Now a psychiatrist might look at these symptoms and conclude that the British are somehow needy. We seem to want some kind of comfort. We are evidently anxious. After all, you drink when you need to drown your sorrows or in some other way deal with reality. You compulsively buy stuff when you want to make yourself feel better. And the classic analysis suggests that you eat more than you need when you are unhappy about something.
So what is up with us? I suppose it might be some kind of Weltschmerz, a general disappointment that Britain is no longer incontestably the most powerful country on Earth. Some people might even argue that our overeating is all caused by the gloom of the media. Perhaps it is the travails of the euro that is sending us to the fridge, or doubts about the durability of the Arab Spring. Perhaps it is the BBC economics guru Robert Peston who is causing us to motor through the custard creams. It’s possible, but somehow I don’t think that is how people really behave. They don’t eat or drink or overspend in response to external political events.
It’s much more likely to be all about us and how we feel about ourselves. We live in a media-saturated age where we are constantly told that we would attract greater admiration from other human beings if we looked better or owned a smarter car or a newer pair of gym shoes. People feel challenged to possess this or that useless item, and we judge ourselves harshly when we fail. The consumerist boom has been accompanied by a widening gap between rich and poor, and it follows that there will be more disappointment out there – more unhappiness, more jealousy and more self-punitive overeating.
Food gives us that fix of calorific comfort that we need, and of course we are sometimes so horrified by the results of our overeating that we have to console ourselves with some small pleasure, and so we eat even more. We need to end this mad cycle, and the first and most important step is to end the national cult of self-dissatisfaction, our envy of others when we have material things our grandparents could only dream of.
Some might say that we need to cure our unhappiness and associated overeating by massive redistribution of wealth. Well, they tried that in places like Russia and Cambodia and it wasn’t a roaring success. They had Marxist-materialist societies in which elites hoarded wealth and privilege in a way that was all the more disgusting for being done in the name of the people. Others might urge a more ruthless programme of NHS-funded stomach stapling. Apart from the expense, it does seem a curious denial of personal responsibility.
Surely what we need, if we are all going to lose weight, is to create a less insecure, hung-up, envious and self-hating kind of society. Easier said than done, I grant you – but that is the root of the problem. If you have the time before going back to work, I recommend a film called Dodgeball. Here we see a world of two gymnasiums – Average Joe’s and Globogym. We celebrate the triumph of physical mediocrity over the hysterical body fascism of White Goodman, played by Ben Stiller, who makes his money by persuading people they are the wrong shape.
That is what is required: a Britain where we are so happy in our skins that we don’t stuff our faces. Somewhere along the line we managed to lose religion without finding any alternative source of spiritual nourishment. Hence the use of food, drink and consumerism. Some day a prophet will arise – perhaps in these pages – who will teach us a new form of self-control and moral wisdom. But until that glad day I leave you with my patent diet. Lay off cheese. Avoid alcohol. Cut out potatoes, bread, pasta and stuff like that. Eat stupendous quantities of kale and apples and perhaps the odd small piece of dried fish. It’s a piece of cake – which is what you will certainly deserve if you keep it up for more than four weeks. Happy New Year!