Can my character go on a diet?
Welcome back to Elle's Kitchen.
After "Elle's Kitchen Newsletter #6" which was all about chocolate, I was asked to do an edition on low-fat and/or diet foods. That got me thinking, and I did a bit of research.
We all know that there is a market for low fat cookbooks and books on dieting. A huge, seemingly never-ending market. That isn't news to any of us. It seems every week another fad diet emerges and someone makes millions from a book about it. But what about using dieting in fiction writing? Is there are a market for that?
Those of you who know me well know I love my romance novels, so forgive me if I use them to illustrate my point here. Of course, the lessons hold true across all genres, I'm just not as familiar with other genres.
Eloisa James is a New York Times bestselling author, with more than 20 full-length novels, a number of novellas, a memoir and various articles published. Let me share some excerpts from a few of her novels, where her characters discuss dieting or similar:
'By the way, Mother has decided that I should try a lettuce diet that someone told her about.”
“One eats only lettuce between the hours of eight and eight.”
“That’s absurd. If you want to reduce, you should stop buying meat pies when Mama thinks you’re buying ribbons. Though to be honest, Olivia, I think you should eat whatever you want. I want quite desperately to marry, and even so, the idea of marrying Rupert makes me want to eat a meat pie.”
“Four pies,” Olivia corrected. “At least.”'
- The Duke Is Mine, Eloisa James
'“I’m certain most of the ton believes that he’ll cry off before we get to the altar, given my general lack of beauty, not to mention the fact that I don’t eat enough lettuce.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You are beautiful,” Georgiana said. “You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen. I can’t think why I got plain brown eyes and you have those green ones.” She peered at her. “Pale green. The color of celery, really.”
“If my hips were like celery, then we’d have something to celebrate.”
“You’re luscious,” her sister insisted. “Like a sweet, juicy peach.”
“I don’t mind being a peach,” Olivia said. “Too bad celery is in fashion.”'
- The Duke Is Mine, Eloisa James
'"Would you like something to eat?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I'm feeling peckish, so you'll forgive me for eating something, I trust. I'm afraid that Rafe made a mistake by asking Fortnam and Mason to cater his wedding ball. Did you see the sandwiches stamped with huge H's for Holbrook?"
Josie shook her head again. She never allowed herself to eat in public, thinking it would simply fuel the talk about her waistline.'
- Pleasure For Pleasure, Eloisa James
There was nothing worse than being nagged about one's bad traits. It was so much more pleasant to pretend they didn't exist. Like overeating. She was going to eat one of those delicious sandwich squares, even given that she had sworn that very morning never to eat again.'
- Pleasure For Pleasure, Eloisa James
So yes, you can write about the real life struggles of dieting and weight loss, even in a genre that typically stars perfect heroes and heroines and is used for escapism. It's probably worth pointing out here that none of Eloisa's characters lost weight before finding true love.
I think the thing to consider is that you want your characters to be multi-dimensional, and real. Is it real that men and women consider their eating habits, their diet and their body image? Is it real that your character might discuss such things with their sister, best friend or spouse? Absolutely! And it's certainly not just those who are overweight either.
There are lots of writing competitions coming up as part of WDC's 13th birthday celebrations. Why not include a small moment of food in one of your short stories? Not a food-themed story, but just an incidental moment for your character - thinking about, discussing, eating or preparing food as part of a greater story. Share it with me, and I'll feature it in my next newsletter. I might even have some merit badges to give out.
This recipe is from a magazine feature called 'Low Fat on the Weekend'.
"Asian Fish & Vegetable Curry"
My dad is so funny. This is his definition of a healthy recipe:
"Baked Beans On Toast"
This one is a Weight Watcher's recipe my mum likes:
"Chicken & Sun-dried Tomato Snack"
Shaara wonders if maybe there's something to be said for not being skinny...
'"Is being a full-bodied woman a plus in life because it means she is plump with flavor?" I asked.'
I love this glimpse Robert Waltz gives us into a husband and wife's conversation about weight loss.
'Why do you think people lose weight eating tofu? It’s not because tofu is protein; it’s because no one actually likes the stuff and they eat less because of it.'
There are lots of food themed activities ready to kick off on Sunday!
Nixie is sick is having a bit of a bake sale. There's lots of delicious baked goods - bid on them and you'll have a WDC Power member sending you something special! There might also be a pavlova from myself hiding in there...!
If you have a sweet tooth (and after my chocolate newsletter, I know you do!), check out this auction and raffle. Mmm, lots of UK sweets I haven't tried before!
Buy cupcakes and feed them to contestants, raising money for charity as you do. The StoryMaster is pleading for more cupcakes, but maybe you want to feed some of his rivals and give him a run for his money?
Guess the ice cream flavour, or buy yourself some sweet ice cream...
I quizzed Dodgy Steve on ways to easily make a favourite recipe more healthy.
Q What about using skim milk instead of regular milk?
A Yep, this is a good way to reduce fat, because the average person wouldn't notice much difference in flavour, and in low volume there wouldn't be much change in consistency.
Q What about using low fat margarine instead of butter?
A Fats enhance flavour, so the more fat you remove from your recipe, the more flavour you need to add in other ways. Butter will always taste better than low fat margarine, but it's possible the average person might not notice the difference without a side-by-side comparison. There shouldn't be a noticeable difference in consistency.
Q What about using artificial sweetners instead of sugar?
A Artificial sweetners have a chemical flavour that is quite noticeable. You'll find a lot of people will notice the difference in flavour. It's your choice though - if you like the finished product, then go ahead, but bear in mind that lots of people can tell the difference. Also, make sure you use an artificial sweetner that is designed for baking, so that you are using the same volume of product, otherwise your consistency will be wrong.
Q What about using healthier oils?
A Every oil has a flavour. Some of the healthier oils have a stronger flavour, so you need to be careful about that. It's probably worth experimenting to find one that suits your taste. Basically, with so many variations of oil out there, you won't know unless you try it. Consistency isn't going to change, it's the flavour you need to worry about.
Q What about using spray oils instead of liquid oils?
A For frying, greasing pans and that kind of thing? I say yes. Of course it doesn't work for replacing oil in a cake or similar.
I had a request in my last newsletter for vegan recipes. Thanks to Mia - in Autumn Rains for sharing "Invalid Item" .
That's all for this week! I hope you've enjoyed this edition. Don't forget, if you have an item for inclusion in a future newsletter, a topic for me to investigate and discuss, or if you'd like to be a guest editor for an edition, please let me know here: "Elle's Kitchen Newsletter Suggestions" .
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