All calories are not equal. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to controlling weight. Fat doesn’t make you fat. Stress and sleep deprivation do make you store fat. Willpower doesn’t work. Overweight people are not greedy, lazy or stupid. There’s no such thing as naughty food. Diets don’t work. Exercise doesn’t make you thin.
Let’s look at how some of these points of view hold up and smash a few myths along the way…
Do Calories Count?
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Different calorie sources can have vastly different effects on hunger, hormones, energy expenditure and the brain regions that control food intake. Even though calories are important, counting them or even being consciously aware of them is not necessary to lose weight.
In many cases, simple changes in food selection can lead to the same or better results than restricting your calorie intake. Processed, starchy and sugary foods destabilise blood sugar and stimulate overeating. Less snacking and smaller portions of pasta, potatoes, rice or bread can reduce cravings and help maintain impulse control.
What Size are You?
There are no two people on the planet with all these variables the same: genetic makeup, personal food preferences, level of activity, fitness and health and other lifestyle factors. This means our metabolism is uniquely individual.
A research programme called ZOE identifies these variable factors and is rolling out in the UK this year after successful trials in the US. It provides at-home tests to identify gut health and blood sugar and blood fat levels.
These include specially formulated muffins to assess how individuals process fats and sugars in their diet. Along with blood and stool tests, the muffins reveal all you need to know to improve gut health and reduce dietary inflammation.
The diet industry sells programmes which, for many, are doomed to fail because they don’t take into account individual gut reactions to different types of food. This new science will hopefully make dieting obsolete in years to come.
Big Fat Lies
After 30 years of government advice to eat a low-calorie, low-fat diet, to lose weight it became obvious that this was, at least, misguided and, in fact, plain wrong as the nation got fatter and fatter. It is now widely recognised and scientifically proven that snacks, processed food, refined starches and sugar are the cause of the obesity epidemic in this country.
These types of food are ‘hyperpalatable’, overloading us with fat, salt and sugar by creating a ‘bliss point’, a kind of insatiable ‘mouth feel’ that makes it hard to stop eating even when full to bursting. The food industry loves selling us the food we crave. It’s generally made from nutritionally poor, cheap ingredients which are, of course, enormously profitable.
Many ‘functional’ or healthy foods only contain a tiny amount of whatever healthy ingredient they contain. Become a label reader if you want to know the truth about what’s in the packet. Better still, don’t buy things in packets.
The human body is truly a work of genius. In primeval conditions, stress was caused by anticipation of deprivation. As a result, we’re all genetically hardwired to see food and eat it in case we starve tomorrow.
A clever hormone called cortisol causes us to crave high-calorie food then convert it quickly to fat and hold on to it until needed. Not much use in times of such abundance when we’re constantly under stress but rarely starving.
Sleep deprivation also triggers hunger as we need more energy to keep going and will eat to elevate blood sugar above healthy levels. It is common to self-medicate for anxiety and insomnia by overeating. Not only does this not solve the problems, but the resulting weight gain also makes us more unhealthy and unhappy.
Emotions and eating behaviour need to be untangled for both to be tackled in a healthy way and that means changing habits of a lifetime and deconstructing the beliefs that maintain them.
Where There’s a Will
Logical, rational, conscious thinking has very little influence over our overeating habits. It’s our unconscious, emotional self that makes the decisions so none of us has much willpower and it tends to let us down after a while.
I’ve heard many serial dieters say they’ve got no willpower even though they may have lost their body weight several times over years of disciplined dieting. They end up feeling like a big fat failure when the weight piles on again. Hypnotherapy can help achieve unconscious change so you can make healthy food choices.
Cultural attitudes toward obesity are shameful. Many overweight people are deeply ashamed of themselves because of unconscious bias against them in our social media-influenced world. It’s time for all of us to stop being judgemental and critical of ourselves and others so we can deal with the complex issues surrounding weight and body image in a positive and healthy way.
It’s a Sin
The idea of ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ food is ridiculous and piles on the guilt for the smallest of indulgences. A well-known diet club lists ‘syns’ as being treats for their long-suffering members. It’s claimed to be short for ‘synergy’. Who are they kidding? It’s another way to punish dieters for their shameful sins.
Once that dieter’s mentality is overcome, it’s possible to make good food choices without craving forbidden fruit.
Fit for Purpose
By preventing cancers, improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, bolstering sleep, attention, energy and mood, and doing so much more, exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug. Sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug. Countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos have been sold on this promise.
The truth is, you cannot outrun a bad diet. Here are some examples to press the point home: you’d have to swim for 45 minutes to burn off one slice of Domino’s pepperoni pizza or play football for an hour for a bacon sandwich. There’s a compensation factor which means, if we exercise, we tend to loaf around more the rest of the time and eat more because we’ve earned it.
Nobody had to go to the gym 100 years ago because everyone was more physically active before the automobile took over the world and the route from farm to table wasn’t via a science lab and processing factory. Moving around more and eating a wide variety of fresh, nutritionally balanced ingredients is the answer to obesity but easier said than done.
Food is one of life’s great pleasures and being overweight is not. We’re inundated with food porn on the telly, every kind of takeaway is delivered now and restaurants are where we socialise… This isn’t going to change any time soon so weight control is down to a personal commitment to eat less. Just make sure everything you eat is deliciously nutritious.