The blindingly obvious findings of a study of festive weight gain concealed a rather depressing fact. Illustration by David Foldvari.
The human urge to understand the workings of the universe cannot necessarily be satisfied entertainingly. The apparently obvious has to be tested in experiment if it is to be thoroughly understood.
So I shouldn’t blame the researchers from the universities of Birmingham and Loughborough for the fact that their widely reported study into festive weight-gain, published last week in the British Medical Journal, produced such depressingly guessable results. I should blame those who reported it as if it was interesting and illuminating.
So everyone’s thinking about Christmas and the eye gets drawn to articles about Christmas.
Sadly, this particular study wasn’t about cancer but it was about obesity. Which is linked to cancer, I think.
So what the study found is that if you get people to weigh themselves twice a week over Christmas, and give them a chart showing how much exercise it would take to work off each Christmas treat (for example, 21 minutes of running per mince pie), they will put on less weight than the control group, who displayed much less control.
The self-weighers actually lost 0.13kg each over the festive period, whereas the “no self-”control group put on 0.37kg.
I’d say this one is stratospherically unsurprising: people put on less weight, on average, if they monitor their weight. If monitoring your weight had no effect at all, or made you fatter, that would be unexpected.
To me, the only startling thing about any of this is that it takes 21 minutes of running to work off a mince pie and that was a pre-existing fact rather than a finding of the study.
But seriously, one mince pie equates to 21 minutes of running?
You run continuously for the length of a whole episode of The Simpsons and that means you can have one measly extra mince pie?
A whole hour’s running every day won’t quite buy you a three-mince-pies-a-day festive habit?
Anyway, that aside, fair enough, well researched, good to have checked. If you measure your weight and think about your weight a lot, you’re likely to weigh less than if you don’t. Smashing.
My only objection is to people reporting it as if it’s a solution to Christmas weight-gain: “Just weigh yourself twice a week and you’ll be fine!” the articles imply.
But that’s not really the solution, unless you keep your bathroom scales at the top of 47 flights of stairs (though it probably turns out even that would only earn you two slices of turkey and a small eggnog).
The slimming isn’t caused by the weighing but by behavioural changes triggered by the thought processes the weighing provokes.