Thursday, November 1, 2012

More truth about diets

A controversial subject I have been writing about a lot lately. But when you think about it, diets have been a hot topic for decades now... ironically when I think about how long diets have been a hot topic, it seems to coincide with the amount of time concern over the increasing numbers of overweight and obese people as been on the rise. Since they're related topics it may not seem so ironic, until you consider that obesity is now at pandemic levels despite at least 30 years of public obsession with various diets. Clearly something is not right with this situation. These diets don't seem to be working.

Before we look at the current crop of popular or fad diets, let's take a brief look at dieting history over the previous decades.

If you're old enough, you'll remember when fats were considered the root of all evil, leading to all manner of health complications. Eggs were considered unhealthy, for example. Eggs! You would scarcely believe this now, 30 or more years later.

Things turned around in the late 90s / early 2000s when the Atkins Diet suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon. Where fats had been demonised in the past, suddenly carbohydrates were the problem and we were encouraged to get stuck into those fats instead, along with high protein from meats.

Somewhere in between (around 1985 to be exact) the Fit For Life diet was the big thing. Now, this one focused more on the timing and combinations of different types of foods, rather than on calorie counting. For example, eat nothing but fruit before noon, don't combine protein and carbohydrates in the same meal, and avoid dairy as much as possible.

There are numerous other fad diets with a variety of names and approaches. Meal frequency became the big thing for a while, and we were encouraged to eat small meals every 3 hours to "boost metabolism", amongst other things. The Glycemic Index became a focal point too, with faster digested carbohydrates being associated with fat gain due to increases in insulin levels, amongst other things.

Where are they now?

Mostly forgotten, right? These days when you see or hear these particular diets mentioned it is in the context of an "I even tried this, back in the day... hey everyone was doing it!" type list of failed weight loss attempts. Now to be fair, both Atkins and Fit For Life were designed to be long term solutions, so maybe if people had stuck with them long term they would have had long term success. I would speculate that most people merely tried the initial phase and then returned to their regular eating habits, meaning a return to weight gain.

What have they been replaced with?

This is where I get controversial.

I've already talked a lot about how I feel about Very Low Calorie Diets, meal replacement products, appetite suppressants and so on. I hate all of that garbage. Aside from not actually being a good strategy to maintain a healthy weight over the long term, these products send a damaging message that "food makes you fat", which I believe contributes to the increasing instances in eating disorders amongst young people.

Recently I've been made aware of a few of the currently popular diets put out by self proclaimed "obesity researchers" who I don't want to name in case I get sued... but it only takes a cursory glance at their websites to see that the extent of their research seems to be reading the Atkins and Fit For Life books, combining some of the incorrect concepts contained therein and putting it out again under a new name. I am going to lump all the ketogenic and "caveman" diets in under the "rebranded Atkins" label as well.

What's my issue with all of these diets?

Well, it's not so simple as to say that they don't work. Maybe if people stick to them consistently they will maintain results, but history has shown that most people are unable to do so.

Why? In my opinion; too many rules.

That's not the real issue though. The issue I have is that all of these diets promote the notion that certain foods "make you fat", or at the very least "stop you from losing weight". And we're not just talking about cakes and cookies here. Various of the so called paleo or "caveman" diets actually ban all legumes, for example. Of all the things, LENTILS make you fat now? Really? Other diets (Harcombe diet for example) actually recommend avoiding fruit, claiming that the sugar content will keep you fat. FRUIT? Can they actually be serious with this nonsense? It goes without saying that almost all of these diets are also intensely phobic of grains and bread in particular, for some reason.

All of these messages are entirely incorrect and irresponsible. As I talked about earlier, they encourage that dangerous "eating makes you fat" thought process that leads to eating disorders. I believe you cannot successfully manage your weight long term unless you have a healthy attitude towards food and enjoy a variety of foods in moderation. Being afraid or ashamed of eating is not healthy or helpful.

The bottom line.

Food does not make you fat. Calories are fuel that your body needs to function and thrive. Particularly for those who participate in exercise, you must be adequately fuelled to recover and adapt to training.

Regardless of the source of calories (protein, fat, carb, high GI, low GI or whatever) your body can ONLY store fat when the intake of calories is in excess of what is required to maintain your current weight and adapt to training. Back in primitive times such as the 1990s tracking your intake of calories may have been an arduous task leading to the rise of the restrictive "no calorie counting required" approaches we have discussed, but in the modern age of technology we have a myriad of choices of free resources at our fingertips that will do all the work for us. There is no excuse at all to be too lazy to do this!

Again I'll repeat the bottom line here, with an example.

Let's imagine that we have used the Mifflin - St Joer equation to determine that to maintain your current bodyweight (taking into account your daily activities and exercise schedule) would require 2300 calories... and then we only eat 1800 calories per day.... regardless of how much fruit (or whatever else) you eat or at what time, how can your body possibly store extra fat? Body fat comes from energy intake that is surplus to requirements, not from particular "bad" foods. And especially not from eating fruit!

A little plug just to finish up on: I just launched my brand new "Lose Weight, No Bullshit" FREE Weight Loss Education & Exercise Program, and if you check it out and read one article a day you be very well equipped to take control and make some amazing changes in terms of your health and body weight.