My new diet plans – and how to lose weight with the Global Lezardian Institute

Perhaps I am becoming a breatharian, whose adherents claim to be able to survive for years without eating, subsisting only on prana, the life force of the universe. 

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I seem to have stopped eating. What’s all that about? Actually, I have two ideas what that’s all about. The first is the unsightly gut which has been growing slowly but perceptibly over the last year. I used to be able to disguise this by holding my stomach in like a gentleman but now not even that makes much of a difference. So I survive on scraps. Yesterday I had two small slices of toast with (delicious, home-made) chicken liver pâté. Today I’ve had one thin, packaged slice of Emmenthal. And what effect has this had on my personal blimp? None that I or anyone else can see.

Sometimes the policy wavers: my brother invited me to dinner and my sister-in-law cooked macaroni cheese, and I had four helpings and the next morning I groaned in pain as my distended stomach protested. (I had one of my favourite Old Fart Arguments when they called it “mac ’n’ cheese”. Even though I am half-American and generally sympathetic to the evolution of the English language, I do not like this term, and indeed for about ten years didn’t even know what it meant. Honestly, I thought it had something to do with McDonald’s hamburgers. The issue was further complicated by the fact that my SiL had actually used conchiglie instead, which drove me into the wildest ecstasies of pedantry. But it was delicious.)

Of course, the elephant in the room I am not addressing is my alcohol intake. While this supplies several essential nutrients, I gather it does tend to make one put on weight. I could cut out the stuff but where’s the fun in that? It also seems not wholly necessary to give it up. A friend I will not identify drinks very similar quantities to me, and indeed has spent much of the last couple of decades somewhat generously proportioned; but the last time I saw him he looked positively willowy. And yet we met in a pub, and he wasn’t holding back.

“Wow,” I said. “How’d you manage that?”

“Stress,” he said, and he wasn’t kidding.

And yet, and yet… my life is nothing but stress these days. From the threat of eviction to loss of income, from unmet financial obligations to the lack of a straightforward and happy love life, not to mention the fact that the country is being governed by the most disgusting person ever to hold high office, stress is the plat du jour. And it’s not making me shed the pounds.

Perhaps I am becoming a breatharian, whose adherents claim to be able to survive for years without eating, subsisting only on prana, the life force of the universe. Researching this has afforded me a few happy minutes. These charlatans – I am not sure it is entirely accurate to call them cretins – are often, when investigated, found leaving fast-food premises staggering under the weight of junk food, or discovered with enough stockpiled in their larders to survive a hard Brexit.

The excuses offered make amusing reading. My favourite is offered by Wiley Brooks, who founded the Breatharian Institute of America, yet claims that a Diet Coke and a cheeseburger are an essential part of his diet. From Wikipedia:

“Wiley later claimed that Diet Coke and McDonald’s cheeseburgers have special ‘5D’ properties. The idea of separate but interconnected 5D and 3D worlds is a major part of Wiley Brooks’s ideology, and Wiley Brooks encourages his followers to only eat these special 5D foods, as well as meditate on a set of magical 5D words.”

I was chuckling away, until I came to this: “Brooks’s institute has charged varying fees to prospective clients who wished to learn how to live without food, which have ranged from US$100,000 with an initial deposit of $10,000, to one billion dollars, to be paid via bank wire transfer with a preliminary deposit of $100,000, for a session called ‘Immortality workshop’.”

After reading that, I stared into space for about fifteen minutes, which is quite a long time to do that kind of thing. One hundred thousand smackers, let alone a billion, is a hell of a lot of dosh to charge someone just to tell them to shut their cakeholes, and I began to wonder if I had not taken a wrong turn in life when, perhaps overimpressed by The Waste Land in 1978, I decided to devote the rest of my life to the study and appreciation of literature, and the construction of a nicely turned sentence. A fat lot of good that has done me, I can tell you.

So maybe I have stumbled on the way forward. We are, after all, living in the age of the lie, so I think the time is right for me to start the Global Lezardian Institute, which teaches, for an enormous fee, that it is possible to survive – even maintain – a portly embonpoint, on nothing but a bottle or so of wine a day, and a few roll-ups. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 02 October 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit revolutionaries