unsplash-logoFlemming Fuchs

Are you on a HIGH FACT diet?

It would be fair to say we have never had access to more nutritional knowledge than we do today and yet I don’t believe we have ever had a worse relationship with our weight and food choices.

In 2015 the Global Weight Loss and Weight Management market was worth $158.2 billion with a predicted worth of $259.8 billion in 2022. [1] With increasing value placed on managing our weight, we should be getting skinnier and skinnier, right? And yet everywhere we turn we are told we are in the midst of an ‘obesity epidemic’.

So what’s the truth? Figures presented to parliament in March 2018 showed there has been a clear increase in obesity levels since 1993, from 15% to 26%. Correspondingly, the percentage of adults who are either overweight or obese has risen from 53% to 61%. [2] So we are getting heavier. Fact.

You might have heard that diets don’t work but we can have a hard time believing that. After all, if we eat a caloric deficit we do lose weight and we all know someone who has lost weight on a diet, right?

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And so it must be our fault. We are too weak willed, too greedy, too lazy to stick to the programme. We blame ourselves. Our self-esteem, already dented by the belief we should be thinner, gets eroded away further as we become more frustrated and despondent with each ‘failed’ attempt to follow a weight loss programme.

The problem with a diet, and even a healthy ‘programme’, is that it doesn’t change the way we make our food choices. We hand our decision making over to the plan. We limit options to help navigate our way through our food abundant culture but then we don’t learn how to make food decisions that ultimately support our health – both physically and mentally.

The diet or plan is usually a temporary measure, to get us where we want to be weight-wise, but then what? Many of us go back to how we ate before the diet, gain back the weight and start the cycle again.

Placing a structured eating plan aside for the moment, is it possible that the nutritional information we know could actually be contributing to the problem?

One of the problems with nutrition is that it makes certain generalisations. There are these ballpark figures thrown around about how much (or little) we should be eating. Many of us will have heard that it is 2,000kcals for women and 2,500kcals for men but did you know this varies wildly from person to person and that even something like ethnicity affects our basal metabolic rate? [3]

Having a number in our heads about how much we should be eating could be counterproductive. Ever heard someone say that they haven’t eaten much today, therefore they can ‘justify’ indulging? Believing that we need to justify or balance out our food intake causes us to try and cognitively figure out what we need to eat instead of learning to listen to our bodies.

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If I go for a long run or have a hard physical work out, I often experience an absence of hunger on the day. Instead, I notice that the day afterwards, when my muscles feel a little tired, I am hungrier than usual. Nutritional rules would advise things like carb-loading or increasing protein intake on the day of exercise. These may work for you but for me, I’d be eating more when my body doesn’t want to because I believe it’s what I should be doing. My journey has involved learning to focus on listening and getting to know what works for me.

Nutritional rules can involve ignoring our bodies’ hunger signals and using our heads, instead of our bodies, to figure out what we should be eating. A lot of people experience a blood sugar spike when they eat white bread but some people don’t. Some people don’t like going to bed on a full stomach and others do. There is evidence that intermittent fasting has a positive impact on health and weight but I know people who feel shaky and unwell if they don’t eat regularly.

We try to adhere to the rules and conquer our appetites but appetite is a powerful survival mechanism, which will fight back if you try and quash it. Many people who try to control their appetites may end up being controlled by them.

The intuitive eating movement is gaining momentum as a solution to following the rules. It’s not about control, it’s not about perfection. It’s about aligning with what your body is telling you, honouring your hunger and eating what makes you feel good. You have permission to eat and to eat what you enjoy.

There may be a fear that if you give yourself permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, then you will end up binging. I certainly used to feel this way. Binging is often driven by the fear that something won’t be available later, or a diet is imminent (see previous blog on last supper eating). I truly believe that we need to get rid of the moralising of food as good and bad and refocus on how the food makes us feel. I have found the best intention to hold when deciding what to eat is:

Eat what you want but aim to feel better after eating than you did before.

Eat what you want but aim to feel better after eating than you did before.

If you hold this intention, you will learn to listen to your body’s signals. When body and mind are in sync, well, that’s a harmonious place where I’d like to stay.

Sources

1.     https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/03/10/majority-brits-are-on-a-diet-most-of-the-time_n_9426086.html

2.     https://www.researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03336/SN03336.pdf

3.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4044297