Could eating like my skinny friends make me a SIZE 10



00:55 GMT, 24 September 2012

Taste test: Lydia Slater tries adopting the diets of her friends, pictured below, in her attempt to drop down to dress size to a size 10

Taste test: Lydia Slater tries adopting the diets of her friends, pictured below, in her attempt to drop down to dress size to a size 10

Like many of us, I’ve spent years trying to work out an effortless way to stay slim. From compulsive porridge-eating to acupuncture and appetite-suppressant sprays, I’ve tried them all.

Now, a new study suggests that the solution may be simply down to your choice of dining companion.

According to researchers at the University of Birmingham, we are subconsciously influenced by the eating habits of those around us. And given I normally eat dinner with a BBQ-mad husband and a chocoholic teenage boy, it’s no surprise that I pile on the pounds and have to work out daily to fit into my dresses.

Until now, I’d assumed that the fact that all my close female friends are far more svelte than I am was a disadvantage. Now, I realised, they were an (as yet) untapped dietary resource. I decided to spend a day shadowing each one, finding out her secrets to staying slim and, with any luck, getting a few to rub off.

First on the list is my very oldest friend Amelia Newsom-Davis, 42, whom I first met at nursery in 1973.

We went to the same schools throughout our childhood, and have stayed close — despite our periodic fierce spats — for almost four decades. But our relationship has always been competitive, ever since, when we were both four, she ruined my theatrical debut (as the Good Samaritan’s donkey) by getting the giggles and weeing all over my back.

To begin with, we both wanted to be top of the form. As teenagers, it was about popularity and who had the most boyfriends.

There was a brief period in our 20s when we jockeyed for position over who had the better job. And then Amelia got married and moved to Paris, and with sighs of relief we abandoned our rivalry in favour of a more mature friendship.

Well, almost. It does, I admit, slightly irk me that although she is older than me (all right, only by a month) and has two children like I do, she has kept her size-10 figure, while mine veers between a 12 and a 14.

Her secret, it seems, is mostly down to portion control, a habit she was taught from childhood. ‘Our family always ate less than yours did,’ she tells me. ‘I remember being amazed by how much butter and jam you got on your bread — we were only allowed a thin scraping.’

On paper, her Parisian regime doesn’t sound at all restrictive: brioche and coffee for breakfast, stew, cheese and wine for supper; the only exercise she takes is walking her children to school. It’s only when I spend a day actually eating what she eats that you realise how dainty her portions actually are.

Our breakfast brioche is a single slice. Lunch is a chicken breast with a single spoonful of carrots and another spoonful of rice.

At tea-time, she has a low-fat hot chocolate from the office machine. Our stew supper is accompanied by one small glass of wine, and a single Ferrero Rocher — no naughty second helpings.

It’s all delicious but I force myself to eat and drink as slowly as I can to eke out our tiny meals. And afterwards I must admit I’m still hungry.

Hunger will not be a problem if I emulate my neighbour Christiane Comins. She and I first met four years ago, touring a primary school.

It was as much the sight of her smiling face as the school’s amenities that persuaded me to send my daughter there. Since then, we have forged a strong friendship, carting our children to and from school and swimming.

A third of women admit to being secretly jealous of friends who lose weight – with a sixth wishing their friends were fatter than them

Christiane, 43, is a size 8, although her handbag is stuffed with biscuits, nuts and dried fruit, and she is always nibbling at something. Her secret is the incredibly healthy if restrictive diet she adopted after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 11 years ago.

In response to the diagnosis, she cut out sugar, wheat, red meat and most dairy from her diet and went organic. Not only did she lose two stone, but her mobility returned.

Understandably, she is evangelical about the benefits of her regime and is always trying to persuade me to abandon wheat and dairy, too. So far, I’ve resisted, fearing that soya milk and rice pasta will be unpalatable. But perhaps I am wrong

Our day starts heartily: a slice of pineapple, a plate of porridge with honey and soya milk and several cups of coffee. I am pleasantly surprised by the soya milk — I almost can’t tell the difference — and so full that it’s difficult to find room even for the handful of vitamin supplements she urges on me.

An hour later, she is offering me a snack of dried fruit and nuts. ‘I have to keep my energy up,’ she explains, wolfing them down herself. Lunch is a huge plateful of steamed organic veg, served with cod and drizzled with olive oil and soy sauce.

It looks beyond dreary, I think. But to my surprise, it is actually pretty tasty as well as filling. Barely minutes later, it seems, she is handing round flapjacks she has made herself with oats and organic honey.

After a brief interlude walking the dog, it’s back home for chicken rissoles, more steamed veg and brown rice — which turns out to be delicious — and several strengthening glasses of wine.

Afterwards, I can’t quite believe the amount of food I’ve consumed, but when I ask nutritionist Ian Marber, he estimates the calorie count at a modest 1,800.

Amelia Newson-Davis

Christiane Comins

Rachel Pendlebury

Untapped dietary resource: Lydia has
heard that the diet of the people you eat with can rub off, so she
decided to shadow and eat with her slim friends, from left to right,
Amelia Newsom-Davis, Christiane Comins and Rachel Pendlebury

The real trouble with Christiane’s
regime is not, as I had previously assumed, the taste. It’s all the
effort involved, washing, chopping and steaming organic veg and making
alternative healthy snacks. As a working mother, I simply don’t have the

My sister-in-law
Rachel’s eating regime is, by contrast, designed to be as
career-friendly as possible. She works long hours in a high-powered role
for the NHS, and in order to be able to pick up her children from
school, has opted not to take a lunch break at all. Rachel, 39, is an
elfin size 6 blonde whose nickname is ‘Slim’. Food is not a priority for
her, as it is for me. ‘I don’t really have time to think about it,’ she

Porridge with blueberries

Dried fruit

Brown rice

Diet with purpose: Christiane is a size 8 after indulging in a super strict diet hoped to help her because she has multiple sclerosis, including porridge, dried fruit and brown rice

For her, food is
fuel, so she has devised a routine that is easy, quick and healthy.
Breakfast is cereal and a banana, lunch a tuna sandwich at her desk,
dinner — which she eats at 5pm with her young children — usually a
stir-fry, pasta or baked fish with vegetables.

‘We don’t have pudding, except maybe a probiotic yoghurt twice a week.’

From a slimming perspective, this is
obviously a good move: eating earlier in the day means more time to burn
off the ingested calories — and at the ages of just five and three, her
dining companions are necessarily dainty eaters, too.

Rachel Pendlebury


Rachel Pendlebury

Breakfast: Two Weetabix, banana, cup of tea.
11am: Satsuma

Lunch: Two brown rolls with tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise.
4pm: Cup of tea.

Dinner: Pasta, pesto and vegetables.

10pm: Square of chocolate.

Estimated calories: 1,200.

Exercise: 20 minutes’ bike ride to and from work, five days a week.

NUTRITIONIST IAN MARBER’s VERDICT: This is the diet of a very busy woman who probably isn’t a great food lover. Because she works in a hospital, she doesn’t have access to high-quality food during the day. Overall, the diet is a bit dull.

Christiane Comins


Christiane Comins

Breakfast: Slice of pineapple. Porridge with honey and soya milk. Coffee with soya milk. Handful of vitamin supplements.

Snack: Dried fruit and nuts, five spelt biscuits.

Lunch: Steamed veg, steamed cod, boiled squash and sweet potato, olive oil and soy sauce. Juice.

Snack: Home-made flapjack.

Dinner: Chicken rissoles, steamed courgettes and broccoli, brown rice pasta, pesto sauce. Two glasses of white wine.

Estimated calories: 1,800.

Exercise: Occasional dog walks.

NUTRITIONIST’s verdict: This isn’t a bad diet at all. There’s lots of vegetables, but there isn’t enough protein — and too many snacks.


Amelia Newson-Davis

Amelia Newsom-Davis

Breakfast: Brioche, butter, apricot jam. Coffee, freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice.

Lunch: Braised chicken with mustard, rice, carrots.

Tea: Low-fat hot chocolate.

Dinner: Beef stew with vegetables, slice of bread, nectarine. Two slices low-fat Camembert. Glass white wine. One Ferrero Rocher.

Estimated calories: 1,300.

Exercise: 20 minutes’ brisk walk, five days a week.

NUTRITIONIST’s verdict: This is a typically French diet with good variety, and no fear of food or of eating the ‘wrong’ thing. It’s higher in protein than a typical British diet, which tends to be carb-heavy, and it ticks all the nutritional boxes.

day spent eating like Rachel is no hardship. I am not hungry, as I am
under Amelia’s regime. Nor does it require effort, as Christiane’s does.
Having very little choice of meal – and a pre-prepared lunch — does, I
discover, free up a lot of brain space.

at my desk in my turn, I am amazed by how much I get done in a day that
doesn’t demand any faffing around in the kitchen. But it is a regime
that is definitely short on treats. Probiotic yoghurt is not a pudding
in my book.

‘And I don’t really drink either — I’d probably have two glasses of wine in a week,’ she admits.

Rachel does allow herself a single square (a single square!) of dark chocolate at around 10pm, but that is it. I make the elementary mistake of leaving the bar beside my desk and before I know it, I’ve nibbled off a whole row. Much as I would love to have Rachel’s slender frame, I suspect I don’t have the self-discipline to stick to her diet.

So what’s the secret of staying thin My friends all have very different diets but what they have in common is a routine that fits in with their lifestyle. I just need to find my own. Watch this space . . .