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Slimming packages fatten weight loss industry

Losing weight may be a worry and challenge for many but these turn to the advantage of companies promoting supplements and other items, says a Massey University PhD graduate and Lecturer.

According to Dr Andrew Dickson, promoting weight loss is big business and the industry trades not only in consumer products but also in people’s weight anxiety.

“This is an important concept; anxiety continues to exist even when people have lost weight because they begin to fear weight gain,” he said.

Obesity is a worldwide phenomenon, making people undergo all types of exercises, dietary restrictions and food supplements, but this reporter often hears of the irony of ‘how to lose weight’ advertisements followed by food programmes that are ‘too tempting to resist’ on many television channels.

Weighty subject

Dr Dickson turned his own weighty problem into a subject of his thesis.

He said carrying 130 Kgs of muscles and flesh, he was a well-loved, active member of the society and ‘relatively fit.’

“But the consistent and droning message that I received was ‘lose weight.’ The industry constantly tells fat people that their bodies are wrong. You are undisciplined if you are not trying to lose weight. You are not allowed to say, ‘I am fat but I am Ok with that.’ So, like a good citizen, I did as told and I was not Ok with my body,” he said.

Dr Dickson said his thesis was ‘unashamedly’ based on his own experience of being overweight and anxious.

The thesis also examined how the weight-loss industry feeds off, and profits from people’s ‘weight anxiety.’

“I was very interested in how weight-loss consumers interact unconsciously with the industry. I therefore took a psychoanalytical approach,” he said.

Dr Dickson outlined what happened next in his thesis introduction.

He lost 40 Kgs over four months after a doctor prescribed him appetite suppressant ‘Reductil,’ which is no longer available in New Zealand.

Anxiety levels

The experience was exhilarating’ and so intense that it could not be real, he said.

Bringing his body weight to 85 Kgs did not reduce his anxiety level.

“When I was at my lowest weight, I was a vegetarian teetotaller, living off the diet of an elderly lady, and running all the time. I was still anxious about every fluctuation in my weight, and I certainly was not happy,” he said.

For those trying to lose weight, Dr Dickson’ advice is, “minimise contact with the weight-loss industry.’

“If you are anxious and think that you need to lose weight to be happy, seek help from a therapist. A good analyst will explore what being happy actually means for you, and will help you disassociate your happiness from your weight,” he said.

He said the process of writing the thesis was a ‘personal journey.’

He commenced his research with a positive outlook of losing weight but as the thesis progressed, he had less time for exercise, resulting in higher anxiety levels.

He began to internalise the messages of the weight-loss industry but subsequently developed a more comfortable relationship with anxiety.

“I do not weigh myself anymore because it is not good for me, and I try to be a bit more celebratory about my size. For example, I will try and set up a ‘Clydesdale Category’ in running events so that those weighing more than 100 Kgs can enjoy the experience together,” he said.

Dr Dickson has more important aspects to his life now; these include the birth of a second child, his graduation, and move to Palmerston North to take up a new job as a lecturer at the Massey University School of Management.

He teaches papers in Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Organisational Change.

“I will encourage students to think critically about the world of business,” he said.

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