Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hats off to the hypnotherapist

I dont' usually do endorsements, but today's news that Paul McKenna has just become Britain's highest paid TV personality has stirred me to one. Because actually I think McKenna is on the right lines when he advises about eating habits.

The ideas he puts forward are by no means new. Back in the Eighties, a book called Diets Don't Work put forward the same, then revolutionary concepts. The theories were then recycled with a feminist slant by Suzie Orbach of Fat is a Feminist Issue fame, under the title On Eating. McKenna has now espoused them in his book I Can Make You Thin - and probably made ten times more money in the first month's publication of that one book than the other two tomes have in their entire history.

But I don't begrudge him, because as I said, the concepts work. They're very simple. Eat only when you are hungry. Eat only what your body wants to eat. Stop eating when you are full. Sounds obvious? It is - naturally slim people do just that - but the advice none the less valuable, particularly when you look at all the other diet guidelines.

Because much of the rest of the slimming industry is based on the presupposition that people need to be told what to eat and how much to eat - and that unless they are, they will not lose weight.

Now, calorie (or carb, or unit) counting can be effective short-term, no doubt. It's the long term I query - the fact that most diets, as the original book suggested, don't work longterm, because they alienate people from their bodies, and train them to override signals both of hunger but also of the kinds of food one needs and doesn't need, and the signals of satiation. The result is that, in the end - given body fascism, media hype and endless amounts of peer pressure - most of us end up eating what we think we should, not what our bodies need. We end up eating foods that we are told are 'good for us' even if we then have bad reactions to them, and avoid foods that are 'bad for us' even if we end up malnourished as a result. Most importantly, we learn to mistrust our bodies, eat through emotion rather than true hunger, and overeat in order to cope with the stress of doing both of those things.

So, unusually for me, an endorsement - not specifically of McKenna, but of the approach he takes. If you want to lose weight, bin the counting charts. Instead, learn to listen to your body signals, eat exactly what you need, in the amounts you need, and simply stop eating when you are full.

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