herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

You are what you eat: The war on weight

diet weight file pic
diet weight file pic
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In the second part of our Body Image Survey, we look at relationships with food and attitudes to dieting.

Have you ever taken a diet pill? Starved yourself to fit into a dress? Skipped meals? Have you ever made yourself sick because you've eaten too much? Some of us have done all this and more in order to lose those extra pounds.

In this week's Herald/MillwardBrown survey, we lay bare the often warped and contradictory relationship that Irish women have with food and dieting.

Starting off on a positive note, it's good to see that half of us (50pc) say we consciously try to get our healthy five-a-day.

However, less than half of us (46pc) believe we have a healthy relationship with food and more than half admit to eating when we're not actually hungry (52pc).

Crucially, over half of us say that we feel guilty about what we eat, immediately establishing the emotional hold that our relationship with food has over us.

WEIGHT

It's probably not news that the majority of us (56pc) aren't happy with our current weight, with more than three-quarters of us wanting to lose weight.

So how do we do this? Well, it's not by diet and exercise - as only 40pc say that we maintain our shape by healthy eating and even less (34pc) by exercise. And yet 12pc of us are always on a diet with another 23pc admitting we "sometimes" are. A further 30pc of us diet "occasionally".

Lack of exercise, junk food and stress, are the top three reasons we give for being overweight. But a good quarter of us still fall back on that old chestnut - metabolism.

Whereas in past times, most of us would just raise our eyes to the heavens if given this excuse for a person's inability to lose weight, science today suggests that there may actually be some truth to this, as a person's ability to eat food without gaining weight may be linked to genetics.

A healthy approach to food still applies though, and worryingly, while over a third of us admit to skipping meals and another 22pc to fasting in order to lose weight, crash-dieting and taking weight-loss tablets are both equally popular at 21pc and 20pc respectively.

Crash-dieting is worse than useless, as the weight we lose is mainly water and we put the weight straight back on again. But compared to diet pills, it's relatively harmless.

The use of diet pills to control appetite is increasing, particularly amongst younger women.

This is extremely worrying as some slimming pills - obtainable over the internet - have been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

Other diet pills can contain substances like amphetamine or ephedrine which can cause heart failure, among other medical complications.

If you are taking a diet pill - and it actually works (unlike most fake pills sold on the black market) - you can be assured that it's not good for you.

In order to ascertain if a person's attitude to food is disordered, GPs and health professionals use trigger questions for accurate diagnosis.

The answers to these questions in our survey would suggest that a substantial number of us have a worrying attitude to food and to dieting.

For example, 40pc of us believe ourselves to be fat when others say we are thin.

Are our friends lying to us - or are we suffering from body dysmorphia, a mental illness which causes us to think continually about our body flaws?

With regard to self-discipline, 36pc of us worry that we have lost control over how much we eat and nearly 30pc of us feel that food dominates our lives.

This is true when one considers that 71pc of us believe that our "ideal weight" to be "somewhat" or "considerably" lighter than what we are now.

This dissatisfaction is highest among the 35-44 age group and among rural dwellers (75pc respectively).

So, in the war against weight gain, most of us would seem to be losing badly.

Although, perhaps we shouldn't call our relationship with our weight a "war" as wars tend to end at some stage, whereas our battle with our bodies looks set to continue infinitum.

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