Tackling Obesity – A Shared Responsibility

Hi, if you’re not familiar with the blog, my name is Caroline Mentzer. I’m a Nutritional Therapist, Medical Herbalist and founder of Health in Synergy.

Health in Synergy is a concept that combines Holistic with Conventional approaches to help people improve their health and wellbeing, support public healthcare and make the world a healthier place.

My husband is medical doctor and I’m a holistic practitioner (more on us here). Together, for over a decade now, we’ve combining our knowledge and used this approach in practice, on ourselves and our family with encouraging results.

Over the coming months, I’m going to be doing a series on different health conditions to demonstrate how our philosophy could be applied to everyday life.

This week I’d like to start with Obesity.

Please click on the link to watch the video, or read the blog post below.

Click here to be directed to YouTube

Obesity, as you probably know, is all over the news at the moment as it is the biggest risk factor for serious complications with Covid-19.  

Obesity is also a subject close to my heart because, at age 11, I was diagnosed as clinically obese.

It wasn’t my fault, or even my parents’ fault. They fed me a ‘better than average’ diet, they cooked meals from scratch, they even grew their own fruit and vegetables.

Yet, despite this, I was around 15-20 kilos heavier than I should have been for my age and height. Neither of my parents nor any of my three younger sisters were overweight, in fact, they were on the slimmer side of normal.

So, what was going wrong?

If you look back into my ancestry, my grandfather on my mother’s side, was a tall broad man, we endearingly called ‘Bumpa’ because he was round like ‘humpty dumpty’. His sisters were also on the plumper side.

With this knowledge, my parents resigned themselves to the fact that I’d inherited my grandfather’s wide size and was destined to a life of being overweight.

I’ve since learned and am living proof that we don’t have to be a slave to our genes.

Secondly,

The food that I was eating, despite being ‘average’ for the time, was clearly not suiting me..

My body was screaming out, ‘please listen, do something‘!

I now know that my physique is actually very efficient at giving me signs that something is not quite right. All I needed to do was listen.

During my tweens and teens the most obvious ‘signs’ included acne on my face, chest and back and unexplainable excess weight, but looking back to younger years, there were more subtle symptoms too like chronic ear infections, tiredness and digestive problems.

Thirdly…..

….and I’ll go into this a little more later on, I believe that many of the foods we expect our children to eat on a daily basis are not actually healthy ones.

Anyway, that’s a whole other blog post (coming shortly).

At the time, desperate to help me, my parents sought advice.

The advice for anyone overweight in the 80’s, which largely hasn’t changed in 35 years, was to…

CUT FAT AND COUNT CALORIES

But did this work?

Seriously unhappy with the way I looked and the lethargy I felt, I embarked on this low fat, low calorie diet.

It was difficult to maintain, tasted bland all of which only compounded my misery, and isolated me further.

The little weight I lost, I gained back plus more, because I never addressed the underlying issues.

Fad diets

Then through my teenage years I embarked on many fad diets, some more successful than others.

But when nothing stuck, I began my own research on what constitutes a truly healthy diet.

I did a lot of reading, I experimented on myself, and by the age of 18 had CRACKED MY CODE.

Just a few simple concepts I discovered along the way –

  1. Cutting calories may help you initially lose weight, but it also lowers your metabolic rate, so you gain fat back more easily.
  2. Eating low fat is a miserable and ineffective way to lose weight and keep it off, as fat makes things taste satisfying and helps keep you full. Plus it is needed (in certain forms more than others) to boost your metabolism.
  3. Junk food is more than just sweets, chocolate, crisps and chips (more on this soon).
  4. You have the power to change your metabolism from a fat storer to a fat burner just by the way you eat.
  5. No one particular diet fits all.

NB/ I’ll be writing a post titled ‘what is a healthy diet?’ soon, so please keep and eye out for it here.

The biggest lesson….

I learned that to achieve and maintain your ideal weight, it’s important to find a healthy way of eating that you enjoy, that makes you feel good and that you can follow easily…… FOR LIFE!

Plus the earlier you learn to do this, the easier it is to stick to.

What was the outcome?

For the past 25 years (apart from when I was pregnant with my children) I have weighed the same weight. This weigh is 6kg (around 1 stone) less than I weighed at 11 years old.

I’ve also overcome all of my other chronic health complaints – without the need for drugs.

This, of course, was the reason why I trained as a Nutritional Therapist.

Since completing my training, I’ve helped numerous adults achieve and maintain their ideal weight.

Each time it’s been slightly different. But the main aim has always been the same – to find a diet that suits their likes, lifestyle, cooking skills, cultural and spiritual beliefs.

One that is easy to follow and tastes great.

This has never been a problem, because adults have control over the food that they buy, cook and eat. But what about children?

There’s a huge childhood obesity problem in the UK and USA and this only seems to be getting worse.

I have to confess that I’ve always struggled with children, even my own.

My daughter has the same love of food and genetic propensity to gain weight as I do.

Whilst my long and lean husband and son could (although they don’t – well our son would if we let him) get away with eating a supersized fast food meal every day without gaining a pound, we just have to look at one and we balloon.

Certainly, this doesn’t seem fair. But life isn’t fair.

However, it does break my heart now that my daughter is of an age where she notices that she’s a little bigger than some of her friends.

Although, now I believe that it’s a blessing in disguise.

We all need to learn to eat well.

NOT just to be the correct weight, but also to live a long and healthy life free from chronic illness and pain.

Because being slim doesn’t always guarantee good health.

I believe that the earlier you learn to eat well and say no to unhealthy, processed, refined, treat foods, the better chance you have of remaining slim and healthy when you’re older.

And in this day and age, with Covid-19 lingering, this is more important than ever.

I’ve had many clients that were slim as a child, never learned to eat well and have struggled with their weight and health throughout adult hood.

If you ‘get away’ with eating rubbish when you’re young, it’s certainly much harder to change habits later on.

In a funny way, I’m grateful that I had to learn the hard way. Because it’s taught me so much about staying fit and healthy.

Our outcome….

On the whole, with regards to my daughter we are winning!

She’s a keen learner, a good cook and an adventurous eater which certainly makes it easier to steer her in the right direction. She also loves sports of most kind.

She does feel different sometimes and notices her waify friends who seem to get away with eating whatever they like. But I remind her that I was the same as her and now at 43 I feel better than ever.

I encourage her to stick with it knowing she’ll benefit long term.

Lockdown has certainly helped as I’ve largely had a monopoly over the food our family eats and have had great fun getting the children involved in the meal planning and cooking.

We can’t be locked down forever!

But in usual day to day life, although I know it’s done with kindness – I do find it frustrating for parents that there’s always someone trying to give a child a food that’s bad for them.

It could be….

The ice cream van at the playground
Supersized popcorn and pick and mix at the cinema
A free ice cream with kids meal
The vending machines at the swimming pool
Not to mention the endless birthday parties, playdates, picnics, BBQ’s, or even simply the sugary pudding offered after every school meal.

Then there’s the rows and rows of unhealthy foods lining the supermarket shelves. The temptation that we have to steer clear of every time we shop. This is something I believe the government needs to address!

I find it all very excessive, simply because sugar and processed foods are addictive, and now considered the new tobacco in that they have been proven to cause our body, inflammation, ill health and obesity.

It’s tough being a parent

Even though most parents actively try to avoid it, every day becomes a treat day, unless you’re willing to become the OGRE who says ‘NO’!

Believe me, this becomes incredibly tiring. Plus, I personally feel that excessive control will only backfire later on.

Controlling little kids can be easy, but controlling older children…..well, it’s impossible.

I can guarantee, because I did this too, that as soon as a teenager has freedom and money to spend, they’ll go buy junk food especially if they’ve been excessively controlled as a child.

So, what’s my solution?

  1. As a parent – firstly, you need to set a good example. You can’t expect your child to be healthy if you’re not. Cook from scratch, get them involved in the process, make it tasty and enjoy eating healthy foods together as a family.
  2. Secondly, you need to help your child to discover a sport or a way to exercise that they enjoy, and can continue to enjoy through life. Even if they’re not sporty, activity is a necessity.
  3. Thirdly, I believe that there needs to be a complete review of what a healthy diet is – because no one seems to agree right now!

And it’s not as simple as you’d think – if it were, no one would have any trouble staying slim, would they?

There are so many mixed messages out there….

Should we be vegan, paleo, keto, gluten free, low fat, high fat, slow carb, low carb, no carb? It’s all very confusing.

Finally, and this is a big one…….

Always my preferred solution – education, education, education!

All school kids should receive a free healthy lunch every day.

Cooking and nutrition needs to become a core subject in schools.

Children should be taught what a healthy diet is and how to achieve it through budgeting, meal planning and cooking.

They should be leaving school at 16 feeling confident in the kitchen and knowing how to prepare several basic but healthy family meals from scratch.

But how do we achieve this?

This is the question that is being asked at the moment, and one I’d like to address here.

Should we be relying on doctors to cure our obesity epidemic?

There has been a recent pledge to increase doctors training in nutrition in medical schools.

In May 2020 85% of doctors recognised the important of nutrition and wanted more education as part of their degree. Most felt their nutrition training was inadequate, with more than 70% reporting less than 2 hours in total. (BMJ reference)

When my husband was at university in London nearly two decades ago, I was shocked by how little nutrition training was included in his course. He also got a grand total of 2 hours, in six years.

Yet, doctors are meant to be our main authority on health.

But I would argue that you can’t be healthy without eating well.

After all, you are what you eat!

From talking to our many doctor friends, I know that they find it difficult to answer questions on nutrition.

They complain they have no training, lack basic knowledge, feel out of their depth, and perhaps most importantly, not enough time in consultation to give any worthwhile advice.

Sometimes the most they are able to offer is – ‘eat less processed foods and more fruit and vegetables’ before it’s time to see the next patient. And that’s as good as it gets!

Even if nutrition training in medical schools doubled (making it 4 hours in 6 years), it would in no way match the many years of education and experience I and other qualified therapists have.

The medical profession work so hard already….

Having personally witnessed (diary of a doctor) how relentlessly hard the medical profession have been working over the past six months to beat Covid-19, plus the constant reviews, exams and training my husband already has to go through every year, I think it’s completely unreasonable to put the nations obesity crisis on to doctors.

Instead, I believe that it would be more efficient and effective to employ certified Nutritional Therapists to do this job.

After all, they are the ones with the passion, training, knowledge and expertise.

They could liaise with the GP on certain patients and work together in synergy to achieve greater health with less reliance on drugs. They could form part of the science team in schools and teach children the basics.

A collaboration – like the one I have with my husband, could mean – lowering rates of obesity and with it a reduction in the number of patients that suffer with type 2 diabetes and heart disease – the greatest risk factors of Covid-19.

In turn this could relieve the burden on public health care systems and free up appointments for those who really need them.

As my husband likes to say-

‘My medical training has taught me how to keep my family alive, but my wife is the one who keeps us healthy’.

This is our opinion.

What is YOUR solution to our obesity epidemic? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 comments

  1. An excellent commentary, we fatties need extra support when 1. You are in the middle of lockdown, living a quieter life than usual; support is so very helpful. 2. When one is not sporty + exercise classes are cancelled due to lockdown + walking is the only alternative. 3.It’s difficult when one is cooking + eating with someone who can eat anything and not gain weight. Suggestions please.

    Like

    • Thank you. Yes, we’ve certainly all had to adapt the way we exercise over lockdown and find different avenues. There are many good online classes for all ages and abilities. Walking in still very good, especially if you’re able to do it daily, briskly and up a hill, not so great in todays rain though. I too live with someone who can eat anything and not gain weight, but I guess I’ve been doing this so long now, healthy choices have become habit. What I eat makes me feel physically well, and I stick by that rule. Occasional treats also make me feel good, in a different way, but the emphasis is on the word occasional. Sadly, there’s temptation everywhere, we all have to learn to say no. As I say in the article, sometimes it’s a blessing to have to learn to make healthy choices from a young age. Old habits die hard. It’s important to remember though that being slim is not always a marker of good health, and certainly shouldn’t give anyone carte blanche to regularly eat unhealthy foods. Long term, the body may pay in other ways. I guess at the end of the day we all have to take responsibility and make healthy choices for ourselves. Good luck with it all. Small simple steps in the right direction all add up.

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