In my last blog I talked about food waste - i.e. the food items we buy that we don’t actually need – and its link to planet health and the health of our bodies.
One way – just a small way but nevertheless important – I’ve cut down on unnecessary calorie consumption is to reduce the amount of meet-ups I have with friends that involve eating. I can guarantee that if we head to a café there will be several sweet, creamy, carby things on our table that we hadn’t any intention of ordering at all!
We now tend to meet up during the day for a walk rather than chatting over food. And the other day, out along the river path on one of the first decent days of the year with my friends Gwen and Pat, we got round to talking about this very subject - how ‘visual hunger’ (eating something you didn’t intend just because it’s there and looks appealing) accounts for a lot of what many people eat. And from there we segued into a discussion on whether or not the size we are has any relevance in the world today, anyway.
Our ages range from sixty five to seventy with very different body shapes but, to at least some degree, we’ve each been conscious of our body size and have wanted to change it over our lifetimes.
Gwen, naturally slim for most of her life with a figure most women would consider ideal, remembers however being ashamed of having no bust in her teens and twenties and considering implants at one point, but is glad she didn’t, and now is content with her body. Pat says she battled with her weight from her late twenties, trying everything from slimming clubs to crash diets “with variable degrees of success” until a few years ago she decided to be “a happy size 16”, stop worrying about her appearance and worry more about her fitness levels.
As for me – well I was a very skinny kid (teased and ashamed of my body at school) who remained skinny until my early 30s when babies and a sedentary lifestyle found me putting on weight. Over the years since, the biggest I’ve been was a BMI of around 27 nine years ago, at which point I did a 12-month fitness and healthy eating campaign, the movitation being I wanted to feel healthier and to get back into clothes I’d liked. Both of which I did and have remained a size 14 since.
Today, what is important to us three is to be able to do what we want to do, physically, and try to take care of ourselves in order to be as healthy as we can. So we feed our bodies, wash them and clothe them, take them out for walks and so on, and other than that, our ‘body image’ is of no great concern.
But we all three do have one concern for an aspect of the fairly recent growth of the ‘ body positivity’ movement, which campaigns to get fat people to accept/love their bodies rather than feel negative about them (and also decries, quite rightly, the practice of ‘fat-shaming’).
Gwen summed up what we all three feel on the subject in an email after our walk.
“Yes, I can see there are many reasons why people become fat, not least the way food is literally in our faces in our modern world, all the time. It is not any individual’s ‘fault’ that he or she is obese. But while not conferring blame or shame on an individual for their weight, I worry that the concept of ‘fat acceptance’ is actually giving people a reason to accept/love their fatness and to forget that in actuality, obesity has close links, as you Judith have often described in your books and columns, with ill health, chronic diseases and a shortened lifespan.
“Doctors and experts – and worried loved ones – should not be stopped from pointing out the potential/possible negative outcomes to someone who is in the classified obese range for fear of being castigated by the body positivity movement.”
Good points, Gwen.
No-one is expecting anyone to be perfect - perfection in the human form is subjective and not necessary. We should love our quirky bodies with their differing shapes and wobbly bits because they are us.
But surely, now that over half of the world population is classified overweight it can hardly be the case that the ‘fat person in the room’ is sniggered at – because over half the people in the room will be fat, or a bit fat, anyway. As I said, humans come in all shapes and sizes and most of us are within a healthy range (BMI 19 – 25, or 27 for many older people).
But, when body size extremes by their very nature limit how, and how long, a person lives – whether anorexic at a body mass index of 16 or morbidly obese at BMI 40 – this is not an ideal thing in anyone’s book, surely. And campaigners who want such individuals to act happy in a dysfunctional and potentially very unhealthy body should ponder on that awhile. The idea may be commendable, but the harsh reality of a severe weight problem is often not positive at all. Sometimes action, not acceptance, is needed.
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