Category Archives: Women and weight

Tribal Wives

I have recently watched a few of these programs where a workaholic woman from London spends a month with a tribe in some remote jungle in Indonesia or Africa.

The woman gets a very different perspective on life, and the tribeswomen get to have a good laugh about the fact that she’s 38 and not married yet!

One thing that strikes (and bothers) me is the number of tribes in which women undergo some form of ritual mutilation such as teeth sharpening. In many cases, the mutilation must be extremely painful. In some cases, men are also mutilated but these mutilations tend to be of the “short sharp shock” type from which the men recover, whereas women often have things inflicted on them which will affect them for the rest of their lives.

For women, the mutilation is often about being “beautiful” and acceptable for marriage.

Of course such mutilation has happened in many societies over the years, from corsets in Victorian times to the horror of foot binding in China.

These “customs” often render women less strong and capable and more compliant and dependent on men than they would otherwise be, as explained with regard to foot binding:

“During the 1100s the governor Chu Hsi criticized the wornen of Fujian Province for being unchaste and enjoying too much freedom, and ordered them to bind their feet to the extreme. The tiny footed women would then no longer be free to leave the household as they pleased, or engage in the sexual freedoms enjoyed by men.”

One of the strangest aspects of these mutilations is the way the women accept and even embrace them because they are brought up to think of them as natural, normal and necessary. In fact older women often inflict these horrors upon their children and grandchildren.

Foot binding seems to us to be obviously horrific and abusive. But could something similar be going on in our culture?

How many women in our culture want to look like this?

skinny woman How many girls starve themselves because they want to be “slim and beautiful”? How many women wake up thinking about what they are going to eat, obsess about food all day and go to bed vowing to be “good” the next day? What could they achieve if that energy was put into other endeavours?

The woman is this picture may be naturally this shape (although her breasts don’t look very natural!) or she may have an eating disorder. She’s almost certainly airbrushed. Is wanting to look like this really so different from wanting 3 inch long feet?

Will future cultures look back at our culture and its obsession with slimness and marvel at the insanity of it just as we do about foot binding?


I had to take notice when the third person in three days mentioned MS type symptoms that had disappeared on giving up diet drinks.

I knew that diet drinks could have weird effects on appetite and weight, but MS? Surely not!

So, I decided to do a bit of research about aspartame, and it caused my bottles of tonic water (not slimline but they still contain aspartame) to go straight into the bin.

Firstly, the story of the approval of aspartame is a shocker.

The compound was discovered in the late 1960s by a company called G.D. Searle. Searle carried out various tests to check its toxicity. Unfortunately, it was found out later by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that Searle had faked many of the results. They had done some quite shocking things like removing tumours from live animals to conceal toxic effects.

As another example, there was a 46-week toxicity study of hamsters where G.D. Searle had taken blood from healthy animals at the 26th week and claimed that the tests had actually been performed at the 38th week. Many of the animals from which G.D. Searle claimed had blood drawn from were actually dead at the 38th week.

In 1980 The Public Board Of Inquiry voted unanimously to reject the use of aspartame until additional studies on aspartame’s potential to cause brain tumors could be done. The PBOI was particularly concerned about an experiment where rats received aspartame and a much higher percentage of animals in the aspartame group developed tumors than in the control group.

However, Searle weren’t going to accept this. In 1977, they had appointed Donald Rumsfeld as their president. According to a former G.D. Searle salesperson, Patty Wood- Allott, in 1981 Donald Rumsfeld told his salesforce that, if necessary, “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved that year.”

On July 18, 1981 aspartame was approved for use in dry foods by FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. overruling the Public Board of Inquiry. Intially it was still regarded as dangerous in drinks, but it eventually got approval despite the fact that independent tests linked it with brain tumours, mood disorders, siezures, “paradoxical effects on appetite” and about 80 other symptoms from the mild to the deadly.

The United Press reported on October 12, 1987 that more than 10 federal officials involved in the NutraSweet decision took jobs in the private sector linked to the aspartame industry. Basically people in public office who supported aspartame were rewarded with high paying jobs in the industry once they left public office.

Having read this, I was no longer very surprised about the MS symptoms. I also found out that the incidence of MS in young women is rising rapidly and that it now affects four times as many women as men (whereas it used to affect twice as many women). We know who drinks the most Diet Coke, don’t we?

Aspartame is also reported to be particularly dangerous for children.

I have found out quite a lot more that is really too detailed to go into here but please do comment or get in touch if you have any questions or personal experiences.

Bear in mind that aspartame may be called Nutrasweet, Equal, Candarel or E951.

This post has been moved from another blog, so the comments below have just been copied over.

Showing 9 comments


I have two brief and interesting stories about Nutrasweet , both involving my sister who was an avid fan of aspartame.
She used to date a chemical engineer who worked with the company who produced Nutrasweet and he wouldn’t touch anything containing aspartame with a ten foot pole! But that didn’t raise any alarm bells for her, and she continued to drink a minimum of three diet Cokes a day, and add sweeteners to her breakfast cereal and hot beverages.
She began to notice “tingling” sensations in her legs and feet, and weakness on one side of her body. An MRI was done which showed some “white spots ” on the brain, which her physician stated could be very early signs of MS,but not to worry as the MRI was very sensitive and detected things much earlier than symptoms would appear!
These sensations in her lower limbs would come and go, and over the course of a few years did progress to the point of intermittent weakness on one side of her body which was worse on arising (in the morning).
By chance, an office email was sent to her which described symptoms that she had experienced , which had been linked to asparame. After a few days without Diet Coke she noticed a huge difference , the weakness and strange sensations were no longer a problem!
I personally can’t bear the taste of artificial sweetners, and am so sensitive to the taste. It’s as if my body can detect it, and reject it.

02/24/2010 08:46 PM

This is interesting – we gave up aspartame about 8 years ago – my husband had been ill and someone mentioned ms type symptoms. A friend mentioned aspartame and on researching found info about it mimicing symptons of lots of illnesses including ms let alone the implications for dieters! Haven’t knowingly had it since.

02/23/2010 08:41 PM


I refuse to buy reduced sugar drinks for my children because of this research Roz. Interestingly my food shop recently contained a bottle of “no added sugar” squash, I’ve been drinking it and have found that I have a permanent sweet “taste” in my mouth and I am convinced that it is the sweetner in this bottle. I had a drink last night and have had my normal tea all day, but I can still taste it.

02/22/2010 12:25 PM

Antoine Clarke

I’m not a fan of restricting sugar for children, unless they have a metabolism disorder. It seems to be fashionable to attribute bad behaviour to “too much sugar,” but I suspect a combination of parents not setting boundaries, bribing children with too many sweets, and children not playing in the street enough.

I might be accused of being flippant, but concerning child obesity, with due notice given of metabolic disorders, I blame the government. Too much crime outside means children are locked indoors (government’s fault for not having more effective police and courts and too lenient with criminals). Too much taxes means parents have to work too long hours (so less energy to play with children, set boundaries, cook healthier meals, not bribe with sweets, etc). Too much trust in “let the government deal with education/health/social security” etc means people don’t look after themselves.

I note that in my neighbourhood, excessive local taxes mean that only cafes and convenience food outlets can operate, so I blame local government for the proliferation of junk food availability!

02/23/2010 06:12 PM

This would mean more if you cited your sources. There is a lot of information out on the internet about aspartame; likewise, there is also a lot of misinformation as well.

Vague statements such as:
“We know who drinks the most Diet Coke, don’t we?” and
“Aspartame is also reported to be particularly dangerous for children.”
are particularly unhelpful.

As a parent of two young children, I obviously don’t want to put them at any risk (although perhaps just being born and living isn’t actually that good for you, when you start looking at the world today). However, as a scientist, I want more than just heresay and supposition to back up the changes I make.

02/22/2010 07:04 AM
Roz Watkins

I am a scientist too and I agree that there is a lot of information and misinformation out there. I know there have been hoax letters about the effects of aspartame. However when three people I trust mentioned MS-like symptoms that had disappeared on stopping it, I thought this was worth a mention, although I know it’s anecdotal and I know it could be the placebo effect.

I didn’t want to go into too much detail and include lots of evidence on the blog because it is intended to be short and readable. It is aimed primarily at those who didn’t realise there were any questions about aspartame’s safety. It flags this up as a possible concern and they can then get in touch for more information or do their own research.

I have endeavoured to look at peer reviewed research and multiple sources of information, and if you would like a list of these, do let me know (the list is quite long!)

But I agree it is very hard to determine the truth because everyone has an agenda. There seems to be a strong correlation between funding source and the outcome of research. Basically there is no definitive view and mine certainly isn’t definitive. I hope readers who are interested will do their own research and make up their own minds.

02/22/2010 08:53 AM


Thanks for the article. Aspartame has had rumours milling around about it’s vicious make up for years and it’s about time the truth came out. Money covers up so many things in this world and if only we knew the half of what we were putting into our bodies… my partner has MS and I have been trying to get her to change to raw sugar as a substitute but she is forever reluctant as she believes it to be heresay. Personally, I think a partially raw product such as brown sugar is always going to be better than a chemical substitute… we wonder why cancers are slowly eating away our loved ones… chemicals are the new fresh food and it should never have gone that way… but we as humans are very lazy and want quick fixes at any cost.

02/21/2010 07:47 PM


Scary isn’t the word for this. We are not walking but racing into human disaster. Difficult to know where to avoid all these money spinning schemes which mess up our health. You may as well forget any responsible action from our supposed democratic system of government. For a start it isn’t democratic and has more interest in “expanding the economy” and covering up on MPs’ expenses than applying itself to a sane approach in the interests of its citizens. Sorry, not citizens as we don’t have that right, I should have said subjects.

02/21/2010 06:41 PM

Who Knows Best: Fighting the Fat

Last night’s “Who Knows Best – Fighting the Fat”, on channel 4, was so awful I hardly know where to start.

The programme pitches supposed experts against one another like modern day gladiators. Last night’s challenge was about weight loss and pitched Paul the personal trainer (who thinks people are overweight because they are lazy and greedy and who shouted and swore his way through the programme) against Janet (who supposedly took a psychological approach).

Each contestant chose a willing victim for the other person to work with and the challenge was on – who could get their person to lose the most weight over a 6 week period? Paul was allocated Sarah whose favourite food was spam and egg pie, and Janet got Shareema who had a thing about chocolate doughnuts

Surprise, surprise the outcome was that Paul’s victim lost 22lb and Janet’s only 6lb. Hardly surprising since Paul’s approach involved serious exercise bordering on torture, coupled with a strict diet. A perfect strategy for short term dramatic weight loss (and subsequent dramatic weight gain…)

The programme was pointless in the first place because it is not that
hard to lose weight over 6 weeks – you can do this using any
number of diets. The hard thing is to keep it off.

Also, how can you conclude anything from an experiment involving just two people? How silly.

The “psychological approach” was very disappointing. I suspect Janet may do a good job in reality. It may that the programme makers just wanted to make her look silly by concentrating on tapping meridians and associating doughnuts with vomit (techniques which were presented in such a way as to invite ridicule).

But it didn’t seem that Janet’s woman got away from the “diet mentality” of good and bad foods, and “naughty days”, so again it just looked like a diet and I suspect she put the weight back on. She said she was an emotional eater but the only strategy we saw for dealing with this was “tapping the meridians”. This kind of thing can help some people but they also need to work out how to deal with emotions in other ways, without using food. I’m sure Janet will have covered this but we didn’t see it on the programme.

So, a victory for Paul the sadist, but I don’t suppose viewers had any doubt about what will happen to Sarah’s weight when Paul is no longer kicking her arse, as he so charmingly put it!

This post is transferred form another blog, so these comments have just been copied over.

Showing 4 comments

Denis Watkins

Hi Sharrema. I was glad to read your comments and I wish you all success in your diet regime. I am a very enthusiastic follower of lots of exercise. Everything I have ever read about exercise confirms my views. However, if I might just say what works for me.

First, find an exercise you enjoy or at least is not unpleasant. For most of my life it was playing sports, particularly football, and lots of walking/hiking. Now it is mainly walking/hiking. I have found a good electronic but simple pedometer a huge incentive. My aim is a minimum of 10,000 steps a day and as I have a Labrador this is perfect as he walks with me.

Second. There is massive scientific support for load bearing excercise e.g.: weight lifting; these exercise “elastics” – I bought a set of “FLEXCORDS” via Amazon and they provide endless oportunities.

Third. The appropriate diet and Roz knows a lot more about this than myself.

Four. Persevere. The only failure is to give up trying.

You sound to me like a terrific person who has the great virtue of being open minded and ready to change to use new ideas. I wish you lots of luck in your regime.

08/25/2010 04:06 PM

Hi Sharrema, thanks for this update. It’s really useful to know a bit more about what actually went on. I’m glad that Janet’s techniques are helping you. I suspected that she did a lot more than we saw, and that it could be good. It’s a shame it wasn’t portrayed a bit more positively but if the whole idea is to lose weight as fast as possible, you are never going to get a sensible approach winning!
Anyway, it’s great that you are losing weight and I find if it comes off slowly, it seems to stay off! Insulin resistance can certainly make it harder so it’s great that you are making progress. And I’m glad that Emma is getting help from Janet too.
Congratulations on the X-Factor and your album launch – that is really fantastic – well done!

08/23/2010 05:50 PM
Denis Watkins

The programme was not about losing weight; it was about entertainment. Paul, with an attitude so simple minded as to make me cringe, you can throw in his own internal macho needs as “I don’t care if people don’t like me, I’m here to do a job.” Yeh, yeh Paul. You are a really tough guy with desperate overweight women and obese men. Rather sad that you have to work out your own so obvious insecurities on these vulnerable people desperate to lose weight. In my view this is the only approach open to you as you have neither the professional knowledge nor insight to do anything else.

Janet may have offered more and done better. We will never know. The programme was so crass and superficial that she looked lost and, I’m afraid, rather foolish.

08/21/2010 05:27 PM

Sharrema Collapse

Hey guys, I’m Sharrema from “Who knows best” just to give you a quick update, I was very sceptical at the start about the things I did with Janet, something’s have worked for me others haven’t and so some of the tapping techniques I have carried on using as well as the pain and pleasure antidote but I’m using a mix of Janet’s methods and exercise because I actually am enjoying going to the gym and there were a lot of things that were filmed that you guys didn’t see. My weight loss maybe slow moving but it is moving and no matter what you have seen the one thing I hope you all realise is that I totally love me no matter what. Just to give you a progress report the reason why my weight loss was slow is that I found out during filming that I have insulin resistance which slows down your weight loss but is in no way an excuse. I have been attending the gym, yoga and classes at least twice a week my motivation is my album lunch in September which is giving me a well earned kick up the butt and also X-factor in which you will see me hold down a dance routine by the pussycats dolls choreographer Brian. Update on Emma is that since filming the show she has declined any assistants from Paul and is not continuing with any of his regime but you know what I don’t blame her instead will now be working with Janet. As for me myself and Janet our still in contact and I’m attending future seminars with her.