January is the traditional month where the nation pledges to improve. People sign up for “dry January” in their droves, January 4th is the busiest day for Match.com sign-ups and so many people join Slimming World that it caused an actual stampede.

Currently, 16 out of 20 bestselling books on Amazon are dedicated to lifestyle improvements- recipe books, mindfulness and relaxation and even tidying up. And over half of the 10 of the new releases are of a similar theme. Even Fern Cotton has just published a book on happiness and “learning to let go”. She always seems pretty chipper on the TV, so maybe she does know her stuff.

Three of those top 20 books are by Joe Wicks, a self-styled “Body Coach”, all of which went to number one last year, a record for a non-fiction writer. This is a man who has 1.7 million Instagram followers and charges £147 for a “90 day shift, shape and sustain” plan- his net worth was estimated at an incomprehensible £14.5 million. So clearly there is money in transformation. But why is selling change so successful, and is it even necessary?

57% of women in the UK are overweight or obese according to the study where a BMI of over 25 was used to define ‘overweight’ and a BMI of 30 or more was used to define ‘obese’. But why is this so bad? Studies show that obesity is responsible for about one in ten deaths in Britain and costs the NHS £5.1 billion a year. At a time where we’re living longer and the NHS is continually reported to be struggling and overburdened, this seems to be one way of saving a significant number of lives and a significant amount of cash. Deaths from obesity come from a variety of health issues caused by being overweight, a poor diet and a lack of physical activity- Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, various cancers such as colon cancer and high blood pressure which can cause strokes and heart disease.

There are a number of factors responsible for this increase in our waistlines. Sedentary jobs, longer working hours and the increasingly lower-priced foods in our supermarkets- including buy one get one free deals- which encourage us to buy more and eat more than we did before. And for those who don’t want to shop or cook, it’s astonishingly easy to have large portions of high-calorie food delivered straight to your door. Just Eat, Hungry House etc, mean you don’t even have to call take always anymore to get your curry fix, and Deliveroo means you can get just about anything within the hour. Yesterday morning, my husband and I were in bed, neither of us wanting to get up to venture up the street to buy bread for breakfast. This led to both wonderful and scary discovery that there were several outlets that could deliver breakfast. So, at 11am on a cold Saturday morning, from the comfort of my bed, a marriage was saved with the arrival of a bacon sandwich for him, a cheese toastie for me, and a spare loaf of fresh sourdough bread.

In this way, perhaps is a good thing that people can recognise this as a problem and take active steps towards change and improved health.

Similarly,  MIND estimates that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, with the number of people seeking help for anxiety and depression increasing rapidly. As many as 1.6 in 100 people suffer from an eating disorder, 1.2 with a panic disorder and 3 in 100 self-harm. The rise in these disorders has been blamed on ever-increasing pressure for perfection, as we compete with each other to showcase our lives on social media, and are bombarded with messages from the media about who we should be, how we should look and what we should buy.

Do self-help books provide society with a life raft, an easy-access option to change and betterment? It’s hard to say without studying the effects, which will or won’t be visible until several months down the line. However, it does seem that in many cases, this is a multi-million-pound industry, preying on people’s need to fit in and improve themselves, while it is inevitable that an inordinate number of the books and DVDs will end up unopened, gathering dust alongside unused gym memberships and smoothie makers.

Matt Haig recently wrote on Instagram;
You don’t need a new you. You don’t need replacing every year like another iPhone. Don’t throw yourself away like another piece of plastic trash. Love the old you. Improve, evolve, do better, but head towards yourself not away. Be gentle with your mind. Happy new year.

And that seems like much better advice than “six-minute abs”.

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