A weighty issue

I realise that the original point of blogs was to express an individual’s opinion & prompt discussion, but I’ve always shied away from that aspect – preferring to dwell amongst the random and inane. I’ve also avoided deeply personal things, as I have a closed blog for airing my dirty laundry to a readership of one (moi). I also try to keep things brief(ish) – this post is not.

Tuesday night, there was a glut of weight-related programmes on TV. The Hospital on Channel 4 [excellent 3-part series on the NHS, catch it on 4OD] focused upon 3 women under 25 who were morbidly obese & exploring surgery. A short time later, BBC1 aired ‘Georgia: 33 stone at 15’, a documentary about a teenager who left Wales to spend a year at an American weight-loss boarding school.

The Guardian’s response to these shows was: “…I’m still not convinced by weight loss as TV. I know I’m the only person in the world who isn’t: you just need to glance at the schedules. We’re a nation obsessed with food and eating and weight and, most of all, with fat people.”

Yes, we’re a nation obsessed with food, eating, weight, weight-loss, fat people. There’s been ‘Celebrity Fit Club’; ‘You are what you eat’; ‘Inch-loss island’; ‘Freaky Eaters’…I could go on.

But, do you know what? As I watched these two shows on Tuesday, I realised that actually, they were amongst the most sensible programmes on the subject, because within both of them they showed the only method of weight-loss that works:
– Diet, monitoring energy intake (i.e. calories) & fat content.
– Exercise
– An understanding of the psychological reasons behind an individual’s eating pattern.

Those in The Hospital were followed as they met with a nutritionist and attempted to lose weight via conventional means before resorting to surgery. Only one went under the knife, the others (though one took longer to get into it than the other) used a combination of diet and exercise and radically changed their lifestyles. This was also the approach followed by the school Georgia was sent to, where, by the end of 6 months she had lost a staggering 12 stone.

We all know crash diets are rubbish (cabbage soup anyone?), and understand the theory that calories in need to be balanced by calories expended, but who’s there to guide people through it? Why did it have to wait until these women were morbidly obese before real time and money was spent on trying to change things?

Membership of a well-known fat-club (as my friend affectionately calls hers) can cost upwards of £6 a week, before factoring in the cost of good quality, low-fat foods and exercise – whether that’s gym membership, leisure centre costs , home equipment or a simple DVD. Not everyone can afford that – yet again, the poorest within our society are trapped in a cycle of poor food, poor understanding of nutrition & little access to exercise facilities.

Of the three women considering surgery, I’ve assumed that two could be termed ‘working class’ whilst another was ‘middle class’. There are sociological assumptions, but the most successful patient also happened to have the money to hire a personal trainer.

The biggest barrier to weight loss is mind-set. One patient was meant to follow a 750cal diet for the few weeks prior to her op, yet was filmed munching on her 2nd hobnob, having been unaware (until prompted by the film crew to check) that each biscuit contained 67cals. Unsurprisingly, her liver was fatty (unhelpful for surgery) when operated on, which the surgeon said did not bode well for her future lifestyle, even with the gastric band. She hadn’t changed her mind-set to one that was focused on making radical changes.

In contrast, the girl with the personal trainer lost stones (& didn’t need an op) thanks to exercising, dieting, creating space for herself and having a supportive family. How were the others meant to cope if their family (who were equally obese) were eating junk food whilst they were on a restricted diet? Hardly supportive, and why wasn’t the NHS targeting them too?

As a country, we seem to be waiting until it’s too late to do something. What about PE in schools? I know for a fact that if it had been less humiliating doing cross-country, maybe I’d have enjoyed it more. As it is, I had to wait until my 20s to discover sports that I enjoy. What about introducing counselling as soon as a GP recognises a weight problem? Education regarding food can only go so far – one patient was filmed munching a KFC bucket claiming “everything in moderation”…

And why do I care? I’ve been there, I am there.

Six years ago I changed my lifestyle, eating a calorie controlled diet and taking up regular exercise for the first time in my life. I lost 5 stone in a year, thanks partly to Rosemary Conley and the fact that her clubs offered an exercise class with the weigh-in (still the biggest gripe I have with the Weight Watchers empire is that they don’t). I looked completely different and almost didn’t know who I was anymore. The psychological basis for why I’d got into that position hadn’t been dealt with. I knew the maths, I had willpower and it worked.

It didn’t last, for various reasons. For the last couple of years I’ve been on an emotional & spiritual journey exploring who I am and what that means. Only in the last couple of months have I felt in the place to start again. I’m happy with who I am (who God created me to be, in fact) and I know the maths, so I know what to do to reverse some of the damage I’ve done.

Victimising fat people will do no good. Neither will victimising food. Until there’s an holistic approach to Britain’s ‘obesity epidemic’ no change will be permanent.

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