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The Truth Behind Bridget Jones' Unhealthy Diary

Apr 27, 2001 -- You've read the book. You've seen the film. But have you got the lifestyle? Most of us take Bridget Jones' story with a grain of salt, but if you think you identify too closely with Helen Fielding's 30-something singleton heroine, it might be time to make a fresh start -- something Bridget is always trying to do.

Although she's loveable, cute and hilariously funny, her diary is a health disaster, say experts. And if she carries on bingeing her way through copious amounts of alcohol, booze and food, Bridget could suffer some serious health problems. -->

So WebMD asked top health experts to analyze Bridget's diary and speculate as to how healthy any Bridget-clones out there really are.

Sunday, January 1
129 lb
alcohol units 14
cigarettes 22
calories 5,424

Food consumed today
2pkts of Emmenthal cheese slices
14 cold new potatoes
2 Bloody Marys
third of Ciabatta loaf with Brie
coriander leaves
12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of Christmas confectionary and make fresh start tomorrow)
13 cocktail sticks securing cheese and pineapple
Portion of turkey curry, peas and bananas
Portion of Raspberry Surprise made with Bourbon biscuits, tinned raspberries, eight gallons of whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries and angelica

Bridget's Smoking
Cigarettes 28 (but will soon give up for Lent so might as well smoke self into disgusted smoking frenzy)

The most dangerous aspect of Bridget's lifestyle, say the experts, and the one all Bridget clones need to act fast on -- is her smoking habit. She smokes an average of 12 cigarettes a day during the first two months of her fictional year in London, and although that doesn't make her a die-hard smoker, she can smoke up to 29 cigarettes in one day.

However well aware of the dangers she is, and however hard she tries to give up, she normally lights up as soon as she's hit by the next emotional crisis.

"'People indulge in self-destructive types of behaviour when they are stressed or feel out of control," says Clive Bates, the director of Action On Smoking And Health in the U.K.

Bates says smoking causes 50 different illnesses, 22 of which are fatal. They include lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. If Bridget can give up smoking in her early 30s (in the book she turns 33) her risk of contracting a serious disease will be almost the same as a nonsmoker's by the time she's 50.

Bridget is at an age when the extent of her smoking will be starting to show on her face. Lines will be appearing around the corners of her mouth and eyes.

Her lung function will be impaired too, Bates tells WebMD, and if she goes to the gym she'll be in for a shock. Her fitness level will be low.

But if Bridget can beat her nicotine addiction she will feel more in control of her chaotic life, says Bates. "Most smokers feel the habit controls them and giving up makes them feel they have regained control over their lives. It will also open up the door to a healthier lifestyle. If she replaces her smoking with exercise, she won't put on weight and she'll feel happier, fitter, and a great deal more confident."

Bridget's Drinking
Dinner: four glasses of wine, fish and chips

Women can drink up to a healthy quota of one to two drinks a day. But in one week Bridget Jones can drink more than double that, especially when she's "drowning her sorrows."

She represents a growing phenomenon that has started to worry health experts in recent years, says assistant director of Alcohol Concern in the U.K., Sue Baker. Professional women in their 20s and 30s are drinking more and incidences of alcohol-related conditions such as cirrhosis are increasing.

"The reasons often given are Bridget Jones-type reasons," she says. "They are single, independent, and professional women who are not marrying at such a young age or having children."

But women are not biologically designed to take in large amounts of alcohol, she explains to WebMD. "It's the water-to-fat [ratio] in women's bodies. Women have more fat in their bodies than men and this means alcohol circulates around the body in a more concentrated form."

The perennial problem with alcohol is that society does not perceive it as a problem drug, says Nigel Hughes, chief executive of the British Liver Trust. "If somebody has a problem, it's acceptable to drown your sorrows," he says.

But as one of Dr. Moira Plant's patients pointed out, alcohol doesn't drown your sorrows -- it merely, "teaches them how to swim." Plant is the co-director of the alcohol and research center in Edinburgh, Scotland. She tells WebMD that using alcohol to cope with stress is OK as long as it's one of a range of coping mechanisms. "If it's becoming her only coping tool, then alarm bells start to ring."

One way Bridget could examine her drinking behaviour is to keep a diary -- of a different type -- for a few weeks, says Plant. This diary should include information about what she is drinking, whether she's drinking at home, who she is drinking with and how she is feeling when she drinks.

And there are simple steps Bridget can take to reduce her alcohol intake. Alternating an alcoholic drink with a soft drink or a low-alcohol substitute is one way she can cut down. Avoiding round buying, where there is more pressure to drink alcohol, is another easy step.

And since Bridget obsessively weighs herself every day, one incentive might be to consider the amount of calories she is drinking. "Consuming your week's supply of alcohol in one night comes to 784 calories," says Plant. When you consider that the average healthy minimum intake for women per day is 1,700 calories, that's an awful lot in one night, especially when Bridget has probably already devoured the contents of her fridge as well.

Bridget's eating
124 lb (have realised the secret of dieting is not weighing oneself)

Finally some good news for Bridget. She doesn't have a great deal to worry about when it comes to nutrition, says nutrition communications manager, Beckie Lang, who is based at the Human Nutrition Research Centre, in Cambridge, England.

Although Bridget doesn't often reveal the details of her diet, nutritionally she isn't missing out. When she does give a sample of her day's eating, she eats a hot-cross bun and a chocolate bar for breakfast; two bananas, two pears and a carton of orange juice for a snack; a jacket potato and hummus for lunch, and fish and chips and another chocolate bar for dinner.

"OK, she eats a [chocolate bar], but at least she has breakfast," says Lang, "and she eats her five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in one snack, which is pretty impressive. And both her lunch and dinner are fine."

However Lang picks up on two of Bridget's habits -- her tendency to binge-drink alcohol and her fluctuating calorie intake.

"Her calorie intake ranges between 5,500 calories to 700 calories, which is really low but at least she includes alcohol when she counts her calories," she says. "A lot of people think alcohol doesn't count. If she wants to control her calorie intake, all she really needs to do is cut down on her alcohol."

In two months Bridget's weight fluctuates by seven pounds, which is 'pretty normal' according to Lang. In the film, 5-foot 2-inch actress Renée Zellweger plays Bridget and her average weight of 126 pounds is well within the healthy range of the body mass index, which goes from just over 98 pounds to nearly 140 pounds.

In fact, Bridget doesn't need to keep a diary to count her calories at all. A diary is only recommended for people who are seriously overweight so that doctors can analyze their food intake and see where the problem areas are.

But the fact that Bridget is obsessed with her weight is "pretty normal" too, says Lang.