Weight. One of the most talked about topics of our time. With over half of the U.K. population reporting that losing weight is their biggest health ambition it might come as no surprise that the global weight loss and weight management market is forecasted to be worth $206.4b (£169.14b) by 2019. Our obsession with weight loss shows no signs of slowing with four of the top ten bestselling books on Amazon relating to weight loss. ‘A healthier way of life’ and ‘how to lose belly fat’ are some of the top Google searches. Considering these statistics, one might assume that we have this weight loss thing under control. However, health survey results from 2014 reveal that 61.7% of adults in the U.K. were overweight or obese.
What does this mean? Well, we’re spending more money than ever on resources to help us lose weight and we have admitted that losing weight is on the top of our agenda, so maybe this suggests that although we want to lose weight, the proposed quick fixes like ‘Lean in 15’ and the ‘8-week blood sugar diet’ may not be living up to their promises. I think the bigger question is why we’re so willing to spend money and large periods of time during our lives restricting or depriving ourselves instead of following the healthy eating guidelines and recommendations laid out for us by the government? Why do we find it so hard to stick to our recommended calorie intake of approximately 2,100 calories for reasonably active adult women and 2,600 calories for men in order to maintain weight, (minus two to four hundred calories depending on our desired rate of weight loss)? Yet we’re so willing to cut out whole food groups (carbohydrates anyone?) or follow completely impractical and sometimes dangerous dietary advice from people without any solid or reputable nutrition education. Is it because we’re fixated on quick fixes or is it because if the advice is too simple and we fail that we might have to admit the problem may not lie with our physiological ability to lose weight but more on psychological reasons?
Energy balance (calories in minus calories out) is a relatively simple mathematical equation with a negative energy balance (calories out > calories in) over a sustained period of time resulting in weight loss. However, if it was as straightforward as that I think we can all admit that we wouldn’t be witnessing the obesity epidemic we have today. So what do we do now? Well, some of the most successful weight loss programmes are those which incorporate the psychological aspects of behaviour change theories and tap into all levels of the socio-ecological model of health which considers the person, their relationships, their environment and also policies which influence their behaviour. Losing weight or any other type of health behaviour change such as giving up smoking is never going to be an easy process solved by throwing money at the situation or by adopting the latest quick fix. I personally think the real secret and the first step in the process in tackling obesity is to begin with the person. Starting by addressing why they carry out that behaviour, what factors in their lives facilitate the behaviour and are they ready and willing to change – if not, why? and what will support them in achieving their goals? Food is too much of a central part of our lives to not enjoy but too important to our health to continuously abuse. Instead of jumping on the next fad diet or superfood bandwagon, stop and think about what will allow you to live as healthily and happily as you can.
Máire Concannon (BSc Human Nutrition) is currently based in Glasgow where she is completing her dietetics training. She loves to cook, spend time with friends and train with barbells when in the gym! Máire is also a volunteer with an Eating Disorders Association of Ireland.