go punishing gym schedules and detox diets, in comes hydrotherapy, Vichy showers and Kneipp footbaths (the same cold water cure they use at the Capri Leg School). Activities on offer are the gentle toning type: cycling, horse-riding and counter-current resistance swimming. Like the Caudalie spa, they’re big on Vinotherapy, and Theravine, SA’s own range of grapeseed products, plays a starring role on the treatment menu. Try the hour-long Chardonnay facial, or the Vinaqua Hammam Merlot Experience – a steam, scrub and massage with Merlot-scented foam.
Karkloof Spa, Cramond, Pietermaritzburg
This spa/game lodge in KZN is consistently voted the best of its kind in SA. Small wonder; their tailored weight loss programmes are beyond thorough. Their 14-day wellness package takes a three-pronged approach: dietary consultation with the chef, and a menu full of healthy, pan-European dishes;
a programme of slow-burning exercise; and spa slimming sessions (book in for Kniepp therapy, flotation treatments, anti-cellulite massage, body wraps etc). Also, you pay a flat room rate which gives you unlimited spa treatments!