Compared to other nations we are not grossly overweight - a third of us carry too much fat, but only one in 20 is actually classed as obese. So the problem is one of habit rather than health. This is not an obsession with the body beautiful - it is a national institution. Without diets, slimming techniques and eating disorders, we would have little to get quite so anal about.
If slimming is your game, there are plenty of different techniques and products on the market, but the important thing about any diet is for it to be pain-free. More than 90 per cent of women who lose weight put it back on again - but is this surprising when diets are such hard work, requiring you to eat virtually nothing and do vast amounts of exercise?
But there are pain-free alternatives. Good news recently came from a New York medical institute, where scientists announced that daily injections of a hormone-like protein, Leptin, had helped chubby mice lose a third of their body weight in just two weeks. Trials are due to start on humans next year and rumour has it that willing volunteers are already lining up their sleeping bags on the pavement outside the medical institute.
Realistically it could be years before porky humans get the rodent jab. So in the meantime, how can we lose weight without really trying? Meal replacements - which include biscuits, drinks and soups - are no good, because they involve virtual starvation and the onslaught of regular hunger pangs. And amphetamine-based appetite suppressants are being banned by the Department of Health because of their side-effects - you may lose a couple of stone, but you also risk losing your power of speech, your ability to walk in a straight line and your grip on reality.
Hypnotherapy is catching on fast. By paying a hypnotherapist about pounds 20 an hour, you need do no more than sit in a comfortable chair, thinking nice thoughts, while your psyche is programmed not to give in to hunger.
An equally appealing option is to slim while you sleep. Hypnotherapist Valerie Austin has developed a course that claims to help desperate dieters. Simply read her book then listen to an accompanying tape, and Valerie claims that your mind will be conditioned to help the pounds melt away overnight.
Neuner's Figure Pack also insists you can "sleep yourself slim". This six-week course of herbal supplements says it will "cleanse" your body and "manage" your appetite by revitalising and harmonising your metabolism. The only disadvantage is that the tablets have to be taken in conjunction with a calorie-controlled diet - that dreadful word again.
A company called Futureshape says it can iron out figure flaws thanks to Medi-Slim, a revolutionary cold gel that boosts the body's metabolism to burn off fat. The process is based on thermogenesis, and - again - no effort is required. A Futureshape technician slaps the gel onto your cellulite, then you lie back and relax, wearing a specially designed "space suit" which helps the gel get to work on those fat deposits.
The bad news is that none of these miracle cures are guaranteed to help you lose two stone or fit into smaller clothes. However, if you use the book for weight-lifting, feed the supplements to the cat and eat nothing today other than this copy of the Independent, you may wake up a couple of ounces lighter tomorrow morning.
To get in touch with a hypnotherapist in your area call the Association of Stress Management on 01332 2982O7. Valerie Austin, Slim while you Sleep: 0171-381 0666. Neuner's Figure Pack: 0500 141210. Futureshape: 0171-589 4217Reuse content