Mental Health Bites

PHE want to decide how many calories you eat

This week health officials have advised that the calories in ‘junk food’ should be cut in order to reduce childhood obesity.  Further, it is apparently expected that this recommendation will be formalised by Public Health England within the next 12 months.  There is even talk of it being incorporated into actual legislation.

Quite literally, I have to take a deep breath and side-line my anger before I can begin to write this blog post.

Regular readers will have observed that I have written before about attitudes towards obesity, and attempts to reduce ‘junk food’ consumption – but this is just getting out of hand.

The same ‘health officials’ who are in charge of your life to such an extent that they can apparently police how many calories you can consume, appear to be completely uneducated on the facts of the topic.  Public Health England’s chief nutritionist is heralding the ‘success’ of last year’s initiative to cut sugar content in certain foods as an indication that capping the calorie content of food will be just as ‘successful’.

sugarmuffinHowever, I’m not sure to what ‘success’ she is referring.  The initiative to reduce the sugar content in foods has NOT been proven to have helped the ‘obesity crisis’.  In fact, we’re consistently being told that obesity is on the increase, and I am certain that my sugar consumption hasn’t reduced.

If there is actual evidence that our individual sugar consumption has reduced and that this has led to overall health improvements, then I’ll be very pleased to see it.


In the absence of that, let’s talk about what evidence there is about ‘healthy eating’, ‘weight management’, overall health, and life expectancy.

  • The country believed to have the highest life expectancy is Monaco (an independent city-state on France’s Mediterranean coastline).
  • The country believed to be the ‘most healthy’ (based on a number of factors such as infant mortality, disability, unemployment) is Qatar (Western Asia, Arabian Peninsular i.e. mostly desert.  It is ranked 53 out of 224 for life expectancy).
  • Japan and Korea (boardering China) (and did you know their people aren’t even allowed to use the internet or watch romantic films in some places?) have the thinnest people.
  • The country believed to have the ‘healthiest diet’ (high in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, omega3 and so on) is Chad (in Central Africa).  It is a low-income nation, often listed as a country in need of aid by Save the Children.  It is also suggested to have the lowest life expectancy.

The above data starts to make you (or at least, me!) ask questions – questions like – why are we being told that the way we eat is the most important thing for our overall health?  Does the above data not suggest that living conditions, finances, health care, genetics and a pile of other factors all contribute to a healthy or long life?  And what about a HAPPY life?

Forbes suggests that Norway (not listed in the top ten healthiest countries) is the happiest country with the Central African Republic (boarding Chad and Sudan) as the unhappiest.

There is even evidence (and it goes all the way back to 1977!) that indicates WHAT you eat is only part of the food consumption equation – it turns out that how much you actually ENJOY the food also plays a part in how much of its nutrients you will absorb.  So, that suggests a carefully selected ‘superfood’ meal might end up being no better than the meal you actually wanted to eat.  This is something which I often tell my clients who are recovering from Eating Disorders and are scared to try ‘junk foods’.

Deprivation (stopping yourself from having a little of what you fancy) can even lead to binging behaviours, and potentially to Eating Disorders (I think I’ll write more about this in another post).


Plus – how much do we REALLY know about total nutrition?  We are constantly given contradictory advice; such as being told that tomatoes can lead to IBS, acid reflux and trigger arthritis while also being told they’re a superfood.  Which is it, are they a healthy food or not? Confusing, right!

Even more scary is that, just last year, two leading names in the government’s ‘anti-obesity’ campaigns were forced to resign after leading scientific experts insisted that saturated fat in items such as full fat diary (the ones we are told to cut out) is good for you!  They even accused public bodies of colluding with the food industry – and said we need to overhaul guidelines on healthy eating – which, hasn’t really happened and further begs the question – what do we actually KNOW about the healthiest way to eat?

So, as I’ve said to hundreds of people over the years – the best you can do is to eat everything in moderation and engage with your life in ways that make YOU happy.  Nothing else is really certain.

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