A piece of very (un)helpful advice
If you frequent the comments sections of national newspapers’ health and fitness sections - as I do - you can spot a certain type of commentator.
In response to a description of the difficulties a fellow reader faces when trying to live with the challenges of obesity, they will pipe up “Eat less and move more, simple!”. If they are at the extreme end of this tribe, they will add a superfluous ‘s’, so that “simple” becomes “simples” (where do they get this? I heard a rumour it’s from an advert, but not one I get locally).
There are 5 reasons I find this phrase really, really depressing. Keep reading, because I’ve saved the best ‘til last. It really is last, but not least!
The 5 reasons “eat less, move more” makes me mad
It gets everywhere
Unfortunately, this is a phrase that doesn’t just turn up in the comments sections of national newspapers.
I’m a member of a closed Facebook community which is distinctly NOT about losing weight. Quite the opposite. It’s a very supportive community.
Nevertheless, “eat less, move more” turned up there the other day! You can’t get away from it.
The person who wrote this in answer to a request for advice actually managed to gas light the question -asker for several hours, until the group owner closed things down. “Eat less, move more” in an anti-weight loss group! It really does get everywhere.
I did a google search on the phrase and got 911 million hits. Yes, you read that right 911 MILLION hits!
That’s not the last you’ll be hearing about that Google search. I’ll be coming back to it later.
But for now, I’m using that to rest my case that the phrase gets flippin’ everywhere.
It’s all about the speaker/writer
There’s a finality about this “simple” statement which effectively means:
“if you don’t conform to a modern body weight and/or body shape ideal, it’s your own fault for not eating less and moving more. I can’t be bothered discussing it any more. It’s your problem.”
It means “Go away, stop bothering me” and “look at me, for I am superior to you” at the same time.
It isn’t a way of offering help, or engaging with anyone who is struggling with poor body image or a desire to lose weight.
It is merely a way of saying “I am superior to you. Now crawl off back to where you came from and stop burdening me with your mental and physical weakness”.
In some cases just trolling. Either way, there’s nothing constructive about it.
It’s smug and lazy and it says a lot more about the speaker/writer than the listener/reader. Mainly “Look at me, aren’t I perfect!”
It is quite certain that any one who has ever even thought this, let alone said it, has never faced the mountain of challenges faced daily by those of us who want to eat less, move more or both.
No have they ever looked past the end of their own nose.
It puts unacceptable pressure on people who believe they have a weight problem
As I just hinted, one of the messages of “Eat less, move more, simple!” Is: it’s your problem.
In other words: as someone who believes they have a problem with weight, or who is overweight according to cultural norms, when it comes to addressing that problem, you’re on your own, buster.
You are supposed to struggle on unaided and sort yourself out.
You shouldn’t expect any structural help from the society in which you live, or from the institutions which form part of it.
You are the one that is flawed, you are the one that has a problem and you need to deal with it. Need child care to get time to move more? Find it! Need to overcome disordered eating to eat less? Do it! And don’t expect anyone to help you!
No pressure, then. Sheesh.
It doesn’t work
Yes, “eat less, move more” is indeed a simple statement. Even I can’t argue with that.
Why is it, then, that so many people are unhappy with their weight or body image?
If “eat less, move more” was actually effective advice, then anyone who started to be unhappy with their body or limited in their movement would just eat less and move more and their problems would miraculously disappear.
It is more than obvious to me (amongst others) that this isn’t happening. I don’t care what anyone’s actual body weight is, though. The number of people who are unhappy about theirs is enough to tell me that there is a serious flaw in “eat less, move more”.
If it worked, we wouldn’t be seeing a general increase in body weight and vital statistics all over the developed world.
The size of the weight loss market shows just how many people there are who dream of losing weight.
That all of those people can’t just eat less and move more shows that the “advice”, however simple it may be, just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s just too difficult - after all, simple and easy do not mean the same thing.
Isn’t it amazing how often people confuse these two, ancient words. And yet all you have to do to understand the difference is to be mindful for a couple of seconds. It’s simple. Apparently, though, it is much too hard for an awful lot of people (a certain professional troll comes to mind…I refuse to mention her by name).
The opposite of simple is complicated; the opposite of easy is hard.
Sometimes in fact, simple can be a bigger barrier than complicated. When something is complicated, it’s actually straightforward enough to pick out some easy parts of the complicated whole and just focus on those. But when something boils down to one very simple sentence, like “eat less, move more”, it might as well be “climb Everest” or “walk to the moon”. The simplicity is, in itself, too daunting.
The fact that it doesn’t work is underlined by that Google search I was talking about earlier. The one that produced 911 million results.
Looking at the first 10 results (the first page), only 1 result actually accepted the term “eat less move more” without question. The other 9 results on the first page were either portraying it as a myth, full stop (1) - or treating it as a myth and then using it as a vehicle to push a low carb or fasting diet - a full 8 out of 10 results!
So, 80% of the posts on the first page of the Google search for “eat less move more” say that it isn’t helpful in some form.
However, whether “eat less, move more” works or not might actually be irrelevant. That’s because…..
It’s answering THE WRONG QUESTION!
Last but not least, I don’t think “eat less, move more” is answering a question that needs to be asked.
It is an answer to the question “how do I lose weight?
Back to the first page of results for that Google search again. 90% of the posts on that page say that “eat less, move more isn’t helpful - but then go on to sell some other answer to the question “how do I lose weight?”. Some advocate fasting, others a low carb diet. But they are all selling some form of restricted eating.
9 out of the 10 most popular posts on “eat less move more” according to the google algorithm are pushing weight loss as a valid goal.
I am totally against restricted eating, so this pisses me off.
“How can I be healthier?” That’s an OK question. “How can I get a bit fitter?” “How can I get more flexible/stronger/improve my lung capacity?”
All good questions. They’re questions I ask of myself. They are questions I hope to help you answer.
But “how do I lose weight?” That’s the question diet culture, and the whole diet industry, want you to be asking.
It’s a question that makes us miserable. So let’s stop asking it. Instead, let’s try to work on improving our attitudes towards our bodies, towards exercise and towards food.
“Eat less, move more” is just trolling
Basically, “Eat less, move more” is just a bit of ignorant trolling which we can safely ignore. Along with it’s cousin “people with unhealthy lifestyles are costing the NHS millions”.
But that’s a story for another day