“Have you lost weight, Kev?” I’ve been asked this a number of times in recent weeks. I know it’s not very Scottish to smile and accept compliments but I thought what the hell, I’ve been trying to get myself fit, against the odds, so why not.
Except the subtext wasn’t so much, Hey, well done, you’re looking amazing. It was more, Have you been to a doctor to check you haven’t got terminal cancer or some kind of wasting disease?
For guys of a certain age sudden weight loss is usually a thing to worry about rather than celebrate. Guys in their fifties don’t suddenly lose weight. We pile on the pounds, let our bellies spread, to make more room for booze and fry ups, and generally don’t give a toss so long as our favourite jumpers stretch accordingly.
There is a more serious context to this. For the last few weeks I seem to be bucking the national trend. Scotland’s obesity crisis, and it has developed into a major health crisis, is spiralling out of control. A Sunday Herald editorial last week (5th June 2016) underlined the scale of the problem. Two thirds of Scots – and a very worrying 31% of our kids – are now overweight or obese. Half a million Scots are at risk of developing diabetes. Heart disease, strokes, and weight-related cancers are all on the rise. Geoff Ogle, chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, warned that obesity is this generation’s health equivalent of tobacco. Even David Cameron seems to agree.
Most (middle class) experts put the blame squarely on the lifestyle choices of the poor: bad diet and lack of exercise. Yet the problem is more complex than that and the solutions aren’t quite as simplistic as telling people to change their lifestyles. Comfort eating is often related to depression and stress which stalk poorer communities like the Grim Reaper.
One of my beefs with dietary advice is that junk food is tasty. It’s a fact. And Government advice rarely speaks about eating in terms of pleasure; it’s nearly always in the context of health. Even the word diet screams out BORING or YEUCH. Pleasure will always trump denial in my book and unless the healthy alternatives are just as enjoyable we’re howling at the moon.
Maybe it’s our Knoxian cultural legacy that gets in the way of exalting the pleasure principle in all things but shouldn’t we be going all out to teach adults and kids how to make food really tasty using fresh produce, herbs and spices, and natural sweeteners like honey, and so on?
My bairns think smoothies kick ass over fizzy drinks. And quite right too. Except we are also getting telt by tabloid ‘scientists’ – who may or may not be working for the processed sugar industry – that fruit smoothies are bad for you! Aye, right. Home made smoothies are great and the kids will keep getting them. End of.
There is a clandestine war of disinformation going on and its purpose seems to be to sow confusion via as much contradictory advice as possible. Even non-industry nutritionists seem confused. For instance, is fatty food good or bad for you? The same Sunday Herald editorial cited a government-backed experiment in Finland to combat obesity by reducing the consumption of butter, full fat milk and fatty meat. Fair enough. It seems to have worked. After a few decades of imaginative anti-market interventionism heart disease has dropped significantly.
This is all well and good but are we getting the whole story? More and more food experts are saying the scare stories over red meat and fatty foods which emerged in the 1970s were misleading or plain wrong. Here are two of them: The Sugar Conspiracy by Ian Leslie (Guardian) and Eating Full Fat Foods ‘Can Lower Chance of Obesity’ (Sunday Herald)
Despite the ongoing debate over fatty foods a consensus is starting to build up which accepts that the primary culprit in poor diets is processed sugar and the processed foods they’re added to (almost all of them). This may be the biggest factor in why so many of us are getting fat. It is no coincidence the processed sugar/food industry, plus its supermarket distributors, have such powerful lobbyists. Like Big Tobacco they’ve getting away with murder for years.
The recent changes I made to my own diet weren’t culled from any dietary fad or government advice. I simply cut back on booze, coffee and processed food. That was the sum of it. Booze piles on the pounds, everyone knows that. Plus cravings for sugar the next day. There’s nothing much wrong with coffee, as far as I know, but for me it’s a trigger drug which has me reaching for the chocolates, biscuits and cakes. I don’t mean a single Cadbury’s chocolate finger either. I’ll happily polish off a six pack of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes with a morning coffee, irrespective of what The Scottish Resistance might say.
Steering folk away from processed food is one of the keys to tackling obesity. It never tastes as good as homemade meals, using fresh products and herbs and spices, and is always more expensive to buy in the shops. If governments are serious about tackling obesity Making Tasty Scran Using Raw Materials should be a top priority in every school and community. Jamie Oliver had the right idea. His books and campaigns cut across the food industry bullshit.
There are plenty of decent books on the subject. If the author has done their homework and can communicate effectively to the average Joe these can be like silver bullets. If it was up to me the Scottish government would be delivering a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food and Joanna Blythman’s What To Eat to every home and classroom in the country, as well as running public education campaigns around them both. Look around and anyone can see the market has failed us badly. A bit more nanny state wouldn’t go amiss.
What has all this got to do with a football column? Everything and nothing. There are only sixteen more days to the most important football match of the summer: Scotland Writers FC versus Scotland Comic Creators FC. After that this column may self-destruct. Mission impossible, hopefully, accomplished.