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Diet blog: the healthy middle ground

Judith Wills / 09 February 2021

Diet expert Judith Wills wonders whether we should spend more time thinking about our waist measurements.

Doctor measuring a patient's waist
According to the NHS a large waist and belly are more closely linked to ill health and shorter life-span than is, for instance, wide hips or a big bust

If you read my last blog (written to see in the new year and full of new hope for ’21), you’ll understand when I ask, “Did I speak too soon?”. Two new, problematic Covid variants, hospitals packed to the gills again, and the new vaccines rolling out agonisingly slowly - it seems there’s a stop on life again.

But it’s still best to look forward and hope that by summer things really will be better. And in the meantime, let’s carry on trying to stay healthy, doing some form of activity and keeping up the annual new year ritual of eating more sensibly - for the foreseeable future. The trick to doing this in lockdown is, most definitely, to not have sweet/tempting/junk type food in the house. Don’t let it through the door! Online deliveries are great in that respect.

I’m still sticking to my other new year’s resolution (the first one being to get back into my jeans) which is to stop feeling guilty for encouraging people to maintain or get to a healthy size and eat a healthy diet.

Having been bombarded with endless propaganda from the ‘body positivity’ movement, telling me and everyone that fat was good, fat was healthy, it was unhealthy for both body and mind to try to lose weight, and that people like me who encouraged this were the dregs of the earth – I have risen up and decided to ignore these people.

Yes, of course I don’t want any big/large/fat/obese person to be ‘fat-shamed’. When around two-thirds of the adult population in the UK are now clinically overweight, how on earth can any individual be criticised or made fun of for the way they look?

But what I do strongly believe is that we should all recognise that being severely overweight (and eating an unhealthy diet) is a proven health risk. That the list of diseases and ailments it can cause or make worse is long and includes covid and all of the majors – heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes for example – of our age. And that pretending this is not the case and that obesity can be healthy does not do anyone any favours. And that is why doctors should not be told to avoid telling people they need to lose weight, if it is a likely cause or contributor to a patient’s illness or chances of recovery.

The last issue (as I write) of Cosmopolitan magazine carried a cover and lead story on how fat is healthy – and I was encouraged to see that several media health professionals had the courage to write columns in response, saying this was nonsense.

Here I have to say I get just as irate when I open magazines that purport to be published by responsible people and find page after page of fashion images featuring models as skinny as Twiggy ever was and probably even thinner. That’s not healthy, either – underweight is a risk factor for several illnesses and health problems too.

Obviously, sometimes people get thin (say because of illness or stress) and can’t help it. And sometimes people eat more and exercise less than is ideal (again perhaps because of stress, boredom or habit or just not knowing what to do to get more activity into their lives).

But there is a huge range of weights, sizes and shapes in between ‘way too thin’ and ‘way too fat’ that can accommodate just about all of us and be healthy, and no-one’s perfect so try to see your good bits and not just ‘faults’, whether you’re 25 or 75.

There’s no exact weight or tape measurement that is right for you. The margins are wide (for example at my height, 5 ft 7 inches, the official guideline is that I can weight anything between 8stone 5lbs and 11stone 6lbs. Find out yours if you like using the NHS healthy BMI calculator.

And what used to be called your ‘vital statistics’ (doesn’t that sound old-fashioned now?!) don’t matter a great deal, except for your waist measurement. A large waist (NHS says for women, over 31.5 inches is a risk and over 34.6 inches is very high risk) and fat belly are more closely linked to ill health and shorter life-span than is, for instance, wide hips or a big bust. The good news is that belly fat is some of the easiest fat to get off your body.

So it’s my waist I’m trying to locate (having never had one, even as a very skinny teenager) and reduce my belly fat, rather than my poundage. And I’ll do it, and encourage others to do it, whatever the BP brigade have to say about it. At least they can’t ‘cancel’ me, because I don’t post on Twitter anyway – it’s another thing I’ve put in the ‘waste of time’ box, along with the hectoring, often inaccurate shoutings from the direction of Body Positivity. They’ve given the millions of us who are clinically overweight a perfect excuse not to bother. License to eat and be sedentary, if you like.

And if that’s a good plan – I’ll eat my hat. A straw affair which is, at least, more or less calorie free and full of fibre, so it could be worse. I don’t have a pork pie hat, or I might try that instead…

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.