The late Muriel Spark was one of Scotland’s leading novelists. She is perhaps most widely known for, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” a novel, made into a movie, about an idealistic but eccentric teacher in a 1930s Edinburgh girls’ school who selects an able group of pupils to ‘educate for life’, in the widest sense, as she sees it. We then follow the ‘Brodie set’ to the threshold of adulthood.
Another of Ms Spark’s novels is a “Far Cry From Kensington”, set in 1950s London. Her heroine, Mrs Hawkins, lands a job in a publishing house, even though the other applicants are much better qualified.
She soon comes to realize that she and her colleagues have been, “deliberately chosen for some slightly grotesque quality.”
“What was wrong with me she asks herself? Why had I been chosen? it was then the reason dawned on me: I was immensely too fat.”
Her response is resolute.
“From that night I decided to eat and drink half. Only half of everything I normally ate, in any circumstances. I decided to tell nobody at all about my plan.”
She is extremely self disciplined and sticks to her half portions in what she describes as, “This hungry period of my life.”
The first sign that her diet is succeeding is when she is invited to a smart dinner party and finds to her joy that her black lace evening dress, “needed to be taken in a good inch both sides.”
She eventually loses so much weight that she becomes, “a normal shape.”
The extent of her weight loss is brought home to her in dramatic fashion. Wanda, a fellow tenant in the lodging house where she is living, accuses her of plotting against her. She believes Mrs Hawkins is plotting because she is ill, and that it is her illness which is responsible for her weight loss.
“Mrs Hawkins you are making a plot against me in the house. Is it my fault you are ill? You are getting thin, you are wasting, wasting, and you will die.”
It would be misleading to suggest that, “A Far Cry From Kensington,” is a novel about weight loss. If weight loss is a theme of the novel, it is a fairly minor theme.
And. of course, it is fiction, not ‘real life’, although it is possible Ms Spark based her character on someone she knew.
Putting such reservations on one side, if we are going to draw conclusions, we can note that our heroine had a simple weight loss plan which she followed strictly. She was completely successful and lost a lot of weight.
Sounds encouraging. Many diet plans are far from simple.
Alas, although the plan is simple, it is far from easy. Many dieters, perhaps most dieters, won’t have the self-discipline to eat only half of what they would normally eat.
The catering industry calls this sort of thing portion control and it is one of the ‘secrets’ of successful weight loss. If we can practice portion control in some form we are on the way to keeping the pounds off. The trick is to practice portion control without feeling too deprived.
We shall come back to this.