Year upon year, the most common resolution made by pampered Westerners is the decision to lose weight. This is hardly surprising – statistically, we are fatter than ever. We are bombarded daily with news of rises in obesity levels and presented with role models with less fat on them than a cabbage. As I write this article, a BBC News bulletin is flashing on my phone, alerting me that it is likely that more than 50% of the UK will be obese by 2050. In honour of this prediction, I have eschewed my Snickers for a banana, and a depressing realisation has dawned on me. Millions of people have undoubtedly set a target to lose weight for 2014, and will continue to do so for years to come. If predictions are correct, we are all doomed to fail – the nation will continue to grow and grow, a worrying prospect for such a tiny island.
When so many of us are increasingly body-conscious why on earth is it so difficult to shed a few extra pounds? If you Google ‘weight loss,’ millions of articles will come up, each suggesting a plethora of different solutions to our big fat problem. We are cautioned against ‘fad’ diets, too much exercise, too little exercise, too much food, too little food – on this January morning, particularly bored by St Andrews’ excessively long Christmas holiday, I have decided to trawl through almost every recommendation, for the benefit of us all, and ultimately prove that there is no concrete advice for the sad podgy woman who breaks down every time she looks at her bikini.
My first search was on exercise. We generally agree that exercise is a good thing – or so I thought. There is loads of advice concerning exercise, and if you note it all down the amount of contradiction is startling are one website (maxworkouts.com) suggested that to do crunches and sit ups and expect to lose weight is a cardinal sin. Not being particularly scientifically minded, and easily bamboozled by terms that made exercise seem somewhere between a war zone and medieval torture dungeon, I decided that maxworkouts.com must know what they are talking about and moved on.
The next article I read was from the ever-reliable NHS Choices, about how to fight weight gain. I hit a major stumbling block. NHS Choices advocates crunches and sit ups! Either it’s part of a diabolical government plan to force us to be fat, or there’s some severe discrepancy on this subject. I continued to scroll through Google’s list of recommended websites, eventually coming across article that completely blew my mind. The Observer printed a story in 2010 that said research had revealed that “exercise has a negligible impact on weight loss”. So we don’t need to exercise after all? Confusing.
Rather fed up of seeing pictures of toned, tanned women in pink sports bras I moved on to look at what I should and shouldn’t be eating. In the past this had always seemed simple: don’t eat lots of carbs, eat lots of green things, lay off the crème eggs. How wrong I was – apparently, in order to diet affectively, we need to master our hunger, subdue all cravings and somehow become a PhD mathematician overnight. My GCSE in Maths is shoddy preparation for the level of mental arithmetic I’ve realised I’ll need to calculate calories on a day to day basis in order to avoid the catastrophic possibility of going over my guideline daily amount.
In separate articles I was told to not eat any carbs, eat only carbs, and then only whole-wheat carbs. Glamour magazine told me to avoid dairy like the plague, but elsewhere I was advised to keep up on my calcium, and that natural yoghurt is cool. We are told to not touch alcohol, but a glass of red wine at dinner is incredibly good for you (always a disappointment, being a huge fan of Pinot Grigio myself). I read repeatedly that there are no simple ‘quick-fixes’, but there are no simple ‘long-fixes’ either.
Various watch groups do not cease to warn us of the impending fat apocalypse, but the continued profits of Virgin Active and Weightwatchers serve as proof that as a nation we’re not apathetic to our cellulite. We want to improve. We want to fit into speedos again. We want to go out without having to wear steel-reinforced Spanx.
My morning of investigation has proved as fruitless as all the others so far this month. I’ve gotten nowhere. Perhaps if you can afford to do a weekly shop at Holland and Barrett and only eat obscure berries and nuts whose names you can’t pronounce you’ll be fine, but for those of us that want to be skinny and eat like a human being the advice is unclear. If the predictions are correct, and we are doomed to be waddling around in jogging bottoms from our early thirties onwards, I don’t think it would be fair to say we went down without a fight.