You can't have your cake and eat it, and neither can I
It's not just our diets and lifestyles, but our attitudes that need a health check, says Carol Hunt
'Ah, go on, you will." "No, thanks, I'm fine." "But I got it specially." "No, really, I'm so stuffed, I couldn't eat another thing."
"Oh, so what will I do now, throw it in the bin?"
"Don't be daft; OK; I'll have a slice so, but just a small one."
A huge slice of Pavlova is put on my plate, with the admonition, "Eat all that up now. Sure what are you worrying about, there's not a pick on you."
Sound familiar? The above scenario took place between myself and a friend, but can be overheard most days in homes and restaurants all over Ireland. And just in case you are wondering, I have far more than a 'pick' on me. But, bottom line? I was quite a bit thinner than the friend who obviously wanted company as she wolfed down her Pavlova. That she resented me for making her feel guilty by initially refusing her request to overeat was obvious.
We say we're being hospitable, generous, charming even, when we insist that visitors or dinner companions match or outdo us in greediness at the table.
It's complete crap. What we're actually doing is displaying our inherent insecurity, envy and sometimes downright nastiness as we try to scupper a so-called friend's healthy diet and make ourselves feel better about our lack of self-control by guilt-tripping her into eating rubbish. And in doing so we could be endangering her health, but do we care?
Nope, it's all part of the great "you're not a bit fat" conspiracy -- and each and everyone of us is complicit. But we're in complete denial about what obesity is and how dangerous it can be to our health.
Eimhear O Dalaigh used to be obese (yes, let's use that word), copped on, lost six stone and is now a Weight Watchers leader. She said: "What I tell my clients is: 'If you're being pressurised by a cake-pusher, tell them you're watching your cholesterol levels -- whether it's true or not, you should be anyway.'
"Our attitude to food is insane. If you were in a pub and started insisting that your friend have a gin and tonic, would you continue nagging them if they said: 'Sorry I can't drink, I'm pregnant,' or, 'No, thanks, I'm driving?' No you wouldn't, yet we do it with food, which can be just as dangerous to our health."
Last week, Safefood (a North-South food safety body) published results which found that most of us are fat. Yes, fat, and refusing to admit it.
According to Safefood: "At present, two out of every three adults on the island of Ireland are overweight; however, the new research reveals that 57 per cent of adults feel they don't need to lose weight. So, a great proportion of the population are in denial, putting themselves at increased risk of well-known diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers."
Safefood has launched a campaign called Stop the Spread, encouraging people to measure their waists. Over 32" and 37" respectively for women and men, and you're in trouble.
But as Professor Donal O'Shea noted: "Because we have edged up in weight over the last two decades, most people who are overweight think they are fine because they look 'normal'." He also said that the obesity problem kills 6,000 people each year.
Aisling Holly, of the Hospital Group Ireland, made a presentation to the Oireachtas joint committee on Health and Children last year, where she highlighted the fact that the cost to the State of obesity could be as much as €4bn a year, and figures (last available from 2005) suggest that 12 people died while waiting to be seen at the country's only obesity treatment clinic.
What was really troubling is that she reported "regularly hearing from parents of severely and morbidly obese children desperately seeking a weight solution".
This is the biggest worry. Most adults can decide themselves whether they wish to lose weight and exercise more. It's their choice, their responsibility. Children can't. They eat what they are given. They imitate their parents' eating and exercise habits. They want what they see advertised and what their friends are eating.
Parents and Government (by providing good food, banning junk-food advertising and seriously promoting exercise) have a duty to keep them healthy. Stuffing your child with pizzas, chips, crisps and chocolate daily is not a sign of love -- it's abuse.
Recently Professor Mary Rudolf, a paediatrician who specialises in childhood obesity, said that the ribs of a 10-year-old should be clearly visible or that child is obese. Obese kids can look forward to a life of ill-health and misery.
Go on, have a look at your child and don't tell yourself that they're 'just a bit chubby', because all the evidence shows that our children are becoming dangerously fat. Just take a look at the size of Holy Communion clothes being sold at present -- some of them could be worn by overweight adults.
We aren't doing our kids any favours by plying them with 'treats' constantly. And as a mother myself I admit I fall down on this frequently. It's just so goddamn easy to use food as a bribe.
I haven't banned McDonald's, but we now cook together from scratch most days -- which they find fun and educational. That way I know that they're equipped to feed themselves healthily in later life and they appreciate fresh food. Jamie Oliver recipes are a favourite, as they're simple, cheap, healthy and the kids think he's cool.
Perhaps healthy cooking should be a compulsory subject in schools, along with yoga and nutrition? And we certainly need the implementation of healthy public policies: bicycle schemes, and walk to school/work initiatives.
We need to change our habits regarding the food we eat, and that requires changing the way we think and admitting that we have a problem. If we can't do this on our own, or with the help of honest friends, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has proven very successful in helping people change their attitudes to alcohol and food.
As CB therapist Veronica Walsh told me: "How you think is a key element in weight management. Making physical changes helps us to lose weight, but it's just as important to make mental changes. A person who has always been obese is likely to have irrational thinking patterns that promote unhealthy eating even though it's self- sabotaging and makes them ultimately unhappy. The ultimate negative thinking to tackle is: 'I'll never be slim, I don't know why I'm bothering, and nothing will ever work.'"
Which brings us back to the argument: "And if I'm not going to be slim, I'll do my darndest to make sure you eat that piece of cake too so I can have company in my misery."
It's time we were honest with each other, for our health's sake.
Visit www.eimhear.com; www.thehospitalgroup.ie; www.CBTandFeelingGood.com