Photo credit: Doug Peters/ UK Government (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

HSE-funded podcast encourages overweight people to “reject dieting”

Let’s face it ladies and gentlemen: Ireland has a weight problem.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. As seen on the HSE website:

“Ireland has one of the highest levels of obesity in Europe, with 60% of adults and over one in five children and young people living with overweight and obesity.”

The HSE entry goes on to list some of the potential harmful side effects of obesity:

“Obesity is associated with other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, several types of cancer, pain and musculoskeletal disorders.”

And bear in mind, that list is in no way exhaustive. There are many more extremely harmful side effects of being severely overweight, such as being far more susceptible to diseases like Covid-19.

In a brand new study released by the American CDC, researchers found that around two-thirds of COVID-19 patients aged 12 to 17 were obese, and that their length of stay in the hospital was twice that of non-obese adolescents in the same age group.

According to Oxford University, even moderate obesity can shorten one’s life expectancy by years, and severe obesity can shave as much as a decade off your life – the equivalent of a lifetime of heavy smoking.

So with all this in mind, imagine my shock to discover an Irish youth podcast recommending that overweight people, quote, “reject dieting and restriction.”

The podcast was conducted by – “Ireland’s youth information website,” with 200,000 readers each month.

Notably, the site lists both the HSE, and the Department of Youth and Equality as organisations which fund and support their work.

The podcast featured two overweight, self-described “fat” women, with the discussion centring around so-called “fat phobia” in society.

Advising “intuitive eating,” the guest described the practice as “a lovely framework.”

“It helps you to get back in tune with your body and reject dieting and restriction,” she said.

In particular, both host and guest hit out at Operation Transformation – an RTÉ program where overweight participants attempt to get in better shape with the help of dieticians, fitness instructors and psychologists.

One of the podcasters lamented the emphasis on “Weight loss, or diets, or that sort of thing” around the new year.

“Every January that comes around, it’s chat shows, the regimes, diet plans and recipes. But one of the most notorious fat phobic chat shows we have in Ireland is Operation Transformation,” she said.

“I could talk about it for months on end,” laughed the other.

“I know we’re laughing, but by God it’s no laughing matter. Operation Transformation is massively, massively fatphobic. And it’s completely outdated in its approach.”

She went on to call the program “harmful,” adding that “Equating weight with health is such an outdated, disproven standpoint on health. I’d love to see an overhaul being done on it.”

“These ridiculous limitations…only cause harm long term for the vast majority of people.”

While it’s true to say that health and weight are not exactly the same thing – you can be a healthy weight and very unhealthy in other areas – to act like there is no link between health and weight is simply medically false. It’s just not born out by reality. Being fat is more likely to kill you, as we have already established.

Limitation is necessary to succeed, not only in health, but in all areas of life. You cannot lose weight if you refuse to “limit” your intake of chocolate cake, no more than you can fight alcohol dependency without “limiting” your intake of alcohol. You have to deny yourself these things to improve. Obviously. That’s why it takes discipline.

Yet, the guest proposed a new spin on the show:

“If weight, calories or any other numbers that people need to tot up or stick to were taken out of the equation and focus was put on health promoting behaviours, [that would be better]. You know, like sleep and rest. Rest is a massive one. Mindfulness, movement that brings you joy. Creativity, nourishing yourself as you need. Learning to be in tune with your body.”

Unfortunately this is a word salad. It means nothing.

Medical science is just that – a science. It studies real-world, concrete realities about the human body – what it needs, what harms it, etcetera.

“Creativity” and “mindfulness” are not going to make you physically healthy if you weigh 400 lbs. Someone who’s heart is about to give out because of an unhealthy lifestyle cannot “sleep and rest” it off. There are necessary steps that need to be taken, and this laid-back, “whatever you’re having yourself” approach will not cut it, no matter how much some wish it would.

Both women also lamented what one described as “really dodgy experiences with doctors.”

“Ever since I was young, I could go in with a cough, and they’d be like “OK, could you hop up on the scales there and we’ll see is it different to last time.” But it became a pattern where it became a big lecture or this big shaming experience, saying “You should really eat less, you should really do this, would you like to go to a dietitian?” I didn’t feel comfortable going to my doctor anymore because, even though I’d be sick. I’d be like “Ugh, I don’t want to hear the same thing over again.” It was debilitating, like. It actually put risk to me in a way, where I was like “I don’t want to hear this.”

This continued for so long, she even says she changed her doctor.

Now, I don’t know this woman’s doctor, and I wasn’t there in the GP clinic. But from this description, it sounds like they were simply doing their job as a medical professional, and warning their patient of a potential risk to their health.

If you go in with a cough, or some other sickness, there is a distinct possibility that it could be related to being overweight.

The guest replied that she was happy with her current GP, saying she felt “supported,” “because I know and I trust that my weight will not be a topic with her.”

If that’s true, and you ask me, that GP is doing a disservice to her patient by refusing to bring up a majorly unhealthy lifestyle choice. Would a doctor be doing the right thing by refusing to condemn a patient’s smoking habit?

With all the emphasis on “health” in the Covid era, it’s amazing that things like this are being debated, and that the guest even has a petition calling for Operation Transformation to be removed from TV, which has several thousand signatures.

Doctors are not big meanies who are simply bullying their patients for fun. They are telling the person in front of them what we all know to obviously be true – that being severely overweight can have a devastating effect on your life, and that it should not be indulged, let alone promoted through “Fat Positivty.”

We need a bit of tough love on this issue as a society, and deceiving ourselves about the danger level and the solution is not going to help anyone.

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