Something is wrong

As far as I can tell, something is wrong.

We have so much advice available to us about how to be healthy, about how to lose weight and look after ourselves. The health section of our bookshops are full of diet books all promising fantastic results. Newsagents, petrol stations and supermarkets have an abundance of magazines with the ultra fit and beautiful on the front cover telling us how they achieved their figure so we can copy them. Our prime time television schedules are given over to health programs hosted by experts telling us how to be thin (usually at the expense of someone who isn’t) and what we shouldn’t be eating and how we should be exercising. Also, if we are overweight when we visit our doctor then he (sometimes sternly!) tells us we need to lose weight and that our excess fat is the cause of our ills. Some forward thinking health authorities even prescribe exercise and pay for their patients to visit a gym.

So thanks to all this advice, education and encouragement we are now healthier than we have ever been and enjoying life to the full. Right?

Wrong.

Obesity in the UK is on the rise. I don’t have the official figures to hand (thanks to a lack of internet connection whilst I’m writing this. I’m currently on holiday in Cornwall watching the Olympics closing ceremony), but you don’t need official figures to see this. I’ve been people watching a lot lately and one thing I’ve noticed is that lean people are rare. I had cause recently to travel to the north of England (the difference in health between the north and south is worthy of study but I won’t be going into that here) and as I was walking round a supermarket there I’m not sure I saw one adult who wasn’t overweight. Even a lot of the children were overweight. I was also in a swimming pool recently and I saw the same thing. Most, if not all of the adults were overweight and a lot of the children were too. Certainly the only lean people I saw were young, but they were not the majority.

Something is wrong.

Current health advice tells us that weight loss is a function of calories in vs calories out. If we expend more calories than we eat, then we will lose weight and if we eat more calories than we expend, then we gain weight. Simples!

If this advice is true and known by everyone, then why are so many of us overweight? Perhaps all these overweight people don’t care that they are the shape they are.

I don’t think so. Talk to the school girl who gets teased because she’s larger than all her friends, talk to the young woman who’s constantly on a diet but never seems to get smaller but spends so much of her time either being hungry or fighting with herself, talk to the middle aged man with children who’s just been told by his doctor he has high cholesterol and might not see his children grow up unless he loses weight and you’ll find they have the same response. They care. They care very much. Indeed, losing weight, having an ideal figure and being healthy is a life goal for many overweight people.

Okay, so maybe they do care. In that case then perhaps they just don’t have the will power, the strength of character to resist food. Overweight people are clearly driven by their impulses and can’t resist what their stomachs tell them, whereas lean people are strong and intelligent and have control over their appetites. Unfortunately this idea is given too much credence on both sides of the fence. It’s all too easy for overweight people to feel like failures because they haven’t managed to lose weight, and it’s all too easy for lean people to judge overweight people for not having the strength of character necessary to resist food.

I don’t buy this. For one it’s too neat and simplistic, if you’re a glutton or a sloth then you put on weight (this judgement is what fueled a lot of the research in the 1950s). Being overweight is not exclusive to the weak willed, stupid or sinful. Many very intelligent people are overweight. Doctors, surgeons, lawyers etc. Having the intelligence and strength of character to become qualified in any of these areas is no small feat. So why don’t these intelligent and strong willed people take control of their waistlines?

Something is wrong.

It’s not the people who are at fault. It’s the advice. Losing weight is not about calories in vs calories out. Never has been, never will be. This idea reduces the human body to a simple machine with simple mechanics. A bit like a car. A car takes in fuel (in our case food), stores it in it’s fuel tank (in our case fat cells) and then uses it to fuel the engine (in our case cell function, movement and strength).

The human body is not a car. The Bible says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. The human body has a collection of mechanisms and hormones (I’m not an expert so I won’t even try to explain them now) that work in conjunction with each other to store fuel, burn fuel and ultimately make us fat or thin. The human body is amazingly complex and truly is a miracle in it’s own right.

So if you’re a constant dieter who feels like a failure because you haven’t been able to shift the weight by trying to restrict your calories, then stop judging yourself. It’s not your lack of self control that is the problem.

The advice is just plain wrong.

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