The Men Who Made Us Thin: Can you be fit and fat?

Thursday 8 August 2013, 10:51

Jacques Peretti Jacques Peretti Presenter and Journalist

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Making The Men Who Made Us Thin for BBC Two has profoundly changed how I view my body.

I visited Brazil where gastric surgery is a huge industry. Watching a gastric bypass in the operating suite is somewhat equivalent to those anti-smoking ads of the 70s and 80s when school kids were shown the amount of tar in their lungs.

If you wanted an ad to put you off highly calorific processed food then it should show the fat around your vital organs. It's revolting and changed my attitude to being overweight.

Of course if you're morbidly obese there are serious health consequences, but for most of us who struggle to lose a few extra pounds the lesson I took from making this programme was to stop focusing on the weight and instead on being fit and happy.

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Encouraging teenagers to be skinny? Jacques meets diet guru Venice A Fulton

In my experience people want to be thin partly for cultural reasons - to fit in to the desirable norm.

But these cultural reasons also start to become biological reasons over time - when being thin becomes equated with being more attractive, and this means attracting a mate, this becomes a biological imperative.

One reinforces the other - it's a vicious circle.

Looking back to the post war period, before we even had an industrialised diet industry as such, one American insurance company reclassified the body mass index (BMI) scale.

The decision labelled at least half the US population as overweight when they had previously been categorised as normal.

Arguably this triggered a sense of panic about weight which stays with us to this day.

The series also made me realise how the overweight are doubly discriminated against.

First they are shamed by society, then they are told that when they don't lose weight long term through commercial diet programmes that it is their fault.

It was interesting meeting the people who had created the diets worth literally billions - Danny Abraham with Slim-Fast and Pierre Dukan and learning about Jean Nidetch of WeightWatchers - what they all share is huge charisma.

This is why they become gurus - people want to believe in someone who says: trust me, I will help you lose weight.

I spoke to a lot of scientists for this series and discovered that around 85% of people put the weight back on after five years.

Personally I think people should stop worrying about their weight and focus on being healthy and happy, at any size.

Exercise is often seen as an important tool of weight loss but I was really interested to speak to Dr Terry Wilkin who is conducting a long-term study at Plymouth Hospital.

He explained to me that 75% of the calories we use we burn just by staying still. These calories fuel the metabolic processes which keep our bodies functioning.

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A trip to boot camp proves that you can be fit and fat, but can Jacques hack the workout himself?

So no matter how much you exercise your calorie burning effects are limited by your metabolism.

Therefore although exercise is fantastic for getting fit it’s not necessarily great for losing weight.

People who say they lose weight through exercise have actually done so because they already have the right mental attitude towards it.

The psychological battle has already been won before they put on those running shoes.

But exercise is undoubtedly good for you. Fit people live longer. Thin people however do not necessarily live longer.

Being underweight can be as serious a health issue as being obese. Being overly thin - ask any recovering anorexic - is not a good place to be.

In the programme I attended a boot camp with two obese women - both named Katie - who proved they were far fitter than me in spite of their weight.

Being beaten was a real lesson - it proved that being fit is more important than what size you are. And losing so easily was even more humiliating than having to wear the boot camp's pink T-shirt!

Both Katies had found that by focusing on fitness rather than weight loss they had lost weight as a by-product.

They had begun to eat more healthily but with fitness always the goal, weight loss had happened anyway: very small changes on a daily basis make a huge difference.

But the key advice which I picked up again and again throughout the making of this series was that it’s important to change your mental attitude.

The key seemed to be not to focus on the weight but on getting fit and whatever you do, don't crash diet or go on a fad diet.

Jacques Peretti is the presenter of The Men Who Made Us Thin.

The Men Who Made Us Thin starts on Thursday, 8 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD.  For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This article mentions slimfast, dukan, and weight watchers, and then says "around 85% of people put the weight back on after five years."

    A. The study linked to ONLY STUDIED WEIGHT WATCHERS, not slimfast or dukan.

    B. The study linked to says after 5 years "70.3% WERE BELOW INITIAL WEIGHT". His 85% put weight back on figure is clearly incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If you are below initial weight you can still have put weight back on ! e.g. starting weight - 11stone - post diet weight 9 stone - after 5 year weight 10 stone 11. You are still below initial weight but have put on 1 stone 11 pounds of your initial 2 stone loss. Simples !

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    While some may have put a significant amount back on, from the study,

    "42.6% maintained a loss of 5% or more".

    Which means his quote of "around 85% of people put the weight back on after five years." is simply false, and a statistic which appears no-where in the study he links to.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I have absolutely no idea why previous comment was removed. Keeps on happening on BBC sites. Don't engage with public unless you actually want to BBC. I've been on these blogs before and seen explicitly racist sentiment, but its ok as you don't swear. Off to real blog site rather than this censored rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    What a time waster. You didn't have to go all this trouble to make this programme. Millions of people could have told you that decades ago. You do a diet, you lose weight. If you stop the diet and go back to your bad habits, you will put it back on and more. Even someone with half a brain like you should know that. Stop repeating it over and over for a whole hour wasting my time. Do your homework. Duh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Why no mention of Slimming World, a weight loss plan that works long term?.
    I know of many members who have stayed at target for 10 years or more.

    Will SW be featured on any other episodes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Interesting programme tonight that confirmed what I already knew. I strongly urge everyone to read Slim For Life by Jason Vale for a real understanding of what the real problem is and how to change our lifestyle for the better. He is spot on - highlighting the evils of sugar, artificial sweeteners (equally bad) processed white flour etc. If we eat only good foods and cut out the bad foods the addictions to overeating just stop, without calorie counting. This book really changed my life for the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    It's a long time since I've been so irritated by a programme. Of course diets can't keep weight off. All they can do (and it's true of any diet you choose to follow) is help you lose weight in the first place. After that, it's up to you to keep the weight off, and to do that you need fundamentally to alter your lifestyle - either to take fewer calories in (=modify your eating habits), or use more calories (=adopt a better exercise regime) or prefereably, a combination of the two. In trying to make the diet companies inot the baddies here Perretti was completely missing the point. A really bad example of journalism being used to denigrate, by misrepresenting the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    What an idiotic title. Why THe MEN who made us fat. Why bring men into it? You even have the founder of weight watchers featured and I don't think she was a man.

    What if you called it the Women who made us fat. Like rosemary Connelly Jane Fonda and all the female celeb diet authors. What an uproar that would have caused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    To my opinion this journalist was very biased with his opinion. He never mentioned why people did gain the weight back but he was rather focused on the "fact"that people gained the weight back with these diets. From all the people who gained the weight back, investigate if they kept with the diet or as soon as they reached a certain goal they went back to their old eating habits. I've seen people fail diets just because of that, because they can only commit to changing their eating habits for a short period or with certain purpose in mind and then they resume their old ways back. These diet companies are made to help you reduce the weight but also help you with changing your eating habits permanently. Imagine you eat for a whole month 2000 calories/day. After that month you will see a change but it's up to that person if they continue to eat based on a 2000 calorie diet/day or they just go about their old ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This is a really worthwhile programme, well done! It's frightening how little faith we can have in 'companies' whose primary motivational factor is profit.
    As a society we need to empower people to take back control of their own lives.
    I am currently reading a book entitled 'Cracked : why psychiatry is doing more harm than good' by James Davies. The same thing; millions of people being duped by multinational drug companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The segment about weight watchers was total bunkum. supposedly asking 1000 people to join weight watchers and 600 and some declined the offer to join. These were then included as "Fails" Come on this is hardly correct scientific practice. You can only include people who actually joined weight watchers in the data. Real scientists would laugh at your conclusions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    i weigh 16 stone and am desperate to loose weight. I've tried all the diets and now have started the ketone capsules because i am really unhappy with myself. Hope there is something about these capsules on your next program because i do agree now that the only way forward is actually the change of attitude toward food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As long as you still believe in calories in - calories out, you will loose to diet companies and for sure exercise want help. Learn to understand how the different hormones in your body works and how the body is affected by different nutrients. Unfortunately sugar (and starch) is what makes us fat not eating fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    WHY? WHY? WHY DO THIS?? I have honestly never seen such a load of RUBBISH on the BBC EVER. Way to go mate to tell all those people who struggle like mad to lose weight that whatever they do.... THEY HAVEN'T GOT A HOPE IN SUCCEEDING.. ????

    I put myself on my own diet, not following a club, nor a book or even a website but found myself achieving steady, successful and sustainable weight loss by... EATING HEALTHY with minimal CARBS and good EXERCISE. Everyone told me I was on the ATKINS DIET... I didn't even know what Atkins was.
    I lost 5 stone with my self created lifestyle change and have kept it off, changing my eating tastes and exercise as and when I fancied for the past 7 years and achieved this because I KEPT to my changes. I enjoy the exercises I choose and every morsel of food I put in my mouth.

    People need to find out what works for them... and STICK TO IT... as a lifestyle and this works with any sensible (not liquid only) diet plan.

    I kept watching this terrible program in the vain hope that it would have a signifying conclusion. You can't say you are berating quick fixes and then quote achievement failures after 5 YEARS. Hardly a quick fix issue is it?


  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Just watched the show, as a dieter from 14 and now 52 and just about a healthy BMI have done all diets featured right or wrong successful or not. What I think you should have really explored is why people are overweight in the first place and maybe that would stop all these corporates making money out of us. It's a big industry and I personally have spent thousands over the years. Why don't you look at what works as opposed to want doesn't well probably because its a tough call, we all know the girl who sits opposite in the office and can eat everything do no exercise and still remain thin against you and yes in desperation we all go back to the corporates. Am currently on lighter Life around £60 per week, it's working short term on my weight and my purse but as you say the weight will come back. Why I don,t eat a great deal, watch the calories, fat grammes, salt, carbs, god what else, you gotta live Jax

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I found the weight watchers success rate very interesting !! I can't believe ww are allowed to sell their services when its proven it doesn't work. !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I have to agree with Stephen C. There are so many dietary programmes out there that do not mention the sugar content of food and harp on about calories. I recently read Fat chance: the bitter truth about sugar by Dr Robert Lustig, a respected clinician in his field in the US. Its very disturbing explaining the correlation between obesity and sugar over the last thirty years. He substantiates everything by existing research actually proving a causal effect. Why is this pertinent to this programme. The failure to mention the amount of sugar in food is a serious failing of the programme (have you ever gone to the supermarket and bought something without sugar in?). However he did mention that there are several big companies who "manufacture" processed food in the western world with their sole intent to maximise profit. An obese population is what they want. Obama even said he cannot reduce the sugar content because he would not get elected again. Do we regulate here? No,it's self regulation by the food companies (for sugar and salt content with the help of lobbying and lots of money)! The health of our children is in the hands of multinational corporations.
    Diets do not work but healthy eating, avoid processed food (did you know white bread contains sugar),eat fresh food, drink alcohol in moderation and exercise.
    By the way, read the book (I'm not related and have no business interest with the author) and the problem with sugar will all unfold.


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