Friday, 8 January 2010


I was listening to a debate on obesity in the House of Commons, and someone commented that it's not choices or lack of them that is the problem; the problem is we eat from habit and copy the behaviour of our friends and peers.

It suddenly struck me how much that applies to me. I'm very tempted by suggestion, be it from a friend, a conversation, a cookery programme or something I've read. I never realised until now just how easily I am led. For someone who tends to be a leader rather than a follower I find that quite shocking. Maybe I'm becoming more compliant in my old age, or lazy, or just couldn't care less!

When younger, I never tried drugs... still haven't; I just never saw the point in them. I rarely drank alcohol, and I trusted my own judgement about what was good or bad for me. But as I've got older I find myself acting on the merest hint of suggestion.

I can no longer watch cookery programmes on TV because if I see a dish that looks delicious, I just have to make it. If I'm on a diet, I might resist the temptation for a week or so, but inevitably I will eventually give in, and armed with my shopping list, will go to buy the ingredients. The thing is, more often than not I'm disappointed with my endeavors, the thought of the food far more appealing than the actual result.

The same can be said of talking to friends and family or chatting on forums. If someone says they are eating such and such for dinner, I think... oooh I haven't had that for ages. Or if never having tried that particular food/meal I suddenly develop an insatiable desire to try it.

The internet is a dangerous place for the unwary, and I'm not talking phishing, viruses, spammers and stalkers. I'm talking about that most dangerous of subjects, cake! I never used to eat cake until I joined one forum, and now find myself adding it to my shopping list with gay abandon, simply because it's constantly referred to. Likewise with alcohol; I used to drink a glass or two of wine at weekends. But chatting on line in the evenings, the drinking habits of others have somehow become my drinking habits, and pouring a glass or two of wine every night of the week soon became the norm.

I've always been wary of becoming a regular drinker, but drinking wine in the evening seems to be the norm for many people, and so it has become acceptable practice. We copy the behaviour of others, because if enough of them are doing it then it must surely be OK, mustn't it?

How easily the habits of others become our own. The recent snow has meant ordering my shopping online from Tesco. Clicking on my "favourites" made for shocking reading! There was all manner of unhealthy fayre on there, from cakes and bakery products, to chocolate, ready meals and wine. Many items I would never have previously noticed on the shelves, let alone bought. They looked oddly out of place scattered amongst the familiar brands I'd bought for years; aliens in a foreign land. It's enough of a surprise to see Tesco recommended products at the top of each section of my favourites, and unsettling if my particular brand is out of stock to see a similar unfamiliar alternative underneath. But these aliens were in my favourites because I put them there!

Can a remark or a suggestion from a complete stranger on a forum really have such an impact on my eating and drinking habits? Or am I just incredibly weak? I don't think it's just a question of weakness, although undoubtedly that does come in to it. I suppose it works very much the same way as advertising, or product placement on shelves. Or as in the case of Tesco, adding an item to the top of each section in my favourites; muscling in on my subconscious!

So, having acknowledged to myself how easily led I am, I've been through all my favourites on the Tesco web site and deleted anything that isn't what I would normally buy. Everything that is, except for Tesco's own suggestions, because annoyingly, they don't provide the facility to delete them! Drinking wine is now back to being a weekend only treat, out go the cakes, and there's to be no more baking... something that until recently I hadn't done for years.

I've also written a little memo to myself on a bright pink post it note and stuck it on my laptop so it's always there to remind me...

*Don't do as others do, do what is best for you!*

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