Extra pressure is reported to be piling up on the millions of people already suffering confusion and panic regarding what they should do next about their growing dieting and weight worries.
And the attack on promoting unhealthy habits coincides with the release by The Weight Foundation of its new 3 Small Steps self-help system, designed to be a collaborative solution towards assisting problem dieters worldwide to regain self-control.
“We are used to seeing sex, fashion, love and status being used to sell food and the food companies can and will quite naturally do everything within the law to promote themselves,” says Malcolm Evans, secretary of the non-commercial eating behaviour organisation.
“However, we are now seeing more and more attempts not just to squeeze certain foods on to the menu but also to force themselves further in as major dietary staples.”
He points to three areas which illustrate the trend. The first concerns breakfast cereals, the advertising of which has traditionally been about the choice of start-up fuel early in the morning. Recently, however, there have been many advertisements presenting packaged cereal as an all-day food option.
Another example he gives is the attempted re-branding of flavoured noodles from being a snack into the status of a traditional food staple.
A third area is that of convenience shopping. He says, “Just last week there was an advertisement portraying the multi-role juggling of a modern homemaker. Her late evening eating comprised ice cream, to be bought on special offer from her local convenience store.”
The Weight Foundation does not support suggestions that the law should be changed to clamp down on food advertising, concentrating instead on developing strategies to assist individuals to make more informed choices about their eating lifestyles.
Evans explains that an answer must also be found for what he has identified as “Diet Shock”, which is the distressing uncertainty of many persistent dieters whose natural instincts have become paralysed by an overload of conflicting and frequently bad dieting advice.
“Seduced away from conventional eating by advertising on the one hand and bamboozled on the other by the ceaseless tide of eating and dieting advice, many people have simply lost a clear picture of how to feed and care for themselves,” he says.
The Weight Foundation already publishes online its highly popular The Hardcore Dieting Index free self-test questionnaire, helping dieters to assess their personal behaviour. Feedback from many long-term dieters in several countries has allowed the refinement of a fresh methodology to tackle unhealthy obsessions with eating, weight-loss and self-image issues.
“3 Small Steps is designed to loosen the three restricting bands which usually keep dieting fixations in place despite endless failed dieting attempts,” says Evans, 46, who has worked with dieters for the last 15 years both as a private counsellor and through the Manchester-based charity which he founded to share his work more widely.
These ties are identified as the emotional, the cultural and the commercial pressures which make Hardcore Dieting - Evans' term for persistent and obsessive dieting - so rampant in the West. Many experts now acknowledge that repeatedly failed dieting is a contributory factor to the Obesity Endemic. Evans says that the growing frustration and disillusionment with dieting approaches stems from their inability to address these wide-ranging underlying concerns. Ignoring any one of them will almost certainly condemn a problem eater to weight-control failure.
Dieters are invited to question closely what they are using food for. Is it a substitute or a comfort for other factors in their lives? Emotional over-eating is thought by Evans to be a major contributory factor in the majority of cases of overweight.
On the cultural front, persistent dieters are asked whether they are unthinkingly buying into a cult of excessive thinness, or following the herd instinct in the stampede from one fad diet to the next.
“Everyone thinks they operate as individuals but, in fact, we are all under great pressure to conform. For many women that can mean aspiring to excessive thinness, which in many cases is bound to lead to a rebound from self-deprivation into overeating and even greater misery,” comments Evans.
“Less widely appreciated than the unrealism of waif-thin icons is the need women especially feel to be involved with dieting - the need to fit in with your friends and society generally by being able to talk, live and suffer it. Hardcore Dieting has sadly become for many a rite of passage into womanhood.”
The 3 Small Steps approach to the commercial pressures to eat abnormally or diet is to ask “Who's stealing my meals?” and to refuse to be dragged from a natural and normal eating rhythm.
Evans concludes, “All the calorie-counting and the BMI charts in the world cannot teach what actually matters. The difference between a lighter, happier person and a heavier, unhappy one is that for the latter food is a major and dominating issue.
“Mind-shifts do not happen on paper charts, or through contrived and unnatural diets. Changes of attitude occur in the mind and that is where the battle over dieting and obesity is won.”
Malcolm Evans | alfa
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