Amongst all the panic and pontificating about the ‘obesity crisis’, we seem to have lost sight of one rather important thing. Gaining weight is natural. So is losing it. We’re not suddenly in the grip of a mystifying disease. Our bodies work the same way they always have, and why and how they get fatter and thinner remains pretty obvious too.
However, we seem to think that we can best control this problem with new and unnatural solutions: more often than not, the latest slickly marketed drugs. But last week yet another obesity drug was taken off the market after it was shown to have a high risk of causing mental health problems by attacking the body’s natural levels of serotonin.
This drug was lauded for reducing body mass by around 5%, but this is no great claim, after all. An intelligent diet and lifestyle programme can easily achieve a 5% reduction, with no side effects and in fact many additional positive implications, such as establishing a healthy, sustainable relationship with food, and feeling good about being able to control your own diet and life.
Of course, the ‘downside’ of this kind of real food, individually empowering programme is that it doesn’t make drug companies a lot of money. But that’s one downside that can make you feel good.
This morning I found a great new site in beta called Opposing Views, which pitches experts head-to-head on a whole range of issues, with a dedicated section for readers to respond and debate, and other tabs flagging up related news and links.
One of the recent questions posed is ‘are low-carb diets healthy?’ and there are some very interesting articles and opinions on the topic. Experts piling in to say ‘yes’ include Dr Richard Feinman, Professor of Biochemistry at Downstate Medical Center (SUNY) in New York and Dr Christopher D Gardner, Director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University.
There are already 20 lengthy comments from readers inspired by the debate, so why not go in and add your thoughts. Of course, not every low carb diet is alike or takes consideration of all the factors involved. And, as with every debate, emotional polemic and generalized waffle make an appearance too. But with both strong science and personal testimonials speaking up for low carb principles, it’s great to see low carb myths start to be smashed.
If you’re interested in health and nutrition, odds are you’ll know your BMI. Lots of diet websites offer calculators to work out your Body Mass Index so you can be easily labeled under, over, normal weight, or obese.
It’s long been acknowledged that your BMI can be dangerously misleading, but it’s become more notable recently with the furore over Nintendo’s Wii, which uses BMI to declare young children overweight. This week the Sun also published an investigation with readers and nutritionists bemoaning how easily BMI can fail to truly indicate an individual’s health.
The problem is that BMI focuses on height and weight alone; it does not tell you the ratio of fat to muscle mass and therefore people who are fundamentally slim often have a high BMI. Think of the English Rugby squad: they have a huge BMI but no-one could call them fat!
It’s far more helpful to take into account hip to waist ratio and muscle mass. And the great thing about high protein diets is that they focus on muscle and not weight. If you’re slim, feel fit and are medically fantastic, you’re certainly not a slave to the number on your scales.
As someone who sees so many people riddled with insecurities and confusion about their weight, I realize all too well BMI definitely does not help; thankfully the message has begun to spread.
Low GI is one of the buzzwords of the moment, and for excellent reason. Low GI foods that release energy slowly and sustainably, keeping glucose levels in your bloodstream steady, have indeed been shown to help regulate appetite and weight. High GI foods also tend to be the sugar and starch packed carbs which Go Lower avoids.
But the problem with buzzwords is that they tend to be seen in very simplistic terms, and Low GI needs a balanced approach rather than blind acceptance.
Fructose is a perfect example. The fact that this fruit sugar is ‘natural and ‘low GI’ leads many to believe it to be an ideal component of a healthy diet. However, a recent research paper on fructose by George A Bray, a specialist on obesity and metabolism (you can read it online here), highlights just how misguided this is, linking fructose to metabolic risks, obesity and gout.
Of course, fruit is still a great option, as the fructose is balanced with plenty of fibre and water. But it’s worth remembering that sugar is sugar, low GI or not, and carries with it many of the same health implications. My advice would be to avoid fructose wherever you can in its crystalline or liquid form – which often means you often have to check the label of foods for unwelcome hidden extras.
And don’t forget that every diet ‘rule’ should be taken with a pinch of salt!
I’d like to start the week by highlighting another study which has just been published on the net before being printed. Its a paper on the efficacy of low carb vs low fat diets in the treatment of adolescents with obesity, by Israel’s respected Institute for Endocrinology and Diabetes, and definitely worth a read.
The main findings corroborate the basis of Go Lower: that a low carb programme helps you loose as much or more weight as a high carb, low fat regime. But the paper also shows that the insulin profile of the low carb test group was significantly improved compared to the low fat group; which is extremely important for overall health, and especially so considering our increasing levels of diabetes in the UK.
It seems incredible that people are still recommending a starch based diet when the science against it is rock solid. In fact, it seems irresponsible. Can we really afford to ignore such research when obesity and diabetes are such a threat?
This week a lovely lady rang us looking for some advice. She had been following the Go Lower regime for about 5 days but had not made any progress in terms of weight loss or inch loss, and was understandably concerned.
As we chatted about her first week on the programme, she let slip that she’d indulged in some Kentucky Fried Chicken. She knew that Go Lower is a high protein plan, so she was sure that a big piece of chicken would be fine. Of course, the sad truth is that KFC has little to do with protein but a lot to do with starch. That crispy coating is full of quickly processed sugar.
I had to admit to her that she’s undone five days’ good work with just one meal. Unlike the calorie counting diets she was used to – which allow extra one day and less the other – a ketogenic diet
like Go Lower involves changing the way you eat forever. Once you understand the principles behind it and nail the do’s and don’ts, you’re home free – and for life, not just for a few, fluctuating months. Sacrificing a bit of the Colonel’s ‘chicken’ doesn’t seem so bad once the weight’s falling off – so she’s now tucking into fresh, herby chicken chasseur instead!
Further to my post, yesterday, I thought I’d flag up this great video of Gary Taubes talking about the relationship between fat and calories in February this year, on the back of his new book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’. Gary is a respected American science journalist, here talking at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and he explains the necessary shift in thinking brilliantly.
I spotted the video on Regina Wilshire’s Weight of the Evidence blog, another very interesting resource that’s well worth a read.
Get into a conversation about weight loss, and it’s pretty inevitable that calories will make a starring appearance. Whether you’re counting, restricting or just generally obsessing over them, they’ve become the be-all and end-all of so many diet plans.
But many scientists remain unconvinced of their importance. Another piece of research has been published in a respectable journal showing that many of the current assumptions about how calories impact on our weight are simply not true.
In his research paper Dietary Glycemic Index and Obesity, DS Ludwig explains:
The concept that “a calorie is a calorie” underlies most conventional weight loss strategies. According to this principle, obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. The proposed cure is to eat less and exercise more. However, calorie-restricted, low fat diets have poor long-term effectiveness in the outpatient setting. In a sense, these diets may constitute symptomatic treatment that does not address the physiologic drives to overeat. From a hormonal standpoint, all calories are not alike.
Check out the full article here. It makes interesting for anyone interested in health and nutrition; those of us following Go Lower will know that it’s borne out in practice, not just theory.