The F word ... my personal take on the obesity crisis debate

This morning I watched with interest a virtual debate on the latest UK government proposals to tackle the obesity crisis in the UK. I rarely watch the tv, let alone early in the morning , but it was on when I walked into the lounge and I had some ironing to do ( ah the glitz and the glamour...)

WARNING: these are my opinions based on my own experiences and in no way do I intend to be offensive to anyone, most of this blog is NOT yoga related however I feel compelled to open a debate on this important topic and get people reflecting and talking about it

I am not a doctor, nutritionist or a health coach , I am a yoga teacher.

The panel was well balanced with 4 different views but you could roughly divide the 4 speakers into the "your health is your responsibility" and "we all need help to rescue us from ourselves". There were stereotypes and generalisation thrown from one side and the other and some would say a fair amount of judgemental,paternizing statements aimed at overweight people... that made me think about my own position on this very important topic : do I judge people on their appearance? do I make sweeping statements ? am I open to listening to others without wanting to force my point of view as the only one that is right ? the answer to all of these questions is sadly yes ... I can certainly hear judgy voices inside my head because sadly they are the voices I have been hearing myself since I was born ...HOWEVER ... the mindful mind can detect these unhelpful thoughts and move towards a kindness lead vision of the world we live in and with practice one learns to doubt those thoughts as the truth and see the wprld and people through the eyes of compassion.

Take Mrs S for example, she has always been the chubby one at the back of the running PE class, she was always interested in sports but never truly managed to make the important connection between nutrition and physical activity and so when the teen years hit she just kept putting weight on.

Her family always had a double edge sword attitude towards her : on one hand they would comment negatively on her not wanting to eat what everyone else was eating and make fun of her when she tried to start running regularly, on the other hand they would point out often that she was looking rather round and that she could do with loosing some weight. I think you would agree with me that this kind of behaviour is far from supportive for a young woman or indeed a young man.

Things improved when she went to university and she was free to choose her diet and experiment with fitness clubs and gym classes.

Fast forward 20 years , Mrs S had two kids and every time gained weight , at her heaviest she was almost 100kg , she was told that she should eat for 2 now that she was pregnant, she was also told NOT to exercise as it could be bad for her and the baby etc... etc... the babies became toddlers and then independent young adults but Mrs S never managed to shift the weight she gained, too busy running a household as well as juggling 2 jobs to help with the family budget. When Mrs S climbs out of her car at the supermarket struggling to breath, she often feels the eyes of people on her, passing judgement on her looks or even looking into her trolley as she gets to the till. If she is unlucky she may even get some cruel teenagers commenting on her shape in a crude and nasty way right to her face.

This is just one story ... one made up story that could be 100% true and for so many IS true...those who judge know nothing about Mrs S and the pain she feels every day not only in her body but also in her mind.

Now for the facts : obesity is the number 2 root cause of death by cancer and heart disease second only to smoking and can knock 20 years off your life expectancy. These are scary numbers but some that we should consider when discussing this with your loved ones or friends ... being overweight is not a cosmetic issue , it is a health issue. The body positive movement has done a lot of good work in terms of shifting our perspective in this sense ... fat shaming is NEVER ok , abusing overweight people is NEVER ok , productive conversations on the risks associated with being overweight ARE.

COVID-19 has thrown this topic right into the spotlight once again but make no mistake, this is a problem that has been discussed for the last 20 years and despite several attempts from the government to turn the tide it looks like things are well and truly out of control with over 60% of the UK population now overweight or obese. (NHS numbers from 2018 can be found HERE)

2017 figures as published by the House of Commons Library

So what CAN we do ? In my personal experience most overweight people do not enjoy the experience of being in their bodies and they also don't know how to make a change when faced with challenges which are much more complex than just simply eat less and exercise more. Many resort to trying pills and potions that promise a quick and painless change, some join support groups or programs and have good results for a period and then Christmas comes and they are back to the start or sometimes even worse! I totally agree that many of us need help and support and that the government has a role to play in creating an environment that fosters communities where citizens can thrive but I am not sure what else they can do. They have installed open air gyms everywhere , there are parks, paths and cycle routes, you name it ... they have educated the population through the traffic light system for many years now and introduced healthy school dinners ( all hail Jamie Oliver !) . Could it be that WE now need to take responsibility for our own health and well-being? Could it be that WE need to commit to change for good for ourselves, our health, for our loved ones and the health of our loved ones ? Could it be that WE need to take advantage of the opportunities that already exist before expecting more? These are important questions and I am sure that there are many ifs and many buts ...

So what is the answer? It is a complex subject that involves psychological, social and behavioural factors and in this post my intention is to give my perspective on what worked and still works for me, nothing else. I am not a nutritionist and I am not inviting you to contact me to discuss how I can help you. This is simply an invitation to self-awareness and self-love with some practical tips.

I have always battled with my weight and in the past I have been concerned about looks, now all I want is to be strong and healthy for myself first and foremost and for my family and the wider community. Here are 10 things you might want to reflect on.

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR POWER : some days you may feel out of control, you may feel like you have no will power but the reality is that it is all about habits, acknowledge that you have the power of choice and that it is always at your disposal when and if you want to use it, you are NOT a victim, you can DO it, it will just take time and you may not succeed 100% of the time but you can learn and keep trying.

  2. USE YOUR POWER every day : knowing that you have the power to choose how active you are or how you nourish yourself is one thing, using this power is another. Let's not kid ourselves, we live in a society where medias and retailers alike celebrate indulgence as if it is self-care. Happy people swigging wine,dancing whilst eating sweets and enjoying deliciously exotic ice-cream whilst ordering meals of dubious origin on-line to consume with our families and friends: this is the image of what it means to be happy that we are fed through the media every day. Making a change will require you to be serious about making a break from this fake world and re-claim your freedom from the deluge of excess food 24*7 and the false sense of happiness it proclaims to offer