The Men Who Made Us Thin

Did anyone watch 'The Men Who Made Us Thin' on BBC last night? It was Episode 1 of a 4 part series which "investigates the connections between obesity and weight loss, and confronts some of the men making a fortune from our desire to become thin". This episode focused purely on diets and examined the scientific reasons why so many diets fail long-term and why - "in spite of this failure - people go back to them again and again."

As we watched the program, my other half asked me why I was watching, as all the presenter seemed to harp on about was the doom and gloom of weight loss programs and how they are all destined to fail. He (the presenter) met with the heads of Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, Atkins and The Durkin Diet, but his biggest gripe seemed to be with Weight Watchers. I suspect however this was more so due to his access to current and past employees rather than picking on WW for the sake of it.

The main argument of the program was that diets are doomed to fail on the long term - and as we, the consumers, assume the failure of the diet is down to us and not the 'flawed' diet itself, we will continue to go back over and over. He purported that diets actually do not want us to lose weight and go off and live our lives happy but rather they portray how easy it is to lose weight without any care for the maintenance/changes that occur once we lose weight/hit goal.

Good or Evil? 

The programme pushed (repeatedly) the following message: Any weight loss obtained through a diet will be re-gained within 5 years. Their main point to prove this was using a study conducted in the 40s (The Minnesota Starvation Experiment - Link Here) where 36 men were made live in famine like conditions on 1500 cals a day over 6 months. The study concluded that "prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis" and found that all of the participants returned to pre-experiement weight as soon as the experiment was finished.

According to the presenter of the program:
‘Diets don’t work, people always have to come back to do them, so weight watchers is a brilliant business model.’
Using research carried out by the NHS, they found that when Weight Watchers was offered to 1,000 overweight patients by their GP, 885 people didn't take up on the offer. Of the 115 who did, only 16 of them remained at Goal Weight after 5 years. The conclusion of this was that 16 out of 1,000 shows how ineffective Weight Watchers is.

Now... I am not employed by or do I work to promote Weight Watchers, but I found the documentary to repeatedly strike blows at WW. I can only speak from personal experience when I say that it has worked for me. Will I return to my pre-WW weight within the next 5 years...? You tell me. How can any diet be held accountable for every individual that subscribes to this programs weight-loss over a 5 year period. How does any organisation do the same? Alcoholics, Drug Users etc all face the same problem. There is no single cure for Addiction (be it to food, drugs, drink, whatever) - only possible avenues to conquer your addiction.

The program concluded with the following statement (not from the presenter I might add but from a professional dietician):
"The only thing that makes sense is to look at your diet, look at your activity levels and say, ok, would I be a healthier, happier person if I ate a more balanced diet? Would I be happier if I exercised 3-4 times a week? The answer to all of those questions us probably yes. That should be what we’re asking ourselves, not how can I make the scale show a smaller number."
This is the reason why I personally believe my 'diet' isn't going to fail and I will never be 19st again. Despite my journey starting as 'Operation Think Skinny', my journey has actually become 'Live Healthy'. Weight Watchers has given me the framework and tools to kick start my weight loss but I will never attribute my weight loss entirely to Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers enabled the 19st 2lb me to get the ball rolling on changing myself but at the end of the day:

I am the only person in control of what I consume.
I am the only person who choses what I buy at the Supermarket.
I am the only person who makes me turn up at weigh-in every Tuesday.

It is not Weight Watchers (the organisation) problem if I eat ten jumbo chocolate bars or if I stop turning up for weigh-in. It is Weight Watchers problem however if I sign up to their program and the program itself doesn't work / is flawed / caused health implications etc. The program never says at any point that the weight-loss program doesn't work. I feel its my own responsibility to make it work, mine and mine alone. Anyone who says it doesn't work is wrong - a picture paints a thousand words. This is my picture - Galway Races 2012 vs Galway Races 2013:


  1. Hi John

    First of all, congratulations on the loss you have achieved. I did something similar a few years ago, so I have a good feeling for what you have done.

    However, what you have done so far is the easy part. I found the weight started to come back, even though I felt I was still doing everything I should to keep it off.

    The point of what Jacques Peretti had to say is that while the initial loss is achievable for many, it's the keeping it off that's difficult. I would urge you to familiarise yourself with the science of fat metabolism, to get a true understanding of how we get fat, and how we can overcome it in the long term.

    The main thing I have learned is that we shouldn't concentrate on the quantity of calories we consume, but the quality of those calories. If we can do that, the quantity will look after itself. Here's a few reading recommendations:

    Gary Taubes - The Diet Delusion
    Gary Taubes - Why We Get Fat And What We Can Do About It
    Robert Lustig - Fat Chance - The Bitter Truth about Sugar
    John Briffa - Escape The Diet Trap

    In case you're wondering, I found this post via @theskinnydoll on Twitter.

    Kindest regards

    Gerry G

    1. Thanks for this Gerry. I understand what you are saying as before (8 years ago) I had lost a lot of weight with WW and over the next few years put it all back on... and more.

      I think the difference for me this time will come from the change in lifestyle - as in I have made changes this time around that I am going to keep up (i.e. the running). I don't doubt that I'll never have a bad week (food wise) again - but from past experience, I have learned:

      1. Don't stop going to WW (as in, I plan on getting weighed every week for the foreseeable future)

      2. The 'changes' I have made to lose the weight need to be maintained. I don't plan on stopping running once I hit goal.

      I will def look out for those books Gerry. Thanks a mill for the tips

  2. Hi

    I have just watched the first program via BBC iPlayer and have to say it gave me the impression that there simply is no hope. If you are over weight live with it.

    My story is that I was one of those kids who could eat what ever they wanted and still looked under feed. This lasted into my early 20's and then I started to gain weight. My highest weight was 22 stone 6 and at that point my doctor asked me if I had a pension plan. I replied no and he said "good you are not going to need it".

    I joined Lighter Life and lost 11 stone. Six years later I had gained weight, I had put 8 stone back on. However at the start of this year I joined WeightWatchers and have lost 73.5ib so far, with 8lb to go in order to get to a bmi of 25.

    I know that not everyone thinks that LighterLife is a good way to loose weight. My view is that if I hadn't joined I would be dead by now. I love WeightWatchers and I find it easy and my hope is that slow weight loss will work better long term for me.

    The problem is "some" people believe that you join a diet plan, loose weight and thats it. Doesn't work like that you have to keep checking your weight, and adjust intake and activity to stay were you want to be. Old habits die hard and they will just creep back if not kept under check.


    1. Hi Alex, Thanks so much for sharing your story. I can completely see where you are coming from as my story is similar to yours. I lost a load of weight on Weight Watchers 8 year ago, then put it all back on and more. I hit 19st last Summer which was a real eye opener for me.

      I think it all comes down to what you want from whatever program you join. If you see it as diet (or temporary), then thats all it will be. I see my journey as a journey to a healthier smaller me. I have already made so many changes in my life that I hope to be able to bring on with me (running) once my WW journey ends.

      Its all about lifestyle. That's where I think Weight Watchers stands up as you aren't restricted to only shakes and everything is on the menu (so to say!)

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