We're here for you. (Trigger warning: eating disorders and over-exercising)
The UK government released a new strategy on 27 July titled ‘Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives’.
We feel strongly that a healthy lifestyle can be hugely beneficial to our quality of life, which is part of the reason we’re passionate about running, but we wanted to reach out to those of you who might be feeling anxious about this new government plan. Because there are good bits and bad bits. And the bad bits could end up having the opposite effect on our health.
The government claim that the Better Health strategy (which you can read in full here) is a result of the strain that COVID-19 has put on our NHS. It’s aimed at overweight and obese people in the UK, encouraging them to make healthier food choices, eat fewer calories and exercise more. Boris Johnson even made a special guest appearance in a video promoting the campaign, claiming that he was ‘too fat’ before being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 earlier this year and doing an obligatory normal-bloke-walking-through-park-with-dog act, saying that he starts the day with a jog every morning.
Some of the plan uses positive language: the aim, it states, is to help overweight people to get down to what is described as a ‘healthy’ weight. Seeking medical advice as an overweight or obese person can be extremely daunting, and we approve of a world where, if a person actively wants to lose weight, they won’t be stigmatised or shunned but instead encouraged and helped along the way.
We also like the focus on exercise because, well, duh. We’re biased, we know, but we’re big believers that physical activity is great for both our mental and physical health. And yes, we’ve all felt a bit miserable about the idea of running after hauling ourselves out of bed on a drizzly winter morning, that’s if we even made it to the hauling-out-of-bed stage at all, but we do it because we love it. Worryingly, however, Johnson goes on to state that, after his morning run, ‘nothing could be worse for the rest of the day’. We joke about how taxing running can be, but in reality this can be triggering language for people who struggle with over-exercising. You don’t have to run if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t force yourself to do something you hate just because everyone’s doing it, or it’s trendy, or it’s been labelled as ‘healthy’. Find another activity that you enjoy and please, please don’t punish yourself.
Another highlight of the plan is the proposal to ban junk food adverts before 9pm and get rid of buy-one-get-one-free supermarket deals that encourage us to buy more food than we may need. Again, this gets a thumbs up on initial reading. It’s good to see the government acknowledge the role commercialism has played in shaping our mentalities and, in turn, our bodies. But this is also somewhat hypocritical coming from a government that has seen nurses using foodbanks under their stewardship, a government that only recently, under enormous public pressure, took a sharp U-turn on their decision not to feed our poorest children over the summer holidays. Our weight is strongly affected by our socioeconomic situation and this shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s extremely damaging to the positive progression of how we treat overweight people to constantly attribute obesity to a person’s willpower, dietary habits and exercise (or lack thereof) while excluding the biological, genetic and environmental causes.
Most worryingly, a large amount of emphasis will be placed on daily calorific intake. Calorie-counting is a notorious trigger for people who have suffered, or still suffer, with eating disorders. You may have been working incredibly hard to rid your brain of the rhetoric that you are more worthy the fewer calories you eat, or to prevent yourself from viewing healthy, nourishing food as another number to add to a ticking total. Particularly as runners, who are often expending energy, we need to make sure we eat when we’re hungry and not to stop ourselves from intaking the nutrients we need because we’ve already reached our ‘quota’ for the day.
Finally, runners, we want to remind you that, while we understand the health implications of obesity, your size alone does not dictate your health. Health is multi-faceted and includes your mental wellbeing, too. And even if you do consider yourself unhealthy, this makes you no less worthy as a person. You deserve to feed your body, you deserve to do the activities that you enjoy, and you deserve to occupy space on this planet just as much as anybody else.
You will always be welcome in our tribe as a new runner, a returning runner or a long-time lover of running, no matter your size. Please feel free to pop us an email if you want to discuss this more.