Is This New Sugar Tax Simply Fat-Shaming?

My alarm went off at 6am this morning and I was extremely tired after having a very restless nights sleep dreaming about cream cakes, biscuits and chocolate. Now this is not a normal occurrence for me, I don't have a particularly sweet tooth but also do not unnecessarily restrict my intake of such things if I fancy them, but I guess I can take them or leave them.

My alarm went off at 6am this morning and I was extremely tired after having a very restless nights sleep dreaming about cream cakes, biscuits and chocolate. Now this is not a normal occurrence for me, I don't have a particularly sweet tooth but also do not unnecessarily restrict my intake of such things if I fancy them, but I guess I can take them or leave them.

So why the dreams?

Well yesterday I get a message from a reporter asking if I can be interviewed for Sky News Breakfast on the new sugar tax, at first I was a bit like "Hmmm am I the right person for this?" I mean I'm not a nutritionist or anything, but equally I have recently collated my thoughts on such things with a whole section in my soon to be launched book "New Year, Same Me - A Guide to health and happiness" on the addictive effects of too much refined sugar in your diet.

So from having very little info about this proposed tax, to having to speak on national TV about it I wouldn't say I went into that interview best prepared, the fact my taxi got stuck in traffic didn't help either... so I literally was in hair and make up for like 90 seconds before having to run into the studio... Eamon Holmes was very pleased to see me, which was nice.

The interview was quite an extended one, and I think I made some good points including a plug for my book, but I am not sure I completely made the argument for or against the tax, but rather illustrated some of the complexities of the issue, especially the fact that sugar consumption is not just a problem for the overweight population it is a problem for EVERYONE!!!

But these media thingys are a bit like that, you can go in all super prepared and then someone throws a curve ball at you and you start talking about taking apples into the cinema instead of sweets, yep I actually admitted to that this morning.

In the cab on the way home I checked social media as you do, and I almost knew what was coming.

"I don't think most people take much notice of obese people when it comes to fitness"

"Obese fitness campaigner on #SkyNews telling us what to eat! She has a book out, she should read it then"

But the one that really made me laugh was

"Fitness Campaigner on #SkyNews ironically, needs to get fit herself"

Evidence of the assumptions that people often make about the link between size and fitness.

I got an enormous amount of support this morning from friends, family, colleagues and followers of this blog. Saying that I am brave for putting myself out there and taking the crap on social media, but its quite simple for me. I can't sit back and moan about the face of the fitness industry and the lack of positive role models on our TV screens if I am not willing to be seen.

So aside from all of that, what are my actual views on the Sugar Tax?

Firstly, the media reporting of this new tax does exactly what I thought it would, it resorts to lazy picture editing of headless fat bodies sitting on sofas, eating cake. This stigmatises fat people in a way that is not necessary. There are millions of slimmer folk affected by sugar intake with high levels of visceral fat, high blood pressure, diabetic or pre-diabetic, anxious, stressed...the list goes on. While we continue to link this sugar tax only to overweight people, it remains a fight against the fatties, like we are the enemy, letting everyone else off the hook.

I think there is a very specific issue here around the high levels of sugar being consumed by children and we have a responsibility to future generations to come down hard on this issue. Children are reliant on our guidance and on providing balanced diets, they can't do it for themselves. One of the points I wanted to make this morning was around the level of advertising on childrens TV of food related toys, everything from slush puppy machines (we had them in the 80s too), to candy floss, jelly baby, chocolate lolly, marsh mellow, sweetie, donut, cupcake making gadgets. What is this teaching our kids? Surely this is normalising sugar laden foods, and making them desirable specifically to that audience.

Fizzy drinks. We do not need them. Children absolutely do not need them. If you are giving a child under the age of five a can of coke then that in my mind is child abuse, it rots their teeth, gives them a sugar rush similar to a stimulant, and is addictive like class A drugs. How is it legal to do this? I have a long standing addiction to diet coke which I desperately try to address, but years of yoyo dieting and being on specific diets where these were encouraged means I have specific associations with this beverage despite the fact I know how bad it is for me. But I am an adult and I can deal with the consequences of a can or two a week.

Nobody likes being told what to do, and nobody wants to live in a nanny state. But a lot of the messaging around healthy eating is falling on deaf ears. Sometimes you have to hit people where it hurts. Look what has happened with carrier bags? People are thinking twice now about just chucking them out and begrudge paying the 5p when they forget to bring their own.

The only way that overall sugar consumption will come down in the UK is through a sense of shared responsibility. There needs to be personal accountability (I do not NEED cake, I might WANT it though) and also legislation from government around advertising, plus buy in from food producers. We need to go back to basics when it comes to food. How can it be cheaper to buy a can of soft drink and multipack of chocolate bars, than it is to but a bottle of water and some apples?

And finally, and I think this has been missed totally from the discussion so far.

Why are we not talking about the complex reasons why some people overindulge in high sugar foods in the first place? Is it because they like the taste and simply can't help themselves. Is it because we have been sold a dream, advertisements for chocolate and desserts for example marketed at women with a "because your worth it" message. Is it because they are so readily available and cheap for a quick pick me up or reward?

I think that for a lot of people with stressful lives, who are dealing with challenging circumstances, low incomes, busy jobs or family life, perhaps lonely and not accountable to anyone else...I think there are a whole heap of people up and down the country who self medicate with food. Using chocolate, cakes and biscuits to fill a void, a hunger that is an emotional one rather than a physical one. We need to ask why we are a nation that do this and perhaps look at promoting happier lifestyles in conjunction with healthier ones.

My book talks exactly about these issues plus more besides, about why New Years Resolutions don't work, but what does. About finding balance and the ultimate pursuit of happiness. We know that diets don't work, and any lifestyle change in my mind needs to be constant, but gradual and without the need for shame or blame. It should be a choice to improve your health, not an obligation... people need to understand and believe for themselves why they want to change.

In my experience of working with overweight women I believe that we need to focus less on size and more on lifestyle, encouraging people to make small steps over time, otherwise the pressure can become too much and we all just stick our head in the sand and switch the TV off when the scary health stuff comes on.

I would love to know your thoughts

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