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 Jacques Peretti: Big series, thin conclusion

I am sure you buy Standpoint in the hope — too often denied, I fear — that its writers will tell you about their weight-loss programmes. Indeed, if you are anything like my colleagues at the Observer, your eyes will glaze over with excitement as I describe how I have reduced my bulk from a morbidly obese 17st 8lbs to a merely grotesquely overweight 14st 10lbs.

I could go on — and believe me I do — but in truth there is little to say. I realised that my desk-bound, pub-bound life, sustained by a beer and salty-snack diet, was not working well when I found I could not keep up with my wife when we were walking down the street. When I tried to exit the bath, I also felt an urgent need for a vast system of ropes and pulleys to lift my dripping carcass.

So I began to exercise. I did not join gyms, and not only because of the expense. I knew I would not work out in an artificial space for long. Better to break free from what doctors call our "obesogenic environment" and incorporate exercise into everyday life by walking and cycling whenever I could. As for diet, nutritionists' ideas on healthy eating have barely changed in 50 years — fibre, brown bread, salad, fish, white meat, fruit and veg. There's no mystery to it. It's what your mother told you. Finish your greens, don't scoff the cakes, get some fresh air and don't eat between meals. As the admirably pithy NHS guide to weight loss shows, you can fit the essential information everyone who is not genetically disposed to obesity needs to know onto a sheet of A4 and still leave room for a large doodle.

No food company or book, magazine or newspaper editor has ever made money from repeating what your mother told you, however. They have promoted the advice of the fabulously profitable diet industry instead. If I had followed it, I would have lost weight — and then I would have put it back on again. Every fad diet boils down to starving yourself. You can for a while, and you will lose weight. But unless you become anorexic, your body will tire of famine, and compel you to feast. Thus, we have on the one hand sensible advice on food and exercise, which will help most people who are overweight or obese become fitter. On the other, we have a diet industry that is a multi-billion-pound swindle. The trap that awaits all those who argue about healthy eating is that while they expose lies they will debunk the truth as well.

Jacques Peretti falls into it. The Men Who Made Us Thin, his documentary series for the BBC, is in many ways a superb piece of contemporary history. Peretti is made for serious television. He asks hard questions without appearing aggressive or self-aggrandising, and possesses the populist intelligence to summarise complex arguments for the viewer without being condescending. The BBC's researchers did him proud. They tracked down leading figures in the diet industry and somehow persuaded them to appear on camera.

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jill wozhere
December 4th, 2013
1:12 AM
Visual excess fat is only part of the health problem. Instead of looking at the outside, we should be looking inside. How what we eat affects our blood mainly because healthy blood is about the most important thing to have, as it feeds all parts of our body. Quite often normal weight, outwardly healthy people suddenly drop dead and everyone wonders why? They were so healthy were they not? Inwardly they were not as healthy as they appeared. Exercising and being normal weight, does not mean you can please yourself what you eat and drink and there be no consequences. I wish people would learn to look beneath the surface and see the whole picture.

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