Birds of a feather – obese people have obese friends

Having fat friends increases your risk of obesity, because we live in a culture that revolves around eating and drinking.

Having fat friends can raise your risk of obesity, according to the latest findings.

Well, that’s a doh moment, isn’t it? Of course it does, because we live in a culture that revolves around eating and drinking. It’s like having friends who take drugs or friends who drink – birds of a feather flock together.

People who live a fat, unhealthy lifestyle aren’t all that likely to spend their time together doing sports, I’d hazard a guess. Trampolining, swimming, playing tennis, jogging? Not really fattie pursuits. Stuffing your face at McDonald’s, though, that’s another matter. Big blowouts down the local Chinese. And if everyone around you is eating a huge amount, it makes your huge amount look normal, right?

Another survey just a few weeks ago found that, worryingly, few people in the UK are now able to correctly gauge how overweight they are. This is an alarming trend, as it means that many more people are inching towards the danger zone of clinical obesity while believing themselve only ‘a few pounds over’. But when everyone around you is that same few pounds over, overweight begins to looks normal. It skews your perceptions.

The zeitgeist in the UK has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and it is leading to a population that is becoming dangerously overweight. People work longer hours and eat more convenience food, packed with empty calories. They don’t cook at home, and they have no idea what constitutes a balanced meal. They eat out far more an in restaurants, where portion sizes, as my friend K noted, have increased. And you’re served a large portion, it takes discipline to not eat it all, especially if you grew up with the kind of ‘finish what’s on your plate’, or ‘eat the meat’ mentality that was drummed into me back in the 60s. Food is love, and you’d better not refuse anything mommy makes for you. I’ve had some very sniffy waiters take away my plates over the years, apparently personally wounded at how little I’ve eaten. 

But if you do finish what’s on your plate, you could be looking at a fantastic amount of over-consumption – which is the reason that most people who regularly dine out have more body fat than those who eat at home. Restaurant meals are designed to be tasty and mouthful, not nutritious and balanced. Even expert dieticians routinely underestimate calories in restaurant meals by about 37 per cent, which doesn’t leave the rest of us with much chance. So is it a surprise to learn that many restaurant meals top a staggering 1000 calories? That a latte and a cake from Starbucks is about 930? That if you eat that once a week, by the end of the year you’ll have gained 14 pounds?

The worst thing is that, confronted with days’ worth of food on a plate, some people still don’t like to leave anything because after all, they’ve paid for it. It’s a joke here among the ex-pats that you can always tell the visiting Brits because all they ever mention about restaurants is the portion size – as long as the plate’s full, they don’t seem to care what the actual food’s like. 

Oh well, we all know it’s a hard habit to break. I recently reduced my consumption of protein to 50g per serving and it’s a shock, because it’s an unbelievably small amount of food – less than one crottin of goat’s cheese, only three slices of duck breast, a quarter of a fillet of chicken. I think I’m doing pretty well (and I feel a lot healthier for it) but I still have a way to go to reach the amount recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is 56g per day. I can’t imagine how most people would fare when confronted with this as a ‘meal’ – it barely looks enough to feed a hamster but actually it’s extremely healthy. You just focus on vegetables and use proteins as a garnish. 

Nevertheless, the best way to not have this amount of protein look completely stranded on the plate is to have the plate smaller, so I’ve used that old dieter’s trick and switched from a main-course plate to a sideplate at lunch, and from a sideplate to a saucer in the evening. I now eat like a little pixie. Watch this space, before I fade away….



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