Why People Stay Fat
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Before I tell you the solution, I suppose I have to qualify the above statement, and I have to eliminate all the counter arguments to clear the way for the solution to surface.
Right, to begin with, we have to ask what is obesity, what is “normal” and what is “overweight”, because maybe the solution is to revise the label definitions to solve the problem. We read all the time about the influence of the media on us all — especially on thin supermodels and their impact on young girls and the female body image. I discussed the origins of this in an old post on this site (Why Girls want to be Stick Thin — Feb 2004). The influence of the thin media models is twofold: (a) it is making us more unhappy because average weight and obesity is rising, and (b) eating disorders are rising.
A move away from too-thin modelling would obviously be a good thing if we got happier with ourselves and if the eating disorders stats dropped. Is that likely to happen? No; the magazines want us to be unhappy so that they can sell us dreams and creams.
This is Big Business. Allow me to explain how it unfolded historically.
It all started in Protestant, Industrial Revolution Victorian Britain, and their views on morality, science, improvement of the working class.
In other words, with Sex and Religion. “The Bland Diet” started in the 1830s by Rev Sylvester Graham led to crackers and cornflakes and eating sadly— like a punishment, or as a Christian means to repressing sexuality and increasing spirituality. Bowel movements have historically been linked with health and well being. Even Kellogg thought more fibre would stop masturbation!
It is never a good idea to mix diet with religion, but it happens all the time (look at Muslims/ halal, Jews/ kosher, and fasting Catholics!).
Religious diets are not about health or nutrition, they are about suffering, and they have been a good thing in introducing procedures and cleanliness rituals. Anyway, the Bland Diet is reckoned to be the earliest diet, even though it wasn’t about slimming or health.
The First Slimming Diet Ever
The birth of the slimming diet dates back to 1863 with Bill Banting and Bill Harvey’s Low Carb Diet – this is the longest and most successful slimming diet in the history of the world. It stayed in print from 1863 until 2007 for heaven’s sakes. It worked then, and still works today!
Yes, you read that right – the first and longest-running (and most successful) diet was low carbohydrate. As a result of this fact, I think it safe to assert that controlling/ reducing the carbohydrate intake is proven as the key to slimming.
Fasting and Chewing
Nevertheless, in the early 1900s saw the start of The Fasting Clubs Craze (yep, religious fasting!), and this was quickly followed by Horace Fletcher, “The Great Masticator” – who asked everyone to chew everything at least 32 times!
Pseudo Science: the Calorie
Anyway, then, suddenly they discovered “Calories”. Pseduo-scientific stuff began.
The first calorie counting diet was Lulu Peters’s “Diet and Health, with Key to The Calories” of 1918 – it sold two million and was aimed at women. This was the first diet bestseller and the birth of the “diet industry”. With the change to SI units over the old Imperial and Metric systems, (see “How The Brits are Cheated” – Dec 2009) the Calorie failed to be rebranded as the kilocalorie or the kilojoule, adding to even more confusion — particularly when linked to the idea of BMI. But science is not enough – we need clothes and glamorous lifestyles to grow the business model.
Hollywood & Sponsorship
In the 1930s, Hollywood cashed in with “The Grapefruit diet”, a daily starvation diet of just 585 calories, sponsored by a fruit growing consortium. This merged sponsorship with glamorous Hollywood movie idols, magazines and newspapers and best-selling books — 20 years of money-making mess ensued.
The world famous DuPont company famously hired Dr Alfred Pennington to investigate why low calorie diets have never ever actually worked. (Remember that fact – LOW CALORIE DIETS HAVE NEVER WORKED – yet even today people say “JUST EAT LESS CALORIES AND YOU’LL LOSE WEIGHT” – wrong!) .
So, in 1950, Pennington put the boardroom members on a high-fat, high-protein, low carb, unrestricted calorie diet and they all lost weight.
He concluded that people can metabolise fat completely but not carbohydrates – people get fat because they cannot fully break down carbohydrate, and so it is instead stored. (Notice that this is Atkins’s Diet years before his “revolution”).
But it was too late already for DuPont and Pennington; everyone now accepted that calorie counting was the scientific dominant view – they even taught it in schools — even though it is actually wrong.
It was time for the drug companies to get in on the lucrative diet scene – and just 2 years later, out came the diet pills in a big way: Dexedrine “uppers”.
Total manipulation of all women’s lifestyles and looks ensued. The Bestsellers had proved that the market was there, and “Scientific” claims were all the rage in the advertising of the day. Claims were spurious – but they were made by a man in a white coat – remember that back then most doctors smoked ( See “Why We Smoked” – Nov 2005).
Well then, next came the head-doctors – the growth in interest in psychology and psychiatry and associated group sessions, “Self Help” groups and “Support Groups”. This led to Weightwatchers in 1961 and Slimming World in 1969.
The Diet Scare
Next up was the famous Stillman Diet – the high protein diet from the late 1960s. People went into ketosis because there were almost no carbs, so there was a lot of bad breath, illness and even death. Dr Stillman died of an heat attack as well. This gave high protein diets a bad name, and the effects are still felt to this day.
Atkins – Serious Obesity Solved
The problem with Stillman was the amount of carbs (i.e. none), rather than the high protein aspect. A few years later – in the early 1970s, came Dr Atkins’s Diet Revolution – the most scientific diet devised to date. It was all about control of carbs – for life. It depended on litmus paper strips, vitamin supplements, and an exercise regime. The first stage of the diet was to eliminate carbs (like Stillman’s), then to quickly add carbs in and monitor to find the amount of carbs at which you stopped losing weight – then you add more carbs until you find the amount of carbs that made you put on weight. The fourth part of the Atkins is about living within your particular carbs limits – forever!
Let’s face facts, Atkins’s diet works, but it is designed for those who are life threateningly fat. It is too hard to do properly and impossible for the rest of your life – it is simply impractical and too scientific. The result is that many people abused it and got hurt.
Low Fat, High Protein
At the same time as Atkins’s’ was the Scarsdale Diet from the late 1970s — actually a very good diet as it happens, it was high protein diet with vegetables for snacks only . It fell down by counting the calories of the protein intake and limiting that to 700 (as we know, calorie counting doesn’t work) . In ’76 came the Pritikin (John Travolta Diet), the first to be all about LOW FAT. Pritikin started the Longevity centre, but died young soon after!
Meal Replacements and Supplements
Then came “Slim Fast” drinks instead of meals! This started an entire industry based on replacing food with something else, including “Lighterlife” and others, and they are all still going strong. Usually, however, they are based on calorie-control.
The 1980s saw Jenny Craig’s special set meals (remember Kirsty Alley?), and the Beverley Hills Diet of fruit and nuts.
Weightwatchers started doing branded products, and the food industry geared up for diet goods in a big way — and they started using trans-fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil) to get the calories/ fat content down. The advertising buzz words are “Healthy” “Reduced Fat”, “No Added Sugar” and so forth.
Thus far, they have controlled calories, fat, protein and carbs – the only thing not done is deal with fibre (complex carbs). Hence, the F-Plan high fibre diet. This took the book charts by storm despite making everyone fart all the time!
Then we needed to have a “lifestyle” – a club, recipes, friends, exercise, support group and so on… Rosemary Conley got her break on the BBC and sold a lot of videos that led to setting up a franchise that is one of the BIG THREE (along with weightwatchers and Slimming World).
We entered a period when exercise started coming to the fore — exercises on breakfast TV, gyms opening, the jogging craze and even fun runs and marathons! Soon we were being sold gym equipment, celebrity DVDs and strange exercise toning devices on the new satellite TV channels (see “How To Lose Weight” – July 2008 to understand how exercise can be bad for your weight problem).
Obesity was getting worse as more food becomes available… so in the 1990s, along with Drive Thru’s and bigger supermarkets, came gastric bypasses, bands and surgery. As well as official medical treatments, there are things like colonic irrigation, detox, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and so-called “holistic” well being diet items.
Replacing Religion: Moral Eating
The Life Choice diet and rise of vegetarianism was next, and this is the period when instead of “Religion”, we got a post-religious world’s “spiritualisation” instead. We were under pressure to buy “Fair Trade” or to watch out for “air miles” and local produce. Caged Chicken eggs versus Free Range. (See “Why Consumer Choice is not Good” – Feb 2008).
Allergies and intolerances have led to another strand of confusion whereby a lot of people think that they might be intolerant to certain foods — that’s why they’re fat or unhealthy or simply sad.
It should be fairly clear that we are being comprehensively manipulated from all sides. The truth will out, and the truth is that we eat too much carbohydrate and too much fat. Cutting back on fat and carbs and upping protein will work — the evidence is there.
Add in to that you ethical stance and other layers of decision making, such as portion or proportion control (see “Why The American Dream is Our Nightmare” – Jan 2007) , and you will have found a tailored way forward for yourself as an individual.
Once you have slimmed down, you need to stop losing weight and you need to stop yourself from getting fat again. To do this, you simply adjust the carbs — but keep the low fat level.
If you take fat out of the equation, you are controlling carbs. and otherwise having a balanced, cheap and healthy, ethical diet. To work for life, diets need to dovetail with society’s occasions — birthday parties, weddings, dinner dates, celebration meals, and even the simple idea of a family eating around the table together, Sunday Lunch and Christmas Dinner.
There are enough demands on each of us without the manipulation and misinformation from the media.