It’s no coincidence that the more we purport to ‘know’ about so-called ‘nutrition’ as a society, the more we become embroiled in the act of calorie and fat-content counting and the more obsessed we are with cutting out food groups according to carb content or colour...the fatter we are getting.
The most cutting edge research (and by that I mean the sort that I hear reported by global experts at meetings of the APPG at Parliament as opposed to mindlessly collated ‘statistics’ based on the hugely flawed ‘BMI’ and other such nonsense by organisations looking for column inches) is proving that we are born with an innate understanding of when we are hungry, when we are full, what our body needs to sustain itself and when. It’s the misguided advice of other equally confused people and melodramatic ‘health’ reporting in the media that interferes with this innate understanding and messes up our natural instincts. Yes, folks, it’s our obsession with thinness as a culture which is perversely making us pile on the pounds and as a result, there’s a whole demographic of UK adults caught in a never-ending, miserable and deeply unhealthy (both physically and mentally) cycle of yo-yo dieting.
And in the past week’s press, self-appointed obesity ‘experts’ (one of which was Katie Hopkins) encouraged us to pass that burden on to our children at an early age, recommending that we tell them, frankly and openly, that they are fat and need to lose weight.
I have been quick to air my opposing views on Twitter and then on BBC Breakfast. As a result, I was inundated not only with fellow-tweeters who had been told they were fat by their parents as a child and gone on to develop eating disorders, but also by venomous troll-types, who, amidst all the puerile and deeply personal insults, claimed that not telling overweight children they’re fat is a form of child abuse. The pioneers of what they branded the ‘tough love’ approach.
The latter appeared to be labouring under a misapprehension which could only be cultivated by the perpetually daft – namely that to suggest there are better ways of tackling spiralling childhood obesity than bullying your child behind closed doors, is to condone or even promote spiralling childhood obesity.
Let us be clear - IF your child is overweight to the extent that it is impacting their health then there IS action you can and should take. You might chose to make some changes to your family lifestyle, for example, as a result of a conversation with the adults in your household. None of this should involve inflicting the misery that is unnecessary body-awareness and calorie counting on people too young to fully grasp the complexities of the issue.
My concern of course is that this ‘technique’ - which is nothing new and has historically been used by a minority of parents who want their children to be as slim as possible, because they themselves have been brainwashed by a thin-worshipping culture and perversely see their children as an extension of them - will now have been legitimised.
There are some potentially devastating consequences. Before the age of seven we do not have what psychologists call ‘critical facility’. Simply put, critical facility is the ability to dissect, weigh up and analyse the things we see and hear. We soak up the world like a sponge, as children and use the information we receive to lay down the foundations of who we are and the way we think.
That’s why when someone has an insecurity, be it the size of their nose or thinking that they aren’t particularly bright, nine times out of ten it relates back to something someone said to them when they were a child. Once that belief has been programmed into a person’s mindset it’s incredibly difficult to ’unprogramme’ in later life, regardless of whether or not there’s any objective truth in that belief.
However you choose to approach it, telling your child that they are fat and therefore need to change is going to plant the seed of a sinister type of tree in their mind. If you tell a child they are fat and that by proxy there is something wrong with their body they will, to some extent, always believe it. You are sentencing them to at best a life of moderate insecurity and at worst a fully-fledged eating disorder.
You’re also encouraging your child to be judgmental – you are telling your child that thinness is superior to fatness and that therefore anyone thinner than them is better than them and anyone fatter is inferior. You are essentially training your child to be the next Katie Hopkins. And surely nobody would wilfully to do that.
A lot of the support for this ‘telling it like it is’ technique seems to have been generated around the idea that overweight children will inevitably be bullied in the playground and it’s better to hear you are fat at home than in front of a school audience. The idea that bullying is an inevitable consequence of physical difference is so deeply ingrained that we cannot see that the parent/child conversation needs to happen in the home of the bully, not the bullied.
Young people are subject to enough scrutiny in a world that judges them from every bus stop, billboard, website, television programme and magazine in a bid to induce the insecurity that will transform them into life-long slaves to mindless consumerism. Their homes should be the one place they feel unconditionally accepted and loved, regardless of their weight.