The Healthier We Are, the Fatter We Get

29/07/2016 13:30 | Updated 29 July 2016

Look around you on social media, or in the news, or in a lifestyle magazine, or on a breakfast show or in fact literally anywhere and you would be forgiven for thinking that we have become a society of Amazonian athletes.

From recipes using kale, to HIIT workouts; from tips on juicing and cleansing, to blogs on healthy eating - evidence of healthy living abounds.

Look around your office right now. See anyone in 'athleisure'? Yep even the fashion industry has made it ok to wear trainers to work and gym gear as everyday wear.

Yes we really are a nation of gym bunnies.

Except for this.
Over 60% of the UK population are overweight.
24.8% of adults are obese.

According to Public Health England by 2050 the prevalence of obesity is predicted to affect 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women.

Indeed England's Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said in 2015 that obesity is the 'biggest threat to women's health'.

What the hell?!

It would seem we are less likely than it might seem to die of a kale overdose anytime soon.

So how can we rationalise these two contradictions?

My own recent research into young women's relationship with health, revealed an attitude to health bordering on obsession.

One young woman I worked with had to reassure her mum who was worried about her constant dieting.

In her own words she said she had to explain to her mum that her health regime was 'not a diet, it's a way of life.'

But when we look at the actual eating habits of this same young woman, we can see a big difference in her perception of what she eats and the reality.

Perception: Controlled, clean, healthy, low fat, lots of kale and quinoa
- all the time
Reality: Controlled, clean, healthy, low fat, lots of kale and quinoa
- some of the time but also lots and lots of this:

Granola, vegetable crisps, smoothies, cereal bars, breakfast muffins from Starbucks, bottled iced tea, chocolate, popcorn.

All high in fat, sugar and a whole host of bad stuff, even if they are masquerading in the guise of something wholesome and natural.

And herein lies the rub.

In the last 20 or so years, we have come to understand a new term in social psychology called Moral Licensing.

Do something good on the one hand and it allows you to feel ok about behaving badly on the other.

My husband knows all about Moral Licensing.

"I've only eaten salad today, so I can definitely have a few beers tonight*."

*Immediately also eats a burger and fries as well.

In all honesty, we all know about Moral Licensing.

We are kidding ourselves when it comes to health and a whole industry has cropped up to support this.

Granola is a great example of this.
Often the pin up of natural healthy eating, lots of granola brands contain more sugar than a can of coke.

So whilst old fashioned dieting has become unpopular, it at least promoted the idea of reducing the amount of food we ate.

In this brave new 'healthy living world' the real danger is that deprivation is a dirty word. As Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella fame has written:

"Healthy eating has never and will never be about deprivation."

All well and good, apart from the fact that we can now 'eat freely' a bunch of stuff, which makes us feel terribly worthy and in fact end up worse off than if we were just being moderately unhealthy.

Take Crussh Superfoods health pot: 504cal, 20g fat, 59g carbs.
Compare this to a Sainsbury's BLT sandwich: 417cal, 16.5g fat, 43g carbs.

Come on, which one would you feel less guilty about eating?

The problem we have right now, is that the more we fixate on our health the more we can excuse our own bad behaviour.

It's a double bind.

The healthier we believe we are, the fatter we will get.

Tash Walker is founder of The Mix London