Crash diet with a soft landing

by Victoria James

“That’s impossible!” said my colleague. “Ten kilos in three months? That’s . . .”
“Don’t say it!”
I put my hands over my ears, but he continued anyway.
“That’s 100 grams a day.”

I groaned. He was right. Somehow, I’d put on 100 grams a day, every day, for the past three months. That was the equivalent of two chocolate bars daily.

No, who was I kidding? It was two chocolate bars daily. Probably with some help from those cinnamon rolls for elevenses. Ten kilos. Oh, boy.

That was back in November, but I have had the same conversation many times before. I am a yo-yo dieter, and throughout my life my weight has fluctuated within a certain range.

It’s not that I have a problem with food — it’s that I don’t. What I do have is a weakness for dining out expensively — and expansively. Why choose a single item from a menu when it all looks so delicious? (At one restaurant in Omotesando, unable to select a dessert, I merely whispered to the ma^itre d’ that I was partial to chocolate, and a plate arrived laden with everything chocolate that the kitchen had to offer, plus a cocktail glass of truffles.)

So, inevitably, I am as familiar with weight-loss regimes as I am with wine lists. I know that yo-yo dieting plays havoc with the body’s metabolic system, but I haven’t the heart to break off my love affair with food.

My New Year resolution for 2002, therefore, was one made by millions around the globe: Go on a diet. Things looked doomed before they’d even begun when, on Dec. 31, I received a box of goodies from a friend who was touring Christmas markets of the Rhine Valley villages. Out tumbled gold-ribboned bags of iced hazelnut cookies, a stollen fruit loaf and a slab of homemade Christmas cake. I checked my watch — eight hours to midnight: Ready, steady, go! And it was, indeed, all gone before the year was.

The following day, I began dieting in earnest. Sweets and treats were off-limits, and I tried to fill up on fruit. For a fortnight I persevered, yet, frustratingly, nothing was happening. Stepping on the scales after two weeks, the dial barely flickered from its former position.

What I should have done was found a gym and joined it. Let’s face it: You’ve got to exercise if you want to lose weight. What I did was buy a bottle of Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet.

The contents of the bottle looked reassuringly like mango juice. Surviving for 48 hours on that plus lots of fruit and veggies would be a breeze, I thought. Then I went home and read the instruction leaflet more carefully. Miracle dieters were allowed only the vitamin-packed drink, plus 2 liters of water, per day. I looked with loathing at the tubby bottle, its label splashed with spotlights and palm trees and its syrupy contents my only source of nourishment for the coming two days.

I ate a sayonara meal at midnight and woke the following morning for my first swig of the liquid, which tasted of pineapple and peach with a hint of vitamin supplement and an aftertaste of nicotine (an unwelcome surprise ingredient, presumably included because of its efficacy as an appetite-suppressant). The following morning, the dial on the scales told me I’d lost 1.5 kg. Not bad. But I felt hungry, drained of energy and anxious about what exactly the decoction was doing to my body.

The next day, I was down a total of 2 kg — but I felt awful. And it really would be a miracle if the weight stayed off for good.

A quick-fix slim had to be easier than this. If I were a Hollywood star, instead of relying on just a Hollywood miracle diet, I’d call up a plastic surgeon to nip those extra inches. My budget didn’t stretch that far, but I certainly felt like a million dollars after a visit to the cherub-strewn Versailles Beauty Slim salon in Tokyo’s Hiroo. This pamper pad offers seaweed wraps and body-shaping treatments for those who want to trim down. I opted for the former, said to detox the body and to speed metabolism, together with an aromatherapy massage.

Seaweed wraps supposedly work their magic over time and, inevitably, salons recommend a course to produce visible results. The good news is that 10 sessions cost little more than I’m used to spending on an extravagant dinner for two — and involve distinctly fewer calories.

I was ushered into a treatment room, where I undressed, wrapped a towel around me and — yikes! — changed into a tiny pair of disposable panties. The towel soon came off when therapist Luis Carlos, veteran of five years’ training, began my massage. I could feel my fat cells burrowing for cover under the firm sweep of his fingers. At times, I could have sworn there were more than two hands expertly kneading my flesh.

After the aromatherapy came an all-over lotion rub, then Luis vanished next door and reappeared with a tiny pestle and mortar containing a greenish clayey substance. The sea-salt smell alone was soothing and, with a brush, the hot mask was applied all over my upper body and thighs. That done, the plastic sheet that had covered the treatment table was wrapped tightly round me, a towel and hot blanket placed on top, then the lights went out and I was left to steam — and, hopefully, slim.

Thirty blissfully dozy minutes later, I was unearthed from the blanket and, clad only in my plastic wrap, crept downstairs to where beautician Thelma Esparza had prepared a candlelit bath filled with cinnamon bark and apple quarters studded with star anise. I rinsed the seaweed off and climbed in. I didn’t just feel good — I felt like a goddess.

After nearly four weeks of self-denial, a little self- indulgence was a welcome experience. So much so, in fact, that I could imagine forgoing an evening at the restaurant table for a session on the beautician’s couch.

I guess that at the end of the day, whether it’s slimming or scoffing, I’m still a slave to pleasure.