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The F word; the WM interview WM's very own Diary of a Diet columnist Hannah Jones chews the fat with Catherine Jones in the run-up to her new BBC film, Fix My Fat Head.

IN a society where an actress snapped with a double chin is considered newsworthy, fat has become as much of a world issue as say peace, or global warming.

Not a week goes by without a newspaper spread or television programme about weight. Think of Claire Sweeney eating all she liked to see how far she blew up, or Gok Wan revisiting his earlier years as an extremely heavy teenager.

It seems we are fascinated with fat - what it looks like, where it comes from, and how we can get it to go away - an obsession that might seem truly strange to a time traveller from any age when being plump equalled pulchritudinous.

Now, the Western Mail's Hannah Jones, best-selling author of the book Diary of a Diet: A Little Book of Big, has joined the debate.

In Fix My Fat Head, one of three BBC programmes on eating issues, Hannah, 37, takes a no-holds-barred and often hilarious look at her psychological relationship with food and herself.

"Mine's the hopefully funny film at the end of the series," says Hannah, who presents a 50-minute investigation into the psychology of obesity as part of the BBC's two-year mental health and wellbeing initiative, Headroom.

"Today I'm fine about my self-image. Tomorrow I might feel completely incapacitated by it, though. The point of the programme was to try and see if there were methods I could employ that would make me feel better.

"If weight loss was a side effect of that, then all well and good. If it wasn't then it didn't matter, I felt better away. At least that was my big fat hope." At around 20 stone, Ebbw Vale-born Hannah has long addressed her relationship with her weight in a weekly newspaper column which attracts those appreciative of her humour and honesty.

"I've never been one of these people who wanted to be a size 10. I just want to be more comfortable in my skin, regardless of my dress size.

"My weight has always gone up and down - but more up than down really! The lightest I can remember being recently is probably 18st 6lb when I went on a SlimmingWorld diet, but I looked absolutely no different. I lost 3st and was a still a size 24.

Gutted! So I fed my disappointment in the only way I know how - via the fridge." To discover if her complicated relationship with eating is from psychological and emotional issues, Hannah is filmed trying cognitive behavioural therapy, attending an overeaters' support group and meeting a hypnotist to the stars. "At the start of it, I say something like I either want to do this to learn how to accept myself the way I am or to try and find a new way forward - and to me a new way may have been looking at the psychological approach to why I do what I do, or think what I think.

"I'm saying I've tried every diet under the sun, from cabbage soup to abject misery, and nothing has worked for me.

My size is also exacerbated by an underactive thyroid, but I don't wear that fact on an oversized T-shirt so everyone can see. People see big and they think gluttony and lazy. But these issues run deeper than that..

"Making the film was my opportunity to try something more intellectual because we all know what you have to do to lose weight - which is you need to eat less and move more. The question is, why don't we? What is it about ourselves that stops us succeeding? "Some of the processes I went through made me feel like I wasn't damaged enough, though.

"I went to see one expert who made me feel like you had to have some major trauma in order to have odd issues about yourself. She even asked me if my father had called me names like Dumbo when I was growing up. Dumbo! Honestly, when she said it I associated the word with being thick. Then the penny dropped, and I hope my face in the film says it all." Hannah, who has attended weight loss classes since she was in her teens, makes no secret of her enjoyment of food, especially carbohydrates. She is generally a healthy eater, but admits she eats way too much of what she likes. She also emotionally eats, taking comfort in food - like most of us.

"I think a lot of the time it's just for the love it - but, like most women who self-medicate with Fruit and Nut when things get a bit tough, there are some times when it's not just for enjoyment. I went to see a psychologist and to some extent, I think I fitted her model of why people overeat.

"She wanted to go back and find out if I was a lonely child and if I was a self sufficient child, if I had lots of friends as a child, and I was able to tick a lot of boxes for her..

"But at the end of the day it's just something that I've always done. If I'm elated, I'll just want to eat and if I'm sad then I'll think 'Oh it would be nice now, wouldn't it, to have a bit of pizza to make it all better?' Or if I'm really fed up and I can't stand myself I'll think 'Well what's the point of trying to be a better version than you are, you might just as well have a Greggs cheese and onion pasty and have done with it.' "Most women would relate to that I think, the yo-yoing emotions. So I made the film to focus on the tug and pull of my feelings. I'm often amused by them and can see the funny side.

Other times, it brings me to my knees. So I tried to be as honest about this as possible." Threaded with video diaries, the programme is both happy and sad, harking back to Hannah's idyllic childhood in a household which enjoyed gathering together at meal times.

"It has always been a happy household and food is an important part. It's just affected my body in disappointing ways." Hannah, who got engaged to her filmmaker boyfriend Darryl during the shoot, says she expresses her feelings and struggles publicly not to apologise for being fat or to be a cheerleader for the overweight.

Nor is it to rebel against pressure to be a certain weight, which she says she's never felt.

"I feel like I'm trying to make sense of myself and I happen to do that in print and now on film.

I'm just constantly at odds with myself really and I wish I could get a handle on one thing, which is my size, to make me feel a bit better and more balanced. I can't remember the last time I felt attractive, for instance. And I quite openly address that. And why not? I maybe scared of counting calories and bikinis, but I'm not fearful of often tough emotions.

"Should I not write about it? Should I not have done a programme about it? If I was my mother talking I'd say I shouldn't do any of it; that I am fabulous the way I am, and there's more to me than this weight 'issue'. She says in the programme 'I wish you wouldn't talk about it, there's more to you than this'. And I cried when I saw it. It's very moving, in a largely fun film." Sometimes, she says she sees what her mother, Sophie, means about there being more to her daughter than her size.

"There are times when I don't diet and I don't give a bugger about my wonky self-image, but it doesn't last very long because I get frustrated about looking in the mirror feeling like my cheeks go over my eyes when I smile (laughs). I get frustrated because I can't shop where I want to shop, I can't wear things I'd like to, or cut my hair really short, but sometimes I don't feel that at all and I coast along feeling fine." Hannah admits psychological analysis did reveal her reluctance to acknowledge the positives in her life.

"I don't see the good stuff and I think a lot of people who have issues with food or whatever sometimes don't tend to either. They just see what they perceive to be their shortcomings, and I know I do that." She is full of praise for Professor Julia Buckroyd, director of the Obesity and Eating Disorders Research Unit at the University of Hertfordshire, who used a "tough love approach" with her.

Encouraging Hannah to write up her life events demonstrated how she was inclined to dismiss the positives, such as getting her first Grade 8 at 14. (She has three in all - in piano, organ and opera, as well as a host of other achievements.) "So I'd look at the sheet of paper and it would appear I was completely able, and a great kid, but in my mind I'd forgotten all that - and yet I can remember when Jeff's Pizza Pan opened in Ebbw Vale! "It's all about trying to accept yourself. That's the important thing for people to know about themselves - it's to have self belief. Sadly I don't have it in spades, but I do I have it in eggcupfuls. I went to see a motivational coach, Chrissie Webber, and sat there with all these people talking about food.

We had a piece of paper and on it was an illustration of guns.

"You had to write your eating triggers so I just put 'breathing' on mine!" One hundred hours of film have been condensed to 50 minutes. "It's really intense talking about myself all the time. I was really hoping for some kind of solution and I knew I wasn't going to get it and I thought 'Am I going to disappoint people at the end of it?' "I hope people who have no comprehension of such battles don't look at this film and say people like me should just eat less, move a bit and stop moaning..

"Like the best kind of carbs, weight issues are way more complex than that.

"At the end of the programme I say 'I'm never going to go on a diet again' and I've been on SlimFast for three months! "I didn't learn anything new about myself apart from a realisation that I'm possibly too self-critical and that I wish I had an angel on my shoulder all the time reassuring me that I'm absolutely fine the way I am.

Basically, that's what a psychologist is - a guiding voice giving you permission to feel awful - as long as you don't process the information at a Pizza Hut buffet afterwards." She adds: "I hope people smile and relate to my journey, which has got an open return.

"Darryl has seen it and said that people at the end of it will either want to invite me out for dinner or put their arms around me - I said to him, 'Yeah, that's fine, but I hope it's just not round my throat!'" Fix My Fat Head is on BBC One on Tuesday at 10.35pm.

Read Hannah's Diary of a Diet column in WM every Tuesday in the Western Mail..

CAPTION(S):

EMOTIONAL: Hannah's journey took her back over her life, shown above in pictures with her parents Sophie and John, her friend Justin, and as a baby and toddler BIG ISSUE: Author and journalist Hannah Jones investigates the psychology of obesity in a BBC One documentary to be shown on Tuesday ... We know what to do to lose weight. Why don't we do what we should?
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 1, 2009
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