How many people have you heard say in the last week that they were on a diet, or trying to lose weight? I can count 7 or 8 that I have spoken to at least. Perhaps it’s the time of year, our thoughts are turning to spring and the coming warmer days after the indulgences of December…. But apparently at any given time, approximately 60% of us are on a diet.
Why do we struggle with our weight so much? If we want to lose weight, or need to, why can’t we just do it? Perhaps the answer is because food has become about so much more than fuel for our bodies to burn. Food is used to reward us, to make us feel better when we are low or upset, to numb or block unwanted feelings, to avoid boredom and as a tool for making us happy. Unfortunately the pleasure we get from eating is extremely short lived, so we turn to it again and again to keep that happiness factor going.
Some of us just enjoy our food but tend to overindulge, and over the years, weight gain creeps up on us. Others are in the grip of an eating disorder. There are many different eating disorders of course, but food ‘addiction’ is a relatively modern phenomenon, and has been likened to drug use in the ferocity of its hold. Binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive eating and indeed any unhealthy relationship with food, is usually secretive, out of control and highly self-destructive. These disorders are associated with guilt, shame and low self esteem and professional help (not a new diet) is required to recover.
I have always been interested in weight, in eating disorders, obesity and what motivates people to lose or gain weight. I am no expert, medical or psychological, let’s make that clear, and I’m certainly not someone who eats healthily all the time or who has any right to enforce my views or judge anyone. But why have we got so big? And how has it happened so quickly?
This situation has crept up on us over the last 40 years. In 1980 when I was fourteen, it was unusual to see people who were overweight. Now however, apparently two thirds of the UK population have a BMI of 25 or over and are classed as overweight, and it is expected that by 2030 half of us will have a BMI of 30 or over, which is categorised as obese. The NHS spends billions every year tackling obesity related diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The € total ‘comes to more than the amount we spend on the police, fire service and entire judicial system’ (*Source: Public Health England).
Why have things changed so quickly? One reason is the sheer number of fast food takeaways and restaurants that have sprung up in our towns and cities. A rarity when I was growing up, I vaguely remember a burger place called ‘Piggy’s’ and the town’s Wimpy Bar, but visits to these places were treats, and were never thought of as an regular occurrence. Portion size is also interesting, a burger and portion of fries was very small in 1980 compared to that of today.
The amount of hidden sugar in our everyday food is another factor. We all know sugar is in chocolate, cakes, ice cream and fizzy drinks, but there are vast amounts in what we may assume to be healthier options like cereals, savoury snacks, juices and smoothies. A new sugar tax was introduced in 2018, but most of us are still completely unaware as to how much sugar we are ingesting every day.
Even when we resist the temptation of going out or ordering in, we often rely on ‘ready meals’. In our busy lives this has become acceptable and we fully expect food to be available in matter of minutes rather than preparing food over hours which we did in years gone by. Consequently, we are not necessarily aware of what is in these foods, and although some manufacturers employ the warning traffic light system, we are often still in the dark about the high content of fat, sugar and salt in our food.
Boredom and inactive lifestyles are also expanding our waistlines. We have much more leisuretime that we did 40 years ago, and how often do we make food the centre of celebrations, events and get togethers. We don’t move unless we have to, take the car when we can walk, and exercise programmes and gym memberships are often abandoned after a week or two. When we do have a go at exercise, it’s hard work and painful, so we are put off and move even less.
I’m not saying change is easy. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be facing having to lose ten stones or more. The sheer enormity of it is probably overwhelming. I’ve never had much faith in diets and I’m aware that the reason the diet industry is so profitable is because we keep failing!
The problem with diets is that they are temporary. Weight that is lost quickly, often goes on as speedily, and no one wants to commit to living on salads for the rest of their lives. But you can make healthy changes, changes that will overtime, have a direct effect on your waistline.
Try not to snack, and eat only when you are hungry. Remember the purpose of food; it is fuel and if it’s being used for anything else, such as filling a hole in your life that is empty, it would be wise for you to seek some therapeutic help.
Try intermittent fasting, it’s my chosen method for keeping my weight in check. It may be easier than you think and it has huge heath benefits as well as weight loss. You don’t have to fast for days on end. A 16 hour fast a few times a week has been shown to have dramatic results over a period of time.
Inactivity is probably one of the most effective ways to gain weight, so try to incorporate some exercise into your week. It doesn’t have to be the gym, running or anything particularly strenuous to begin with, just get yourself moving!
Take time to enjoy your meals and practice mindfulness when eating. Plan meals ahead and lay out the table. Don’t eat in front of the television. Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Stop as soon as you feel full. There is no need to clear your plate if your stomach has had enough.
Don’t shop when you are hungry and try to buy healthy alternatives. If you are a chocolate or crisp addict, plan a treat once a day to have a small bar or packet. Moderation is the key. Don’t completely deprive yourself of foods you love, or you will never stick at it.
Try to eat lots of vegetables and fibre rich foods with every meal, they really do fill you up. I’m not wild about fruit (though I love blueberries,) but I love a plate of vegetables. There is nothing wrong with a few chips or meat, but remember all in moderation and try having a large glass of water before eating.
Don’t become addicted to your scales. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about how you feel and how healthy you are are. If you are eating healthier, you will feel more energised and able to cope with everything life throws at you so much better.
This is not about being thin. It’s about being healthy. No one wants face the fact that their life may end in their forties or fifties because of their eating habits. You’ve only got one body, make the most of it and give it a fighting chance to have a long and healthy life. Good luck with your journey. ❤️