Many whose busy lives have been interrupted by lockdown have been piling on the pounds and having difficulty squeezing back into workwear after living in trackies and snacking all day. The government has launched an obesity strategy aimed at reducing the Covid death toll because statistics demonstrate that we’re far more likely to succumb to this killer disease if we’re fat.
Skinny, fit people who are asymptomatic are a lucky minority in the UK, where 64 per cent of the population are overweight or obese. So something has to be done to focus attention on getting the nation in better shape to face the next wave of the pandemic.
Measures include calorie counts on menus, banning junk food ads before 9pm, offering diet club discounts and, at the same time, feeding us policies which conveniently fatten the profits of the food and diet industry. Even if six out of ten of us can be persuaded to diet, statistics prove that diets don’t work and an estimated 97 per cent of losers will end up feeling like big fat failures when they regain all the weight and more.
Powerful and profit driven, the food industry makes vast fortunes out of selling processed foods made of chemically enhanced cheap ingredients. These include combinations of fat, salt and sugar which are described as ‘hyperpalatable’. Nutrient low and additive rich, ready meals and snacks are formulated in science labs to create a ‘bliss point’ or ‘mouth feel’ which stimulates cravings and overrides feelings of fullness.
The humble crisp is a perfect example. Made with potato starch (which the body processes the same as sugar), fried in fat and seasoned with salt, most of us will eat all the crisps in an open packet regardless of the size of the packet. And our supermarkets are rammed with the best snack food on the planet. Whatever your tastes, there’s something to tempt you.
Regardless of what the nanny state or the latest social media guru tells us to do, none of their advice will quieten the inner argument many of us have between our conscious, logical understanding of what is healthy and our unconscious, impulsive desire for ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ food.
To cause further confusion, even the ‘good’ food can be bad for you. The food industry is brilliant at tapping into healthy eating trends and meeting demand with an array of ‘functional’ foods. Many of these are priced at a premium and marketed and packaged to deceive. For example, something labelled low fat will invariably be high sugar, anything low sugar will be high fat, anything low calorie will be smaller than a Twix. None of these will make you thin, any more than low fat foods thickened with starches or sugar loaded gluten free products will.
It’s not as if we don’t know when we need to lose weight and most of us are aware of how to eat healthily. But our relationship with food is a complex mash up of habits accumulated through a lifetime and unconscious emotional triggers to overconsume. And there’s no one size fits all fix for this. There are no two people on the planet who have the same genetic make-up, level of activity, personal tastes and preferences, general health, mindset and disposition or cash to buy cakes with.
A two pronged individual approach to weight management aimed at easily and comfortably reducing fat stores and permanently changing eating habits is how I help overweight people to turn their lives around.
Dieters associate misery and deprivation with losing weight. We live in a culture that condemns the overweight as lacking in willpower, greedy, lazy and unattractive. This insidious discrimination is widespread and unfair. Most overweight people have exercised incredible self control during a lifetime of dieting. Many will have lost their body weight several times over and then gained it again when their heroic effort becomes unsustainable.
And yet eating is, and should be, one of life’s greatest pleasures. Once dieters stop being the food police or treating food as the enemy they can learn to savour the joy of eating a varied, nutritious, balanced diet restricted only by feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Then the body will naturally remain at a metabolic ‘set point’ maintained by stable blood sugar. This approach also staves off the risk of type II diabetes which makes Covid all the more deadly.
If you did just one of the following things, they would help you create a healthier body and overcome disordered eating habits:
- Keep a food and mood diary for a week or two to identify mindless overeating tendencies and comfort eating habits. If you’re bored, do something, if you’re lonely, talk to someone, if you’re tired, sleep more, if you’re anxious, hug, talk or cry it out. Eating to distract yourself doesn’t work.
- Change what you snack on and how often. Every time you eat is an opportunity to overeat and many of us try to avoid even the slightest of hunger pangs. Hunger is how our body tells us when we need to eat and we enjoy food more when we’re hungry.
- When you shop, read labels and you’ll soon realise many ingredients in packaged food come from a science lab and have no place in a kitchen. Better still, don’t buy any processed food and it won’t be in the cupboard to tempt you..
- Reduce portion sizes at mealtimes and also change proportions on the plate. Your food diary will tell you how much sugar and starch you’re eating and you
- will find it easy to reduce or eliminate without missing it by piling up more of the healthy stuff. You can binge on broccoli as much as you like and still lose weight.
- Don’t buy artificially sweetened food or drinks. They maintain a sweet tooth and you’ll crave sugar more. Sugar (and excessive starchy foods) cause physical inflammation and are addictive. Cut them down or out and you soon won’t miss them. Going cold turkey (or snacking on cold turkey instead of biscuits) takes commitment at first because you have to check the ingredients of everything you consume. Lots of ready meals or sauces have loads of sugar hidden in them, for example. Look for healthier substitutions for sugary food and your taste buds will adjust so you won’t crave it any more.
During lockdown, many people started drinking earlier in the day and more often. That’s a habit that needs breaking before it becomes a dependency.
Bear in mind, it’s only in recent history that there has been such an abundance of food available. There are many people still alive who remember the privations of rationing. Before the advent of the welfare state, significantly more of the population suffered real deprivation and parents showed love by putting as much food on the table as they could.
Our subconscious mind is hard wired with the primary purpose of ensuring our survival in primitive conditions when food was scarce. We’re genetically predisposed to see food and eat it. We only exist because our ancestors appetite for high calorie food was part of their survival instinct. In order to stay lean and fit, we have to challenge an evolutionary imperative to overeat.
Maybe coronavirus is the crisis that will jolt our primeval survival instincts into adapting to the 21st century obesity pandemic and finding the cure within ourselves.