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.
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!
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!
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.
Every day I’m lucky enough to speak face to face with a great variety of women and men about their health and diet problems, and each story is always fascinating in it’s own way.
One issue that seems to keep coming up is the problem of age and weight loss. As someone who is now definitely middle aged, I know as well as anyone how our bodies change and how frustrating it can be! What worked fine in our twenties suddenly seems to make us pile on the pounds later in life. A classic complaint I hear is from women who lost several stone on Weight Watchers or a similar calorie counting scheme a couple of decades ago, but now find that it just won’t work to shift their middle-aged spread.
Now, I do know two scientific certainties about age: both our metabolic rate and our levels of human growth hormone decrease. When you restrict calories in your youth, the higher metabolic rate combined with the active human growth hormone means that you can lose those extra pounds by just eating a little less. But for us oldies, the reduction in calories needs to be very dramatic to have much impact – our bodies sensibly adjust their metabolic rate to make the most of the reduced calories.
You might have some success if you team eating less with a very rigorous exercise routine, but of course age also makes this more difficult as our mobility and flexibility decrease. So shifting the emphasis from restricting calories to eating in a different way altogether is the one way to ensure a really bright, long future. I’ve been Going Lower as I get older – and I’ve never felt so young.
As the wife of a GP, I know that most GPs know very little about diet and nutrition. This isn’t a criticism, just a fact of life – I’m sure that most GPs would admit that their training simply doesn’t cover biochemistry to any great level of detail in relation to food. General medical training is by necessity broad, and biochemisty is a very specialist field.
What’s surprising is that we don’t see more biochemists involved in the obesity debate. All sorts of specialists from nutritionists and dieticians, to epidemiologists and nurses speak out publicly, but their training rarely involves studying biochemistry to the level truly required to understand how our bodies process carbs, proteins and fats.
Why all the emphasis on biochemists? Well, when I first started looking at the issue of weight control in depth, I found them to be the only people that could answer my difficult questions on how our bodies react to different food groups. Biochemists showed me that when the body takes in too much glucose it will turn that glucose into saturated fats, and that the foods that turn to glucose easily are starch and sugar. The ones I spoke to found it obvious that the levels of starch and sugar in our diet are directly impacting on obesity.
Basing the Go Lower programme on the advice of true experts seemed a basic principle to me. But when it comes to weight loss, it can seem revolutionary!
Despite what you might have heard, meat is definitely good for us. Poor old flesh gets a regular kicking; we’re often told that eating meat will kill us in the end, and probably destroy the planet too. Is there any truth in these rather extreme allegations?
I regard them as very unfair. Meat, as part of a balanced, healthy diet, has much to commend it. It’s rich in essential fatty acids (omega 3) and a natural source of essential amino acids. The key message is, buy good quality meat rather than cheap meat products.
As for claims that meat-eating is contributing to climate change, if you eat meat produced locally, the environmental impact is kept to the minimum. Since meat has natural satiety benefits – that is, it gives the eater a feeling of satisfaction – we tend to eat less of it. Again, with positive implications for the environment.
And let’s not forget that the meat industry is an integral part of the dairy industry. Our steaks, mince and chops are by-products of milk, cream, butter and cheese production.
As with most things, meat eating is all about balance , quality and consideration. But it can be a great move, both for your body and your conscience.
Last week, the President of the British Obesity Surgery Society John Baxter criticized what he saw as the ‘rationing’ of expensive obesity surgery (also known as bariatric surgery) on the NHS. It’s a controversial procedure that inspires highly emotional responses. On the one hand we hear a UCL doctor hailing it as the ‘only means to healthy weight loss’; on the other we read stories from patients claiming that it ruined their lives.
The public sense of outrage when Fern Britten confessed to having had stomach surgery was very interesting. It seems that people felt so ‘betrayed’ because it was another blow to those trying to find a healthy, effective weight loss diet. Having seen Britton as an inspiring example that good nutrition gets good results, they wondered whether they should just give up the struggle and sign up to go under the knife.
It must be a tempting idea when you’re obsessively counting calories and trimming fat with little discernible result. It makes me only more aware of the importance of helping people discover a way of eating that feels natural and that works. If your diet doesn’t working, you haven’t run out of options. You just haven’t found the right diet.
It’s one of the biggest dieting clichés there is: an anxious woman checking the labels of every packet and tin as she goes round the supermarket, determined to keep her calorie count below a certain magic number.
But life by numbers isn’t much fun.
Only today I had a phone call with a lovely lady who asked the simple question ‘How many calories will I consume a day on the Go Lower Diet?’ She was a little surprised when I asked her why this mattered. Because, obviously, she responded, she was on a low calorie diet. I gently pointed out that she wanted to try Go Lower because this wasn’t working. Why would I encourage her to keep doing the same thing?
Since the early 80s we have been told to count calories. But even though on average we eat less calories today and don’t do much less exercise, we are bigger than ever before.
Many scientific studies (you can see one example here) show that our weight is affected by the sort of calories we consume, not just the amount. To lose weight, we must look at the nature of the food we eat, not just the energy content. It’s one of the basic principles underpinning Go Lower.
It can be so difficult to overcome assumptions about diet that have been drilled into us for years. But admit it: don’t you sometimes long to see food as food again, not a guilt-inducing figure on the back of a jar?