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 21.

    Get you own advice of the successful Swedish lifestyle LCHF from the Dietdoctor, Andreas Eenfeldt MD. LCHF is much more than weight loss it's about eating real food for your health, several health problems can be helped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Disgusted by this program. The presenter put forward a horribly biased opinion, and essentially told everyone that there is no hope. If you're fat, then you're fat and there is nothing that can be done about it. A couple of quotes from tonights program:

    "Losing weight long term by dieting wont work for the vast majority of people"

    "Dieting actually made them fatter"

    This is simply not true. I can't understand why this program went to such lengths to suggest this. It was surely clear to all watching that it wasn't the diets that were making people fatter, it was that people return to their normal eating patterns and regain the weight. This is not a diet making them fatter, its their failure to maintain a diet that allows them to stay at a constant weight. And to suggest a diet doesn't work for most people - if you eat less calories than you burn, then you will lose weight, its really straight forward science.

    No doubt this will have left some people thinking that its no longer their fault that they are overweight - it's now actually because they once did Slimfast or Weight Watchers, and that there is nothing to be done about it. It's disturbing the BBC find it acceptable to put out this message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    As a gp ..quit nhs
    Small goals
    Just explain MAThS
    Eg 1kg body fat. ~6000 calsavmale~2500/depends activity
    Therefor etc
    Generally myths/over complicated by Atkins etc no magic justMATHS

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    If you want to really learn the science of weight loss look no further than Gary Taubes 'Why we get fat'. It completely and utterly dispels the calories in versus calories out theory. If you eat food you were designed to eat like meat, fish, eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit and focus on our health by exercising regularly then you will get to your desired weight without starving or doing silly low fat , low calorie diets. You won't find an animal in the wild counting calories so why should we? This programme by Jaques is superb and rightly shows that all diets like Weight Watchers, are basically a money making, highly profitable business. They would be bankrupt if people didn't keep going back for more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The comments I see here prove one thing, and it is something I have always believed. Some people do well on 'meal replacement' style diets, others like the group therapy of going to Slimming World or Weight Watchers and others manage to re-educate themselves and eat healthily. No single method works perfectly for everyone because we are all individuals.

    For anyone who is seriously overweight now - excuse the pun, the scales are weighted against them losing the weight and keeping it off. I know from hard experience that if I am generally happy, I eat less and eat more healthily. It's when I'm miserable and depressed (I have suffered from clinical depression for many years) that I reach for the chocolate. One square a day is great - boosts your serotonin if it is good quality dark chocolate.

    A very overweight friend of mine was made to go to Slimming World by his doctor. He stopped going when the NHS stopped paying as it was too expensive. No-one on a pension or benefits can afford their prices. He's put most of the weight back on because he isn't going to get weighed every week. The incentive has gone.

    The last time I lost a lot of weight, it was using a meal replacement (OK it was Slimfast). Now I am about to do the same thing, but with a much higher quality product. If it works for me, I KNOW it will help my depression to lift because I will feel better about myself. Yes, I know I am, to an extent, also a 'victim' of the diet industry hype, but my incentive is to lose enough weight to get referred for a knee replacement op. I have osteoarthritis. Some might try to say this is because I am overweight, but if that was true it would be equally bad in both knees and it is not, the other knee is hardly affected. It is seriously affecting my ability to even walk more than a short distance, or do any meaningful exercise. I was also born with an underactive thyroid and have had to take replacement therapy my entire life. One GP some years ago, radically cut my dose just 'to see what happened'.She failed to monitor it with blood tests. I became seriously ill as a result, and that is what initiated the depression.My condition seriously affects my metabolism even though I am now supposedly on the correct dose.If I could find that GP again I would sue her.

    Overall, this is what I would say to you. Look at all the diet advice there is out there, try them, and do what works for you. If one diet makes you unhappy, try something else. Learn to love healthy food. Don't give up because on one day in one week, you ate a whole bar of chocolate or went out to dinner and picked what you love from the menu. Just get back on track the next day. It's your life, and at the end of the day, if you are happier at your current weight, it is entirely up to you. Don't let the media obsession with being skinny wreck your life. That is what we have to beat, far more importantly than all conforming to an imaginary 'perfect' body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Sorry BBC but, I thought this was mostly a terrible program. The bias in this report was, in my opinion, quite blatant. Firstly, rubbishing unsupportive statistics as 'flawed' and then quoting numbers to support the argument which were quite obviously wrong (the 10 out of a 1,000 - where only 62 actually followed the program). Secondly, trying to win the argument by taking quotes out of context - nobody from the industry said that 'we know that dieting does not work for ANYONE and so they'll keep coming back and we'll make loadsa dosh', they said that they know it doesn't work for EVERYONE (there is a 16% success rate) What next, a program on the National Lottery being a con because not EVERYONE is a winner or a docu on golf swing manuals being a con because not EVERYONE is a professional.

    Can I just ask: Is the conclusion of the program that, if I was currently dieting (I'm not), then I should immediately cease because, even for those 1 in 7 that do lose weight, dieting is not good for anyone and, instead, you should simply eat a balanced diet and just accept the weight you are? If so, then why didn't the reporter say so?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I was pretty disappointed by this programme. The Men who Made us Fat was great, but it's telling that many of the facts shared in that programme were omitted from this. For example, the first study that was referenced was explained to be from Ancel Keys- labelled a 'fat maker' in the last series as he identified fat, rather than sugar, as the main cause of obesity. Equally, the mention of Atkins was carefully phrased; something like "his detractors said that his diet caused his heart attack" without clearing up that misconception. The whole thing was made to sound calculated and distrustful- when in fact, you could sum it up in two sentences. Every diet works, if you stick to it. Stop using the diet's rules and you'll regain your weight again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    My wife has followed the Dukan diet for 19 months. She has gone from a clothes size 34 to a size 22. She finds oat bran the most important part of the diet. She has oat bran porridge for breakfast and has a ready supply of oat bran buns to eat whenever she wants a snack. She also drinks 3-4 litres of flavoured water (no sugar) each day. She eats as much as she wants of chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, fruit and yoghurt - with bread and potatoes one or twice a week. She likes all of the food and never feels hungry. It is a firm routine which she has no plans to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    You want to lose weight and keep it off?

    STOP buying manufactured, refined, processed crap, start buying fruit and vegetables and meat and fish.

    Learn to make meals with those ingredients.

    Drink plenty of water to remain properly hydrated.

    If you want to be fit and healthy as well, build some exercise into your daily routine.

    DONE, no magic to it, just because all this processed, refined, manufactured, shiny wrappered crap is out there, does not mean we have to buy it.

    I have lost nearly 8 stone, I have about 14 more stone to lose. I have lost weight 2 times before, every time i stop eating what nature intended human beings to eat, I put weight back on.

    There is no magic, there is no miracle, just eat what nature provides, and stop buying pre-prepared processed pap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It is important to change your attitude although it's difficult if you don't know how. Forget dieting - ditch those faddy diets and make a few lifestyle changes instead. I've finally lost lots of weight and kept it off through my own weight management system and I learnt a lot about why I was overweight. I enjoyed the programme, which reinforces what I write and look forward to the next instalment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Ignoring the side-effects of these diets for a second, they do generally treat a symptom of the modern Western diet, and many do work in terms of short-term weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight after this would be impractical on a diet designed for weight loss or if returning to the original unhealthy diet, therefore any long success is unlikely be due to the diet plan unless it addresses the true cause.

    This documentary gave these diet companies opportunities to express a genuine desire to help their customers live a long a healthy life, and demonstrate an understanding of what is causing our weight gain. They failed to do this. I don't trust my bank to look after my stock portfolio, and I won't trust a processed food company to look after my health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    AVST, the problem is that then - it isn't a diet. It's pretty obvious - if you starve yourself for a period of time and then start eating normally again, you are going to put the weight back on. What you are saying is "Of course you need to continuously eat less calories to lose weight. You will never be able to eat normally again". But there are people out there who can eat how much they want to eat and not gain weight. There is a chap on YouTube who ate 5000 calories a day for a month. He put on a miniscule amount of weight whilst losing cm's from his waist line. And more imporantly, the programme needs to show that people who chant "Eat less" at the obese and use it as an excuse to treat them as sub human, need to learn the truth. We also need to learn that hgh carb, low fat diets are causing actual harm to diabetics and making their condition worse (and for type 1's - Dr Bernstein is a type 1 and still advocates low carbing. He wrote the bible on this subject).

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Thought it was a great program and a really interesting look at the diet industry. Yes you can pull apart some of the figures, but the basic underlying theme, that this is an industry and it's main interest is self preservation and profit, was what came through to me.
    Concentrate on being fit and healthy. No to fad diets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The reason people put the weight back on after dieting is that they regard the diet as a temporary state - once they reach their goal, they revert to their previous lifestyle and eating habits - the same habits that got them overweight in the first place. To make things worse, their bodies have often become more metabolicly efficient during the period of scarcity, and now require less fuel, speeding weight gain.

    Gastric bands work because they force people to eat less, in effect to maintain their diet.

    To stay permanently at your target weight, you have to make permanent changes to the way you live, the amount you exercise, and the way you eat. Many people don't want to.

    The path to permanent weight loss may start with a commercial diet program, but mantenance is usually through learning to prepare healthy meals, reeducating your tastebuds, and the adoption of active hobbies that you enjoy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    A program that exploited the overweight to fill an hours viewing time in a far more cynical way than any of the accused slimming product companies or authors.
    At one point questioning an ex-accountant from weight watchers the reporter put it to the accountant that the company succeeded from the slimmers failure a point the man acknowledged, subsequently the reporter attributed the statement to the man.
    The industry succeeds from failure no more than the motor industry, white goods industry etc. No deliberate redundancy of the slimming regimes was proved or even suggested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I really enjoyed Jacques "The Men Who Made Us Fat" documentary series. It is was an informative, enlightening, thought-provoking and educational piece of journalism and documentary film making. I was fully expecting the "The Men Who Made Us Thin" to be an exploration of how the world is learning to deal with the problems identified in TMWMUF and problems that people have with body image and how and why the slimmer figure is seemingly so more desirable and saught after. I thought it would work to complement and build on the facts uncovered in TMWMUF and take the story in a new direction and be just as interesting.

    However, I was confused, shocked and disappointed to see that this appears to be a sensationalist attack on systems to help people eat healthly and manage their weight and the people who devise them. I found the inferred conclusion and message that 'diet management and weightloss sytems and products don't work, using them is pointless, they just make you fatter and are devised to cash in by exploiting the overweight and desperate' ridiculous and frankly disturbing and dangerous. I cannot understand how Jacques failed to grasp (or ignored) the fact that people and their behaviours and lifestyles form a crucial part of these systems. Failure of these systems and products virtually always comes about as a result of people removing themselves from the system and going back to established patterns of behaviour and lifestyle that lead them to being unhealthy in the first place.

    I'm under no illusion that all of these systems are healthy ways to eat and sustainable. However, I remain open-minded and interested to see where Jacques is going with this and will continue to watch the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    This programme has confirmed everything I’ve believed for years. I’ve been on ‘diets’ for over 25 years and now weigh more than I’ve ever weighed. Basically diets make you fat and I applaud Jacques and the BBC for putting this out there. I’ve read the comments and a lot of them are very defensive of dieting – I’m guessing these folks don’t want to hear that they might get fat by being on diets. (none of us want to be fat).

    I’ve just completed Masters degree research on dieting and my findings were clear, sadly, it seems unlikely that, whilst we live in the 21 century, the media popularisation of ‘thinness’ and the multi-million pound diet industry will ‘go away’. However, in helping the men and women who suffer emotionally and mentally in their relentless pursuit of a ‘thin ideal’ that the world of counselling, psychotherapy and the medical professions could help improve the self-esteem and body-image of these individuals, rather than an onslaught of advertising from diet companies and constant reminders of how we are not ‘ideal’. I personally believe that further studies on the potential benefits of therapy for those that have lived their lives under the control of ‘dieting’ is required. For example comparisons of therapy aimed at increasing self-esteem or addiction therapy or more family/group therapy, exploring feelings with other similar individuals for example may open up a world that allows these people to see they are not alone and to create a society that values camaraderie and a ‘sense of belonging’ that was so apparently sought after by those on diets, instead of resentment and competitiveness for ‘thinness’. Exploring all these possibilities would be beneficial in gaining more insight to understanding the phenomenon of dieting. I would welcome investigators and therapists interested in the psychological impact and mental well-being of men and women paying much more attention to feelings and concerns about body image and dieting. My hopes may be way too optimistic in a society that places such high value on ‘appearance’ but I would hope that by individuals being brave enough to share their experiences it might just be possible to counteract the damaging and negative aspects of the unrealistic pursuit of ideal ‘thinness’.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    To me the programme seemed to start with an agenda and then find evidence to prove it. The section on Atkins was particularly disappointing. He had a heart condition but he died as a consequence of a fall. The programme largely ignored the diet. The Atkins diet seems to work for many people and now less extreme forms have become mainstream. The American Diabetic Association now recommends restricting carbohydrates, although British diabetic advice is still to consume large quantities - because of the UK obsession with not eating fat. Yet a recent C4 programme did test a diet, devised by medical researchers, on women restricting carbohydrates to 156gms a day. Government guidelines imply, from the advised protein, fat and calorie consumption, a carbohydrate consumption of around 280gms a day for women.

    LowCarbGab, above, explains the Swedish experience and the style of eating (not a "diet") is now becoming popular in the UK, partly due to the influence of authors such as Dr John Briffa, whose blog I recommend. If you want to lose some inches from your waist, cut down on cakes, biscuits, bread, smoothies and puddings and then eat protein and fat when you are hungry. It actually works and is painless and it's not making anyone rich, about from livestock and dairy farmers and egg producers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Let’s get one thing straight for the people who say that the calories in < calories out formula is a myth: you are completely and utterly wrong and are contradicting the laws of thermo-dynamics and the principle of the conservation of energy, i.e. “energy can not be created or destroyed, only converted into different forms. The sum of all the forms of energy inside a volume of space can only change by the amount of energy leaving or entering the volume.

    Quite simply, human bodies (and all living things) are energy conversion and dissipation machines (the volume). If you put more energy into the machine than it can convert into a form it can dissipate, it will convert it to a form of energy that it can store to dissipate later.

    In human terms, if you put more calories (a measurement unit of heat energy) from food into a human body than it can convert and dissipate into movement (kinetic energy) and cell growth and repair, (chemical energy) brain activity (electrical energy) etc., the human body converts it into fat (chemical energy). Q.E.D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    1) It matters how your body partitions the food (what he uses as energy, what he stores and how). This is influenced by hormeones (No1 being insulin which gets into your body when you eat sugars)

    2) When you loose weight you must have eaten less than you expended. That does NOT mean it is the other way around. Your body can cope with changes quite good (your cells expend less energy, you get tired sooner,...).

    3) It is not the amount of time you spend exercising, it is also the intensity (timer under load or time under tension). Lifting heavy weights for 90 seconds, when you cannot do any more might be more effective than casually strolling through the city for 90 minutes. (But if you are untrained you need supervision with resitance training!

    4) Not all Proteins are the same. Not all Carbohydrates are the same. Not all Fats are the same. As some already mentioned, read "The Diet Delusion" by Gary Taubes (London Library Consortium have an eBook Version if you have a Library Card!)


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