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Confessions of a serial dieter: a weightloss memoir | Kalli Purie

It may be argued that people who don’t want to lose weight have no business reading a self-help book about diets. It may also be argued that they serve as a useful test of reason. How long can your rational mind fight against the idea that you can always stand to lose some weight?

Readers who think they might enjoy an emotional pummelling will meet a worthy match in Kalli Purie, who writes about losing dozens of kilos over a lifetime of see-sawing weight with grim relish. “You are at your most desirable when you are at your thinnest," Purie writes. “At least, I am," she adds kindly. Never mind those women who choose to judge themselves by something other than their appearance. “They can be happy and cheerful even when they are having a fat day or a fat life. But I am not one of them. I am defined by my weight."

Confessions of a Serial Dieter - A Weightloss Memoir. HarperCollins, 225 pages, 250

Such is the illusory nature of pleasure: Even 50 vapourized kilos cannot get one an editor to point out the difference between “alumna" and “alumni". But Purie’s breezy narrative is about impact, not detail. Her tales of nutritionist visits and Ayurveda camps are gossipy girl-talk. Her diets are really cautionary tales. The “champagne diet", for example, involves a weekend of ingesting nothing but alcohol, and bringing it up the morning after. That’s not just “politically incorrect", as Purie allows; that’s putting the fun in dysfunction. The book may be more aspirational than useful for those looking for fitness advice, but unable to afford experimenting with trainers until they meet one they like.

Purie’s book, like all self-help manuals, is about vulnerability, and she is not wrong to assume that she is alone in this. Many women will not need to picture the kind of life in which having an impeccable education, a happy family, and a successful career pales in comparison to getting thin; they are already living it. The irrational obsession with body image afflicts most women , fat or thin. Urban Indians are not wrong to think that we’ve lost the plot to a healthy lifestyle. So to experience Purie’s manic purposefulness in writing about a lifetime of binge eating, crash dieting and fat farm visits can be weirdly cathartic, even to the secure woman reading this book over a reheated pizza dinner.

One of the paradoxes of feminism is that criticizing another woman even for her most self-destructive behaviour becomes problematic. Fat shaming is such a toxic form of emotional abuse that someone criticizing herself for her weight issues, and documenting a search for a solution, may seem momentarily refreshing. If it makes us happy to weigh ourselves twice a day, who is anyone else to judge?

But we are wrong to think so. Self-help books are also about managing self-hatred. That is their limitation. Purie neurotically drives home her contention that life is not all about food. But there is a point—and sometimes no nutritionist can tell us what it is—up to which life is not about appearances either.


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