Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Vanity of Weight Loss

Millions of women have a complex about their weight, even the ‘size zeros’ amongst us are weight conscious – so regardless of the blame game directed towards the media (rightly or wrongly so) we are living in a self-conscious and self-obsessed society where we are all searching for the perfect body.

Whether a woman wants to ‘shed the pounds’ before her big day, or ‘kick the clump’ after giving birth - it appears that weight loss is at the forefront of self-loathing. It can lead people to yo-yo dieting (of which I am a serial offender) which not only makes weight loss ineffective, it arguably sets a trap for a repeated sense of failure. Yo-yo dieting (or the yo-yo cycle) was a term created by Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D and refers to the constant cycle of dieting to lose weight, which eventually (in varying and undetermined periods of time) lead to relapse. With this in mind, how far are we prepared to go to shed the weight that we have become so desperate to control?

There are numerous diet plans ranging from subscription groups and classes to personalised nutrition plans from dieticians, and more recently companies that have jumped on the diet bandwagon including those that deliver pre-prepared dietary meals to your front door.  This all appears to be the tame version of the norm in comparison to a new ‘craze’ diet that has arguably swept American brides-to-be by storm. This new diet is said to help people lose 20lb in ten days – so how safe is the K-E Diet?

Put quite simply, the patient walks around with a K-E tube inserted through the nostril and into the stomach for ten days where their calorie intake will total 800kcal worth of protein and fat per day - it totally eradicates sugar intake which shocks the body into a state of Ketosis. According to the NHS website Ketosis is a serious condition where raised levels of Ketones are found in the blood. The cause is often due to the effects of a low carbohydrate diet (carbohydrates provide the majority source of our body’s energy) – carbs convert into glucose, which is what this diet aims to eliminate. It relies on the body’s lack of carbs (therefore lack of glucose) and the fat is broken down in a process called ‘fat metabolism’. The body will run off a reserve tank and in non-dietary circumstances is said to be linked to starvation, diabetes mellitus and alcoholism.

One leaflet offered to potential customers has printed guidelines on how the procedure works and what the results will be. Under the heading ‘Is it safe?’ the leaflet says ‘The K-E Diet was developed in Italy and has been used safely over 100,000 times with amazing weight loss results’ … well that totally puts my mind at rest, if it was developed in Italy and has been used over 100,000 then it must be a reliable quick fix – seriously, give me a break. Now I am no doctor, and I never will be, but brief research into the risks of Ketosis has taught me that due to the high levels of acid in the blood there is a higher risk of kidney and liver problems – plus it is unbelievably expensive!
This whole process reminds me of the Suffragettes, although they were fighting for something much more worthwhile and less self-absorbed than a quick fix to weight loss. Didn’t this constitute as a punishment when the Suffragettes went on hunger strike? In fact, the women who were fighting and often gave their lives for our right to vote sacrificed their own lives in many ways; does this not seem to be a total U-turn?

WSPU Poster 1914
Force-feeding through the mouth was the more common form of gavage (force feeding), although failure to do so resulted in insertions through the nostrils. Feeding through force had become an attempt by the government to get ahead of a political war – the women battling for suffrage were often arrested for smashing windows of shops and defacing public property including acts of arson and public disorder. The hunger strike was an extremist strategy developed by Marion Wallace-Dunlop after being charged on 25th June 1909 "with willfully damaging the stone work of St. Stephen's Hall, House of Commons, by stamping it with an indelible rubber stamp, doing damage to the value of 10s". After fasting for 91 hours she was released due to government fears that she would be a martyr to the suffrage cause - which shortly lead to other Suffragette prisoners going on hunger strike. However, this soon led to the gavage initiative lead by wardens in prisons. Force-feeding was endured by hundreds of women up until the Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act (nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act) was set in place in 1913, which allowed the women to go on hunger strike, and as they became weaker they would be released posing as little threat to the government. However, once these women were strong and healthy enough, they would once more be arrested and the vicious cycle continued.

The Illustrated London News, April 27, 1912
[Rosa] May Billinghurst was born in 1875 in Lewisham, London and suffered with total paralysis throughout her life. She became an active Suffragette in 1907 and encountered arrests and force-feeding on several occasions throughout her life. She told in her account of how five wardresses and three doctors pinned her down preparing her for force-feeding which went on to create a wave of revulsion and lead this political outrage to new depths of contempt: “[They] forced a tube up my nostril; it was frightful agony, as my nostril is small. I coughed it up so that it didn’t go down my throat. They then were going to try the other nostril, which, I believe is a little deformed. They forced my mouth open with an iron instrument, and poured some food into my mouth. They pinched my nose and throat to make me swallow”.


Although my comparison may seem a little extreme, it strikes me that what it once meant to be a woman in Britain now means something completely different. The Suffragettes fought a militant battle to gain a glimmer (at that point) of gender equality for women and the Suffragists spearheaded non-militant campaigns to give women a better quality of life – different tactics led to one combined effort at gaining the women’s right to vote. Whereas the modern day woman is arguably so wrapped up in self-image and media ideologies that she has sought comfort in a practice that resembles that used by the government as a matter of punishment and degradation to women prisoners.
Perhaps my understanding of this new ‘revolutionary’ diet is weak and my comparison to gavage is graceless, but I believe that the idea of having a tube inserted into the nostril and being fed a meager 800kcal per day to lose weight as a quick fix is incredibly vain and devalues what being a woman stands for.

At what point did we transcend beyond being proud of who we are and valuing our self-image? I sympathise with anyone who is in a constant state of unease about their appearance - as I mentioned before I am a serial yo-yo dieter and struggle to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, but I do not think that any promised ‘quick-fix’ is the answer. There are large health risks to many things that we do in life, but the health risks associated with the K-E diet are arguably an act of vanity.

Over and out. Weez

Information used in this blog can be accessed at: -

Aurora Metro. (n.d). Marion Wallace-Dunlop. Retrieved 05 08, 2012, from The Suffragettes:

Archives Hub. (n.d). Autograph Letter Collection: Letters of Rosa May Billinghurst and Dr Alice Ker. Retrieved May 09, 2012, from Archives Hub:

Kelly D. Brownell, e. a. (1986). Understanding and preventing relapse. American Psychologist , 41(7), 762-785.

NHS. (n.d). NHS Choices. Retrieved May 09, 2013, from Ketosis:

Purvis, J. (1995). The prison experiences of the suffragettes in Edwardian Britain. Women's History Review , 4 (1), 103-133.


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