It’s only twitter. It’s only an over inflated ego filled twitter account of an apparent medical expert. In the scheme of things, it is small and irrelevant. But someone asked “What should I eat to lose weight?” And Dr Christian Jessen’s answer was “Less”.
It might seem trivial. And adoring fans of Dr Christian are falling over themselves to agree with him, and point out the fallacies of anyone daring to question A) the sensibility of giving such an answer so glibly, and B) the actual science behind it. Of course many will say it is a stupid question to ask, and if they really cared they would be researching. Indeed, Doctor Christian is not a doctor with knowledge in every field, and from the internet I have gleaned that his specialist area is in Sexual Health. So diet and exercise aren’t his thing, regardless of his Channel 4 weight clinic programmes.
Because lots of people will argue that it is that simple. And for them, maybe it is. But for the vast majority of people I would argue that it isn’t that simple. And I would argue that it is dangerous to throw such a glib response out. What was its purpose? Cheap laughs? The answer to the country’s obesity crisis?
The irony was the “Less” answer didn’t even really feature on my radar until it was clear he really did not care about the person who posed the question, and instead criticised everyone who dared to question his flippant tweet.
Maybe, part of the reason we are in such a mess is because advice like this has led to many unhappy people enduring many unhappy years of yo yo dieting. Even Weight Watchers started out with a woman having being told to “Eat Less” in years previous, through fad diets. And Weight Watchers itself started on those same principles. How’s that working out for us? How are all those diets helping, by themselves, solve this obesity crisis as we keep calling it? How are those years of restriction, on advice from doctors to “Eat Less” panning out for the population? You only have to google Yo yo dieting to see all the associated issues with restriction, and the often inevitable reaction.
So yes, in the short term, “Less” may be a great answer. And then what?
Thank God for TV doctors who don’t respond to people in search of help with such glib answers in search of cheap laughs for their own amusement. Thank Goodness for people like Dr Rosemary Leonard, who take issues around food and body image seriously. Because body image, self esteem, self confidence, they all play a big part in how successful a person is in their endeavours, and it is something that needs acknowledgement more and more. Even the diet clubs know that much, such as Slimming World with their “Image Therapy”
Maybe I am angry because I genuinely care about people who want to lose weight, and because I have 30 years of experience of being told to eat less, and failing miserably time and again, and because I am still suffering body image issues, and am still working to lose weight and get healthier. I blogged here in 2013 about the previous 11 years. This was not a woman who hasn’t tried to eat less over the years. But it is not the simple easy to do answer to a complex situation.
And here is where my anger with such a lazy answer lies. Dr Christian Jessen is a public face. Someone that viewers look up to and believe he can help. But rather than taking the opportunity to help, he threw out an answer and then enjoyed the fandom of those who agreed to everything he said, while responding with smart-arse comments to anyone who disagreed. It doesn’t matter whether twitter is or is not a place to look for decent answers. If he didn’t want to answer he could have ignored it, like he does many tweets. He could have directed the person to an appropriate website. He objected to my saying he had made assumptions and presumptions in giving such a flippant answer. But I stand by that. In telling someone to eat less to lose weight, he is already assuming they eat too much. And he doesn’t care enough to question further. He knows nothing of that person’s medical history, and why should he? That person is a little avatar on twitter.
Maybe he was adhering to the information on his website
Dr Christian is involved in a number of public campaigns and he works closely with various health charities to help look for new ways to educate people in health matters. His main aim is to help raise medical awareness and simplify, demystify, de-stigmatise and explain the sometimes complicated and inaccessible world of medicine to the public.
But then he wasn’t educating, and was doing nothing to de-stigmatise the whole nightmare around diet, and exercise, and living as a person with weight issues. He added to the stigma that overweight people are stupid, because they asked a question that he had decided needed no more than a one word answer.