Should a diet advisor be slim?
When Atkins slipped on the ice and fell, there were more media comments about allegations that he was very overweight at the time of his death than there were about the tragedy of slipping on a NY pavement.
I regularly attend obesity conferences and you may be interested to know that the size of people at these conferences is very much a reflection of the size of the population as a whole. There may be slightly fewer obese and overweight people than the one quarter obese and two thirds overweight in the general population, but you wouldn’t think you’d walked into a meeting of French people by mistake! We were asked at the UK National Obesity Forum conference to raise our hands if we had a BMI of 21 (generally considered optimal for overall health) and there were very few hands raised.
I must confess – I think you need to be slim to advise other people how to slim. I laughed out loud when Ken Clarke became health minister (1988-90) – call me picky, but I think that the health minister should look healthy. If I want to learn French I’ll find someone who can speak French. In the unlikely event I wanted a personal trainer I would want them to look fit (Richard from Britain’s Biggest Loser has pleasantly sprung to mind!) I am sorry if this is wrong, but I cannot take seriously an overweight dietician telling other people to lose weight. If they can’t do it – why should we listen to them? It made me think that it would be interesting to think about how I could get overweight…
So, are there any circumstances in which a diet advisor could/should be overweight?
The only reasonable ‘excuse’ for being overweight as a diet guru has to be unrelated to diet! If any diet advisor is doing their own diet and is overweight either a) the diet doesn’t work (I include that they can’t stick to it in – it doesn’t work) or b) something else is going on. There are a number of other things that could be going on and, very interestingly, they are all related to hormones and have little or nothing to do with food.
1) I could develop a thyroid condition. This could go one of two ways – if I developed an underactive thyroid I would likely gain weight. If I developed an overactive thyroid I would likely lose weight. I could receive treatment for a genuine and diagnosed problem (more people think they have a thyroid condition than actually do) and I may be able to return to my current weight. Balancing thyroid function with medication, rather than with the thyroid working properly, is notoriously difficult so (with an underactive thyroid) I could gain a noticeable amount of weight and have trouble getting my weight back to where it is now and stable. This would be a serious bummer as a diet guru and could threaten my credibility. But it’s rare.
2) The more likely thing that could happen is any hormonal changes during the menopause (hopefully some time away!) Just as teenagers (girls particularly) gain weight during puberty, so hormonal changes (especially in women) can lead to weight gain during the menopause. Some experiments have been done on rats (it’s always the poor rats that cop it) and they have shown that the removal of ovaries (and therefore the hormone oestrogen) can lead to excessive hunger, inactivity and weight gain. The ovaries stop functioning during the menopause (this literally defines the female menopause – the reproductive system stops working/the ovaries stop producing eggs) and hence you can see that this would be exactly as if the ovaries have been removed. Directly with the hormone changes in the body and indirectly with this observed desire to eat more (likely carbs and the wrong things), we can see how weight might change.
3) I could need to take steroids for medical reasons (it would need to be a pretty serious condition before I would agree to this). Very similar to thyroid – steroids can send a person one of two ways. I did actually take steroids in my 20′s for a horrible eye problem, which had proven resistant to every other possible treatment and it was an absolute last resort. I was warned that I would either have the energy of the Andrex puppy, be unable to eat or sleep, or the exact opposite would happen and I could gain weight and lose all energy. I went the hyper manic route (you don’t choose – your body just reacts one way or the other) and I was hoovering the house at 3am and had no interest in food. Knowing now how I react to steroids, I don’t worry about this making me fat.
4) The hormone insulin is the most likely hormone likely to make any person fat, but I would have no excuse for this one. The production of insulin is directly related to consumption of carbohydrates and so diet gurus should know this and manage this to not become overweight.
So – I reckon my biggest risks are thyroid and the menopause but I’m not losing sleep over either – if they happen, I’ll see what I can do and try to get back to my natural weight.
If all the overweight dieticians I have met have got thyroid problems then a) thyroid conditions would be massively disproportionately found in diet advisors relative to the rest of the population and this has no logical explanation and b) why do dieticians then tell their patients to eat less and/or do more if their own problem has nothing to do with food? Why do they not investigate the hormone problems that their client could be experiencing?
There is another way I could get fat of course – I could follow the Food Standards Agency’s advice and base my meals on starchy foods, eat the 731 grams of sugar and 1400 grams of flour that the average UK person eats per week and I reckon I’d be overweight in no time!