Thursday 4 August 2011

The Obesity Crisis?

The obesity crisis. The crisis is not about obesity - it's about people's relationship with food and the food industry. All the focus is on people losing weight. Doctors put patients on diets and send them to slimming clubs, the main aim being for them to come back a few months later slimmer, lighter. That’s how they measure success. I heard on the radio today that the government is “promoting body building as way of improving the health of the nation”. What?! How do they equate the two? Body building has never and will never equal good health! Being strong and having pumped up muscles is NOT the same as being healthy. There is no evidence, not a shred that I can find, to support the idea that body builders have fewer health problems or live longer, healthier lives than people who do a moderate amount of exercise…

By focusing on obesity the doctors and the government are missing the point. By measuring results in pounds/kilos lost and BMI they are, as ever, dealing with the symptom and not the problem. The problem, as I know you know, is not the weight - it’s the way we eat. And the problem is not fixed simply by the losing the weight. Through conventional diets 98% of people who lose weight (and many of them don’t even manage it!) put all the weight back on within 2 years! People’s health is not improved by dieting. People’s health is improved by eating well and being active. Yes, if people eat too much they will be overweight and that may impact their health. By developing a healthy and balanced relationship with food and their bodies, they will eat what they need, find ways to be physically active and lose weight - but you can’t just take short cuts and hope that if we just get people to lose the weight, without understanding what drives them to overeat, what the real problems are, without changing long term habits and choices, they will be healthier too! Yo-yo-ing up and down in weight has been proven to be more unhealthy than being consistently (but stably) overweight. By putting pressure on women to lose weight without giving them the necessary tools and support to address the reasons why they overeat or make food choices that cause weight gain, we are increasing their stress levels - as they feel guilty and ashamed about their supposed lack of self control and discipline. Not only does stress play a big part in ill-health, but the constant failure to lose weight often sees women giving up and... eating more! My point is that continuing to address the symptom is a dangerous waste of time and money which compounds the problem and creates more weight gain. What we have to offer at Beyond Chocolate is an approach which empowers women to take control of their eating, to make lasting, sustainable choices and to feel good about themselves. We address the real crisis - the way we eat, the reasons we overeat, the way we use food and the reasons underpinning our habits and behaviors. And over and over again we have had clients whose health has improved as a result of following the Beyond Chocolate principles, regardless of whether or not they have lost weight! Even their doctors have agreed! The thing is it takes time and that's not sexy. There's no dramatic transformation. It's a slow process and often things get worse before they get better.

Our new book, Beyond Temptation, takes the Beyond Chocolate principles to the next level, guiding women to really understand their overeating, recognising their triggers and patterns, so that they are in a position to stop turning to food as a salve, a comfort, a treat... so that they can make food choices which are both healthy and satisfying... so that they can say no to junk food, not because it’s ‘bad’ or forbidden, but because they care enough about themselves to use food as a way of nourishing their bodies rather than as a way of punishing, numbing, treating or soothing themselves. When we address the real issues, we find real solutions and there are real, lasting benefits.

This September we are planning to undertake a study of the Beyond Chocolate approach. We’ll be taking a group of overeaters who have been told they need to lose weight to be healthier and we will support and guide them for six months. Alongside them the will be a control group who will be doing the usual diets. And we’ll see what the results are, after six months, after a year, after two years...

The crisis is not about obesity. That’s like saying that the best way to reduce crime and stop burglars from robbing houses is to teach them the difference between honesty and dishonesty. To teach them how to make a living the honest way. Like they don’t know? Really? As if there are not complex social and personal reasons why criminals behave the way they do. Just like teaching people about ‘healthy eating’ - hands up who doesn’t know what’s healthy?? We don’t need more information and teaching. We need support, guidance, understanding and compassion. We need to know that we’ll get to the root of the problem rather than staying on the surface and making it all look good. Rather than focusing on people looking good. Criminals are much less likely to re-offend when they are met by someone who sees the crime as a symptom and offers support, guidance and opportunities (rather than simply punishment) to make changes to their lives. Locking them away may solve the immediate problem but it doesn't address the issues, it sweeps them under the carpet, it costs a fortune and it leaves us with many unhappy unfulfilled human beings. Putting people on diets, focusing on weight loss, is just the same. It’s time the powers that be addressed the real issues underpinning the ‘Obesity Crisis’ and stopped looking for quick fixes that make their data and records (and people) look good! And besides, the quick fixes aren't even working. Apparently the epidemic is growing. It’s time they acknowledged that they are losing the war because they are fighting the wrong battles with the wrong weapons. If they could just stop fighting, stop waging a war against FAT, they would see that there are real people, with real issues who need real help. They would acknowledge that the sugar lobbies, the corn syrup manufacturers and the food industry in general have far too much power and are selling us food that isn't even food and that there's no way people can lose weight sustainably on a diet of pretend nourishment (next week's blog post I think!). As I write I know how naive that is. And I won’t stop clamouring for it anyway :-)

What would you say to this government if it asked for your opinion on what to do about the so-called Obesity Crisis?


  1. I would refer them to this blog post! ;)
    Very well expressed and entirely true - being told to 'just eat less and exercise more' clearly isn't working but no-one's facing up to that fact - they continue to push solutions which make the problem worse. I despair sometimes!

  2. Fab post Sophie! The voice of kindness and reason as always :o)

  3. Karen, Sheffield6 August 2011 at 07:37

    I wish this blog post could be printed in every newspaper and magazine so that as many people could access it as possible. Absolutely fantastic! I'm going to print off several copies and leave them for friends to 'find' thank yo for writing this Sophie.

  4. can i be part of your group of obese women please? pretty please?

  5. I really want to buy your new book!

    When does it come out?


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