It’s an interesting question, apparently. I mean, human beings are made up of all kinds of people, from tall to short, black to pasty-pink, stupid to genius, figure-skaters to train-spotters. By definition, we live, eat and breathe diversity across all humanity – indeed, it’s something we love to stand up and celebrate. In fact, our very diversity is one of the reasons our species is so robust – lots of different genes make us strong, genetically speaking. But still, according to one writer from Marie Claire magazine, TV shows – even ones she’s never seen – shouldn’t include characters who are overweight because she’s “grossed out” by them.
Let me ask you a question: When did you last do something for the very first time, or did a familiar thing in a different way?
We humans, apart from being way too complicated for our own good, are creatures of habit. Believe it or not, that doesn’t mean we’re lazy or unadventurous. That just happens to be how our brains work best. Whenever we perform an action (or think a particular thought) pathways are laid out in our brains specific to that action. If we do that same action again, another pathway is laid down in the same place. The more times we do the action, the bigger that pathway gets until it becomes established in our brains as our preferred way of performing that action.
Two recent studies have shone a huge light on how weight issues can have an overwhelming effect on children, to the point of developing an eating disorder they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. But it’s interesting to note that it’s not the weight itself that’s the problem – but rather, how the overweight child is treated by other people. These studies show how both the peer groups and parents of overweight children play an important part in how the child deals with that weight issue.
I remember years ago watching an interview with a very successful sportsman, whose parents had also been successful in sport. He was asked how much less work he’d had to do, coming into the sport with what was obviously a genetic advantage. His answer was memorable: “Sure, I have the genes to be good in this sport, but if all I did was sit around at home doing jigsaw puzzles, the genes wouldn’t make one jot of difference.”
Okay, so we’re not all world-class sportsmen here – but there’s a powerful grain of truth in his response. Good genes didn’t make him a champion – they only helped. Doing all the hard work was what made him a champion. In terms of the causes of obesity, the same principle applies – genetics make a contribution, but for most of us, they’re not the beginning and end of the story. Other factors also play a part. Some of those factors might have no relationship to the genes, but others might have a direct effect.
There’s hardly a person out there who hasn’t heard of eating disorders – and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re only about people starving themselves to death, with names like anorexia and bulimia stamped all over the news. But that’s not all eating disorders are about. An eating disorder can simply be described as an abnormal attitude towards food and eating. It can just as easily be seen in somebody who eats too much as one who doesn’t eat enough. Eating disorders are bad, physically and psychologically, and, like a wrecking ball swinging through a derelict building, they create havoc wherever they go. And the worst part about them is, they usually start in childhood.
There are few things more painful and less appetising than starting back at exercise classes after what’s been a very long break. Just to qualify here – I’m not the world’s fittest person. I’m not a gym junkie and I don’t run marathons. But I know I feel better when I’m fit, so I exercise as best I can. But that all fell apart towards the end of 2009 when I contracted an illness that kept me from exercising for the best part of 8 months. I recovered okay, but the result was that I’d lost all the fitness I’d had, I’d put on more weight and could barely climb a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. Something had to be done. Soon. Next week. Or the week after. Or…