Month: April 2009

Do diets make you fat?

I’ve recently learnt that diets have a 95% recidivism rate. In plain words, that means that 95% of the people who go on diets will regain all the weight they have lost. I’ve also found out that the diet industry make millions of pounds a year and that ‘low fat’ products are often so loaded with sugar to make them palatable you’ll get so many calories from the sugar you may as well have eaten the fat in the first place!

All this is a bit disheartening I know if you are trying to diet. Far be it from me to put you off taking care of yourself. Apparently 60% of the adult population in Britain is obese and 25% of children so, goodness knows, we have to do something! But if diets don’t work, then what?

Personally I really enjoyed the diet class I belonged to a few years ago. I lost a lot of weight which I have pretty much kept off and I learnt a lot about portion size and food values. I was inspired to cook healthy meals from fresh ingredients and my whole approach to food was changed.

However I have to admit it was hugely performance based exercise: I was rewarded each week by a new stamp in my card, the warm approval of my class leader (‘another 2 pounds lost, well done Sheila’) and the envious glares of the somewhat larger ladies in the weekly queue for the scales. No wonder I enjoyed the experience. But I’m wondering if all this ‘performance’ was good for my soul?

Once I’d lost the weight and all that positive feedback dropped away, I was on a ‘maintenance diet’ ie maintain my target weight but what I seemed to maintain the most was my vigilance and anxiety that all that effort would come to nothing. It did creep back on slowly but it took seven years for me to go up a dress size so am I one of the 5% successes or 95% failures?

That’s probably the biggest problem I have with diets: the notion of success and failure. Those words are so loaded with emotion. The fact that you’ve failed to loose weight doesn’t mean you’ve ‘failed’ as a person. I’ve recently read a book about dieting. I won’t tell you the title because I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend it. The train of thought was that if you had a weight problem then you had a spiritual problem (low self esteem/lack of self-discipline/sin of gluttony) and so therefore you had to resolve your spiritual issues by journaling, praying, confessing and self-controlling and this would result in weight loss without a diet! Without a diet?!

I really felt annoyed that an overweight person turning to this book for help would have to wade through almost the whole book, mostly telling her that not only did she have a weight problem but she was a obviously a rubbish Christian to boot only to reach the last couple of chapters to be told that if she got all that right she could loose weight without dieting.

Weight is an accumulation of fat cells. It is NOT a moral or spiritual thing. Yes, yes, I know being overweight can be linked to low self-esteem and emotional issues but some of the most gentle, funny, loving, spiritually switched on people I know are … dare I say it….FAT! And I love them and God loves them too and neither God nor I have a problem with their plumptiousness. A lot of overweight people are being made to feel like they are in the middle of a witch-hunt, there’s hardly a week goes by without a story about the ‘evil’ of obesity. Let’s have a bit of compassion here. The evil of obesity has been largely brought about by the ‘evils’ of marketing, advertising and commerce.

A lady wrote to me the other day lamenting about the size of her tummy ‘most other sins can be hidden’, she wrote ‘but I carry around the sin of gluttony so that everyone can see’. Ouch! I don’t know her well enough to know whether she is actually greedy or just has a post pregnancy bulge and why should we be ashamed about the way motherhood or age has rearranged our bodies. My belly carried two beautiful babies – of course it bulges!

So what do you think?

Do diets make you fat?

How do you feel about your size? How much do you think it matters what size we are?

Answers please….

Swine Flu or Affluenza? Are you at Risk?

In the current media frenzy over the Swine Flu virus, I’m wondering just how dangerous this virus really is? In spite of hours of news coverage, I’m still uncertain how worried I should be and I have a lingering suspicion that while most of the Western world seems to be whipping itself into a frenzy of anxiety in advance of the next big global catastrophe, we might actually get distracted from several major global catastrophes that are already here (children dying from malaria, young girls forced into prostitution, millions of people who live without sanitation, I could go on).

One of the more subtle catastrophes that is already with us has been highlighted for me recently by the book Affluenza by Oliver James. Listed as a Sunday Times bestseller, it came out in 2007 (so I’m not that up to date, sorry!).

Oliver James has one BIG idea: that in westernised societies huge numbers of people have been ‘infected’ by what he calls the ‘Afflluenza’ virus. By this he means that they place a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame. His theory is that those who hold these values are at hugely increased risk of emotional distress, by which he means depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorders.

So, for example he says that the UK is riddled with Affluenza victims and 25% of the population has experienced emotional distress in the last 12 months, with another 25% being on the verge of emotional distress, which puts half the population of the UK in a pretty bad way. His theory, and I have to say he comes up with a lot of convincing evidence, is that this distress is linked to our devotion to these four warped values.

Bearing in mind that he is not writing from a Christian perspective, it sounds like a very Christian message ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole word but loses his soul?’ Mark 8:36 or as it is in The Message ‘What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?’

It’s a great book if you love statistics and real life stories, he bases his research on interviews with 240 super rich people from 7 different countries. I have to say Denmark sounds like the best place to live, shame Danish is so hard to learn! Many of the stories are of people who have everything but have lost ‘the real them’.

I have two criticisms of the book: once you’ve read the prologue (or even just this review) you have grasped his one BIG idea and the only point in reading on would be to look at his evidence and the antidotes he recommends. None of these are earth shatteringly original but he does go to some lengths to show that having a spiritual faith is an excellent ‘vaccine’ against Affluenza.

The second problem I have with the book is that he only interviews the super rich even though he maintains that Affluenza affects us all. I am very interested in how a desire for money, possessions, appearance and fame affect the people in my street.

Lots of food for thought and I have a feeling that once Swine Flue has been and gone, Affluenza and its insidious effects with still be with us.

Affluenza by Oliver James published by Vermillion
ISBN 978-0-09-190011-3

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