Australian English comes up with some great phrases and the Heathrow Injection (along with Budgie Smugglers meaning too tight Speedos), must be one of the most memorable and picturesque.
According to visitors, the Heathrow injection is simply the extra weight that most overseas visitors put on once they hit London. You get off at Heathrow and the next thing you have added at least half a kilo to your weight, possibly more.
How and why does this happen? Is London just an unhealthy place to live or does it refer to the whole of the UK? Does just living in Britain make you fat? European statistics seem to suggest that it does.
The UK leads the way when it comes to obesity diabetes and heart disease, with only Hungary, which has a high level of male obesity coming close. British people are beginning to have the same image once reserved for the Americans and are becoming known for having the fattest population in Europe with undisputedly UK women, the most at risk. Doctors see the obesity epidemic as the greatest public health crisis facing the UK.
Although obesity is a worldwide problem, many European countries have stepped up efforts to counter this trend. There have been taxes on foods high in fat and sugar, and several countries including Denmark, France, Finland and Hungary have already passed legislation including in an attempt to change eating habits.
British doctors are urging that the same measures should be put in place but so far, this has been largely ignored and has not been dealt with in the same way as smoking.
Britain is essentially a cold country and the traditional diet has always reflected this fact. Stodgy meat puddings, fish and chips, roast dinners all high calorie fattening filling stuff but the problem with this theory is that very few people actually eat like this any more.
However, go down any High Street in any town in the UK and you will see plenty of food outlets. Chinese, Indian, Turkish, more recently Thai, Mexican and food from all across the globe. The British have embraced fast food culture like no other race. Fast food and exotic dining experiences are part of the every day fabric of society and in London, especially there is always something available to eat.
Takeaway food can be delicious but it is fattening. The average doner kebab weighs in at 1000 calories and Chinese food and Indian is much the same with a high calorie and fat content.
Strangely, the traditional Chinese and Indian diet is in general low in calories and the Chinese have been held up as examples of healthy nutrition. However, their version of their national cuisine for British tastes is not quite as health conscious.
One small serving of sweet and sour pork in batter contains around 600 calories and 24g of fat. Sweet and Sour chicken, egg fried rice and vegetable spring rolls are even worse, containing a massive 1,436 calories and 60g of fat.
An Indian takeaway of chicken Tikka Masala, pilau rice and a plain naan contains a around 1,338 calories and 55g of fat, adding up to around 2/3 of the calories and 80% of the fat an average woman should have in a whole day.
Don’t forget the large number of pubs and restaurants with their emphasis on huge helpings and value for money. The trend is towards quantity and portion sizes are big! It is very hard to find a reasonably priced place to eat that does not offer monster portion sizes.
Figures have shown that in France and other European countries, portion sizes are generally smaller. A Big Mac in France contains 480 calories. A UK Big Mac contains 550.
If you do not want to eat out, there is a wealth of processed ready meals to suit all budgets and tastes and for the busy traveller or hard working young professional this may provide a lifeline in terms of quick and easy preparation. The problem is that processed food is generally much more fattening than the home cooked version.
The irony is that Britain and London especially has some of the best restaurants in the world where taste, flavour and quality of the food are paramount, but these are exceptions. Take most people into a fine restaurant with their smaller serving sizes and some of us will be picking up a takeaway on the way home.
London is a competitive fast moving city with a high percentage of residents part of a transient population who have come for an adventure, to work or as a rite of passage. Mainly young, many are unused to the routine of cooking for themselves, running a family or living on a long-term family budget. Their London time is something to do before you settle down and not something that most travellers do with a family. This leads to a complete freedom of lifestyle and with a 24 hours culture there is always something to eat and drink.
The streets of London are not really paved with gold but the city has drawn people to live for hundreds of years and not just since the Swinging Sixties. Many people who come to London are from less urban locations and often from places with better weather and a more outdoors culture.
The Australians may enjoy their food, wine and beer but many people have a more active lifestyle in their home country. Swimming, hiking, sport or simply walking in the countryside is not quite as easy in the heart of the city. Without really noticing, many overseas visitors drastically reduce their leisure exercise activities and it shows up on their waistlines.
It is not compulsory to turn into a party animal once you hit London but many visitors do just that and enjoy the entertainment and pubs and clubs the capital has to offer. It is not just the visitors. Britain has a serious drinking culture that is raising concerns across the country due to binge drinking and anti social behaviour around alcohol.
Leaving aside the “any town centre in Britain booze fest” each weekend and the cries of “broken Britain” most British social life revolves around alcohol. Whether it is done in a tasteful way with a few too many glasses of good wine at a dinner, or a mad night out with your workmates, it is socially acceptable to drink too much and in many social groups it can sometimes seem compulsory.
Alcohol is fattening. White wine contains 750 calories, red and rose approximately 550 calories per bottle.
A pint of Stella weighs in at 256 a pint, an average pint of Bitter is around 200 calories, a pint of Guinness is 215 calories and a bottle of WKD contains around 280 calories.
Although the UK is leading the European obesity figures, not everyone is overweight in Britain and it will not make you fat living here if you keep some control over your life.
For the younger travellers, late night eating and drinking is all part of the experience and once you stop the 24-hour party people lifestyle and start preparing your own meals and not relying on the local takeaway your weight will reduce too.
Many Australians find that once they return, their weight goes back to normal once they have picked up their old lives, got back to the beach or the outback or at least a regular 9 to 5 job a family and a few more years under the belt. Back home many people do not have the same temptations or impulses that are completely normal in London.
The big problem with the UK is that there is a sense of freedom when it comes to consuming and this is a vital component of the weight issue.
Just because there are takeaways on every corner doesn’t mean you have to eat them. Just because you like overdoing the booze does not make it anyone’s fault. There is a wealth of shops, greengrocers markets of all kinds in London and it is possible to eat well and cheaply and in a healthy way.
There are plenty of sports centres and gyms too and Britain has some amazing countryside, fantastic historic sites and places to hike and get outdoors. Sport too. There are plenty of sporting opportunities in London so if you have this type of interest you should be able to maintain it. Just because there is a wide choice of places to eat and drink does not mean that you have to go along with it too.
This may sound harsh, but its no point sitting back and complaining about the extra pounds and blaming it all on the London lifestyle. It may not necessarily be anyone‘s fault but your own. Yes, it is easy to put on weight in London but it is not compulsory.
If you do put on weight during your time in London and go home with a Heathrow Injection, once you get back to your normal life style you will probably find that you will still be able to lose it!
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Have Your Say
3 comments on 'Does Living in the UK Make You Fat: The Heathrow Injection?'
Just got back from England a week ago after 3 weeks there. I put on 6 kgs.
In the past year I have lost 38 kgs so it didn’t overly concern me because I now know how to lose it.
I can tell you that after a week back in Oz and back to my normal(pretty spartan salad based diet/ now permanent lifestyle and 40 degree temps and normal exercise routine, touch footy, tennis and walking, sex, one of which I did a lot of in the last 3 weeks, no not sex, walking especially in those tube stations and out and about just walking.
I’ve LOST 5 kgs in 6 days and I’m pretty confident I will lose the other kilo in the next couple of days and then I will just maintain at what is now my normal 88kgs.
WHY? did I put on the weight? I hear you ask.
I guess it was a combination of total ill discipline and eating and drinking anything that was put in front of me, it was Xmas/New Year. I particularly over indulged in my favourite PUB NOSH and beers and a lot of meals were quite late at night as late as midnight.
The weather at this time of year is not helpful, my arms and legs I only saw when having a shower in the morning.
I definitely believe in the Heathrow Injection if you are not disciplined and let yourself go. I did comment to my son(a very expensive Personal Trainer $200 a session….unbelievable but true) when we were on the tube the last day I was there on my way to exit Heathrow) that I had noticed a very high proportion of overweight people since I had been in Britain.
PS How did I lose it, I hear you also ask?
I don’t eat before 12am I have a big white coffee at 6.30am and another at 8am and a cup of black tea at 10am.
I have lettuce wraps containing, avocado, fetta cheese, carrot, tomato, beetroot and occasionally a salad meat? Piece of fruit NOT bannana
Evening meal is as per normal (steak, lamb shanks, cold meat, silverside)but no potatoes and reasonable portion sizes. At the end of the day it is all about HOW MUCH in calories you consume. I also every 3 months hit the Cabbage soup diet for 5 days, guaranteed to lose 3/5 kgs in 5 days. It really suits me and my recipe for it is absolutely fantastic. LOVE IT!!!
Good luck one and all particularly you Britons losing some avoirdupois.
I disagree with the reasons you put for putting on weight here (speaking for London and its surrounds). First of all, commuting into London means you do way, way more exercise with all the stairs and brisk walking required to and from work, that Aussies and Saffers are unacustomed to (they use their cars to go everywhere) The amount of outdoor activities over weekends may well be less here, but the daily commute more than makes up for it. Secondly, since when is eating out cheap in the UK? A large 14″ takeaway pizza in SA is approx 3 quid. A meal out in a top restaurant with expensive wine for a couple in SA is less than 25 quid. Going out to eat here in the UK is really expensive, and the portions are miniscule to what I was used to in SA – and yet I still put on weight. The answer has to be in the quality of the food, the lack of freshness (imported from around the world, in chilled storage for weeks or months, etc) and also probably the lack of nutrition in the food – more fat, more sugar, less fibre, etc.
Thanks “Indisagreement” for your comment we appreciate the feedback. Out of interest are you South African?