If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again afterwards. People can blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of will power and self discipline. It isn’t true. Others think overweight people eat too much. Sometimes perhaps, 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 we believe it – I used to. A BBC mini series, “The Men Who Made Us Thin”, looked into the diet industry – and the vast amounts of money they make directly as a result of their failure to deliver long term weight loss. This is not news. They’ve known since the 1940s that diets don’t work – it’s the reason for the continuing financial success of the industry! So really they’re The Men Who Didn’t Make Us Thin.
Weight is classified using Body Mass Index; you’ve probably seen the charts. The definition was arbitrarily changed from BMI 27 to BMI 25 resulting in millions of people who were fine suddenly being classed as overweight and therefore clients for the diet industry. BMI ignores body composition. Many fit, muscular people without an ounce of excess fat come out as obese on the charts. A better method is to aim for a waist measurement less than half your height.
Much of the diet industry’s profit comes from selling foods, including ready meals and processed foods which aren’t generally great for your health, or for weight loss. They may be low calorie and low fat but calories are not all equal and fats are not all bad. Most people would lose weight naturally and permanently if they switched to real food and leaned to eat well.
Last month I confidently declared that the reason I‘m slim now is the way I eat, not just luck, because twice I have been overweight. At the time, I had no idea why I was needing to stitch denim pieces into the top of my jeans to let the waist out. Like most overweight people in our media dominated world with its images of the body beautiful, I was deeply unhappy with my fat stomach. Later, knowing more about nutrition, I realised that the causes of my increased girth the first time were sandwiches and biscuits. The second time, the culprits were bread, potatoes, pasta and too little fat; the result of advice from a sports nutritionist.
If you know your food types you’ll have spotted that both times my problem was too much starchy carbohydrate. The second time this was exacerbated by having cut my saturated fat intake, never expecting that would be a bad thing. You might also recognise that the way I was eating was the way we’re all told to eat. Remember the food pyramid? Now we have the eat well plate. Both place great emphasis on starchy carbohydrate.
Tot up the portions of starchy carbohydrate you eat in a day starting with breakfast (breakfast cereal, croissants, toast), then lunch (sandwiches, wraps, jacket potatoes), dinner (potatoes, pasta, rice, peas, carrots) and snacks (crisps, crackers).
I can’t begin to fathom why we’re advised to eat in a way that has resulted in over half our population being overweight and miserable. I can test to find out your individual ideal mix of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and discover how much starch you can handle. It’s probably less than you’d expect. For weight loss and energy gain, it’s well worth knowing and some simple changes could give you a boost.
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.
How 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.
I’m a great fan of the Soil Association and the wonderful work they do in defence of real agriculture.
When I read a letter in their magazine Living Earth which suggested ‘we should all be eating less meat for our own health’ I felt the need to respond. My reply is published on the letters page in the spring edition of Living Earth. For those of you who are not members I quoted the statement above and continued,
‘Actually many people would benefit from eating more meat. We are not all the same in our dietary needs. The high carbohydrate metabolic type is the least common in Britain and lots of my clients arrive in a terrible state (as I used to be) due to eating the currently fashionable diet of little meat and even less fat when in fact their bodies need both. I support you in better-quality meat but refute the notion that less equals healthier.’
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).
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.
The lovely stats helper monkeys at WordPress have put together an annual report for the Learn to Eat Well site.
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’s ‘50 shocking facts about diet and exercise’. Entertaining, attention-grabbing and containing a lot of very sound information, I really enjoyed it.
BBC 2’s hard hitting series last month shone a light on some of the dark decisions taken by the food industry over the last 40 or so years. The BBC showed how these decisions plus the food industry’s influence over the advice issued by the health departments of the American and British governments have contributed to the present obesity crisis.
What have these men done that’s so bad? 1) They’ve added sugars including fructose into our foods which cause our bodies to store more fat. 2) They’ve invented super-sizing and between-meal snacking, so that we eat more than we need. 3) They’ve used any healthy aspect of their product to make people think that the whole product is good for them when in fact many are not. And they’ve done other things that weren’t featured like removing healthy omega 3 fat from food to increase shelf-life.
So who is responsible for the state of the nation? The food industry says that we are. Consumers are responsible for their own health and what they eat. The industry’s job is simply to satisfy demand, sell food and make profit – and they do it very well.
If it is our responsibility to look after ourselves, how can we know which foods are doing us harm? With all the clever tricks, I don’t think it’s really our fault if we’ve been eating bad things. My Nutrition Coaching courses combine self-responsibility and self-care with information – based on science – to cut through the confusion. Those of us who work in healthy eating have know and shared these things for a long time; I’m delighted that they are now coming into the public domain.
The men who made us fat have been rumbled. The game is up. Now it’s time to learn the truth so that you can make better choices for your body.
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?”
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.
Last month I considered the detrimental effects of eating excess omega 6 (mainly from vegetable oil). Omega 3 is another essential fatty acid (essential means we have to get it from our food). Actually omega 3 is shorthand for a whole set of important chemicals with a double bond 3 places from the end. Plants make omega 3 mother fat so we can get this from vegetables and flaxseed (most other seeds are high in omega 6).
Plants do not convert the mother fat into the rest of the omega 3 family but your body should be able to. Unfortunately the modern diet interferes with the conversion process so we can lack the long-chain omega 3s that we need.
In the modern diet the intake of omega 3 has gone down. We do not store it so regular intake is important. Fish convert and concentrate long-chain fats but some people have concerns about the increasing levels of toxins in fish. Weigh up for yourself whether it’s better to get the goodness from the fish together with the toxins or better to do without either. Taking krill oil supplements is an option. (Personally I’ll keep eating fish in the same way that I carried on eating eggs, beef on the bone etc etc.)
Omega 3 is protective and anti-inflammatory. It will improve your hair, eyes, skin and nails. Your brain is mostly omega 3 fat which is why they say that eating fish makes you smart. Please understand that even quite large amounts of omega 3 will not help if you still have a lot of omega 6 around. It takes a while for the profile of your fat stores to rebalance but it’s worth it.
Top tip: Get some omega 3 and reduce your omega 6 intake.