Why being over-sensitive about weight is a futile losing game...

Could we stop being over-sensitive when it comes to weight loss? So says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Why being over-sensitive about weight is a futile losing game...

It’s important to address issues other than just what is presented on the scales, says Colette. Picture: Stock

THOSE of us who struggle with our weight get a kind of dopamine hit when, at one of those weight loss sessions, our weekly weigh-in reveals serious loss.

You could be talking five or six pounds after a week of relative deprivation - no chocolate, no crisps or any of those ‘treat’ foods that unfortunately are sometimes a staple of our daily intake.

We pay up to €10 a week (as well as having paid a membership fee) for the very basic service of standing on a weighing scales and being told our weight. There is dietary advice offered by the weight loss facilitators, but I for one never hang around for it because I know it all.

An old hand at the dieting lark, I don’t need to be told that too much bread, cheese and sugar is bad for weight loss. Also, we all know that impressive weight loss in one week is often down to fluid loss.

This is the time of year when we tune into Operation Transformation as we follow the journeys of the 'leaders' who bare all on TV; their health, mental state and physical state, including perilous weight.

When Andy Warhol predicted we’d all get our 15 minutes of fame, what he didn’t allow for was the apparent need by so many people to emote on the telly.

Emotional incontinence can be a big feature of many weight loss TV shows, as the participants open up and sometimes get upset about their often challenging circumstances.

You have hard-working guys that don’t look too far from having a heart attack, and women who are trying to do it all, stressed out and negligent when it comes to their mental and physical wellbeing.

I don’t actually think these people are chasing fame when they’re filmed for the TV series. They feel that drastic action needs to be taken, and going public seems like the best way to guarantee that they’ll do something about their weight.

There’s the attendant collective experience, the public affirmation of the leaders’ efforts, and the neat narrative that tells a story starting with desperation and ending in triumph. What’s not to like?

Well, Bodywhys, the eating disorder association of Ireland, has complained that Operation Transformation is triggering for many of its services users, causing them distress and impacting negatively on their mental health.

Really? That’s not my experience. I’m interested in the stories of the leaders and what led to their decision to take action about their weight.

And yes, there is a big emphasis on body weight, but that kind of tends to be the issue for the leaders.

Bodywhys says: “The considerable emphasis on dieting, body weight and shape and the way these are measured, collectively counted and presented, creates a community- sanctioned dieting culture that research shows does little to achieve long-lasting weight loss or health promotion.”

But RTÉ points out that the TV programme now encompasses a more holistic approach. It’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as shedding surplus weight. In other words, attention is paid to blood pressure, cholesterol levels, sleep quality, hydration and psychological well-being.

Could we stop being over-sensitive when it comes to weight loss?

Some of us are fat and need to do something about it. But we’re not even allowed to use the word ‘fat’ for fear it will drive overweight people to extreme measures. This is patent nonsense.

Pussy-footing around the reality of being fat and needing to trim down can only lead to states of denial.

However, any kind of dieting can be ultimately a futile exercise. The proof is in the pudding.

According to the HSE lead on obesity, about one third of Operation Transformation participants had reverted to their problematic weight three or four years since taking part. That sounds like a poor outcome.

It actually isn’t too bad, because most of us who work on our weight revert to being the fatties that we were when we embarked on a diet. Most diets end in failure. It’s a fact of life.

Which is why it’s important to address issues other than just what is presented on the weighing scales. But that’s still no guarantee that we’ll keep off the weight long-term.

Operation Transformation, which has sponsorship from the Department of Health, is doing its best to be more holistic, encouraging a healthy lifestyle as well as losing weight. But human nature, being what it is, means that it’s hard to keep on doing the right thing.

Still, two-thirds of the programme’s participants kept off their excess weight after three or four years.

If we tried to be in that cohort, we’d have some hope that being overweight doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

But being hyper-sensitive about weight and complaining about triggers infantilises us. Eat less, move more and quit the complaining.

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