I just don’t have the appetite for diets. Or, more specifically, for taking a diet history. The sort of thing my health service’s dietitian does ten times daily—bless her, and all her thin colleagues.
Honestly, if the patient’s answer to my first question is ‘Weet-Bix’, I just let the rest slide. I already know they will either score better than their doctor (by definition: a balanced diet) or are lying. In fact, the main purpose of the Coleman four-question diet history is to weed out the liars and move on to something else I’m better at.
If Weet-Bix aren’t mentioned, I skip straight to lunch – and probably should suggest my larger patients do the same. If their lunch answer involves the word ‘lettuce’, again I know it’s a porky: Australia’s last old-fashioned lettuce was sold in 2010. But if they mention rocket or spinach leaves, or make any attempt to pronounce quinoa, they’re still in the game.
Third question: soft drinks. ‘Never, doctor!’ equals ‘Brand me with a big ‘L’ and look up gratuitous concurrence.’ No, for soft drinks the only question worth its salt is sugar. Diet or non-diet? Max or sub-max, Zero or any non-null integer?
The beauty of asking is that one simple substitute can slash their daily calories. It’s also a chance to plug my latest book ‘Miserable and agonising death by sugar’, hoping they weren’t one of the dozen who bought my previous title ‘Aspartame: chemical assassin’.
My final question (if I’m forced to go so far) is an alcohol estimation using tick-box categories. ‘Nil’ is, counter-intuitively, the only box where lying is unlikely. Even if they found God a decade ago, yet still insist they are an alcoholic, the nil stands.
For all other categories, simply shift all answers one box up, to save taking a detailed history with the same eventual result. Astute readers will note the category ‘Fewer than four drinks weekly’ therefore remains empty, but no one needs to score better than their doctor, with his balanced alcohol habit.
In case you’re wondering; this doctor uses one standard drink with two alcohol-free nights per week (as per my 5:2 diet) and has engraved a 150ml line on all his wine glasses, so no need to shift me up a box, thank you. My quinoa-seed wine has been aged in barrels lined with lettuce leaves (since 2010, obviously), and is thus not so much a drink as a super-food.
And I grow all my own Weet-Bix.