The National Obesity Forum and the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk have conducted a joint survey of more than 2,000 people which found that 42% of 18 to 24-year-olds would not tell a loved one they should lose weight out of reluctance to hurt the other person’s feelings. For those aged 25 to 44 it was just over a third, while for older people it was about one in four. Men find it hardest to tell their partners, while women were more worried about bringing up the issue with a friend.
Prof David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, is quoted as saying: ‘If someone close to you has a large waistline then, as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life.’
Dr Jean Pierre Despres, scientific director of the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk, agreed: ‘Start by encouraging someone close to you to make simple lifestyle changes such as becoming more active, making small alterations to their eating habits and replacing sugary drinks with water.’
Given that a certain level of fat accumulation around the waist and internal organs increases the statistical risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, this sounds very sensible indeed to me. At the same time, I must admit to a lot of scepticism.
Does exhortation to lose weight ever work? Whether it’s coming from another person or from inside our own head, are we really likely to comply, on a permanent basis? Now there’s even a Talking Plate that nags you to eat slowly! The outcome of most diets is to gain yet more weight, once the diet has ended. And the truth is, they always do end!
However, the good Prof Haslam did put in the proviso about discussing this issue ‘sensitively’ so on that ground alone it feels OK to me to give him a grain of publicity.
My own approach when working with people who consider their weight or fat to be a concern, is to emphasise learning trust in the self, using intuition about what is ‘good’ behaviour around food, listening to the body’s internal signals, discarding shame and replacing it with self-love – all of which, I’m sorry to say, takes time.
Six top tips
- Take small pauses to listen to your body’s own signals.
- Eat when you’re actually hungry! Then stop when you’re not!
- Eat sitting down, calmly, in company.
- There are no forbidden foods (that ‘naughty but nice’ nonsense!)
- End the diet rollercoaster (drama but no fun!)
- Eat with pleasure and gusto!
Of course, in actual fact it saves time: it’s the diets that waste time! If you drop quick fixes and focus on finding a sustainable relationship with food and your body, you are likely to lose weight over a period of time and keep it off without worrying. This entails deep re-training of ourselves to differentiate between ‘comfort’ eating and ‘hunger’ eating. It also means tackling the guilt and shame head on, by ending the habits of eating in secret, or when distracted such as when driving in the car. It’s a process, I say again, that demands time and effort.
The 12-step programme of Overeaters Anonymous is worth a mention here as it suits many people. Again, it has a slow, steady approach – not shouting at people but supporting them! I’m not sure if the medical profession in its institutional form, say in the shape of the National Obesity Forum, is capable yet of finding the right tone in which to address all the people who feel distressed about their eating, and for whom food is not the unalloyed pleasure it should be. But then, do organisations composed of doctors know how to talk about pleasure?