Obesity poses such a threat to the country that it should be treated as a “national risk” alongside terrorism.
Prof Dame Sally Davies
Chief Medical Officer 2015
Obesity poses such a threat to the country that it should be treated as a “national risk” alongside terrorism.
Prof Dame Sally Davies
Chief Medical Officer 2015
Statistics say that by now 59% of you will have failed to keep your New Year Resolutions. Well done to the 41% who are succeeding!
Common resolutions were to eat more healthily (22%), drink less alcohol (17%) and learn new things (12%). Losing weight came in at only 9%. Curious then that 48% of the population went on a diet.
The media were overflowing with diet ideas during January. Weight loss related TV programmes filled the evenings; everything from paleo, to 5/2 intermittent fasting to sleeping longer. Leaving aside their quirkier features (like drinking lots of champagne), diets that cut out nutrition left the volunteers feeling terrible. The plans that worked best cut out processed food and drink. I loved an idea one of the participants had – when she saw cakes or sweet things, she pretended they were just cardboard displays so she couldn’t eat them!
Most standard diets work by counting calories (or equivalent points). The deprivation usually gives some quick weight loss but also causes an increase in the production of hunger hormones. So what’s the chance of long-term success? 5%. 95% failure is not a good return on your misery. Don’t blame yourself; regaining weight is a natural famine-recovery response, caused by the diet.
My favourite show was ITV’s Sugar Free Farm. There, away from the temptations of the modern world, a group of celebrities ate fresh-cooked, organic, free-range food (plenty of it) but no sugar. They worked each day in the fresh air. Most of them lost weight, 3 of them around a stone in 15 days. Best of all, they felt fabulous. So for healthy weight loss, ditch sugar, cook your own meals from fresh ingredients and let your excess weight melt away.
Top tip – Don’t be a failure statistic, learn to eat well.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) results in hunger, shakiness, weakness, dizziness, irritability and depression. I should know; for years I suffered on a daily basis. The cause – too much sugar. High blood sugar stimulated my body to produce insulin, which took the sugar back out of my blood (and made me fat). I didn’t understand the problem so I tried to control my symptoms with regular biscuits, bananas and chocolate. It was a disaster. At archery competitions, I ate sugar even more frequently. I just got headaches and felt awful.
My first inkling of the cause
was at work. Biscuits were provided in meetings; if I ate one I got hungry but if I abstained I was OK. My second clue came when dieting to lose the weight I’d gained eating so many biscuits; I was less hungry eating a little cereal for breakfast than a lot. Also I noticed the low-fat yoghurts I bought weren’t satisfying, they just increased my appetite. Now I know it’s because of the sugar they put in low-fat products to make them palateable.
Sugar has a toxic effect on the body and causes myriad health problems besides hypoglycemia. For centuries doctors have cured their patients of many ailments by replacing sugar with quality vegetable and whole grain carbohydrates and for centuries consumption has increased sweeping aside all resistance. In the 11th Century, brewers caught adding sugar to beer were dragged through the City of Chester in a cart with the overnight refuse of the privies. In the early 1900s, America had laws against “substances injurious to health” (like sugar) being added to food. Manufacturers (including Coca-Cola) opposed this, got the government on side and the health of the whole nation deteriorated as a result of the adulterated products that are now their main food. In the 1950s, Dr Gyland wrote papers to warn and help others but couldn’t get them published. In Britain, Professor John Yudkin tried to fight Ancel Keys and his lipid hypothesis having found a stronger corrolation between sugar and heart disease than there is with fat – he was sqashed. Even Keys himself couldn’t get published a paper he wrote late in his life against the direction nutritional advice has taken. Little has changed. Those reaping the profits still don’t want you to know the truth – sugar wrecks your health.
Top Tip – Stop eating sugar
NB Diabetics will need to balance their medication with their sugar intake.
To learn more about the sorry history of sugar in our food, read Sugar Blues by William Dufty and Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin. Here’s a Daily Telegraph artcle on the latter; we still have the same sugar-industry-led problem today.
Have you ever stopped while walking down a street to look at blossom or listen to birds singing? I wonder if you’ve sat and closed your eyes, just to relax. How long did you enjoy your moment before something inside you said, ‘That’s enough now – get going again.’ Our culture of work, speed and relentless busyness doesn’t seem to value self care and leaves us feeling guilty if we dare to pause. In my travels I speak to a lot of people who are putting their own needs last, attempting to keep up at the expense of their own health. This sort of martyrish mentality might impress your boss/family/friends in the short term but it isn’t good – for you or them. Think of the safety announcement when you go on a plane, ‘fit your own mask first’. You’re of no help to anyone if you’ve collapsed.
Stress affects your weight too. In spite of our modern veneer, biologically we’re still the same as in the stone-age. We’re programmed to survive tigers and famines. In a famine, you’ll automatically store fat, heighten your ability to recognise and desire for fattening foods and you won’t feel inclined to use up valuable energy on exercise. Faced with threats to life like tigers, you’ll automatically burn fat to become lean and quick. We haven’t evolved a specific response to email overload or financial worries. Your brain may well interpret low level, long term stress as famine. You can’t control this, the hormones made in response or the fat those hormones will make you store. Nutrition is fundamentally important to weight loss but for it not to be an uphill struggle, you need to address stress.
If you can eliminate the source, that’s best even if it’s difficult to do. If not, make stress reduction a priority; a lunchtime walk in the woods, music, gardening, counselling, sport, art, mindfulness – to help you feel calm and safe.
Top tip – Prioritise stress reduction.
If you want to weigh less, you’ll notice that encouragement to go on a diet can be found everywhere – TV, magazines, banners, endless adverts for food products. Here’s a reminder of why dieting is only a good idea if you’re intent on eventually weighing more after a short-term loss.
The people who say, “Eat less, exercise more” will tell you diets must work because of the law of thermodynamics. Energy in equals energy out. As a scientist I know the law is true and very useful for engines in a stable state. As a nutrition coach I know that it’s not useful as an approach to weight loss. Your body is not an engine in a stable state, it’s wonderfully responsive and designed to keep you alive in times of food shortage. It will hang onto all the fat it can, but break down lean tissue and shut down your metabolism to eke out the little food it’s getting. Have you ever heard that a pound of fat contains about 3500kCal, so you can lose a pound of fat a week by reducing your calorie intake by 500 kCal a day? No. When you restrict your energy intake you end up with less energy. That doesn’t feel good.
Way back in 1917, an experiment showed that calorie controlled diets have this weight loss / weight gain effect. It isn’t your fault – the diet does it. Later experiments confirmed the result and the diet industry has been cashing in on the cycle ever since. Deprivation will almost always (98%) lead to you weighing more in the long term. Jon Gabriel was on the dieting roller coaster gaining more each time until he reached almost 30st and realised he had try something different. He decided to concentrate on nourishing his body and lost nearly 16st without dieting. You can read his story here. Now he’s one of the world’s nutrition heros. Check out this delicious ‘pizza’.
My next Eat for a Better Life course will start on 22nd June in Cockermouth. If you’ve done with yo-yo dieting, come and join us.
Top tip: Don’t deprive your body, nourish it.
If you want to read more about the way diets affect your metabolism, here’s a piece by Dr Jason Fung.
I was delighted to see the sugar tax announced in the budget. Official acknowledgement of the problem is a welcome step in the right direction. Manufacturers love sugar; every one of the 10 thousand taste buds in your tongue and palate, has special receptors for sweetness so it’s very ‘moreish’ (addictive). They won‘t want to lose their huge profits so they’ll do everything they can to convince us to keep buying. Hopefully a higher price will push people towards water instead.
What happens when we consume sugar? Sucrose is a 2 part molecule made of glucose and fructose. 80% of the glucose part will be distributed round your body to be used for energy. If your body isn’t using energy, insulin mops up the glucose to store it as fat. The other 20% goes to your liver to be safely stored as glycogen. 100% of the fructose goes to your liver, the only organ that can process it, where it will mostly be turned into fat. When you eat whole fruit, the fibre changes the way the fructose is metabolised. So glucose without exercise is a problem but fructose without fibre is worse.
That’s why I’m disappointed that fruit juice drinks are exempt from the tax. Bought juice doesn’t contain as much goodness as you’d hope but has loads of fructose (one glass might = four fruits).
Eating a couple of pieces of whole fruit a day is fine.
Might we see increased use of artificial sweeteners? People mistakenly believe that low-cal drinks help weight loss but they don’t. When we eat sugar, our brain recognises the sweet taste and our body gets ready to store fat. When we eat artificial sweeteners, our body expects sugar and gets ready to store fat. When the sugar doesn’t arrive, our brain is confused and we get cravings to eat something. So we take in more food and we mess up the delicate signalling system our body uses to tell us when to stop eating.
For more on the science and the history of how we ended up consuming so much sweet stuff, watch Robert Lustig’s ‘Sugar, The Bitter Truth‘ on YouTube.
Top tip: Drink water instead of sweet drinks.
Some of my clients have improved their weight and health simply by changing their breakfast habits.
The current fashion is for carbohydrate only but this sets you up for rapid hunger, unhealthy snacking later on and weight gain. All carbohydrates are sugars, whether that’s added sugars or natural sugars, simple sugars or starches (which are chains of sugar and quickly break down into simple sugars). Cereal can be thought of as sugar, so can toast, fruit and fruit juices/smoothies; breakfast biscuits are mostly sugar. A bowl of cereal with low-fat flavoured yoghurt, and orange juice contains the equivalent of around 14 teaspoons of sugar and virtually no nutrients. Eating no breakfast is preferable to bad breakfast but what might be better?
Some people do well on porridge made from natural oats. Top with nuts and seeds. Beware the type in sachets as some contain loads of sugar. Muesli can be good – choose one with plenty of nuts and not much dried fruit. Top with full-fat plain yoghurt.
Smoothies are quick to make and easy to consume and digest.
Base them on coconut milk, avocado, ground almonds, flax, spinach, whey powder concentrate, natural oats etc.
Add just a little fruit for sweetness eg ¼ apple, 1” banana or a spoonful of berries.
I have a smoothie 3 or 4 times a week and last for 5 or 6 hours on it.
To save time, you can batch up all the dry ingredients in advance so that in the morning you just tip them into the glass on top of your veg and fruit.
Bought smoothies are usually made from fruit so can be very sugary. Also beware smoothie recipes on the internet as many of these include very large amounts of fruit.
Fry-ups can sustain you for ages. Choose from bacon, egg, black pudding, sausage, mushroom, tomato or do the Aussie thing – steak and egg – a favourite of mine, with wilted spinach.
Go continental with boiled eggs, ham and cheese (you can save time by hard boiling an egg the night before). Dip avocado or buttered, wholemeal toast ‘soldiers’ in soft-boiled eggs.
For a change, go fishy with a tin of mackerel plus half a pear and some seeds. Or indulge in smoked salmon, delicious with scrambled eggs and courgette.
Top tip: Eat a good breakfast.
Weight gain seems inevitable at this time of year but if you don’t want to start 2016 fat, tired and ill, how can you minimise the damage?
Eat as much natural, real food as possible. Buy fresh meat, fish and vegetables and fill yourself with good home cooked meals. Bake your own Christmas cake (nice with a slice of Wensleydale and some almonds) and mince pies using butter and reducing the sugar content. Make salad dressings, dips and healthy treats (ask me for my no-cook chocolate, seed and nut recipe). Doing a bit of something in the kitchen can be great fun if the family gets stuck in too.
The right breakfast can set you up for the day. Include some protein and fat eg nutty muesli with natural yoghurt, poached egg on toast, home made porridge (not sachets/pots) with flaked almonds and cream or a low-sweetness smoothie (mine is based on avocado and coconut milk).
The worst choices are cereal, toast with jam, fruit juices/smoothies and chocolate which will have you on a blood-sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, and craving for more bad things.
Have a healthy snack before going out and drink plenty of water before and during parties. You’ll be less likely to drink too much alcohol or over-eat. Sugar and vegetable oil are in almost all processed ‘party’ food and will cause weight gain. Soft drinks are sugary and, surprisingly, “diet” drinks also increase weight.
Hide biscuits, chocolates, cake, crisps and alcohol in cupboards and leave bowls of nuts, veg sticks and dips in plain sight. Treat treats as treats. Enjoy them but don’t make a meal of them. If you try to abstain and you’re more likely to have a blow-out. Ditch the diet ‘on it, off it’ mentality and allow yourself to have a little. Accept that there will be naughty goodies everywhere you go; you will eat some, and so will I!
Top tip – Eat well and have a Merry Christmas
Super foods are ‘in’. People are going mad for all sorts of things from gogi berries to maca powder and cacao nibs. However, I was really taken aback when someone said their diet club had told them that pasta is a super food; it is not.
So what makes something a super food? 2 things. Firstly, it will have an unusually high nutrient content; things like vitamins, minerals, enzymes or good fats. Secondly, the nutrients will be in a form that the body can easily absorb and use. This is called bio-availability. I have some videos on different superfoods here (scroll down through top tips and testimonials to get to the superfood series).
Take the avocado, a true super food. This pear-shaped fruit is packed with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and good fats. I base my breakfast smoothie on avocado. They’re also great as part of a salad. Contrast this with pasta which is just wheat starch. Like bread or Yorkshire pudding, it’s ‘padding’ with only a bit of protein, a few minerals, hardly any vitamins and no good fat. It will cause weight gain without boosting your health.
I’m quarter Italian and enjoy pasta as much as the next person but I eat no more than a handful in a meal. After all, in Italy pasta is not a main dish, it’s a starter. And what is this bizarre Cumbrian custom of serving lasagne with chips? That’s adding padding to more padding. Instead, have it with a large, mixed salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The goodness has diminished drastically in our modern diet. Super foods can help to fill the gap and give you a boost but a few gogi berries won’t make up for a poor diet. Build a solid foundation and always aim to eat well.
Top tip – Use super foods to enhance a good diet.