It's summer, the sun is shining and the Western world is taking its clothes off. You can almost hear the groans of relief as sensible trousers are swapped for pretty dresses, sweaters are rolled up and replaced by bright vests and t-shirts.
But with this joyous unveiling of skin comes the season's scourge: The Diet Plan. No summer comes without torrents of media advice on those unsightly bumps and lumps. Sometimes we get an American diet -- you too can look as thin and gorgeous as a Californian (if only you'd fix your teeth.) Sometimes it's a European eating plan -- you too can look as thin and gorgeous as a Parisienne (if only you'd fix your dress sense.)
I hate all of them. I hate the message handed to women that, unless they are young and thin, there is something wrong with them. I hate that normal hips and post-baby stomachs -- long-celebrated by masters of the art world -- have been decreed distasteful by twenty-first century misogynists masquerading as clothes designers.
The big diet this year is known as The 5:2 Plan. I do not know its origins but I suspect it was dreamed up in some nasty underground bunker. Other diets at least pretend they are still about eating, even if only watermelons or broom handles. This diet tells you to stop eating. For two days out of every seven. Honesty at last! However, the edict has not been met with the guffaws it deserves. Magazines asking women worriedly if we are "bikini ready" say we CAN be, if only we STOP EATING. Advocates are telling us how Not Eating has helped them learn how to Eat Properly again.
Some people, of course, have this not eating thing sorted. These people regularly cut their food intake to 500 calories a day, or less. But they don't have any choice in the matter.
An Oxfam report earlier this year looked into what developing countries are spending on the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to address areas like food supply, gender equality and climate change. (Stay with me. It's related.) The report found that spending on all had dropped, with agriculture suffering the most. This is partly because poor countries have lost hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of the financial crisis and cuts to aid. Since 2008, when the world turned in on itself because the Masters of the Universe sold a load of crappy debt in a form so complicated that even they didn't understand it would bite them in the ass -- well, since then, 40 percent of the extra spending that developing countries were encouraged to make by the West has been funded by borrowing, much of it expensive, and from yes, Western financiers. So those countries can't afford to eradicate hunger any more. No 5:2 plan for them. Many people in those countries are pretty much on the 0:7 plan when it comes to cutting calories.
I know I sound like your mother when she used to scold you to eat up because there were children starving in Africa. But, she had a point. And it's not just Africa. Oxfam published another study which found that food banks now feed more than half a million people a year in the U.K. as a result of benefit (welfare) cuts, unemployment and the increased cost of living.
So here's an idea. Here's a way to really make that diet plan work for you! If you want to stop eating for two days every week, go ahead. It's your choice. But next time you get to a non-food day, how about putting the food you won't be eating in a bag and taking it down to your local food bank. You don't have a food bank? You didn't buy food for those days? Easy. Make a donation. Work out what you're not spending, and send it to Oxfam, or Unicef, or the Red Cross.
Now you're bikini-ready. Because there's nothing so good for your well-being as caring about other people's, too.
This post was inspired by World Moms Blog's eight-month campaign to keep the conversation going on the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
On Twitter? Next month's #Moms4MDGs Twitter Parties are Wednesday, September 18th 1-2pm EST and 9-10pm EST on the topic of universal education for all, MDG2. Just in case you missed it! -- Here's the #Moms4MDGs campaign's MDG1 post on ONE.org.