Diet not

I’ve seen a lot of adverts for diets lately; they’re designed to take advantage of the New Year motivation boost and the frustrations of having over-done things at Christmas (again). If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again later (possibly with a bit extra as well). Some people blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of self discipline. It isn’t true. Some believe that overweight people eat too much. That is sometimes the case but often that isn’t true either.

We’re told that all we need to do is eat less and exercise more. It sounds so plausible. As a scientist, I’m familiar with the law of energy conservation (energy in = energy out). When applied to the human body it’s more subtle and one key factor is the variability of the ‘energy out’ part of the equation. The body has a clever way of slowing down your metabolism to protect you against starvation when food is in short supply. Restrict the energy that goes in (e.g. go on a diet) and your body won’t carry on merrily burning the same amount of fuel as before, it will batten down the hatches and store everything it can.

Foods are not all the same and calories are not all equal. Some foods lead to fat storage, others boost the metabolism and promote fat burning. Limiting intake of bad foods is helpful. Limiting intake of good foods can lead to deficiencies of nutrients critical to good health. Rather than eating less of the same, many people would actually be better off if they focussed less on the amount but ate differently, ate better, ate well.

Dieting is not the answer.

Top tip – Don’t eat less, eat well!

Why I’m slim

I once asked a friend whether she thought I was slim and healthy because of what I ate or in spite of it. Having seen what I ate, she confessed that she thought it was the latter. She believed I was ‘naturally slim’, ‘just lucky’ and ‘got away with’ eating what she saw as lots of fattening food.

Is it true that I’m ‘just lucky’ and can eat anything? No. I can state this confidently because there have been two times in my life when I ate differently and became overweight, and I did more exercise then than now. (I’ll tell you soon what caused my weight gain.) When I changed to the way I eat now, my excess weight melted away. So I know for sure that I am in my current good shape because of my diet.

Jackie KO 02How did my friend come to have the beliefs in food that caused her to consider my food, which keeps me slim, to be fattening and her food, which keeps her fat, to be slimming?

There’s a lot of confusing information and marketing about foods which influences what we buy and how we eat. It can be hard to make sense of it all. I notice with bemusement that when it comes to slimming, overweight people often consult each other. They ignore anyone who’s slim, thinking that what they eat is irrelevant because they must just be lucky. If I wanted to take up tennis, would I go for lessons with someone who has never learned how to play? No, I’d go to someone who looked as if they knew what they were doing.

Often people turn to the diet industry, but remember that they make their money out of people who are overweight, not people who are slim. Think carefully about your information sources especially when someone wants to sell something to you. Learn the truth and eat in a way that keeps you slim and healthy.

Top tip – it’s diet, not luck that determines your weight.


Motivation to Eat Well

balloons shutterstock_82919143 freeWhen it comes to looking after ourselves, we often neglect to take the action we know would be good for us. The fates of others may or may not touch us deeply enough for us to change our ways. Human beings are not great at second-hand learning. We can see clearly in others that a poor diet leads to weight gain and health problems. We hear about people who have have regained their trim figures and vitality by eating well. And still we may stick to bad habits.

For me, it took an 18 month health problem to get serious about food and improve the way that I ate. As an international sports woman and scientist with an interest in nutrition, it’s strange that I needed such a big push. I even defended the ‘recommended’ eating style that was doing me so much harm. Now that I’m slim, healthy and energetic I find it easy to keep eating right and I wouldn’t dream of going back to my old ways.

You can choose to start eating well without going through a personal crisis. To quote Joan Vernikos, a writer on movement and health, “Why wait to be ill before you decide to be well?”

Some people are motivated to reach for a vision of what they would like to be. Other people spring into corrective action when they foresee a possible terrible future from carrying on as they are. A winning combination for change is 1) dissatisfaction with your current situation, 2) a clear idea of how you’d rather be, 3) some practical action steps to take.

As a coach, I can help you explore what you want plus your motivators, blockers and helps.  I can also equip you for action with sound, practical knowledge about food.

Top tip: Don’t wait, get motivated; the time to eat well is now.Boat shutterstock_56507482 free

Fat stats

While I’m in the mood for statistics, I’ll just add one more post, this time about a report I’ve been mulling over for a while – The European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics (2008 which is the most recent edition).  It makes interesting reading (if you find tables of numbers interesting).S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

The diet section of the report starts by stating that ‘It is universally reconised that a diet which is high in fat, salt and free sugars, and low in complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables increases the risk of chronic diseases – particularly CVD and cancer.’

It is true that this is universally recognised  – but it is fact?

Yes, there were findings linking low vegetable consumption to health problems, but the data presented do not support the notion that fat increases disease.  The countries with the highest fat intake have low rates of CVD.  Leaving aside the methods by which consumption was estimated, there’s nothing in the eating habits and health of the populations to suggest that eating fat is a killer as we are so often told.

The countries with the highest saturated fat intake were France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Iceland, Belgium and Finland.  France has a very low death rate from CVD.  Ukraine had one of the lowest fat consumption percentages but a high rate of CVD.  This does not support fat as a cause.  In fact, France has had the lowest levels of CVD and the highest levels of saturated fat intake since the 1970s so that’s a solid correlation, not just an quirky blip.

Dr Briffa has written about ‘The French Paradox’ of high saturated fat intake and low rate of heart disease.  As he points out it’s only puzzling if you start from a stance that considers heart disease to be caused by saturated fat.  It isn’t.

What’s really puzzling?

Well, I find myself totally bemused by global messages that don’t match any of the evidence and wonder what it might take for this to change.

Happy New Year

The lovely stats helper monkeys at WordPress have put together an annual report for the Learn to Eat Well site.763sunflower

In 2012, there were readers from 49 countries, mostly in the UK with the US and Brazil not far behind.

People were most interested in the page on Courses for Individuals and Groups.

The most popular post was the first one on 15th Jan – ‘No Quick Fix’.


It’s still true of course that there is no quick fix to looking after your health and well-being.  It’s a life long commitment to a long life!  To help inspire you, how about watching Channel 5’s50 shocking facts about diet and exercise’.  Entertaining, attention-grabbing and containing a lot of very sound information, I really enjoyed it.

Have a great year.

Wishing you well



Listen to Your Body – part 2 – Diets

My latest column in The Cockermouth Post (February issue) is now out:

Last month we looked at aliments, this month it’s diets. Today’s culture seems to be to ignore our bodies and to choose what we eat using our minds and thoughts. These are influenced by marketing. Food manufacturing companies are very good at seducing us and they spend a fortune carefully crafting their adverts. Whilst they don’t actually tell lies, their ability, for example to link a low nutrient, high sugar breakfast cereal to a slim, healthy body in a red dress, as if the one caused the other, is uncanny.

We need certain nutrients and won’t function properly without them. When you feel hungry, ask yourself what your body needs. Perhaps you haven’t eaten for a while or perhaps you have eaten, even overeaten, but the wrong things. Hunger isn’t always a request for more; it might be a plea for something different. Eating more of the same won’t meet the need and could put weight on you. It’s possible to be malnourished and obese at the same time.

Diets are all about deprivation. We’re so hard on ourselves. It isn’t our body’s fault if we’re overweight. We’ve all been misled about food and eaten what does us harm. We punish ourselves using willpower to resist the message of hunger but mind over matter does nothing to change our actual biology or the chemical reactions that are the reality our physical lives. If your body needs something, feed it; not with sweet artificial snacks – what about real food? It’s time for some self care. This year you could decide to nurture yourself by eating good foods to meet your needs.

Top tip: Pause and consider, “What does my body really need?”

Listen To Your Body – part 1 – Ailments

Here’s my January column from The Cockermouth Post:

Lots of people are suffering from coughs and colds just now. If you haven’t come down with anything yet, you can protect yourself by avoiding sugar (which depresses the immune system) and by eating foods rich in vitamins and enzymes.


So if you get ill what will you do? Look after yourself, rest in a warm bed with lots of hot drinks? Or will you tough it out, take some over-the-counter remedy and carry on regardless?


Your body has amazing powers to heal itself if you give it a chance. Using all your energy rushing about with your normal life, won’t leave enough reserves to fight illness. You can scrape the bottom of an empty barrel for so long but taken to extremes it can lead to problems like chronic fatigue. Your GP can tell you if you need medication (eg for a chest infection). Otherwise you’ll just want enough relief to allow you to sleep. Try hot honey and lemon.

It’s good to tune into your body and respond to its needs. Instead we’re encouraged to ignore or silence the annoying messages with drugs.

Some foods don’t suit particular individuals and will always cause indigestion. We could accept this and simply abstain. The adverts tell us to eat unsuitable food anyway and then swig some gloop. True it will end the discomfort but it also interferes with our digestive process.

A headache might mean we need a glass of water, time away from the computer screen or a few minutes resting our eyes. The drug companies tell us not to be so soft. Ignore your pain, take our pill and keep working! Muscle aches? Rub on some gel, then go and exercise! Is all of this sensible?

Top tip: Listen to what your body is trying to tell you.


No Quick Fix

In the December issue of The Cockermouth Post, you can read my piece (on page 24) about lasting results through building better habits.  Here it is:

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is a habit.”


In this day and age we’re used to things happening fast. We can access information instantly on our ‘phones. We can buy things at the click of a button. We’re no longer used to having to invest time; when we want something, we want it yesterday.


Diets offer quick change but in the majority of cases the change is quickly reversed. People can spend years on the treadmill of yo-yo dieting, losing and regaining weight in a miserable cycle of feast and famine that damages their metabolism.


The way to lasting results is to build better habits. Eat a bit of salad with your lunch, reduce how often you indulge in sugary things (biscuits, chocolate, chewy bars), cut out vegetable oil, drink some water.


I recently had the pleasure of speaking to some regular Cockermouth Post readers of who had altered their eating habits as a result of my column. At first they didn’t notice much but as time went on, Helen realised that her body shape had improved. Mike, an asthma sufferer, found that he needed his inhaler less frequently and now, instead of several times a day, he uses it only rarely.


Proving me wrong, Karen who is on the current group course, made one simple change and literally overnight felt better than she had for 30 years! That’s how powerful the effects can be from the things you eat and drink.


So I don’t promise a quick fix. Healthy eating isn’t a magic bullet, it’s a better lifestyle.


Top tip – good eating habits are for life, not just for Christmas!

Don’t Diet

When it comes to dieting we’ve seen it all. Calorie counting, low fat, Atkins,cabbage soup, dieting clubs, slimming mags, slimming pills. The choice is endless. People in Britain spend £25 million a year on it so what’s the success rate? Only a dismal 5%. Wow! Why do we do it if it doesn’t work? A bit like gambling, we do it because it offers a brief illusion of hope.

As Jon Gabriel says,

If diets worked there would be really one diet, everybody would go on it, lose weight and that would be the end of it.”


What you want when you go on a diet is to start at your current weight, do the diet and lose weight, then stay at your new weight for ever after. More often than not, what actually happens is short-term weight loss followed by a return to your original weight, plus a bit extra. After all the effort and deprivation this hardly seems fair and it can leave people feeling demotivated and miserable.


So what’s going on? Your body responds to restricted food intake by partially shutting down and going into ‘survival mode’. This is a useful mechanism for keeping us alive when food is in short supply but stressful for your body to endure long-term. Your mind may know that there isn’t really a food shortage and there’s a limitless supply in a supermarket just up the road but your body only experiences what arrives in your stomach. Diets often cut out important nutrient groups so some of the weight you lose is good body tissue which has to be cannibalized to meet your needs. When you stop dieting, your body breathes a sigh of relief and starts to repair the damage you’ve done and you start to put weight back on.


So which diet would I recommend? None at all. I think it’s better to improve your eating habits so that you lose weight slowly, naturally and permanently.


Top tip – don’t diet, learn to eat well.