When I was growing up the closest thing we had to culinary documentaries were the cook-a-longs on television, but now movies like Super Size Me and Food, Inc. have made nutrition the talk of the town; and everybody thinks they're an expert! Like many others, this recent docu-diet trend has forced me to assess my life and nutritional habits with serious and close scrutiny.
After watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead I decided to embark on my own weight loss journey. While I realised it was more of an extended promotional video for Joe Cross' reboot diet than an informative documentary, I was still taken aback. I went out to the store, stocked up on veggies, and got my juicer out of the cupboard. Three days later I had a splitting headache, started regurgitating and ended up passing out on the bathroom floor. I gave in and went out for an all-you-can-eat Thai buffet that very evening.
But immediately after filling my stomach I felt ashamed of myself. I had failed, not even lasting three days of my one week goal. Looking back, I realise that eating nothing but juiced fruit and veg is definitely not the way to tackle weight loss, and since then I have been very pessimistic about any type of fad diet. In fact, while good health is certainly a topic that should be taken seriously, I can't help but think all the scare mongering is having a negative impact on people's lives. We are all being set up to fail, and nothing makes people crave unhealthy food more than when they're feeling low.
Studies suggest that depression will be the second most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease. If current trends continue, by this time eight in ten men and seven in ten women in England will either be overweight or obese. While it would be wrong of me to make a scientific case as to whether or not this theoretical prediction is linked, the prospect alone scares me. It's difficult enough to get the general public to avoid unhealthy foods, let alone somebody who suffers from depression. And making them feel guilty by constantly telling them, "Your diet's bad, change your ways" could be extremely counter-productive.
In my opinion we are being force-fed the wrong message. Processed foods are evil! McDonalds will lead you to an early grave! You shouldn't eat takeaways more than X times per month! But we really shouldn't feel bad for breaking these so-called "rules". There's absolutely nothing wrong with over-eating for a few days or, god forbid, going up a little in weight. The anxieties of dieting are nothing but a hindrance. Breaking free of the pressure and learning to love nutritious food for what it is should be the priority.
I remember being taught about the basics of nutrition at school. I had a vague idea of what carbohydrates and proteins were, but never really took any notice of my own nutritional habits until I started watching food documentaries. While I'm not the healthiest person, I've never had what you would constitute a "bad diet", nor have I ever been over or under weight. Nine times out of ten I cook from scratch, I almost always use fresh veggies, and I'm a sucker for the fruit bowl. I eat out perhaps once a fortnight and usually get a takeaway on weekends, yet for some reason this felt (and still does sometimes) like shameful behaviour. Truth be told, I was doing absolutely fine before I started over thinking!
Nutritionist Mike Matthews, founder of Legion Athletics, states that "It's okay to eat food that the diet gurus frown upon, providing you get around 80 percent of your daily calories from unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods." He also says that "There are no foods that directly cause weight loss or weight gain. How much you eat is more important than what you eat." Nowadays I prefer taking this casually aware approach, with a focus on balance. And while I know not to overindulge, I try not to punish myself when I do. In fact, I enjoy the treat!
Fundamentally I think that we, as a society, need to get out of this fear of obesity phase; or more specifically, this fear of processed foods phase. Of course, the dangers of over-consumption should be emphasised and healthy dietary habits encouraged, but the overall message shouldn't be based on fear and guilt, but rather, balance and awareness.