Fancy being Skinny?

Most of what we read about and hear in the media is focused on weight loss. Everything seems geared to burning Calories and losing the flab but what about the folk that really struggle to keep weight on, never mind gain weight?  The health implications of being underweight are different but just as serious as those linked to  being overweight but because only 2% of the adult population are underweight, compared to >60% being overweight you can see why the focus lies on weight loss.

Our body weight will naturally fluctuate over days and weeks but unintentional weight loss of more than 5% of your body weight over 6 to 12 months could be a sign of an underlying health problem. Stress and depression can certainly be a factor, as could an overactive thyroid, uncontrolled diabetes, digestive problems or even cancer. The rule of thumb is go and see your GP if you are not sure.

Particularly with media influence, being skinny is  often viewed as the idea of perfection. For women a waif-like appearance (albeit airbrushed) is the most desirable attribute, yet a models weight is 23% less than the average woman.  For men, it is often about having a 6 pack and a chiseled jawline and the expectations to achieve a particular physique are equally unrealistic.


I am one of those annoying skinny people – often I am told ‘it’s OK for you’ followed by ‘you don’t need to worry about eating that‘ or ‘I wish I could eat what you do‘ and you know what, they have no idea.

I was a very tall and lanky child growing up. I then hit the mid teens and shall we say filled out somewhat. With my parents getting divorced and leaving home to go to uni, my weight plummeted. Life later settled down as did my weight, until I had my son. From that point on, my metabolism seemed to rocket to that of a marathon runner. Ever since then it’s been a battle to stay on an even keel. There’s nothing going on, it’s just hard work to make progress and stay there!

Feeling well, healthy and happy in your skin is certainly not all about weight. It’s about being content with who you are, embracing the bits we are less happy about. The image of perfection is not real, our lumps and bumps are what make us, make us human but it’s so often a challenge to get to a point where we feel comfortable in our skin and achieve a level of acceptance.

Just eat more!


I hear this a lot! Yes of course it can be done but how many of us can stick to it? Christmas seems a doddle as you are surrounded 24-7 by the richest, most calorific foods but aren’t most of us sick to the back teeth of it after a month of having ‘a good go’?

Probably the most famous example of an actress gaining weight (twice) to play a role is Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones but she did report how hard it was (although who wouldn’t do it for a few million quid?). It takes constant commitment.

Some of my clients may say ‘so-and-so could eat a horse and they never put any weight on’ or ‘how can xxx eat the same as me and not out an ounce on?’ The thing with these statements is we just don’t know what is really going on when people make claims about their food intake. Almost invariably, when you track these ‘big eaters’, they really aren’t eating that much. Research has routinely shown that overweight individuals tend to under-estimate food intake (e.g. they think they are eating much less than they actually are) but in my experience ‘hardgainers’ are doing the opposite: vastly overestimating how much they are actually eating in a given day, or over the span of a week. To be honest, I’ve done this myself. Partly because I easily get distracted and don’t take a mental note of what I’ve eaten so it doesn’t occur to me to eat more. I’ve resorted to setting an alarm on my watch to remind me when it’s snack time!

The other issue that makes weight gain hard is that we usually compensate for those high-caloric intakes by lowering calories on the following day (or even in the same day). So while I might do well with a hearty lunch, I simply won’t feel hungry until later that evening. Again there is no trigger to eat. Having to over ride the signals that say you are not hungry, because our body is attempting to retain a level of balance, to eat when you don’t want to literally goes against your gut feeling. My head says don’t eat until you want to but the voice on my shoulder says you need to eat to gain some weight. Literally one or two days of listening to my body and ignoring the nagging voice means any previous hard work and gain is lost. Arghhh it’s hugely frustrating and it’s really no different if you are wanting to  lose weight; you are just as uncomfortable eating less than you desire, I’m just approaching this from the opposite end of the spectrum.

To add something else into the mix, I don’t want to get heavier for the sake of getting heavier. I want to feel better, to look better. For me this means gaining muscle, not just fat. I don’t believe there is any real evidence to support that gaining weight is harder than losing it as it all comes down to our personal experiences. What I can say from my personal and work experience is that it’s flippin’ tough!

Train to gain

Funny skinny guy lifting weights

Exercise builds muscle but it has to be the right type of exercise. Excessive calorific burn is the last thing I need in order to put on weight yet I also want all the additional benefits of being active; the time out, the endorphin hit, the general sense of satisfaction and well being so this makes my choices a little tricky. Especially now that I’ve signed up for a 10K run and have just started to get back to regular training.

Building muscle requires something called “progressive overloading”. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to strength train with an increasingly high weight, reps, or volume during subsequent sessions. This enables muscle growth,not that I want to or will end up looking like Arnie but when my weight is low I certainly feel weak and weedy. So if I can suss this, it will result in an increase in healthy weight. Easy right?

Please join me next time when I will be providing some tips on weight gain, for anyone else out there who might be in the same position………….so it’s not just me?!



Why I think WHSmith are opting out of responsibility……

Yesterday my campaign update (to ban junk food at all till points) went live on the fuse open science blog . There I give an account of the 6 letters I wrote to the leading retailers who have yet to follow in the footsteps of Aldi, Lidl and Tesco who now provide healthy checkouts.

WHSmith responseYesterday I received a reply from WHSmith, so I felt it only fair to share this and my response to it, as I have for Marks and Spencer, Asda, Sainsbury’s Morrisons and Iceland Foods.  I hope to put this onto fuse as well.

My reply was addressed to WHSmith Group Communications Director Mr Mark Sabin:

Thank you for your letter in response to my request to stop the display and promotion of confectionery at WHSmith till points. I have read with interest your 2014 corporate responsibility report and would now like to raise some issues and questions concerning this report and some of WHSmith’s responsible retailing policies:
1. In your letter you explained that “WHSmith are a very small player in the UK confectionery market”. I strongly believe this is not valid justification to ‘opt out’ and pass on your responsibility to the major supermarkets.  As a seller of confectionery, sweets and soft drinks, no matter how small your contribution to the market, you are obligated to consider the full impact your products may have on consumer health. 
2. Your report states “you have extended your healthy food range”.  Whilst products such as granola pots, smoothies and health food bars may be marketed as and appear ‘healthy’ they often contain high amounts of added sugar. These items are generally no better than sweets or chocolate and mean that we exceed our recommended sugar intake when consumed in excess. Have you consulted a registered nutritionist or dietitian when determining your product range? Do you have a specific threshold using traffic light labels or set a maximum sugar or fat content (that I mentioned in my previous letter) to help identify healthier products? Reviewing portion sizes of the products you provide is certainly a valuable step you have made but simply looking at the total calorie content is not always entirely helpful. As a nation that is in the midst of a health crisis attributed to diet, it is very important to consider the added sugar, saturated fat and salt content too. 
3. You state that “where your stores are in travel locations and you offer a more extensive range of food, drinks and snacking products, you have been increasing the range of healthy alternatives”. If you are assuming we are more likely to snack whilst travelling, it would be useful to have an evidence base here and if you are stocking more ‘healthy’ items, are you actively promoting them instead of the confectionery? You must also be confident your healthy alternatives meet the appropriate legislation if they are to be labelled as such. Please can I point you towards this rather large faux pas in one of your stores:
4. You state that “your staff are trained to never offer promotions repeatedly to regular customers”. Are you assuming your customers are more likely to be regular if they purchase from stores in travel locations i.e. commuters making repeated journeys? How would WHSmith staff know if a customer is regular or not? Surely staff rotations and altering customer habits would make this impossible to determine with confidence and is a large assumption to make? 
5. You explain that “when chocolate or confectionery is included as part of a promotion, it is often designed for sharing or as a gift”. This clearly passes on the responsibility to your customer, rather than accepting it yourselves. Again, how can you possibly assume that the confectionery you sell will be shared or gifted? 
6. You explain that WHSmith staff are “trained on how to offer promotions so that staff never offer confectionery products to parents with children and never offer promotions repeatedly to to anyone who has made it known they do not wish to be advised about such promotions”. How can your staff make a judgement that an adult has or does not have children? Children are not the only vulnerable party here either and unless your staff manage your till points throughout every working day, how can they determine if a customer has already been previously asked?  You are also putting the onus on the customer to state if and why they don’t want your product. This could potentially be awkward for the customer in making unnecessary justifications. 
Overall I am concerned about the assumptions made about WHSmith customers and from the explanations you have provided, I am not convinced your methods and criteria for selling products is sufficiently robust.  I would be very happy however to discuss the nutritional contents and values of the products you offer and help establish a range that is clearly healthy and varied for your customers.  I look forward to hearing from you again
Yours sincerely
Mel Wakeman