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The Mail on Sunday (18 Sept 2016) have published an eight-page pull-out, ‘Think Yourself Slim’ and promised no forbidden foods, just the power of your mind to lose weight. Let’s look at how they did.

The good bits

Jean Kristeller, clinical psychologist, was (probably) right on the button when she was talking about some of the reasons why we eat too much, particularly of fattening foods. She spoke of using mindful eating – all good common sense stuff designed to help you listen to your body telling you about taste and when you are full.

The wrong bits

Well, we’re back to the same old wrong chestnut: calories. The Mail/Kristellar tells us that:

We need to cut calories to lose weight – specifically, 3,500 a week to lose 1lb

It doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you stay within the recommended calorie count

Not calories matter again?!
Not the calories matter argument again?!

 

Both these arguments are fallacies; let’s look briefly at why this is so.

Calories are a unit of energy, no more and no less. Coal has calories and we don’t (usually) eat that to fuel us: the type of food (and thus the type of calories) does matter. 300 calories of starch or sugar will be used in a different way by the body than 300 calories of fat or 300 calories of protein – and take a different amount of energy to process.

They are also assuming that because fats have 9 kilocalories (Calories/cals) per gram, they are more fattening than alcohol which has 7 cals per gram, and sugars, starches and proteins, which have 4 cals per gram. In fact a) these numbers are estimates and b) fat contains nutrients and sugars don’t and c) they are digested and used differently.

Carb digestion 101 - Click here for a short explanation of what happens to the carbs you eat

Basic points to bear in mind are:

– Carbohydrates include starches, sugars and fibre

– Starches (from potatoes, carrots, turnips, bread, cereals, pasta, etc) are all digested into glucose, a sugar

– Sugars digest into glucose, fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose (milk sugar)

– Glucose can be used as an energy source by our cellls

– Glucose enters your blood stream where it is carried around the body to cells that need energy

– We only need a very small amount of glucose in the blood stream at any one time

– High blood sugar (glucose) levels are toxic, so must be decreased; if we can’t decrease them, we have diabetes

– When blood glucose levels rise, our pancreas releases the hormone insulin which allows cells to open up to accept the glucose; when cells stop responding to this stimulus (‘insulin resistance’) we can end up tired and unwell

– Unlike glucose, fructose can only be processed by the liver; fructose in a small amount of whole fruit can be dealt with; fruit juices hit the liver too hard and fatty liver can result. Fructose also bypasses the “I’ve had enough to eat” signals, so you can glug back a lot of fruit juice without realising how much sugar (fructose and glucose) you are consuming… and still be left hungry

– We can’t digest fibre… but our gut bacteria can digest some of it! As a result, the bacteria get energy and we get short chain fatty acids… that’s right, fat. In fact, that fat, helps feed and maintain our gut cells

The type of calories you eat does matter

When you eat more starches and sugars than you need for immediate and short term energy use, any spare is taken out  of the blood stream and stored first as glycogen in the liver and muscles and, when these small stores are full, as fat in the fat cells.

If your meal is low carb and you eat food based around protein and fat, it’s not only hard to overeat them (you set off ‘full’ signals), but because insulin levels are low, it’s also hard to store any excess as fat.

On the other hand, if you eat high carb and high fat (like a doughnut), the carb component gets used first. Unless you use it all up, it will be stored as fat along with the fat you’ve just eaten.

Only this much cheese? I don't think so.
Only this much cheese? I don’t think so.

We see visual representations of what you can eat; for example, we’re only allowed a matchbox size of cheese (which contains a range of nutrients)… but also allowed a fistful of dried pasta (which digests into sugar). Note it mentions calories (even though we are told this is not a diet…)

How many calories are in that?

We are told that women need 2,000-2,100 calories a day and men 2,500-2,600… but how well do you know your calories? Can you identify how much you are eating, and do you think those labels on foods you buy in the stores or the menus in restaurants are accurate? Think again: the labelling is approximate and based on ‘average’ and manufacturers are allowed error rates of up to 20%.

Food labels that indicate how many calories are in what you are eating also aren’t much help because they don’t take into account:

– The macro composition of the food

– The age of food

– How the food is cooked

– How long a person’s intestine is

– The state of a person’s gut bacteria

– The speed at which the food is chewed/swallowed

… These factors and more determine rates of digestion, absorption and use if digested products.

Do we all need the same amount of calories?

Nor do recommended calorie amounts take into account how much you really need: for example, do you seriously think all these women will each need 2,100 calories a day?

  • 5′ 5″, 13 st and sedentary
  • 5′ 5″, 11 st and active
  • 5′ 10″, 11 st, active and in 50s
  • 5′ 10″, 11 st, active and in early 20s
  • 5′ 2″, 7 st and elderly

No, they don’t.

What the article is doing

The Mail/Kristellar opines that it’s all right to eat any food you want. Actually, it’s not ‘OK’. If you want to eat crap, then do it, but be aware you are eating crap: don’t pretend ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’, or ‘all things in moderation’ are just fine.

Am I saying stop eating highly processed foods? No, that’s up to you, but do it in recognition of the facts. What I do say is:

Eat real food – meats, fish, sea foods and vegetables and some fruits; don’t trim fat off meats, and do keep root veg and sweet fruit consumption down if you are trying to lose weight (fat)

Eat some slightly processed foods – butter, cheese, canned fish, very dark chocolate

Eat gut bacteria-friendly foods – fermented vegetables (if they don’t cause bloating) and kefir

Avoid fruit juices – these are not healthy options: go for water, teas or milk instead

Avoid junk foods, including sweets

When you are eating well and your body is in good health, then the effects eating an occasional dessert or sugary snack bar will be accommodated by your body.

 

 

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