Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Surviving & Thriving in a Land Of Plenty

Recently, a programme aired on TV called "Make My Body Better" presented by Davina McCall. 
The particular episode which was the catalyst for this blog, was concerned with James, a 27 year old man from Liverpool who weighed 32 stone and was described as 'super morbidly obese', a body state which can be life-threatening. 
James came across as a very pleasant and upbeat young man who had simply begun to overeat at a young age and had continued to do so into adulthood. The images of pizza, chips and fried chicken which the camera flashed up repeatedly gave a clear indication of the types of food favoured by James. In a moment of insight a few minutes into the programme, James admitted that he needed to start to view food as fuel rather than a means to provide comfort (a point I understand, though I would also suggest food should be enjoyed for its own sake and perceived as more than simply fuel).
James's condition was deemed to be so life-threatening that an eminent obesity specialist recommended that James underwent bariatric surgery to reduce the size of his stomach so that he would only be able to eat small amounts in future. In order to allow the procedure to go ahead, James needed to lose 2 stone. James succeeded in doing so, and his journey up to and after the surgery was compelling viewing. He showed a resolve and commitment that was inspirational and a credit to this likeable young man. By the end of the programme, James had trained to become a jockey, ridden a Shire horse in a race at Lingfield Park alongside professional jockeys (up to this point in his life, he had never even sat on a horse before!), and had lost more than half his body weight, all within a period of less than a year. The final credits at the end of the programme flashed up a caption so say that he was now 14 stone 5 pounds and was training for a triathlon!

This programme threw up a number of interesting issues and questions for me as I'm sure it did for a lot of viewers. One of these is why so many of us repeatedly engage in activities or actions that result in a less than favourable outcome which threaten our health and welfare, and yet we continue to do this. Similar to smoking, excessive alcohol-intake, or gambling for instance, overeating and poor diet is one of those activities that is affecting more and more inhabitants of the Western World and in many cases, we are aware that it is doing us potential harm, yet we are seemingly unable to veer from our habits. In James's case, it appears that 'comfort' was a key reason. In the programme, we met his mother but there was no mention of his father. Our assumption was that this was a figure which was missing from James's life. Was his mother's moving assertion that James was so special to her because bringing him into the world had 'taught her how to love someone' a clue?

Whatever the reasons and causes of the obesity, the programme was enlightening in many ways. It reminded me of my own situation as someone who had battled against obesity for a large part of my life and had failed to find an antidote until a life-changing event turned things on its head.

The life-changing event was not an accident or illness, nor was it winning the lottery. It was meeting a wonderful, intelligent woman called Annette who is now my wife. Seven years ago, we got back in touch after many years, having originally met as students while spending a year abroad in Germany in 1983. In 2009, when we met up again, it was clear that both of us had changed quite a lot but one thing we had in common was our need to be loved and find our soulmate. Something clicked and after a short time we got engaged and got married in 2011. Eating healthy foods has been a central theme in our lives and I have learned a massive amount from Annette, who was able to overcome a chronic condition through eating food that is primarily plant-based, organic and unprocessed. I adopted this approach to eating and without following a 'diet plan' or feeling the need to count calories, I have lost 7 stone since 2009 and now weigh marginally less than 11 stone. I have come off blood pressure medication which I had been taking for 20 years and I have also come off statins, and maintain a healthy cholesterol level.

I often think about my reasons for overeating earlier in my life, but I can't pinpoint one specific reason. I have never thought about myself as being unhappy and needing comfort, though I was unhappy about my weight and tried many diets, all of which were to end in failure. That alone led to eating more, almost in a  'oh, what the heck, I'm just made this way so I might as well enjoy it' kind of sense. Perhaps I was just looking for a solution in the wrong place. What I do know now is that being overweight is not something we have to endure if we are willing to try to venture out and adopt a different approach to how and what we eat, one which doesn't have to be prohibitive and boring, and which can actually revolve around tasty and vibrant foods that are not processed, mand-made or out of a packet.

Annette and I are passionate about what we eat and how exciting the food can be and this is why we like to share our passion for food with others who are ready to experiment!

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