With qualifications and experience in Diet & Nutrition as well as Personal Training, my most recent academic background is in Social Science with majors in Politics & International Relations and also Anthropology.
How does weight or fitness have anything to do with my most recent topics of study? Well actually social science, politics and anthropology has everything to do with it.
Medical science tries to explain and solve medical issues and problems, while Social Science tries to explain and solve social issues and problems such as homelessness, terrorism, poverty, gender inequality, and most relevant to this article today – weight loss.
Did you know that your socioeconomic status is one of the biggest determinants of your weight and health(1)? It's true.
Your socioeconomic status determines 4 major issues contributing to your weight:
- How acceptable being overweight is
- The expectations you have of your own health and weight
- How available fresh food is to you
- How much fast food advertising reaches you
Did you ever consider that the political stability and environment you live in defines your ability to affect your weight and health? Losing weight or taking your multivitamin is the last thing on your mind when you’re not sure how safe you are in your own home or city.
And finally lets consider what on earth Anthropology has to do with weight loss as it is the lens that this article will be looking through to help explain why you can’t lose weight.
Anthropology is a branch of social science, just like biology or chemistry is a branch of medical science. For me to talk to you about why you cant lose weight through the lens of social science and more specifically anthropology, let me first brief you on what Anthropology is:
Broadly speaking, anthropology is the study of culture.
No, not the study of old buildings that kids visit on school trips and the teacher points at the building and says ‘that building has a lot of culture’. The building is cement, bricks and stone. It can’t have culture.
Culture refers to belief systems, the way we feel about certain things, how and why we celebrate, the symbols we give particular statues or dates or places. We can study the Anthropology of drugs or the Anthropology of domestic violence or the Anthropology of uniformed authority.
For example: The Anthropology of drugs would seek to reveal how, as a society, we feel about Panadol and alcohol and how that differs to ice or heroin, and in what context we use these drugs in, what symbols are attached to them and the type of people we would stereotype as using them. Or even how our views on tobacco consumption differ so greatly in Australia to that of Indonesia where pregnant women and young children freely smoke without formal or informal limitation (like laws or being socially frowned upon). Or how and why our views on Tobacco in Australia in 2016 differ from our view in 1980 and how we can continue this trend.
So now that it is clear what Social Science does, and what Anthropology is, lets get to the point.
Why anthropology and social science matters.
In our modern tech saturated era we generally get things fast.
We want things NOW.
We have this idea that we are the busiest people on the earth and need to find a short cut.
- We want to invest minimal time in order to reap maximal benefits.
- We have 24-hour gyms
- We want 365 days a year 24-hours a day customer service hotlines who can solve your problems on the spot
We no longer have patience and now this has transferred into the fitness industry as well.
The perfect body … well we all want that now too.
And we want this with minimal investment and maximum results.
More and more people are opting for a quick fix via liposuction, with almost 400,000 procedures performed last year (2015)(2). For those who lose the weight ‘naturally’ (hopefully) understand that just wishing for it is not enough and we need to make changes to our diet or exercise, but ideally both. So we reach for the detox diets that promise 10 pounds off in 10 days or your money back. The Powefit Vibration Gym that promises up to 50 muscle contractions per second by just standing on a vibrating platform and letting our fat giggle around.
We have diet products thrown in our face. Just in Australia alone, we spend over $6 million per year on weight-loss counselling and products with these products (literally) promising overnight weight loss or a money back guarantee (also literally). International celebrities such as Oprah, Beyonce and Gwenyth Paltrow promoting all sorts of extreme diets and claiming this is the secret to their new success and lease on life.
Then tomorrow comes along and these celebs discover quinoa and kale and preach these foods are the new secret to success as well.
Its true though, swapping food (which has calories) for a shake or a pill with either very low calories or none at all will evidently make the numbers on the scales go down. It will likely happen fast too, which is what we always wanted right?
But what we really want is long-term weight loss.
We want to lose the weight, and keep it off so we feel sexier and healthier for a long period of time, not just a few weeks. The reality is, any sort of extreme dieting is likely not sustainable, which is why in Australia alone we spend $6 million per year on weight loss but yet 64% of Aussies are obese or overweight (3). For those who do lose weight on crash diets, only 5% will keep it off long term (4).
Taking a detox pill or replacing food with a shake or standing on a vibrating platform instead of getting off your butt and moving, teaches us very little about lifestyle improvements such as making better food choices and moving more. We can’t continue our current lifestyle that got us to our current overweight state and just take a pill and expect everything to change. Protein shakes and some sports and weight loss products can be a helpful addition to an already healthy or improved lifestyle but just that shake or pill alone is missing the point entirely.
It’s human nature to want to put in the least amount of effort and reap maximum results. Hell that’s resourceful. As a student of Anthropology, the culture that surrounds weight loss is saturated with short-term solutions of which, as virtue of being short term, sees the dieter put the weight back on down the track then lose it again and regain and the cycle continues. This yoyo in weight is an endless tug of war between crash dieting and over indulging with some dieters taking one step forward and two steps back each time.
10 pounds in 10 days
I am calling for a social change. A cultural shift in the way we think about weight loss and the expectations around it. It is our lifestyle that got us to the inflated overweight state, and the only true healthy, long-term solution for improvements to our weight is lifestyle improvements. Slow and steady wins the race, with consistency and moderation being the name of the game.
Some things we can have now like a nap, an ice cream or a new pair of shoes. But anything worthwhile like a degree, a meaningful relationship or being great at your job takes time. It takes energy and effort as well as constant work. Your weight loss and health is no different. It is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself and a priceless investment in human capital.
There are no such things as quick fixes or short cuts when it comes to weight loss, contrary to cultural expectations and the million dollar marketing campaigns that have infected that culture.
You are in the driver’s seat of your lifestyle.
Which way are we going boss?
Picket K, Wilkinson R, 2009, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
Quick Facts: Highlights of the ASAPS 2015 Statistics on Cosmetic Surgery
IBIS World, where knowledge is power. Weight loss services in Australia: Market Research Report
The Percentage of people who regain weight after rapid weight loss risks