Embrace my curves or diet? We are in such a hopeless mess about health, diet and exercise

A group of fitness enthusiasts working out together at the gym using rowing machines.

Fiona Bruce said that she only started exercising after having her son, 21 years ago, because her GP was “so appalled” that she never so much as broke into a jog. “I was mortified because she was so appalled,” says Bruce. “So I decided to do something.”

Bruce doesn’t see anything wrong with this story but I think that, these days, that GP would be firmly labelled as “shaming” her for her lack of exercise.

Just look at the language Bruce uses about the event, at the words “mortified” and “appalled”. It’s only exercise, but Bruce clearly still feels the impact of that judgement from the doctor; she can still recall the shame.

It got me thinking about what a hopeless mess we are in about health, diet and exercise. And what might be to blame. I think it might just be the internet.

The arena of “healthy living” has never felt more disordered and chaotic at the same time as being more slathered than ever with information, studies and facts about health and nutrition.

The chaos we find ourselves in has its roots in the conflicting messages we receive, daily. The first message is  “embrace our curves” (does anyone say this to men? Just a thought).

But the second is that being overweight is very bad for us and there is a clear link between obesity and at least six different types of cancer.

Third, overthinking about diet and exercise passes on disordered ideas about food to our children.

Fourth, food is delicious and it is about love, sharing and “feasting” with our friends.

Fifth, if you are on any kind of social media and pause for a mere moment on certain content, you will be flooded with exercise videos and pictures of very toned ladies promising to, for example, “target your lower belly pooch”. And don’t get me started on those apps like Noom and Lumen or Daily Om who will tell me how to shed your “menopausal middle in 10 days” for £25.

(I actually just paid the £25 for that course, in the name of research, and received a diet plan that sounded completely un-doable – anyone know where I can find 8oz of “bloat-reducing digestive enhancer” in Kentish Town? – perhaps give it a miss and save yourself the money.)

It’s all such whirling madness! Which one is it? Do I need to embrace my curves or shed my menopausal middle? Is my middle even menopausal? Is my lower belly pooch in need of being targeted and destroyed?
We are all in a state of such triggered tension about our bodies as we receive and process all this entirely contradictory information, while living in a world that simply throws food at us and gives us endless excuses not to get up from our desks.

We know we need to eat healthily and we know what that looks like. Perhaps we even do eat healthily but it’s also very easy to supplement all that kale and fish with a family pack of Maltesers and lashings of white wine at 159kcal per 175ml.

We also know we need to exercise regularly but, blimey, it’s a bore and the rowing machine tells me that 30 minutes’ sweaty rowing only burns 170 calories. What use is that? And anyway, I should love my body and embrace my curves, not thrash myself on a machine and deny myself the food I love. Life is too short.

But the most destabilising information comes from individuals  who will fall over themselves to tell you how to manage your middle. But before all of that, they will tell you that you don’t need to manage your middle. Tell any person at all that you are on any diet, the first thing they will say is: “Why? You don’t need to diet, you’re tiny!”

Then they will say one of the following: don’t calorie count, eat the rainbow. Don’t eat the rainbow, just eat 500 calories twice a week. Don’t cut out any food, just bin the wine. Don’t bin the wine, eat within an eight-hour window. Eat less and move about more. Everything in moderation. A little bit of what you fancy does you good. No carbs, low fat, high fibre, more water!

There is no answer and 50,000 answers. No wonder we’re all overweight. The only thing I know for sure in this mess is that I don’t know anything. Least of all what a “bloat-reducing digestive enhancer” is.

Post time: Jul-01-2022