AS you read this, I hope to be lying in the dentist’s chair, one of the few activities still allowed under the new prohibitions. It is only a check-up, but that feels like a luxury and a privilege compared with the lockdown last spring, when the doors were virtually padlocked and chained.

The first thing the dentist will notice is a tender patch behind my incisors. This is not the work of crusty French bread or a rogue brazil nut, but a soft-centred chocolate which, when bitten into, put up a fight. In size, this hand-made cherry brandy fondant, decorated in pink icing, was less a piece of confectionary and more a magician’s top hat. Its neighbours were half its girth, whereas the lid bulged over this beauty. It was absolutely delicious but next time – and there will be a next time – I’ll use cutlery.

I’ve been eating a lot of chocolates lately. Turkey, stuffing, and panetone too, and a surfeit of other festive fare. In my defence, these calorific treats are balanced with seasonal side dishes of brussels sprouts, carrots and kale. I’ve had a fondness for brussels sprouts since we had to boil a saucepan of them in my first domestic science class. It was the only lesson in this subject where I excelled. Back then, I seasoned with pepper.

Today, a drizzle of olive oil turns them into the food of the gods. Thus, as I reach for a mid-morning biscuit, eyeing up the snow clouds outside and thinking of the energy required to get me through to lunch, I refuse to feel guilty. Others, however, seem hell-bent on pricking the nation’s conscience and turning an innocent cooked breakfast or buttered scone into a source of shame.

There are many reasons to dread the start of the new year, not least the dark and cold. One unfailing, ill-timed and unnecessary scourge is the avalanche of advice doled out around January 1 by nutritionists and dieticians. Even worse than the tips of health professionals is the enthusiasm of former junk food addicts who, after a Damascene conversion that usually involves a near-death experience, are messianic about their new habits.

My idea of weight control is whether or not I can tuck a T-shirt into my jeans after they’ve been in a 40-degree wash. The battery on my bathroom scales died years ago, since when they’ve been gathering dust under the bed. This is not something to boast about (I am no sylph), but while I can face up to many things in life – a leaking roof, mice under the eaves, a looming tax return deadline – knowing how many kilos I’ve gained is not one of them.

There seems something sadistic about exhorting people to give up comfort food at precisely the time of year it was designed for. It might be fine to start January with a health kick if you live in Alice Springs or California. In Achiltibuie or Crail, however, it feels cruel. When sleet is whistling around the windows, and the streets are coated in ice, the idea of following a meagre, challenging or carefully calibrated diet does not appeal.

All of us know, by now, that Covid does not just love a crowd, it is also drawn to love handles. Being clinically obese is thought to raise the risk of coronavirus complications. The unfailing appearance of New Year diets, however, seems more a lifestyle adjunct than a serious medical intervention. They fall into the same category as making resolutions to give up fags or booze, or to pound the pavement, clocking up steps like a hamster on a wheel. This year, however, there’s not even the incentive of needing to be beach-ready by summer. I doubt many of us will be mentally prepared to launch ourselves into a warmer climate and inviting sea in July, even if we are enviably lithe and toned.

Obviously, if I felt I was getting too heavy, I’d feel obliged to knuckle down and deal with it, whatever the date. It is true also that the majority of us could probably benefit from tweaking our menus around the margins. But the longest, blackest and dreariest month of the year is not the time to begin. It is counterintuitive, and possibly even self-defeating, to ask us to turn ourselves into a new and better version of ourselves, “the best me I can be”, when our internal clock is on perpetual snooze, coming alive only at the smell of roasted potatoes. When night descends by mid afternoon, and we have barely enough oomph to empty the dishwasher, let alone turn the kitchen into a MasterChef set, our willpower is posted missing.

Perhaps I ought simply to bypass the magazine features that show vegetable slurries greener than a David Hockney landscape, or chargrilled chicken served with an acre of al dente field. Yet it is not the promise of slimness that lures me in but the ever-changing science of food. That, and the thought of the guinea pigs who allow themselves to become living laboratories. One such group is the cohort of older women cited in the German science writer Bas Kast’s new book, called The Diet Compass.

These grandmothers were each given a muffin a day for seven weeks. One lot was baked with sunflower oil, the other with palm oil. Unsurprisingly, everyone gained weight, but those in the second category grew fattest. More cheering is Kast’s discovery that if you’re over 50, a very small glass of white wine with dinner works like a catalytic converter, in terms of cholesterol and insulin. After you reach 6o, however, all benefits fade. I’m making the most of that narrow window.

Kast is one of the new breed of nutritional experts who are not interested merely in keeping waists trim, but helping us live longer. By my age, though, most of us already know the rules. It’s a question of whether to adopt them. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is where the priorities lie. This January, given the risk on every side, how dangerous can another mince pie be?

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.