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12 February 2014updated 30 Jun 2021 11:51am

I’d rather binge on booze than self-denial

Please, don’t tell me about your pious dry January.

By Felicity Cloake

Thank God it’s February. For those of you who gave something up for January, it was a long month; for those of us who had to listen to you go on about it, it was even worse. As many have pointed out, the idea of giving up alcohol for 31 days and then expecting people to sponsor you for your trouble is laughable, however worthy the cause.

But booze wasn’t the end of it. There were the usual ridiculous juice cleanses and soup diets – and the backlash against sugar put it firmly back on the naughty list this year, along with peanuts for the Paleoistas, devotees of a regime also known as the “caveman” diet. Loosely based on the meagre larder of our Stone Age ancestors, it’s the hip new thing to bore other people about over your herbal tea. (If Tom Jones is doing it, it must be cool, right?)

This was also the first year that Veganuary made it on to my radar – largely, I must admit, because of the recent 22-day “spiritual cleanse” undertaken by the bootylicious singer Beyoncé and her rather less comely husband, Jay-Z, in which the couple embraced a vegan diet: “Or, as I prefer to call it, plant-based!!” the rapper wrote on his blog.

“I don’t know what happens after[wards],” he admitted. “A semi-vegan, a full plant-based diet? Or just a spiritual and physical challenge?”

I know what happened afterwards. The pair were seen (as the Daily Mail puts it) “indulging in gourmet non-vegan treats” at a seafood restaurant in Miami: “pappardelle, lobster risotto and seafood casserole”, according to the paper.

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There’s been no word so far on the effect that the cleanse has had on their spiritual well-being, however (though many column inches have been devoted to the effects on Beyoncé’s bottom), or indeed their long-term eating habits. But I note that her Instagram feed features considerably more po’ boy sandwiches than portobello mushrooms, these days.

And therein lies the fundamental problem with temporary abstinence: if you stick to it, you may lose weight. You’ll probably, after a few days of grumpiness, even feel better and you’ll almost certainly learn how to do things with tofu or tonic water that you had never even dreamed of and possibly never wanted to. Then the month’s up and suddenly you’re back on the Chardonnay and cheeseburgers as if nothing had happened – and this time, the attraction is twice as strong. It takes an awful lot of lager to plug the hole left by all that smug self-denial.

Jay-Z chose to go vegan for 22 days on the basis that: “Psychologists have said it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. On the 22nd day, you’ve found the way.” I don’t want to be the one to break it to him but according to research by University College London, it actually takes about three times that long, which means that all those January abstainers will have to keep denying themselves until 8 March in order to see any lasting effects.

As someone who’s tried a good few diets over the years (it’s practically a professional necessity), my heart always sinks on hearing the inevitable words: “This isn’t a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.”

How many of the people who forsook carbs back in the early 2000s still diligently avoid the evil starch? Giving up something for a month holds within it the promise that, in four weeks, you’re going to take it up again – and take it up with a vengeance. It’s bingeing on self-denial instead of booze and I know which option sounds more fun to me.

Here’s a novel idea. If you want to eat fewer animal products, how about cutting down on meat and dairy? If you think you should probably drink less, do. But for everyone’s sake, please keep quiet about it.