Mark Andrews: Healthy living can leave a nasty taste in the mouth
What with a pandemic, a recession, and becoming a father weeks after recovering from the coronavirus, you might think the Prime Minister has got enough on his plate.
But never mind all that. Boris has now decided to take on another challenge: what we have got on our plates. The Prime Minister has called for 'a summer of weight loss' as he seeks to get to grips with the nation's obesity crisis.
I must admit, the idea of this sounds quite appealing, in a Mad Lizzie or Mr Motivator kind of way. I could quite easily imagine Boris appearing on breakfast television each morning in a nylon tracksuit and headband, teaching us all how to do sit ups in time to Agadoo, what's not to like? You certainly couldn't imagine Angela Merkel or Theresa May doing that.
Sadly, I don't think Boris Johnson is going to be doing that either. The Summer of Weight Loss – which isn't quite up there with The Summer of Love – is going to be more about telling us to improve our diets rather than encouraging workouts to popular novelty songs.
Obesity has never been a problem I have had to contend with. At school I was always the gangly, lanky kid, known – among many other things – as 'Sticks'. While all the talk is about overweight youngsters today, I spent my youth desperately trying to put on weight. Yet no matter how many Mars bars, pork scratchings or other similar delicacies I consumed, I remained stubbornly scrawny.
I did briefly flirt with weight training in my late 20s, but quickly became bored with the time consuming monotony of it all. After a few months of squats, bench presses and curls, I concluded I would rather remain a wimp and have a life, than dedicate my life to the pursuit of physical perfection. And 20 years on, with the big 5-0 looming large and half a lifetime of dietary abuse behind me, I'm still decidedly slim. OK, you probably wouldn't call me Sticks these days, and I have got a bit of a tub around the belly, but considering the amount of junk I have eaten over the years, you would think I might have a little more to show for it.
As it happens, I've been trying to clean my act up over the past few years. After being called into the doctors' surgery for one of those mid-life health check-ups, I was advised to change my diet. While obesity is not a problem, cholesterol is. Nothing serious, but it was suggested that I should be getting my five fruit and vegetables a day, and taking a drink which lowers cholesterol.
This change to my lifestyle has raised one or two eyebrows. When my brother spotted the shiny new electronic scales in the kitchen, he asked me if I had become a drug dealer. And it hasn't always been easy. In the early days, my pork scratching consumption probably increased, as every time I ate a pre-sliced apple or dried fruit bar, my immediate reaction was to reach for a piece of pig to take away the taste. But I have got used to vegetables by smothering them in sauce, I have discovered which fruit bars taste palatable and which don't. I realised that my cravings for fatty pork go away if I ate rice cakes or cashews. Except that I've since discovered that rice cakes are also unhealthy – something to do with carbohydrates – and that the cream I have been putting on my strawberries is probably also killing me. So although I've changed my diet from eating things I do like to things I don't, I've still not quite cracked it.
And that is why I fear the Government's strategy is going to fail. There was a feature in one of the Sunday newspapers the other week, offering suggestions for 'painless ways to get your five a day'. I scanned it and my heart sank. It was full of all sorts of exotic and fancy recipes, pasta this, fruit salad that, in other words all the sorts of food that people who like the taste of fruit and vegetables will enjoy. And which those of us who don't will hate. Which helps no-one.
It's always the same. It's always about trying to convince those of us who don't like healthy food that we've got it wrong, rather than helping us to make it palatable enough to tolerate.
What we want to know is which are the blandest tasting fruits that we can slip into our diets without noticing, and what sauces it is safe to use to mask the flavour of your vegetables. If I can't put cream on my strawberries, what should I use? Which are the least harmful crackers?
In other words, if the Summer of Weight Loss is really going to work, it is going to need to be given a bit of a populist twist, it needs to be kept simple, and made attractive to those who are not its natural followers. Which you would think would be right up Boris's street.
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