The singular cause of obesity does not exist

The way this country (the world?) appears to be tackling obesity is frankly ridiculous. I am sick to death of hearing news stories and wondering what the hell people are thinking. The NHS offered a relative of mine three months free subscription to go to weight watchers instead of a dietitian. Needless to say she chose the dietitian. She’s not just looking for how to lose weight, she wants to understand more about nutrition to be healthy. Healthy, contrary to what it seems people think, does not relate directly to weight. It means a whole range of things, and it means people of a normal weight can be “unhealthy” too. Of course, I imagine that sending groups of people to weight watchers is much cheaper, but is it really going to make people healthier and deal with the problem?

I do not see how a money making company like weight watchers can be a part of the solution. Groups of people meeting up, competing to see who can be the biggest loser of the week, talking about their “lapse” this week because they ate a slice of cake (and obviously a slice of cake is responsible for everything and it’s practically the end of the world and you’re going to have to try better next week).

If I hear someone saying ANY particular food item is bad, I swear to god they’re going to regret it because I will rant at them. I don’t think people really get it. No food is bad. Chocolate is not bad. Fat does NOT make you fat, and single food choices are not responsible for obesity.

All foods have different benefits. We talk about calories like the less we consume, the better it is (and the better we are) but calories are ENERGY. We need energy to survive. Calories are not the problem, too many of them are. Calories are the only thing responsible for any weight gain or loss, yes that is true, which means that high fat foods, or sugary drinks are NOT the problem. What is the problem is consuming too many high calorie foods daily.

2000 calories of chocolate will have the same impact on weight as 2000 calories of apples. The problem is, chocolate is more calorie dense so it’s much easier to consume 2000 calories of it. This means we need to look at what we are eating and make sure our portion sizes are reasonable, and that we are eating a balanced diet. A balanced diet means you can eat all types of food, in the right amounts.

Stores banning certain drinks, like Ribena and Capri-Sun at Tesco is not going to help combat obesity. It’s taking away customer choice, it means those who already have a balanced diet, and enjoy the sugary version of ribena from time to time, can no longer have that choice. It means those who have an unbalanced diet and struggle with their weight, are going to be stopped from having that particular product in their diet, but it’s not going to stop the fact they need education and help with eating a balanced diet. What are we going to do? Ban every single less nutritious or higher calorie food out there?

It’s not “bad” to eat foods that don’t have 25 vitamins in. It’s ok to sometimes eat food because you enjoy it. It’s also ok to eat food higher in calories. It’s eating less nutritious, higher calorie food constantly that is the issue. We label foods as “good” or “bad” and we feel guilty, bad as a person and become very self-critical or even critical of others over it. I am sick of hearing people judge themselves or others based on this. And there are countless arguments. Nuts, we are told, are “good” for us and yet they are very high in calories, so when are we going to demonize and ban them too?

We are looking for who is to blame, or what is to blame. We blame something new every day. It’s sugar, it’s fat, it’s lack of exercise, it’s genes.. the list goes on and on. We want to blame one thing, so we can have a quick fix. The reality is there are multiple reasons people are obese. If we are being realistic, it’s consuming more calories than our bodies require to fulfil our needs (i.e. our bodies demands and exercise). People who are consuming too many calories, need to reduce their calorie intake. BUT they need to also understand more about nutrition. That some higher calorie foods are ok, and it’s balancing it out.

Why people are consuming more than they require? There’s a heap of reasons. Lack of education, lack of exercise decreasing their requirements or over estimating them, depression, eating disorders, and well…because many of the foods that need to be a part of a balanced diet are cheap, convenient and bloody delicious. We need to help people to see that there are other alternatives to consume alongside the foods they are choosing to eat, and that they can still eat the foods they enjoy as a part of their diet.

Shaming obese people, taking away freedom of choice, and sending out incorrect messages about what can help is only going to make it worse. We should be giving the truth. Obesity is increasing, alarmingly. But what is also increasing alarmingly is restrictive eating disorders. These messages being sent out affect people who are suffering with eating disorders; they hear they shouldn’t eat certain things, that their being encouraged to eat by their treatment teams. They are faced with calorie information as well as fat content on everything they eat, and every menu they see. Red for bad, red for high fat, red for high calorie, when this may be what they need. It’s what they need, and yet the big red sign stops them.

We are individuals. We have individual needs. We have individual reasons for what contributes to our weight issues and we cannot blanket over things like we are. We cannot deal with this by banning or blaming one singular thing or food group.

It might make reducing obesity seem easier and cheaper, but it’s not going to work.