Diets. Are they still relevant?
We have gone diet mad. Every day there are new diets and fads emerging to feed our hunger for the easy way to lose weight. From the cabbage diet to the GI Plan and Atkins, we are bombarded by messages urging us to change drastically our eating habits and to shed pounds.
Media images of super-thin, so-called "ideal" bodies fuel this dieting mania and lead us to believe it is urgent and essential for specific purposes, such as, going on holiday, fitting into that summer swimsuit, getting married or even for finding a partner.
If school children are asked about the way they appraise thin and fat people, it isclear that, very early on in life in our culture, they learn to equate fat with lazy, ugly, disgusting, unintelligent, unworthy, unattractive (but jolly) and thin with attractive, worthy, intelligent and successful. The word fat is used as a term of abuse in every school playground. Children are simply copying adult values.

Thinness has replaced virginity as a high-ranking virtue in our society. In some cases, extreme thinness, even to the point of emaciation, is pursued like the holy grail, as in supermodels and in anorexia nervosa.

Western women, and increasing numbers of men, have come to believe that the size, shape and weight of the body are accurate and valid measures of self-worth. We have been brainwashed by this erroneous dogma from childhood. It is difficult to find a woman who is not on a diet, just come off a diet or who is thinking that she should go on one. What a way to live imprisoned by such a dysfunctional cultural belief.

A few people completely over-invest their self-esteem in the size, shape and weight of their body, virtually to the exclusion of everything else. The self is defined totally in these terms and all other attributes, talents, abilities and personal qualities are minimised or disregarded. This is often seen in movie stars and bodybuilders, for example, and in eating disorders.

Yes, the UK does have a serious obesity problem both in children and adults. But diets, as such, are not the answer. Most people who go on a diet eventually come off it, gain weight and end up back where they started or, worse, heavier.

We must be careful that our focus on the obesity problem and the negative image that obesity has acquired, do not fuel the unhealthy pre-occupation with and idealisation of thinness that pervades our society.

We need to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily in a consistent way, as well as exercising regularly. But we also need to develop healthier values and beliefs about weight, shape, thinness and dieting itself.

In particular, we need to guard against over-investing our self-worth in these aspects. It is the overall "shape" our self-esteem is in that really matters, because that ultimately informs our beliefs and directs our behaviour towards health.