Exercise

“In my diet plan it says I can eat as much as I want.  How does that work?”

“I’m confused: should I count calories or not?”

“My doctor says that Gary Taubes is wrong: you can’t contradict physics.  I’m fat because I eat too much and don’t exercise enough”

We hear this all the time, and questions like this appear in Facebook groups and diet forums all the time.  Frequently with people saying something like “excuse me for being stupid“.

We will put that last one to bed straight away.  You are not stupid!

Let’s deal with “eat as much as you want“.  First, how much do you want?

Your body has sophisticated control mechanisms to tell you:

  1. You’re hungry: you need fuel (food)
  2. You are full: you’ve had enough

Click this picture: you may get a surprise!

However, unfortunately you have two completely different mechanisms in this control system:

  1. Biochemistry
  2. Psychology and emotions

Frequently our psychology and emotions around food get messed up.  It starts with parental messages to eat up all your dinner or children will starve in Africa and is then manipulated by the HUGE sums of money that advertisers spend to program our brains to make us eat.

Our biochemistry also gets messed up.  When I was a lad growing up in England, Chinese restaurants were  novelty.  There was a piece of “received wisdom” that said that you would feel hungry again half an hour after eating Chinese food. Cecil Adams in “The Straight Dope” even wrote an article about it. (Click those links: they are more fun than this blog post is likely to be!)

The point is that some food makes you feel full up, some food leaves you hungry and there is some food that actually makes you hungry (mostly manufactured food, manufactured by firms with no interest in you being healthy, just in you buying more of their products.

So, leaving on one side the psychology and emotions for a moment, if you STOP eating the stuff that doesn’t make you feel food, and replace it by eating the stuff that does make you feel full, then we can say “eat as much as you like”, reckoning that you will get to feel full quite quickly, that that will be “as much as you like” and you’ll eat less, and lose weight.

But notice what I said there: “you will eat less”.  Let’s move on.

(Oh, by the way, highly processed carbs and sugars are the things liable to make you want to eat more, and fatty and spicy food are likely to make you want to eat less.  ”Diet” versions don’t help.  To understand just a little of what’s going on here, first glance at “Is it true that drinking diet sodas like Diet Coke make you crave carbohydrates?” Ask.com.  You will notice that there is one “yes” vote and one “no” vote, the “no” coming from Snopes, which I usually trust.  But then just glance through this Mercola article: “Aspartame — History of Fraud and Deception“.  It’s down the bottom where he says:

Aspartame is the only biochemical warfare product on grocery shelves

that makes me think I need a lot more research before I’ll give it a try!).

Of course, we haven’t dealt with the psychology yet.

You have probably heard this old joke: “I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it!

There is even a Facebook page with that name, for food jokes :

Q: Why do bakers work so hard?
A: Because they need the dough.

But maybe the “see food” thing isn’t a joke.  Maybe it’s the truth.  Spend a couple of minutes watching this experiment carried out by stage hypnotist Paul McKenna:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbDFnI_fMd4

You might like to try it for yourself.

And how would it be if someone fed you, rather than you feeding yourself?  My guess is that each mouthful will be smaller and that your “eating speed” will be slower.

I think that we have learned to bypass or over-ride our “satiety” signals, and if we could fix that problem, then we would feel full sooner, and we would eat less.

But notice what I said there: “we would eat less”.

Losing weight is all about eating less.  It’s about doing something that will mean that we are happy to stop eating when we are full.  It is not about forcing ourselves to eat less.  That never, ever works.  And if you think it does, just look around you.  All over the western world for at least the last half century, doctors, nutritionists and diet pundits have been telling overweight people to, “eat less, exercise more”.

Does it look like this advice is working?  I don’t think so.

And then along comes Gary Taubes with his two books, [simpleazon-link asin="1400033462" locale="us"]Good Calories, Bad Calories[/simpleazon-link] ([simpleazon-link asin="0091924286" locale="uk"]The Diet Delusion[/simpleazon-link] in the UK) and [simpleazon-link asin="0307474259" locale="us"]Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It[/simpleazon-link].  The book (WWGF) changed my life.  Here’s why.

There is a subtle subtext behind “If you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight” which says “you are fat because you are greedy and lazy“.  Gee, thanks doc.

When Gary says that this isn’t the way to go with this all the conventional pundits cry “foul”.  They say it’s all a question of physics.  If you take in more energy than you put out, that excess energy has to go somewhere and it will be stored as fat.  Therefore, take in less energy and/or put out more energy, or both.  It’s all physics and Gary Taubes should be burned at the stake (steak?) for saying otherwise.

But Gary does NOT go against the laws of physics.  Read the above paragraph again, but stop at the word “Therefore”.  There should be a whole book, or maybe a whole library, between “stored as fat.” and “Therefore …”

Here’s an example that Gary uses quite a lot.  Think of  a teenage boy.  There comes a certain age where they seem to grow (tall) overnight.  And they seem to be always in the fridge, except when they are in bed.  But you don’t ever hear a parent say “My Tommy has grown six inches in the last three months, it must be because he’s eating too much and not exercising enough”.  He is eating because he is growing.  He lacks energy because all his energy is going into growing.  And why is he growing?  Well, we know, don’t we.  It’s his hormones.

And it’s our hormones that make us grow fatter, too.  It’s just different hormones.  With Tommy it’s testosterone and somatropin, with me it’s insulin.  With Tommy it’s supposed to happen: if his testosterone and somatropin get out of whack he’ll either not grow, or he’ll be a giant.  My insulin is out of whack: I’m only a giant width-wise.  And it was eating too many refined carbohydrates when I was young and foolish (and middle-aged and foolish) as opposed to now when I am old and foolish, that damaged my insulin system.

But I’m getting off subject, or at least on to a subject that I’ll come back to later.

So, Do I have to Count Calories? Yes or No?

Well, it depends (sorry!)  You will only lose weight if you correct that energy balance: eat less or exercise more (actually, exercising more probably won’t help: it’ll just make you hungry).

What we hope is that by eating less processed junk food, less refined carbs, by eating more “real food” (what your grandparents called “food”), by eating a balanced amount of protein and upping the amount of fats that you eat (etc etc: we’ll deal with precisely what elsewhere), you will naturally want to eat less.

The trick to losing weight while eating as much as you like is to change how much you like.

So if you are following your low-carb diet, or your paleo or primal regime or your ketogenic or auto-immune protocol, and you are not losing weight, then you are eating too much … BUT, the answer is not to just cut down, but to find out why.  If you are significantly obese then it is highly likely that switching to a paleo or ketogenic regime will cause you to lose weight, without having to count calories.  You will just naturally want to eat fewer calories.  You’ll feel full up sooner.

But as you get closer to your goal weight, where the margins for calculation are tighter, you may need to exercise more control.  You may need to count something … not necessarily calories: it may be grams of carbs, or it may be getting the macro-nutrient ratios right.  It may be paying better attention to micro-nutrients.  I have heard it said that if we are missing certain micro nutrients in our diet that we may crave certain foods.  I have also heard it said that modern food is only around half as nutrient dense as food that was commonly available 100 years ago.  So, presumably, we need to eat twice as much (and hence get twice as many calories) just to get the same level of micro nutrients.

Or it may be finding a way to re-wire your brain, so that you find more effective ways of supporting starving African children, other than by eating more than you need yourself.

As so many of my articles conclude, it is highly likely that no-one has an off-the-peg answer to your individual question.  Research is needed.  The question is, will you pay a Harley Street nutritionist £125 per hour to do the research, or will you learn about food, nutrition and your own body, and do your own research?

Go on, give me a hint!

Zoe Salmon

Zoe Salmon

Some while ago the BBC made a programme called “The Big Fat Truth About Low Fat Foods“.   I like this programme because they took an ordinary person (well, as ordinary a you can be, being an ex Blue-Peter presenter and an FHM model) and put her on a low-fat, packaged food diet for four weeks, to see what would happen.  She is “ordinary” in the sense that she doesn’t have any particular health problems, is not a diet and nutrition expert, but generally eats a reasonable diet.

(Having said that, I just discovered that she was a contestant in Celebrity Masterchef!!)

For four weeks, model and former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon ditches the fine dining she’s used to and lives on nothing but pre-packaged, highly-processed foods that are labelled either low or lower in fat. She finds out what’s in these foods and how they affect her moods, nutritional levels and, crucially, her weight. She also meets the low calorie converts who say that eating this way isn’t just a diet, but a way of life.

The programme (I think) does for Weight Watchers what “Supersize Me” did for Macdonalds.  I think the programme is a must to show to anyone who thinks your high-fat diet will kill you, and a must for anyone considering Weight Watchers.  Here’s a trailer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlLTQHdGzK4

And here’s the who programme (it’s about 50 minutes):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jca9O4js2Og

Susan and James, Walking for Happiness

Well, yes and no … mostly no!  If you’re a 200lb person (220lbs is 100kg, or around 14 stone in English), and you walk at 2.5mph, which isn’t bad for an unfit, overweight person, you would need to walk more than 30 miles (on the flat) to walk off one pound of fat.

But by the time you’ve walked 30 miles you will have worked up one heck of an appetite! About.com has a good article about walking to lose weight, and says

 A rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile for a 180-pound person and 65 for a 120-pound person.

Bear in mind that a pound of fat contains 3500 calories, so a 180lb person needs to walk 35 miles, and a 120lb person will have travelled 53 miles before they’ve burned one single pound of fat!

So does that mean we shouldn’t exercise when aiming to Live Free From Obesity?  Not at all.  Back in 2009 I Nordic Walked well over 200 miles as part of my regime, got trained as a Nordic Walking Instructor (so did Susan) and we founded Walking for Happiness.

So if we’re trying to lose weight, and exercise doesn’t really do it, why bother?  Well, I never said that exercise wouldn’t improve your general fitness, improve your circulation, tone your muscles.  It will do all these things, and these all will help your weight-loss efforts.  Perhaps best of all, walking (especially Nordic Walking, which works the major muscle groups in your upper body, as well as your lower body) pumps your lymphatic system and helps with the general de-tox process that goes with (both as pre-cursor and as a result of) weight loss. There’s an interesting article about cleansing your lymphatic system on Livestrong.com,  but boy, do I think they have their priorities upside down!  They have Step 1, “Book a lymphatic massage from a licensed massage therapist” and Step 7: “You can walk briskly”.  Well.  Which is most available to most people?  A licensed massage therapist skilled in lymphatic drainage, or going out of the front door and taking a brisk walk?  And given that you can buy a pair of Nordic [simpleazon-image align="left" asin="B0020GDA6S" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/316mqHjoeeL._SL160_.jpg" width="33"]Walking poles from Amazon, probably for less than the price of a single message session, and can learn [simpleazon-image align="right" asin="073608178X" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51kOXmq%2BMnL._SL160_.jpg" width="112"]Nordic Walking from a book, a DVD, or even You Tube videos (that’s all we used for the first 250 miles of Nordic Walking), I know which I’d go for!

If you’d like some inspiration, check out these videos on the Walking for Happiness website. Best NW Video, Nordic Walking 101, What The Drs Say, What People Say About Walking for Happiness.

Of course there are other considerations.  If you exercise hard and consistently you will convert fat to muscle.  You may actually tip the scales a little higher (muscle weight more than fat) but you will have improved your Fat Body Mass / Lean Body Mass ratio, which is what you really want to do.  And you should see an increase in the weight loss brought on from other things that you are doing, because muscle has a higher metabolic rate than fat.

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="1934030902" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51EXEmIArEL._SL160_.jpg" width="107"]They tell me (and I will be finding out for myself) that Crossfit is the way to go.  I’ll keep you posted!

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="B0081TIGQM" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51HVIoakooL._SL160_.jpg" width="124"]In the meantime, I just discovered and bought this book on my iPad/Kindle.  Now my head is really spinning!

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