Resolving resolutions

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 ( 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 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.

5 thoughts on “Resolving resolutions

  • January 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Eat, Sleep, Diet, Repeat.

    It’s a cycle of shame and gluttony that one would be wise to drop out of and just enjoy and accept whatever lifestyle you’re in

  • January 19, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Poorly researched article.

    Doing crunches and situps expends calories, but not a lot per hour compared to other exercises. The NHS advocates crunches and situps because doing any bit of exercise is better than no exercise. Serious athletes don’t endorse crunches or situps because there are more efficient calories for burning calories and/or toning your core.

    There is no ‘one’ healthy diet. You will lose weight if you expend more calories than you intake. If you want to lose weight you should drink lots of water and avoid food that are calorically dense (e.g. fast food, chocolate, sweets, soda pop). Generally, if it is a plant it is healthy to eat, if it is made in a plant (i.e. a factory) is is unhealthy.

    You don’t have to shop at Whole Foods or Holland and Barrett to lose weight. A healthy diet is only marginally more expensive than an unhealthy one (see sources below). Albeit it will take you considerably more time at the beginning.

    • January 21, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Thank you Taylor Rodrigues! Basically, because there is not, as you yourself have conceded, one healthy diet, it can very difficult for people not ‘in the know’ to know exactly what parts of their lifestyle need to be changed to help them lose weight most effectively.

      If only it were so simple that naturally occurring foods were all healthy – unfortunately, as the excessively calorific sugar proves, this is not the case at all. Carb-rich naturally occurring foods like potatoes (undeniably pulled out of the ground) aren’t particularly good for us either if eaten in large quantities.

      Whilst I completely respect your point that technically losing weight is a matter of just eating less calories than you use, easily accessible media (the research tools people use to plan their diets) use confusing jargon and suggest random health fads that make the matter substantially more complicated.

      The reason my article is, in your opinion, ‘poorly researched’ is because I simply googled key terms, to research exactly what someone would find if they were quickly scanning how to lose weight. I researched in the same way most people do to answer all the need-to-know questions in their lives, like whether Benedict Cumberbatch is married, or if there really are spiders eggs in the bottom of bananas. At no point have I claimed that this is a scientifically sound method of research!

      Thank you very much for your feedback – in many senses your comment proves that there is definitely no final consensus on this matter. Personally, I think healthy vegetable based diets, whilst considerably more effort can actually be cheaper than a life of Tesco value Chicken Kormas – but I imagine this may be a point where we might have to agree to differ! 🙂

      • January 21, 2014 at 9:36 pm

        Thanks for your response Beckie.

        The fact of the matter is you can lose weight eating anything-even twinkies–if you control your portions:

        It is possible to become overweight by only eating naturally occurring foods but it is incredibly difficult. In general natural foods are less calorically dense than processed foods and satisfy your appetite more than processed foods. Try to gain weight only eating leafy greens–it’s virtually impossible!

        Even potatoes only have 77 calories in them per 100 grams. The average British women weighs 154 pounds. Assuming she has a very sedentary lifestyle she would have to eat ~2.7kg of potatoes to maintain her weight! If she wanted to lose weight she just has to consume less than 2100 calories or start exercising.

        Perhaps your right that I may have too much faith in the average person. I’m assuming that if someone sincerely wants to lose weight they will do some thorough research on how to lose weight. Losing weigh is a lifestyle change–not a fact check.

        • January 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm

          I agree, anyone can achieve anything if they really set their mind to it. All I am trying to demonstrate are the contradictions within the weight loss industry which are undeniably confusing. Of course, with real determination, just eating less will suffice.

          You could indeed lose weight eating less of just about anything, but these days we are all aware that we need to take serious care of our bodies and still need to consume an adequate amount of nutrients whilst dieting to sustain a healthy body. One of the problems with dieting is that often the needs of various parts of our body conflict with each other. As I mentioned in the main body of the article we are advised to avoid alcohol for our weight, but to drink a glass of red wine a day for our hearts. We shouldn’t drink fruit juices because of tooth decay and sugary calories, yet they are often seen as integral to achieving our five-a-day.

          Of course it is not all that difficult to gain weight eating only naturally occurring foods. If that was the case prior to the advent of processed food there would be no examples of obesity, but it is well-documented that the rich suffered from symptoms of weight gain. You assume that all naturally occurring foods are low in calories and good for you – this is not the case! Arguably cheese and certainly cream are naturally occurring.

          Aside from trusting purely in the physics of ‘eat less lose weight’ this ‘research’ can result in hugely conflicting results. In fairness, the discrepancy in our Google searches may come from me basing my article on the British version of the search engine, American websites may well have more comprehensive and helpful advice.

          Once again, thank you very much for your feedback – it’s really nice to spark a little bit of debate, and I really appreciate it. 🙂


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