Eating Real Food
Jane’s mother brought her in to see me. Jane was fourteen and overweight, approaching twelve stone which is just over seventy kilograms. Jane was unhappy with her weight and made miserable by the girls at school that teased her for it. Jane’s mother insisted that her overeating was not her fault but that it was down to her genes. Looking at the mother she
might have had a point for her mother was also overweight. But I persevered with my questions.
“Let’s just check out your diet. What do you eat?”
“Normal food, you know. Just normal meals.”
“OK, but humour me please, give me the details. What do you have for breakfast?
“Cornflakes or similar.”
“With milk and sugar?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, you know, just the normal.”
And so it went on. The rest of her breakfast included eggs and bacon, maybe fried bread and
then toast and marmalade.
“What do you have for lunch? Is that at school?”
“Oh no, they don’t give you enough to eat at school. I go home for lunch.”
“So, what do you have?”
It turned out to be at least a two-course lunch with meat, sausages, fish fingers or similar, and
potatoes and vegetables, followed by a dessert such as an apple pie and usually ice cream.”
Dinner was even more, often a three-course meal. She listed pasta dishes, risotto, pies, lots of
mashed potatoes on top of baked meals.
I almost hesitated to ask about snacks.
“Nothing much, typically biscuits when I get home from school, sometimes a sandwich if
my mother is out and the evening meal will be late.”
Later I learned that her two sisters were equally overweight, and they were all blaming it on
their genes. Genes are rarely the problem. Certainly, in this case, their daily consumption was
Over the years, I have watched eating patterns change and evolve. In parallel, the number of
overweight people has increased, as have the number of those who are obese and the number
who have a lot of the health problems that can generally be the outcome of “overconsumption and undernutrition” as Jeff Bland used to put it. We now have a government that is trying to legislate against the overconsumption of high-sugar and high-fat meals. This is countered by people protesting that it is their individual right to eat as they choose. The trouble is, they then expect the overladen National Health Service to deal with the consequences. It really is time that individuals took back control and recognised their own responsibility in this type of problem.
As a child, my classes at school generally consisted of about thirty other girls. I went to a number of schools, eleven in all. I started travelling early, but I don’t recall any of the girls at any of the schools being fat. I don’t recall any of them having allergies or asthma, or being diabetic or needing a special diet, all problems that are now common in most classrooms. I only ever recall two of my school friends being somewhat overweight. In fact, we called one of them ‘fat’ but by today’s terms, even that would be an exaggeration. Back then, we ate our meals at the dining room table. The table was laid for the meal, the meal was eaten, then the washing up was done. We talked. It was not a particularly happy childhood, and the talking was not always smooth, but at least we did communicate, and we ate “real” food. At boarding school the tables were larger, the talk was somewhat different but otherwise, it was much the same.
In either place, the food was prepared in the kitchen, not processed. We did not eat ‘take-aways’ or ‘fast foods.’ These were things of the future. ‘Wimpy Bars’ and ‘Wimpy Burghers’ didn’t come to the UK until 1954 and I didn’t meet them until I was at University in 1959. Even then they were mostly eaten in the ‘Wimpy Bar’ where they were produced fresh. You rarely saw people eating as they walked along the road. I would have been too embarrassed to do so. At least these Wimpy burghers contained real and visually obvious minced meat, usually only one layer of meat and one bun. They were almost certainly lower in fat and lower in calories than the ‘fast foods’ or ‘take-aways’ of today.
It surprises me how much things have changed. Processed foods and even worse, processed meals that are commonly eaten on the run, or while working on a computer or mobile phone are almost the norm. Poor nutritional content, lack of essential nutrients, accompanied by high-fat content, especially over-heated or burnt fats, and high sugar content, which can even be found in savoury foods. Additionally, salt is added to almost everything perhaps because it is needed to provide the
flavour that is missing from ‘real’ foods’ locally grown.
It is little wonder that so many people are not only fat but obese and that this starts with children as young as toddlers and worsens as they grow older. I constantly hear people saying that it is not the children’s fault, nor the fault of the overweight adults. It is or must be, genetic. No. It is almost always lifestyle and poor dietary choices.
Having recently had a fractured vertebra in my lower spine, thankfully now healed, I spent six weeks immobilised in a riser-recliner chair in my living room. With many pain-laden nights and interrupted sleep, I have watched television programs that I have never seen before. “My 600 lb body” or “my 3,000 lb family” have been eye-openers. One of these showed two brothers, both obese to this extent. One was bedridden, the other could barely get out of the room, squeezing himself sideways through the door and then into his car, with serious difficulty. He went out to get their breakfast from a ‘drive-through.’ He ordered six burgers and six servings of fries and commented that he hoped that would get them through until lunchtime. The bedroom brother was shown complaining that he was “in constant pain, no-one should have to live like this, it isn’t my fault, my skin hurts, the areas in the folds between the layers of flesh are painful, life isn’t worth living, it isn’t my fault.” Then whose fault is it? Who is to blame?
Fault or not. The cause of the pain is his weight, and the cause of his excess weight is the amount of food he puts in his mouth each day. No one else put it there. There are very few cases of true genetic obesity. The rest is down to poor diet choices and lifestyle habits.