Fat and happy? That's not what women say

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Overweight women are more likely to turn to cosmetic surgery, slimming pills or starvation to solve their problems rather than exercise, with all but 1 per cent declaring themselves unhappy with their size.

Despite a huge government initiative to encourage more active lifestyles, most women who are overweight are still opting for faddy diets over the gym in an attempt to reduce, a survey has found.

Only 1 per cent of overweight women like their bodies and 83 per cent are consumed by a deep self-loathing. Experts said the message of "eat less, exercise more" was simplistic and did not get to the root of the psychological problems behind much of the excessive weight gain.

The survey of 4,000 overweight women was done for Slimming World magazine. Their average age was 35 and they weighed between 13st and almost 15st, and their ideal weight was seen as just over 10st. Ninety-one per cent were depressed about their bodies, 80 per cent felt inadequate and 94 cent said they were treated like second-class citizens.

Seven out of 10 regularly faced negative comments about their size from people, including their family, friends and work colleagues. But while 99 per cent wanted to lose weight, just 31 per cent did regular exercise. Forty-one per cent had used slimming pills, 35 per cent tried fasting, 28 per cent turned to laxative pills and more than half had attempted faddy diets.

Half of overweight women also said they "definitely intended" to have cosmetic surgery in the immediate future, with tummy tucks and liposuction the most popular procedures.

Caryl Richards, managing director of Slimming World, said: "There has never been a worse time to have a weight problem. Overweight people receive a constant barrage of criticism and abuse and they have never been more persecuted.

"The Government has woken up to the crisis and earmarked millions of pounds to develop weight-loss guides, an obesity toolkit for GPs and a national workforce of health trainers to work in the community. But it seems too much to hope that the problem will be solved by yet another healthy-eating guide which will simply be added to the pile people have already got."

She called for the Government to work with commercial slimming organisations to tackle obesity. But Ms Richards also blamed the "24/7" availability of high-fat convenience foods for contributing to expanding waistlines. And she warned that "quick fix" solutions such as stomach stapling were the wrong approach.

"Cosmetic surgery isn't a magic cure," she said. "It doesn't tackle the root of the problem, and the weight will just come back. Boosting a person's self-confidence and showing them how to enjoy a healthier diet is the key to successful weight loss.

"It's also crucially important that we teach our children the basics of healthy eating and the benefits of an active lifestyle."

Louise Diss, charity director of the lobby group The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (Toast), said: "We need to have much more a holistic approach to how we deal with this issue. The message is, 'Just take responsibility, eat less and exercise more', but that doesn't go to the heart of the very complex reasons of why people are overweight or obese. Twenty years ago, anorexics were seen as just having a problem with food and were force-fed, but now people recognise there is much more to it than that. With obesity, people still just look at the fat and the weight and the food, and we need to get beyond that."

Research by Toast showed 78 per cent of obese people had been verbally abused in public and 10 per cent had been physically attacked because of their size.

Rachael Oliveck, 30: 'I do feel depressed. People watch what I eat and I feel stigmatised'

Rachael Oliveck, 30, from south London, feels that attitudes towards overweight people have worsened over the past 10 years. She has tried several diets, which have not worked, and is unhappy with her size.

"I do feel depressed at times. People are so disapproving. They watch what I eat in public and I feel stigmatised," she said. Ms Oliveck feels discriminated against by shops, employers and the media. After one job interview, she discovered that the manager had asked the rest of the office office: "Do you think her weight is going to be a problem?"

Overweight since childhood, it was when she went to university that the problem became worse. She said: "It seems that ... being overweight is like a flaw in your personality. It makes me furious."

Shopping, too, can become a nightmare. "It is very hard to find fashionable clothes. They are generally boring or just foul, which isn't fair. Being confined to certain sections of the store certainly triggers self-loathing and insecurity."

Women's magazines do not help either. "It makes me so angry that these magazines are constantly giving skinny models so much attention. It's not healthy ... to be that skinny."

She has tried various diets, including Weight Watchers three times, and is now following a website-based weight-loss plan. But once the diet has ended, the weight piles back on. She confessed: "Essentially I'm very greedy."

Nick Golding