Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Food Porn and The Toxic Environment


Until recently, the phrase food porn conjured just one image in my mind – Billie Piper ‘sploshing’ on The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. For anyone who isn’t lucky enough to have borne witness to this triumph of television broadcasting....well, that's probably a good thing. It wasn't one of ITV's finer moments.

Ok, in seriousness, you’re probably wondering what this is all about - unless you’re a Weight Watchers member and have been to a meeting in the last week or so, in which case you may have a slightly better idea! For those of you who aren't in the know, let me fill you in.

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited, along with several other lovely blogging ladies, to an event hosted by Weight Watchers. Also in attendance was a representative from Weight Watchers marketing department, a Weight Watchers leader who has had huge success on the plan with a loss of 6.5st, and our lovely new celebrity ambassador, BBC news presenter and journalist Penny Haslam. The event was in order to launch the Weight Watchers ‘New Approach’ ProPoints Plan (known as the 360 Plan in the US of A) and I am extremely honoured to have been asked to be a ambassador for the new approach - a task which I have taken on more than willingly!

The event itself was lovely. It was hosted in Drink Shop Do in Kings Cross, a choice of venue that originally seemed somewhat cruel for what was essentially a gathering of women attempting to lose weight. As soon as I walked through the door the sight of dozens of different cakes and treats assaulted me from the counter and the whole place smelled like sugar and baked amazingness. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Which, strangely enough, was kind of the point.

Weight Watchers new approach is based on new research into not only the reasons we, as humans, often eat beyond feelings of satisfaction but also into the ways in which our environment affects this. There are lots of snazzy new buzzwords involved, such as 'snackification' and 'city-besity', but the central premise is that we, as humans, live and work in an environment in which we are bombarded with images of food all day long. When we see these images we experience what is known as 'hedonic hunger' - even if we've just eaten we can still find room for more. You all know that feeling, right? How many of us have put down our knives and forks on Christmas Day after clearing a heaving plate of turkey and roast potatoes, and declared ‘I can’t eat another bite’ – only to suddenly find you have room for more when the flaming Christmas Pudding and brandy cream appears on the table? That is hedonic hunger. And because we live in a ‘toxic environment’, where we’re constantly exposed to food, hedonic hunger is something that we’re fighting against all day, every day. It may be stronger with some foods than others - your 'oh, go on then' foods. Yeahhh you know what I'm talking about - we've all got them! To be honest I think mine is just food in general! Whats yours? Chocolate? Crisps? Cake? Your mouth is watering right now as you think of what yours is, right. SEE, I TOLD YOU. Hedonic hunger. Right there baby.

Ok so first off, let me just address something. At first I didn't like the term 'toxic environment'. Food porn, I'm a big fan of. But 'toxic' seems far too negative - even though thats the entire point of it. Its grown on me a lot since though, and since attending the event on Thursday of last week I feel like I've been on high-alert. We do live in a toxic environment. All day, every day, its food food food food food. At home, at work, even on the tube! Eating is no longer something we go three times a day, sat round a table with a our families. Its all day, every day. Mid-morning latte and muffin to keep you going til lunch? Sure, why not. Colleagues brought in homemade biscuits and cakes and left them on the side? Go on then, one won't hurt. Grab a sandwich at the station for the journey home because you're feeling a bit 'peckish'? Yeah, why not. Glass of wine and a bar of Dairy Milk after dinner while you're watching TV? Can't hurt.

Does this sound familiar to anyone!?

Food is everywhere we go. My journey to work consists of a 20 minute walk to the station, a 35 minute train journey (on a good day), a quick dash across Liverpool Street Station to the underground, a 15 minute tube ride, and a 5 minute walk from Embankment Station to my office. You want to know how many food outlets I pass in that time?

Fifty.

I know its fifty, because this morning I stopped and took a picture of every single one of them. I won't assault you with 50 pictures, I'll just share a few.





























Its everywhere. There is no escape.

Needless to say, this toxic environment is having a devastating effect. A third of all women in the UK are now overweight or obese. That number goes up to half for men. That’s right, 50% of our men are overweight. Now I’m all for a bigger boy – but 50%?? Really? That’s a horrifying number. And its only set to rise. Ours is the first generation set to die at a younger age than their parents – and a large factor of that is obesity.

And that’s without mentioning the strain this epidemic puts on our country financially. The NHS spends over two BILLION pounds a year on obesity patients – whether that be through bariatric surgery or treatment of patients who are seriously ill due to their weight.

Two billion pounds. That is a hell of a lot of zeros. That’s a lot of money that’s not being spent in other parts of the NHS, or on education, or transport, or anything else that is woefully underfunded because the government can’t afford to pay for it.

So how do I feel about all this? Well, to be honest, I feel angry. Angry, and outraged. I’m not going to sit here from the safety of behind my laptop and say that its all societies fault I was fat – because it isn’t. I was the one who put the food in my mouth and swallowed. I wasn’t force-fed. Nor is anyone else. But let me ask you this…look back at those pictures, and tell me how many ‘healthy’ food outlets you see on there. Sure they may all over low-fat options, but how many on there actually pride themselves on selling healthy, fresh, delicious food? Not many of them.

Now think about this – cigarette smoking is an addiction. Alcoholism is an addiction. Drug use is an addiction. Supermarkets are no longer allowed to display cigarettes – they are hidden behind a screen and you have to ask for them. Debates about changing licensing hours and increasing tax on alcohol to discourage drinking are constantly in the news. And drug use…this morning I got asked for identification to purchase some paracetemol. These products and substances are not on display, and with the exception of alcohol (which is always advertised with the line ‘please drink responsibly’) are actively discouraged.

So why do I, as a 'food addict', have to walk past fifty fast food outlets and restaurants just to get to work?

11 comments:

  1. It's because everything is so easily accessible and on-demand nowadays (back in my dayyyyy, wait, I'm only 23) but you can see a definite trend in the uprise and influx of 24hr food outlets when you can get food all day every day.

    Like you said, there's no ritual set aside for meals, it's go-go-go. If you're mindlessly shovelling food down from the most convenient place, then you're not giving yourself time to actually sit and enjoy the food. I'm sure a lot of healthy eating plans touch on this as well, and encourage people to eat 'mindfully' and such.

    I've managed to train myself to zone out from seeing all the food outlets somehow. I hardly even notice them, but they're probably there hidden in my subconscious! I used to really notice them when I was trying to lose weight and think about all the things I couldn't have, but they don't bother me as much now since I stopped focussing so much on weight.

    I agree that food addiction should be treated more seriously. I get tired of arguing with people who say that all overweight people need to do is stop eating. *sigh*.

    So in summary, I completely agree!

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  2. I love this post Lauren! I wasn't able to attend my ww meeting last week so missed the talk/preview on the new approach that was being given so was looking forward to finding out about it tomorrow, but now I'm looking forward to it even more! It's so true it's like the world is setting you up to fail sometimes when you're on a "diet" this will set people in good sted to succeed!
    You're an awesome ambassador......you're looking fab-u-lous!! Xxx

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  3. we should post a little combined thing about this on WAMK I think in the new year. Counted mine and considering I live in the middle of nowhere I still pass about 10 places on the way to work x

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  4. I absolutely love that you took a photograph of all the eating places on your way to work - really good idea and definitely proves the point. The problem is that while we think we don't notice these places or aren't tempted by them, they chip away at our armour little bit little day by day and we end up having that Friday morning bacon roll or Monday morning pastry. It's definitely not such a problem away from the big cities but little Lincoln is playing catch up for sure - we're about to get a Starbucks in my office building - eek!

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  5. Back in the day- I am in my 50s and when I was a little girl nobody ate outside in the street and tho there was the occasional coffee shop it was not a take out place. I remember when Wimpy arrived in the town. The culture now is you have to be able to get food all the time- in a book I read they asked you to miss a meal to realise that hunger is not an emergency and that you don't actually NEED constant access to food and snacks. In my fatter days I have taken snacks out in my bag, in case I get hungry- why? A new mindset, and not a good one. We are not 'hunter-gatherers ' now so why do we panic where the next food is coming from? Interesting post, Sue

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    1. Hmm I agree with you mostly but I take snacks in my bag but they are lower calorie alternatives so that if temptation hits I can have a little bit of what I fancy for 1/4 of the calories in the 'real thing'.

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  6. I agree with Emma - it's that everything is so accessible!

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  7. That walk through liverpool street is a killer when your on a diet,even the pasty shop with the hideous nuclear hot pasties are tempting...

    I travel around town all week, and it is a constant battle against the bad stuff, it doesn't help when Pret fills its even most simple sandwiches with calories. Its a bloody mind field.

    Jorden
    whiffo.co.uk

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  8. Just stumbled across your blog and I love it! The most I have ever been overweight is by 3st which was enough and I have been strict in keeping myself at the right weight ever since (I normally teeter between ideal weight or half a stone over) and it is hard work!!!! There is fast food and bad food everywhere it is too accessable now and people are getting busier and busier so it is easy to grab something naughty and quick when on the go.

    Well done you on your weight loss and success - my close friend has lost 5st thru WW and looks amazing! It has taught her so much about food groups and basically re-educated her as her family are terrible with food and do not eat well in the slightest so she was brought up on.calorific meals and big portions.

    Will enjoy folowing from now on!!

    Nicki
    Xxx

    Www.nickikinickie.blogspot.com

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  9. just been looking at your 21 before 22, if you haven't read it you should try and read 5 people you meet in heaven

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  10. Since being off all the junk food. I travel to work a different way just to avoid Greggs the Bakers. Most other things I can handle but that place just taunts the hell out of me.

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I love all your comments, so please let me know what you think!