We’re living in an obesity crisis. As the world steadily ticks on fast-food becomes more readily accessible and a cheaper alternative to eating out in restaurants. Fruit is a luxury of expense where a packet of 20 frozen sausages can cost you less than a punnet of strawberries, and it’s on the increase to see unhealthy food dominate advertisement and incentivise unhealthy eating habits. However, it doesn’t stop there and one of the biggest contributors to the obesity crisis is sugary drinks – but it’s more complicated than that. As people set on their struggle-filled journey to lose weight, those who try to make meaningful swaps from, let us say, coke to diet coke are facing new forms of backlash and criticisms for “not understanding the detriment to their health that diet coke has”. As a new form of discrimination in the form of fatism rocks the world, those trying to make changes to lose weight to are finding their choices judged in an equally cruel way – and that’s not okay!
Sugary drinks aren’t inexpensive when bought in small quantities. Buying a 500ml bottle of coke can cost you £1.50. However, with a little stretch to £1.99, you can net yourself 1.25 litres of the beverage which quickly seems like a bargain. It’s a no-brainer which one you want to buy because it’s more for your money but that’s where problems begin to arise from. In saving ourselves money by buying more, we increase our chances of forming unhealthy habits with the drink we use as a “treat”.
While a 500ml bottle contains roughly 45g of sugar (around 50% of our daily intake), the body can handle that reasonably well on occasions. You might hit a sugar high, but you’re not suddenly going to put on 2lbs. Yet, when we purchase 1.25l, it becomes harder to know when to stop drinking as it becomes easier to binge the sugary delight. The limitation on the amount you can drink increases by 2.5 times and if you haven’t got an iron will, it’s surprisingly easy to chug down the whole bottle in 24 hours. Now imagine you’re doing that daily, or possibly upping it to 2l a day and you quickly have a recipe for quick weight gain. It may seem absurd, 2 litres of coke sounds like a monumental amount and yet I found myself at 16 doing exactly that. By the time I was 17 I had put on 5 stone and was considered “obese” and I realised I needed to make changes when my mental health began to suffer more so as a fact.
Here comes “the diet coke dilemma”. I didn’t eat chocolate or have large and unhealthy meals so it was pretty clear my weight gain was attributed to an insurmountable quantity of coke I was drinking it daily. My body was converting all that excess sugar into fat. I knew I needed to stop drinking it but it isn’t that easy. Like a smoker to a cigarette, I found myself low in energy, moody and having almighty cravings for the liquid my body had conditioned to love, so going cold-turkey wasn’t an option. Whether it was the caffeine or a placebo that made me crave it, I don’t know, but I decided to make a change and swap to diet coke and within a week the weight started dropping. It wasn’t a quick fix, but it was working and I started to feel better about my appearance and my weight. That was until I found myself on the receiving end of criticisms and judgements for drinking such a sheer quantity of diet coke. Whereas I had experienced harmful comments in the form of fatism, suddenly my attempt at losing weight had now put me in the limelight for a whole array of scrutiny. What I was doing wasn’t good enough for people because of all illnesses and health risks I was inadvertently putting myself in line for by drinking diet coke. It seems like a catch-22 and a paradox now doesn’t it – how the hell can someone in my situation win.
“Simple, just stop drinking all coke.”
My reply: “Why don’t you tell a smoker to simply stop smoking…”
Diabetes, heart conditions such as high blood pressure, brain conditions such as dementia and stroke; the list goes for all the illness that diet coke exponentially increasing your chances of getting, and many people make it their job to tell others this the whole time. It seemed that someone’s effort to lose weight simply isn’t good enough, and it suddenly feels that being overweight is preferred to losing weight and gaining a semblance of happiness with your body. That’s not to say you can’t be happy with your body in any shape that it is, the issue is that some people want to be slimmer and now we’re shaming them and their lifestyle choices for actioning a way of losing weight. We’re shoehorning people into a corner that tells them that whatever they do just won’t cut it unless it follows our own understanding of “good health practises”. In this very process, we’re neglecting to consider why someone changes to drinking to diet coke and the health risks drinking normal coke has attached to it. When someone has a body image issue with their weight, we only confound their struggles when we make it increasingly harder and more inaccessible for them to adopt change. With my battle to lose weight, I knew that diet coke had its own issues, but at that time, the risk of my weight and its detriment on my mental health was far greater than the conditions attached to diet coke – something I dealt with in a healthy manner when my weight was under control.
To see me drink coke now happens every once in a while because I’m fully aware of my addictive personality and the effects it has on me. I don’t handle sugary drinks well, and so I favour diet drinks so that I never have to go through the judgemental behaviour I experienced when I was overweight. However, in my desire to lose weight I soon found myself avoiding others when drinking diet coke to avoid being judged and that presented a whole new thing that I had to battle with in time. What I’m trying to say isn’t that we should be oblivious to the health risks associated with either being overweight or drinking large quantities of sugar-free drinks, but that we need to be tolerant towards people and support their struggles in the best way possible. The issue isn’t with someone being overweight or what they drink, the issue is with people making other people miserable with harsh comments that aim to put them down rather than celebrate their successes.
Next time, if you find yourself about to tell someone about the “damage” they’re doing to their body, just pause and ask yourself: will my comment do more damage?