In a world where we are bombarded with information, the perfect body, the newest celebrity diet, the next superfood it is sometimes hard to remember the basics – the simple rules of physics and biology that determine our weight.
Think of your body as a machine: energy in versus energy out. If you do not put enough petrol in your car it won’t drive. If you put in too much it will just overflow.
If you eat too much and don’t exercise you will put on weight. In order to lose excessive weight you need to eat less than you expend in energy. All diets work on this principle.
The cabbage soup diet, the lemonade diet, the grapefruit diet to name a few of the more popular fad diets are all essentially extremely low calorie diets – some less than 500 calories or about ¼ of the advised daily amount for an adult. If you starve yourself – you will lose weight. However the effects will be short term as weight returns quickly once the diet is eased – (no one can live of only cabbage soup!) and the health effects can be detrimental.
While many of these diets claim to have a magic ingredient – cayenne pepper, a perfectly balanced vitamin shake etc. that keeps you healthy while melting away fat the reality is they often provide the body with the bare minimum of energy to run all the necessary functions. This can cause the body’s metabolism to shift into a mode where energy is gleaned from breakdown of fat or even muscle tissue. Essential salts, proteins, fibre and vitamins may be lacking and consequences can include dehydration, poor concentration, constipation, muscle weakness, low blood pressure and even ketosis (an abnormality of the metabolism seen in some newly diagnosed diabetics). Ultimately a body faced with starvation will then try to store energy as quickly as possible when once again exposed to a more normal diet- piling the pounds back on.
Obesity, diabetes and our metabolisms are of course much more complex than this but it is useful to always keep the simple message in mind; Energy in versus energy out. There are many interesting new insights into the genetic variations in weight gain across different ethnic groups and within populations. A leading author in this area is Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, working in Cambridge. He has published widely on the genes that may put people at a disadvantage for obesity by effecting items such as appetite, a person’s ability to feel full and satisfied and a person’s likelihood of developing diabetes when exposed to western diet.
There is some truth to the fact, it seems, that some of us struggle with our weight much more than others. However without taking in (eating) the incorrect foods in the first place and /or leading a sedentary lifestyle (not exercising) genetics alone will not make us put on weight. One of the greatest challenges we face is the environment we have created in which we are exposed to a world of fast food, highly processed ready meals, sugary drinks and confectionary all cheap, easy and in huge portions.
So with all this in mind we need again to get back to basics. To understand the simple things behind our food – the different components; protein, carbohydrate, fat that make it up. To remember that none of these are on their own ‘bad’ foods as many diets including the celebrated ‘Atkins diet’ may have us believe. Each plays a vital role in our bodies health, each is a different important fuel. It is the balance and the amount of these foods that we eat that will maintain a healthy weight – not the time of day or the order in which they are consumed, not your blood type or whether there is a full moon out! Combined, of course with a little good old fashioned exercise.