On the news today was a story about a new health initiative in a city in the UK, whereby they plan to send obese people text messages to prompt them to lose weight. Such text messages might be “why not take a walk” or “eat smaller portions”. Like most, I guess, this seems crazy to me. Like obvious and patronising text messages are going to help anyone, let alone those who most struggle to lose weight!
But it got me to thinking exactly what might help people! I’ve struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. It’s only over the last year that I’ve finally reached a healthy weight. At my heaviest I was nearly 13 stone… clinically obese. And now I’ve finally done it, and understand how I’ve done it, and what prevented me from doing it for so long.
My problem, and I imagine this is the same for many people, was a lack of understanding… about what a “normal” portion size was, about which foods contain the most calories, and about exactly how much food it is healthy to consume. Although I didn’t stuff my face with sweets, crips, chocolate, fizzy pop and cake, I did have huge portions at meal times. But I couldn’t understand why I didn’t lose weight. I hardly ate any of the “bad” stuff, yet thought nothing of making a chilli for dinner and having an enormous portion of rice with it. It was only when I started to weigh my food out, count the calories, and calculate exactly how much I was eating that I realised my error! I was probably eating about 300 calories too many every day. Not enough to make me hugely fat, but enough to prevent me from losing any weight and steadily put on the pounds.
I occasionally watch TV programs like Super Size vs Super Skinny (a program in the UK where an obese person and a very skinny person swap meals so they can see how ridiculous the amount of food they consume is). In these sorts of programs it’s always obvious that the overweight person really doesn’t understand why they’re overweight, how much they’re consuming, and that it’s just not normal to eat like that! I used to be the same.
So how about this for a government initiative… make people aware of how many calories are in foods, what a regular portion size is, and exactly what is “normal” to eat. Why not have quick, twenty-second advertisements showing the number of calories in, for example, a plate of chips compared to a plate of boiled potatoes. Or how about demonstrating the number of calories in a glass of wine compared to a piece of cake. I’m not suggesting everyone should start weighing their food like I do, but it might be helpful to show people (who may not otherwise get to see) how people of a healthy weight eat. I certainly didn’t realise.
I see people in cafes sometimes tucking into a fry-up for their lunch. That might be a treat, or a one-off, in which case fine. I eat a fry-up in a cafe every once in a while too. But if it’s a regular thing for them, they might not realise that just in that (not particularly huge) portion of lunch there’s about 900 calories. Combine that with a cup of coffee from a coffee shop and perhaps a piece of cake and they’re approaching their full daily amount of calories. Just for lunch. And, like me, they probably don’t really realise how many calories they’ve just consumed.
Maybe another good idea is advertisements demonstrating how few calories exercise burns off, which was my other problem. I was one of those people who would go to the gym, then think I had “earned” a piece of cake, never realising that the number of calories I burned was miniscule and I was defeating the object! Perhaps, by showing people the equivalent in food for, say, an hour in the gym, we might be able to help people to understand that exercise alone just won’t cut it.
I dunno… Combine this maybe with more community centres providing cheap exercise classes, free gym memberships for those on benefits or low incomes, and cheaper fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, and maybe we might somehow tackle the obesity problem faced by this country. But sending people patronising text messages is nothing but a big fat waste of money!