The cannot fail diet plan
The title sounds like a bold claim especially considering the number of diets people mange to fail with. However, it is totally supported by the laws of physics.
Does this mean that losing the weight is going to be easy? I cannot say. It totally depends on the motivation and attitude of the person trying to follow the plan. Personally, I found it really easy, However, the last chapter is about “Do you really want to do this?”. In my case the answer was a resounding “Yes!”. If you cannot/will not commit to the changes there is a strong chance of failing but in that case it will not be the diet plan that fails but your unwillingness to follow the plan. You have to ask yourself whether the change of approach to eating in order to lose weight is worth the hassle. There is no point in being thin and miserable. For me, the changes I needed to make were far less important to me than the loss of weight and none of the changes made me miserable at all; in fact I felt better than I had for years. The more weight we need to lose the more important it is to do something about it. The choice is yours! J
The first chapter is the one that explains the physics. The others are how we can actually train ourselves to behave in a way that will allow the law to work in our favour.
The training involves 3 aspects:-
- Training ourselves
- Training our body
- Training our mind
The chapters won't be called that but in essence that is what they do.
Finally, a note on the accuracy and thoroughness of what I write here. The science of nutrition is still developing; the science behind how our bodies work (biochemistry) is very complicated and there is ongoing research; so there are no certainties. I shall make no attempt to explain biochemistry in scientific terms; instead I shall use much simplified explanations. When I talk about nutrition I shall often just state things as fact. This assertion will be based on generally accepted theory or research that seems to becoming accepted. People sometimes disagree. I simply choose to sit on one side of the fence if I feel the evidence is strong enough and say, “I have no idea why this happens” if I do not feel strongly. I do not cite any research. This is not an academic document. If you are unsure or want to know more, Google is your friend.
- The Physics
- Accounting and accountability
- Composition of diet
- How much weight can I lose and how quickly
- Water loss and retention
- Body Metabolic Changes
- Do you really want to do this?
1) The Physics
You will almost certainly have heard this stuff before, as will most other people, but despite that we still hear things like:-
- “I have a slow metabolism”
- “I am big boned”
- “I only have to look at a slice of chocolate cake and I put on a pound of fat”
- “I have a strong starvation reflex”
- “My problem is hormonal/genetics”
- “Diets do not work for me”
- “I hardly eat a thing and still I put on weight”
I am not looking at excuses not to diet here (and there are plenty of those) I am looking at the things people say that (in their mind) explain why they are NOT losing weight despite trying, Three of these may have some effect on how easy (or not) it would be to lose weight. Two require a little mental agility to work out the correct response but they do not cause a diet to fail. Two are complete and utter nonsense. Can you spot which ones they are?
3) Is rubbish simply because of the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it just changes into a different form of energy
Cadbury's Chocolate cake has 384 calories per 100g of cake. Calories are the energy stored in the food.
One pound of fat stored in our body is about 3500 calories. Fat is another form of energy. If there is surplus food energy, our body stores it as fat energy. The food energy is changed into fat energy
We would need 911g of cake to make 3500 calories. That is a HELL of a big slice; it is about 2 pounds in weight.
So, if the person had a 100g slice of cake and managed to turn that into a pound of fat they would have miraculously turned 384 calories into 3500 calories.
There would be no need for fossil fuels or nuclear energy; simply plug this person into the National Grid; they are generating free energy.
Of course that cannot happen it violates a basic law of physics.
7) Is also nonsense although in this case we get a difficulty because of the sub-phrase “hardly eat a thing” which is not specific enough.
What we DO know is that if this person is adding fat, the body must have a surplus - the food going in must be more than the body needs to survive. Once again this is the law of thermodynamics. The food energy that comes in is used to fuel the energy requirements of our body. Our heart has to pump; our food has to be digested; our brain needs to work. If the body has enough to do all this PLUS store some extra as fat there must be a surplus. Even a sedentary, 5'5”, 8st, 25 year old female needs 1600 calories per day just to survive. If they are adding body fat, they must be eating more than 1600 calories or else they are creating energy from thin air as in the chocolate cake example. Let's assume they are adding 1lb of fat every month. That would require about 100 extra calories per day or 1700.
It may be hard to believe at this stage but 1700 calories is a LOT of food. My food intake today will be:-
- 2 eggs + 2 rashers of bacon
- A big bowl of carrot + coriander soup
- A refreshing tuna starter
- A huge plate of meat and veg
- A handful of nuts
- A very large gin and tonic
- 2/3 of a bottle of red wine
This is 1950 calories of which 500 are alcohol calories yet I am still 250 calories short of my daily needs so I will lose weight.
In fact I always find it very hard to reach my daily calorie total and, if I have an alcohol free day, it is almost impossible unless I eat unwisely, without thought.
When people say “hardly eat a thing” it would be very interesting to do an actual food diary and see exactly what the do eat. I guarantee (or rather, physics guarantees) that they actually eat a lot more than they think.
1), 4) and 5) do indeed contribute a factor that can be measured. However, except in the case of serious medical conditions that require urgent treatment, it is estimated these (individual human differences) are about 10% of average (human population) calorie requirements at the absolute maximum, so in the case of the female in 7) her needs may be only 1440 calories per day. However, this is still a lot of food.
2) May be true but it does not affect the law of thermodynamics. If you are indeed broad shouldered, tall, looking like a giant, there will obviously be a weight at which you will look fine. Let's take 2 identical “big boned” men; their skeletons are identical. One weighs 15 stone and is rippling muscle the other is 23 stone and has a huge belly. The larger guy can lose 8 stone but if he tries to lose more, he is going to have to amputate a leg K Each person will have an ideal healthy weight for their frame. Equally, we all know when we have a bit of fat to lose.
6) Is simply that you need to find the right diet that you can stick with.
So, having tried to dispel a few of the myths/nonsense, what does the first law of thermodynamics tell us in relation to diet?
- Energy comes into the body via the foods we eat
- The body uses that energy to perform the tasks it is required to do
- At this stage there will either be a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit
Before we go any further let's look at two simple examples which we have touched on before.
The sedentary girl discussed before consumed 1700 calories but only needed 1600. That is a calories surplus of 100 calories. (1700-1600)
Today, I need 2200 calories to power this 5'5” 163lb 66 year old man for the day including the extra activity I have done today (a 75minute walk and a 20minute table tennis practice session). I will have consumed 1950 calories by the end of the day so I will have a calorie deficit of 250 (2200-1950)
What does the body do when it has a deficit or surplus?
When the body is given more food energy than it needs it could do one of 2 things. It could throw it away or it could store it for use later. We would never have survived if the body threw it away. Imagine the cave man who suddenly finds himself with no food for a couple of days. His heart needs to beat; his brain needs to work and, if he is going to find/hunt any food he will need to move his muscles and use even more energy. He has to have access to some energy or he will die. For that reason our bodies do not throw away surplus energy; they store it. Usually they store this spare energy in our fat cells.
When it has a deficit the body has no choice but to find the extra energy from somewhere. There are in fact 3 potential stores of energy but, for now, let us say that the main store of extra energy is body fat. So, if we have an energy deficit, the body will usually break down fat and release the energy stored within it.
Within that simple explanation is the simple truth of gaining and losing weight/fat.
If we want to gain weight we need to have a calorie surplus. If we want to lose weight we have to have a calorie deficit.
Every diet you have ever seen or heard about depends on that. It does not matter how they try to disguise it or what fancy name they give it. If their diet does not make you consume fewer calories than you use you will not lose (fat) weight.
I have nothing against Slimming World, in fact their diet is pretty sensible and the programme works for many, many people. However, look at these claims.
- Never go hungry again! Our Free Food list includes masses of food that you can eat in unlimited amounts.
- Eat as much as you want, when you want!
- No food is banned! Enjoy your favourite treats every day and still lose weight.
People do lose weight on this plan and yet those claims seem to be saying we can eat as much as we want and still lose weight. How can that be?
Well it can't be true. For example, they say you can eat as much lean beef as you want. A sirloin steak (with no fat) has 183 calories per 100 gram. So, if your daily calorie (energy) requirements are 2000 calories and you ate 1500grams (1.5kg or 3.3 lbs)of steak, you would have taken in 2745 calories and you would have a surplus. You would not lose weight but would in fact gain weight.
They are banking on the fact that you will not want or be able to eat that much steak and in reality they are probably correct because, as we shall see later, steak will make you feel full well before you eat a kilogram of it.
They say “no food is banned” and that is true. However, you are only allowed a very small amount of some foods (sometimes this amount is zero). If you go over this maximum amount you accumulate “Syns” and each week you are only allowed a certain number of “Syns”. Many recommend only 10 syns per day. Three examples, Chicken Korma and Rice 18 syns; ½ oz cheddar 3 syns; pint bitter 9 syns.
We can see that although no food is banned there are many items that are severely restricted in how much we can eat. The reason they have “syns” is to try to prevent you from taking in too many calories. Cheese for example is very easy to eat and will slide down quickly in great quantities before we start to feel full. I like cheeses like Brie which is lower in calories than cheddar but even that has 343 calories per 100 grams. I could easily eat 150-200 g per sitting without self control and that would be a significant fraction of my daily energy requirements.
Why don't they just say you need to reduce calories? Well, that, my friends is all down to marketing. People starting a diet to lose weight are concerned about feeling hungry and never being able to eat their favourite foods. Slimming World and all the others in the diet industry are in business to make money. The diet industry in the USA was worth $61 billion in 2010. This is BIG business. They do not want to state up front that, if you are going to lose weight, you will have to consume fewer calories and give up the foods you currently love. They do everything they can to gloss over this.
So, to put it in its simplest terms the only way we lose weight is to take in fewer calories (via food and drink) than we use. Everything else is gloss.
A concern that remains is how we can do this and still remain content.
Another issue is how we can lose the weight and keep it off.
To get to that we need to understand the word “diet”. Everyone in the world is on a diet. The original definition of diet is
So, what happens is that people go on a diet to lose weight and then go back to their diet which is what they habitually eat. The bad news is that it was that habitual diet that caused them to gain weight and, once they are back on it they will gain weight again.
What we have to do is to change our habitual diet. This habitual diet has to be one that is healthy and will not cause us to gain weight.
Let us assume an extreme example. We decide to eat absolutely nothing to ensure a calorie deficit. We take vitamin and other supplements to ensure we do not die or develop chronic illnesses. We are totally miserable but we will lose weight. This diet (of nothing) is, in the long run, completely unsustainable because, in time, the body will run out of “stored” energy in the fat cells and will then start to consume the energy in the muscles. Eventually there will be no stored energy left and we will die.
Clearly this diet teaches us nothing about how to survive after we have lost the extra weight.
It is my belief that the time we are losing weight by restricting calories is also the time during which we learn what a proper habitual diet will look like for us. We eat what will be a proper long term habitual diet but simply have a little less of everything so that we create a calorie deficit. Once we have lost the weight we wanted, we increase the portions in our habitual diet a little bit so that we have an energy balance rather than an energy deficit.
What will this habitual diet look like? Well, I am afraid I cannot say because everyone is different. Everyone has different likes and dislikes. My habitual diet includes cheese and wine simply because I like them so much. I am also not a vegetarian so it will include meat. I also quite like Ginster's pasties but each pasty has 566 calories. If my habitual diet included 2 of these a day I will not be able to eat much of other possible foods without going over my requirement.
The next chapter is on accounting and accountability and will start on the journey of training us to be able to make sensible long term choices as well as allowing us to be confident that, during the weight loss phase, we are doing what is needed.
2) Accounting and Accountability
My firmly held views on how to do this are detailed below. However, I fully understand that some people will really hate my ideas. We will see later that if we reduce carbohydrate intake to very low levels and compensate by eating more protein and more fat, our body will (for most people) adjust by making us less hungry, less often and that the food we eat will fill us up more easily. Some claim that if we simply reduce our carbohydrate intake a LOT; eat until we are full whenever we are hungry and do NOT eat if we are not hungry we will automatically lose weight. If you prefer that approach then the free articles on this site
may be worth looking at. I agree with a lot of what is said here but also disagree with some of it as well. The problem with the method (for me) is that it is imprecise and we are not accountable. However, we are all different and what matters is finding a method that works for us!
To lose weight we will have to create an energy deficit. In fact that is all we need to do; everything else is window dressing.
The question we have to address is how do we know we have a deficit? To know the answer, we need to know how many calories are going in via our food and how many calories we are using.
If we do not know these two numbers, we are simply guessing. Research has shown repeatedly that when dieters are asked to tell us how many calories they think they have consumed they underestimate this number. When asked how many calories they have used they overestimate. Basically, we cannot be trusted J. I am not saying that we deliberately lie it is just that we misremember or fail to adjust for what is happening.
For example, they may say “I have had 1 glass of red wine and that is 120 calories”. However, that is for a 175ml glass. What if their glass is 250ml? Or, maybe they say, “I had a bit of cheese, it was probably about 50g” but in fact it was 70g? People “forget” the biscuit they had with their cup of tea at work or the banana in the middle of the afternoon because, “fruit is healthy isn't it?”.
Research has also shown that when people kept a food diary they lost twice as much weight on average than those who did not.
I am suggesting that during the weight loss phase, keeping a food diary is essential, especially in the early stages until our habitual diet adjusts. Yes, it will take time (but it gets easier and quicker as time passes) but it is the only way to know for sure what deficit we are achieving each day.
In addition, remember from the end of the last chapter, we are trying to train ourselves to understand and develop an habitual diet that we will be happy to use for the rest of our life so that we can keep the weight off. A food diary actually allows us to see what is happening to our calorie intake when we change things. It allows us to do “what ifs”, like what will happen to my habitual diet if I had 2 Ginster's pasties and a bottle of wine every day?
Once we have lost all the weight we want we will also have learned a great deal about foods and we will have discovered a balance of foods that not only suits our tastes but also allow us to keep in calorie balance. At that stage a food diary is almost certainly not required unless our habitual diet starts to slip. If the diet does slip, we will see the results on the scale and in the mirror and it will be necessary to reinforce some of the good new habits we have learned.
A food diary is not there to judge us. It is there for information and guidance. The choices we make our ours and ours alone but a food diary gives us concrete information with which to make those decisions.
The diary also makes us accountable for our decisions. We are making a decision with total information. Let's assume for a moment that we have worked out that we should be aiming for 1800 calories per day in order to lose weight at the rate we initially decided. We then eat 2100 calories day after day after day. Well, the thing we know for sure is that we are not going to lose weight at the speed we decided. It is our choice; it is the decision we are making but at least we are making that decision with total information. With that information we can decide whether we need to change some of the foods/quantities we consume or whether to amend our weight loss target.
It also allows us to be flexible. Let's assume that I only have a pasty on a rare occasion and that, when I do, I usually deliberately reduce the calories in my meals for the rest of the day to compensate. However, today, I had a full English breakfast and then simply could not resist the pasty at lunchtime having had a couple of pints with my mates. I check my diary and see that I am going to be in calorie surplus today. Is this the end of the world? Of course not. It is not one day's calorie total that will decide, long term, whether I gain or lose weight it is the average over many weeks/months.
Some diets make people feel that they have “failed” if they break a rule. “I had a chocolate cake today, my diet is shot. I am going to give up” This is totally daft. You are an adult for goodness sake, you can have a chocolate cake if you want one. However, the fact that you had the cake means the calories in today will be a little higher than expected. That requires you, as a mature adult, to look at the information and decide what, if anything, to do about it. Personally, I would do nothing. Forget about today and move on.
Let me give you a personal example. From time to time we have a big family get together, normally at a Chinese restaurant. This meal will involve far too much food and a large amount of alcohol. It is very likely that this one evening meal will exceed my daily requirements all on its own. How do I deal with this? Firstly I go out and have a bloody great time. During the meal I may”decide to eat more in a Chinese style and that means eating the good stuff and eating less of the fillers like rice but there is no guarantee I will do that. During the day, before the meal, I will probably skip breakfast (as I often do) and will probably have a low calorie lunch like a big bowl of soup. The following day I will probably have one of my “fast” days in which I probably only have 600 calories or so all day. Averaged over the 2 days, I will probably still have a deficit.
The food diary is a tool to give us a feel of what a habitual diet might look like for us and to allow us to keep an accurate check on our food intake. What we do with that information is up to us. Those people who do want to lose weight will use it to make decisions on what their intake will be by opting to “have this” or “not have that” so that the total calories are in line with their aims.
For example, today is a fast day for me which means I will only eat about 600 calories. It is now just gone 6pm and I have had a bowl of soup so far today at lunchtime. I am just now beginning to feel a little peckish but I will not be eating until about 7.30 when Kath returns from her choir. I decided this morning what I was having this evening.
A boiled egg
About 100g of boiled potatoes
200g or turkey breast
A big salad with very tasty dressing
A couple of Satsumas
By using a food diary I was able to see that today's food totalled just under 600 calories. I could have chosen a completely different set of items and also come to 600 calories. The choice was mine. I did not choose to have a pasty. That would have been 566 calories leaving me one satsuma only.
Is fasting the way to go? Not for everyone; many have tried it and been very happy with the results but we shall discuss that more later. The point is that our food diary allows us to make sensible, informed decisions about what we eat because we will know how many calories we will eat today. We will also know whether we have been eating too many calories and can take steps to correct that. How we correct is our choice!
So, how do we keep a food diary? There are many on-line ones that are available for free but I simply use a spreadsheet
This is mine for today showing 596.8 calories with the items I discussed before. Notice that I also include the quantities of carbohydrate, protein, fat and fibre. This is not essential but I find it useful because I make use of these when deciding WHICH things to choose. (more later)
The left hand side are individual items that I consume in my “habitual diet” and the right hand side simply shows the items I have consumed today. If I eat something new, it is added to the spreadsheet and I will never need to add it again so, as time passes, filling in a daily record becomes easier and easier.
Today, all of the items I have eaten were already in the list so it was a very quick job to decide what to eat today based on what I fancied eating and my aim to keep at 600 calories.
I could have made this spreadsheet very complicated or very pretty or made a database program but this does the job and gives me the information I need.
It does not matter what sort of food diary you keep but having one is essential IMO.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
This is the other piece of information we need to allow us to know if we have an energy deficit or surplus. Fortunately, this is much more simple. The TDEE is simply the sum of the calories needed simply to stay alive plus any additional energy spent through exercise.
We can look online and find a BMR (basal metabolic rate) calculator
this is one but there are many others. We plug in our height, weight, age and gender and it pops up with a number. This number is the number of calories we need simply to sustain life if we are totally at rest. It is the number of calories needed to keep or brain working, our heart pumping etc.
I am 66, 5'5”, 161lbs and male that gives me 1446 calories. This number is for me literally just lying on a bed.
However, even if we are not terribly active we will sometimes be sitting (which uses more calories) or we will get up to make a cup of tea; we may go to the loo etc. Everyone uses more than their BMR.
We need to adjust the BMR higher depending on how much extra effort we make per day over and above just lying on a bed. It is my belief that the most accurate thing for someone who does not have an active job is to assume we are sedentary and then add on exercise as and when we do it.
The adjustment for a sedentary person is to multiply BMR by 1.2 so given the numbers above, my daily requirement before exercise is 1446 x 1.2 = 1735.
Notice that the numbers change according to all of these factors. When I was 175 lbs my BMR was 1533 giving a daily requirement of 1533 x 1.2 = 1840. That stone I have lost means I need 100 calories fewer per day simply because there is less weight for my body to have to drag around and less fat to keep alive.
A 40 year old, 6' man who weighed 18 stone (252lbs) would have a BMR of 2278 and so a daily requirement of 2734 before he did any exercise.
The sad news for ladies is that their BMR will be lower.
So, we can find our BMR x 1.2 for our daily needs before exercise. How much does exercise burn off? There are many calculators online for all sorts of different exercises. Most of them give a gross calorie burn which is simply telling us how many calories our body will burn during the duration of the exercise. These are not accurate, In my case for example, I use 1735 per day doing nothing; that is 72 calories/hour. If I walk for an hour and a calculator tells me I have burned 300 gross calories then my exercise has only added 300-72 = 228 (which is the net calories) to my TDEE
I use this calculator for estimating the calories spent while walking but there are many others for all types of activity. Just remember to take off your own average inactive calories to adjust from gross to net.
Here is my final bit of the spreadsheet.
The top number is my BMR x 1.2 for 163lbs weight. We see that my activity has added 1020 calories so my TDEE is 2820. Take 600 (food in today from the other bit of the spreadsheet) and we see that I have a deficit of 2223 calories. That will cause me to lose about 0.64 lb of fat
Notice I have not adjusted the sedentary BMR figure or the cal/mile figure for walking despite having dropped 2 lbs in weight. It is “near enough”. Once in a while, I choose to change these but not frequently. That makes this part of the calculation pretty straightforward. I just enter minutes walking and minutes table tennis (TT) and the spreadsheet does the rest.
Other people will have different exercises but the principle is the same.
Is exercise essential? Well, the answer is, “No” (we will see later that it is useful for another reason). However, if we do no exercise, the TDEE will be less and that means we can eat fewer calories if we want to maintain the same deficit. Today for example, if I had done no exercise then my deficit would have been about 1200 calories instead of 2220.
However, this is an unusual day for me. Usually I would have exercise calories of about 300 or so giving a TDEE or 2100.
Using the TDEE calculation in conjunction with the food dairy allows us to see what our daily surplus/deficit is. By keeping track of that over the course of the weeks/months we can check whether we are on course to meet our weight reduction aims.
So, in summary, this chapter shows us how to account for our calories in and out so that we know what surplus or deficit we create.
It also makes us accountable. We are adults and make our own decisions and when we account for our calories we make those decisions based on fact. As discussed earlier, almost everyone under estimates their calories in and over estimates their calories out. When we record these accurately we do not make that mistake. We cannot have the excuse that, “we are doing everything right but the weight just stays there”, if we know that we are not creating a deficit.
However, there is a very useful flip side. Losing weight is not linear, there will be times when we do the right thing and the weight does not come off. This is very common and will probably happen to everyone from time to time. It can be very discouraging. The helpful thing about keeping account is that if we know we have created a deficit we can remain positive about this situation confident that, before long, the scales will reflect the deficits we have produced. I shall discuss this in a later chapter.
Finally, a note on the sheer pain the arse of doing this. I am a numbers freak and even I find it a bloody nuisance. However, as time passes (and that need only be a few weeks) we can start to rely on it less and less.
Remember that we are trying to discover and keep to an habitual diet that we enjoy and which does not contain too many calories. When we start our food diary we will quickly start to see what items bump up our calories. We will quickly learn what items we can add into our diary each day that we like that are not so calorific. We will quickly start to realise what totals a meal has e.g. I know that a good sized pork chop, a small portion of potatoes (4 oz) and 3 good portions of vegetables is about 500 calories.
If we are selective about what we eat we will find that we can get an awful lot of food for our calories and, even after a couple of weeks, we can start to think in terms of what a day's intake looks like and we can get a sense of what we our TDEE is and how much food we take in.
For example, I have 3 sorts of “days” for calorie intake. I have “fast” days, “careful” days and “pig out” days J
On a fast day I try to keep my calories down to about 600. I do this by skipping breakfast (very easy now); having either a mackerel/sardine etc. salad for lunch or a big bowl of hearty soup which will leave me about 450 for an evening meal. I can get a very big meal for 450 calories by using a 3 egg omelette or chicken or turkey or tuna steaks along with a big salad or 3 or 4 veg (not potatoes) or by grabbing one of my home made curries from the freezer which are made to give about 350-450 calories per portion (no rice but lots of fillers in the curry). Yes, my choices are limited on these days but I can still find lots of things I like.
On a careful day, I often skip breakfast and then have something I fancy for lunch (could be soup; bacon and eggs or omelette or salad....... lots of choices) ; perhaps a small snack sometime later; perhaps a few nuts and ONE glass of wine (no cheese today usually). I know that this will allow me to fall within TDEE by a sizeable amount especially if I have done a bit of exercise. Yesterday, for example, I had one of these days. Mulligatawny soup for lunch. Yogurt mid afternoon; handful of nuts pre dinner; chilli con carne and a medium sized baked potato; glass of red wine. Total calories were about 1500 and, as I had exercised today that created a deficit of about 1100 calories. I could have eaten more, and, if I had wanted to, I would have done but I was not hungry. Eating out of habit, when we are not really hungry is one of the reasons we put on weight. I did not count the calories yesterday, I knew approximately what they were just from experience and knew that, with the exercise, I would have a reasonable deficit. I know from experience that a rasher of bacon, a couple of poached eggs, a few mushrooms and tomatoes would have been about 250 calories, so I could easily have had a breakfast had I been hungry. Equally, if I had been hungry later on I might have had some cheese and perhaps a couple of crackers for another 350 calories.
My pig out days are when I simply try to keep within TDEE. I often have a breakfast but if I am not hungry at all, why bother? I will have cheese (and maybe a few crackers) maybe a G&T - and a fair bit of wine is usually likely as well. These days are the most difficult because things like nuts, cheese and alcohol are so easy to consume in large quantities and they are very calorific. However, my main food choices are still determined by my new habitual diet. For example, a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie is 425g in weight. According to them a portion is half a pie which is not unreasonable; it is only as heavy as a standard sirloin steak. However, that portion has 1572 calories. If we add a portion of chips which is about 12 oz or 300g we have just added another 570 calories. That pie and chips is 2140 all on its own before we add any veg, beans etc. We will be able to eat very little for the rest of the day if we are to stay within TDEE. My habitual diet simply will not include this as a possibility so I will choose from the huge range of alternatives that are lower in calories. These days are the ones when I am most likely to just keep an eye on what I am consuming and will often use the diary just to be sure.
So, in time, we can learn what makes sense but we need to take the time to learn. That is what the first few week's diary is for. I still use it, for example when I decide to try something different that I fancy. If I fancy it I'll have it (even the Fray Bentos pie). However, I will do so with the information about how many calories it is. Clearly, I could not have pie and chips every day and expect to lose weight.
3) Composition of Diet
This chapter discusses this from 2 standpoints.
The first one is what foods do we eat? The second one is what is that food composed of. Both of these can be important.
What foods we eat is mainly down to personal preference. However, every diet has to have some balance because within our diet are some essentials. For example, we might decide to consume all of our calories every day from eating sugar cubes. We would end up having a big problem and eventually we would die. The problem with this diet is that it does not give us the minerals and vitamins we need. Also, it does not include essential fatty acids and essential proteins. These essential items cannot be manufactured (synthesised) within the body. They have to come from our food.
Our body is very clever. We have probably all heard about the pregnant women who get an urge to eat soil. That is the body creating that desire in order to fulfil its need for vital minerals.
On a more relevant note is that the body creates these demands even for those of us who are not pregnant. If you eat your daily calorie requirements in sugar then as soon as that has left your stomach, you will feel hungry again because you have NOT given the body all the stuff it needs to allow it to survive. You could fill your stomach to bursting with M&Ms and as soon as the stomach emptied a little it would tell you that you were hungry. It would not matter how many calories you ate, you would never be full.
Fortunately for us as a species, these essentials can be met quite easily by even a moderately balanced diet unless you happen to be a vegetarian (which we did not evolve to be) in which case a little more care is needed for some people. Anyone with a diet that includes, meat, eggs, some dairy, fruit and vegetables, occasional fish, pulses (beans) and a few nuts from time to time is likely to get enough of these essential items.
The second one is to do with what the foods we eat are composed of. This is not meant to be a scientific paper so I am going to simplify. I am also going to ignore alcohol which has calories but other than that has no relevance to this discussion.
Food is composed of Fat, Carbohydrate and Protein in some proportion or other. Different foods have different proportions.
- Olive oil is 100% fat
- A fresh Tuna Steaks is almost entirely protein with a tiny bit of fat.
- A chicken breast is mainly protein with some fat
- Sirloin steak has a roughly equal proportion of fat and protein
- Ice cream is mainly carbohydrate with some fat and a little protein
- Potatoes are mainly carbohydrate and a little protein
- Cooked rice is mainly carbohydrate with a little protein
- Bananas and apples are mainly carbohydrate
- Pasta is mainly carbohydrate
- An egg is mainly protein
- Cheese is more fat than protein but no carbohydrate
- Pulses have a lot of carbohydrate a fair bit of protein and some fat
- Bread is mainly carbohydrate and also has some protein and a little fat
- Chocolate is mainly fat and a lot of carbohydrate.
In addition to these breakdowns each food has different calories in it. Fat has the most calories at 9 calories per gram; protein and carbohydrate are the same at 4 calories per gram.
So, the question is, as long as we have a diet that is sufficiently balanced that we get all our essential items, does it matter which of the foods we choose?
The main answer here is the same one as the answer to the first point. We should eat foods that we like. You sometimes hear people say, “I could never diet; I could not live on rabbit food”. Obviously they do not like salads. There is a simple solution; do not eat any! Instead make your choices from foods you do like.
Of course we still cannot get past the major point and that is that if we do not create a deficit, we will never lose weight. So, our job is to find a diet that we enjoy eating and creates the deficit.
I am not writing this as someone who is perfect. I got to be too heavy; lost weight and then put most of it back on again. It is coming off again but now it is never going back on. I have learned my lesson. When I first lost weight I found a diet that worked for me. All I needed to do was add back a few calories a day to stop the weight loss by creating a balance rather than a deficit and I would have been fine. However, like many others, I slipped into old, bad habits and over time the weight returned.
When I first decided to lose weight I had 3 conditions:-
a) I was not going to give up wine
b) I was not going to give up cheese
c) I was not going to do any jogging
If I could not lose weight without satisfying those conditions I was quite prepared to continue to gain weight and would accept my (probable) early death as the deal that, as an adult, I struck.
Fortunately, I could find a way to lose weight while keeping to my conditions. Of course, that did not mean that I could drink 3 bottles of wine a night or eat 1kg of cheese but the changes I made were perfectly within my comfort zone and I felt happy with my new diet
That is what we need to do, find a diet that we enjoy and think we can live with without being totally miserable.
Our food diary spreadsheet or other program allows us to play around with different foods that make up different daily total food intakes and see whether we like the look of that day's menu. As long as the amount of calories we take in creates a deficit we will lose weight. It does not matter whether those calories come from fat, protein or carbohydrate as long as the diet is sufficiently balanced.
However, there are a few things that can affect our choices (if we want them to).
Research has shown that protein keeps us fuller for longer so we are not as hungry.
Carbohydrates tend to cause a rise in insulin and, when this insulin level falls, it triggers a reflex that tells us we are hungry. Some carbohydrates raise insulin more aggressively than others.
Processed foods tend to have extra sugar so have more carbohydrate and they also tend to use other ingredients to improve shelf life.
Below are the calories and nutrients in a good sized bowl of carrot and coriander soups (equivalent to ¾ of a can)
Calories 123 69
Protein 1.2 2.3
Carbohydrate 17.4 12.6
Fat 4.8 1.2
Fibre 2.7 3.6
The first column is a Heinz version, the second is a home-made version. Remember that you get exactly the same amount of actual soup.
The Heinz version has getting on for twice the calories. The home made version has almost twice the protein to do “good” things like repair tissues. The Heinz version has more carbohydrate but that is the inclusion of sugar to increase shelf life (and affect taste for our generally sweeter tooth). The processed soup has 4 times as much fat again because of preservatives and the inclusion of a small amount of milk/cream that will not add much to the taste but will affect the consistency. The home made version has more fibre meaning the soup has not be “cooked away” to nothing.
If you look at the packaging of most processed foods you will see this tendency again and again. You will get more calories in the same amount of food.
Here is one example. Heinz Weight Watchers Chicken Tikka Massala weighs 320g. If you look at the ingredients list you see 37% rice; 14% chicken. They mention “water” in the rice section; as a separate section; in the chicken section and in the stock section. We can be pretty sure that a lot of the 49% that is not accounted for is water. Apart from that there is a long list of colourings, preservatives etc. along with some ingredients but each of these is <2% of the final weight. There is the common milk powder, maize starch etc.
From experience I know that the other ingredients like spices, garlic, onion and the like are very few calories and we know they are < 2% each of the total weight. So, for the time being let us look at how many calories are in the dish and what we get for it.
Rice 37% x 320g so 118g
Chicken 14% x 320g so 44.8g (less than 2 ozs!)
Rice is 138 calories per 100g so that is 162 calories
Chicken is 163 calories per 100g so that is 73 calories.
So the total calories for the main ingredients is 235 calories. However the pack is 356 calories. That is an extra 120 calories. A small amount of that difference would be the onions, peppers etc but the majority is made up of sugar, preservatives and fat, none of which actually make the dish feel more substantial even though we are getting the calories.
Imagine for now that the extra ingredients we would need to make the curry is 50 calories, so our dish is made of rice chicken, other ingredients and water totalling 285 calories. We save 70 calories by not eating the processed version. However, let's also say that we are prepared to consume the full 356 calories that the Heinz version has. We still only need 50 calories for the extra ingredients so that leaves us 306 calories for the 2 main ingredients.
We could have the same amount of rice and if we did that would allow us to have twice as much chicken.
The other alternative is to cut down on the amount of rice. Heinz and other processed food manufacturers want to produce a meal that fills you as cheaply as possible. Carbohydrate in the form of rice is cheaper than protein on the form of chicken so they bulk out the meal with rice. If we had half as much rice we could end up with 3x as much chicken as originally.
Remember, the calories are the same but now we get a lot more of the stuff that fills us up (protein) rather than the stuff that will raise our blood sugar for a short while and then tell us we are hungry a short time later (carbohydrate).
This may all sound as if I am totally anti processed food and anti carbohydrates but this is not true. There are sites out there that seem to claim that all carbs are evil or that processed food will kill you. This is not accurate. However, what is true is that you get less “real” food if it is processed and that protein will keep you full longer than carbohydrates.
As I have emphasised many times before, we are all adults and must make our own choices. When we play around with our food diary we can tweak the amount of protein, fat and carbs we take in and see the effect. We can also see the effect of using real food rather than processed food.
Do I eat processed food? Of course I do from time to time but I like my food and as I would have to eat less of it in order to maintain my deficit, I usually choose to eat fresh or home made stuff instead so that I can get more food for the same calories, or, the same amount of food for fewer calories.
Do we need to do any? The simple answer is ,”no” but there are 3 main benefits to doing so.
Firstly, if do some exercise we will increase our TDEE meaning we can create a bigger daily deficit or we can eat more and keep the same deficit. So, let's assume our BMR number is 1800 and were intending to eat 1200 calories to create a deficit of 600 calories. We decide to do 300 calories of exercise. That would bring our TDEE up to 2100 so we can eat 1500 calories and still have a 600 deficit or we can stick to 1200 calories and have a 900 calorie deficit. The choice is ours!
There are also proven health benefits to exercise. I do not need to go into that here. However, many people think of exercise as being a jog or a tough session down the gym in the weight room or sweating at an aerobics class. Nothing could be further from the truth. My exercise is walking plus the occasional game of table tennis. My walking is just a stroll on the flat. It does not burn as many calories as a jog for the same length of time would do but that does not matter. Exercise can also be done in a chair as many people have to do who have lost the use of their legs (temporarily or permanently). There are many on line; just Google “seated workouts”.
Lastly, there is an advantage, that we can not easily see, to do with the way our body functions. Most people know about diabetes and we have heard a lot recently about how obese people are starting to present with type 2 diabetes. The type 2 diabetes often occurs because people lose their insulin sensitivity meaning that their body stops responding to insulin as it should. This causes blood sugar to remain at dangerously high levels because insulin's job is to remove sugar from the blood and it is not doing that efficiently. The good news here is that if a person loses weight (especially if they reduce their carbohydrate intake) there is often a great improvement in the problem, with it sometimes being cured completely.
However, there is another issue and that is that the body also uses the fat in our food for energy. When insulin levels begin to drop, the body is supposed to switch over to using a higher proportion of fat. Unfortunately, many people who are obese will have seen their body become less efficient in using fat. The reason for this is that most obese people will have consumed a lot of carbohydrate in their diet over many years and their body will have habitually stored any fat that came into the body. This is because insulin will have told the body to use the glucose from the carbohydrate and to not burn any fat. This creates a problem for the body because it continues to use glucose, lowering our blood sugar to a very low level, making us hungry and then (a little later than ideally) it will start to find some more energy from somewhere. Research has shown that losing weight does not improve this impairment in the body's functioning. However, exercise does!
Although we will not be able to see this improvement, we will be able to feel it. As the exercise begins to force our body to use fat (because there is not enough glucose) it gradually gets the message and will learn to start using fat in our food a little earlier. That means that our blood sugar will not fall so low and we will not have the huge hunger swings.
Taking in fewer carbohydrates will also force the body to burn more fat as a fuel because the body has to get its energy from somewhere but, without exercise, the problem of a big fall in blood sugar after carbohydrate intake will not be solved because the body will not have learned to switch to fats early enough.
I think the evidence is clear that a little exercise can help if we are trying to lose weight. As always, the advice has to be, start slow and only build up as your fitness improves.
5) How much weight can I lose and how quickly?
Well of course we would all like it to disappear overnight but that is not going to happen. Let's look at the question logically.
First of all,we have to understand what the weight is that we wish to lose. People often think of it as being the number they see when they step on the scale and, while that can be a good indication, it is probably not the answer.
We could lose weight by amputating an arm but that clearly is not what we want. It is possible by designing a really bad diet to lose muscle but I am sure we do not want that either; you can often see the result of this when people look thinner but ill. It is also possible to degrade our skeleton and lose some weight that way but then we risk breaking bones. It is also possible to lose water from our body (temporarily) but we shall discuss that in more detail in the next section
When people talk about losing weight what they probably mean is that they want to lose fat. 1lb of fat contains approximately 3500 calories so we need to create a deficit of 3500 to lose 1lb of fat.
Let's assume our TDEE is 2100 calories and we decide to aim for a daily deficit of 600 calories so we only eat 1500 calories. That would mean that we have a weekly deficit of 7 x 600 calories or 4200.
That is equivalent to 1.2lbs a week.
Now, many people would say that is too slow and they would be disheartened by the slow progress. However, if they want to change those numbers they either have to increase TDEE (exercise) or they need to decrease the number of calories even more (possible misery).
The diet industry understands our impatience and that is whey we see adverts like “lose 5 lbs in 5 days” or “lose 20lbs in 30 days without any exercise” both of which I just found by a quick Google.
These claims are ridiculous. The first one requires a deficit of 3500 calories per day which is just not possible for a person who has a TDEE of 2000 calories because even if they ate nothing they could only be 2000 calories short. The second one requires a daily deficit of 2333 calories. As they claim zero exercise, that deficit could be achieved by a 20 stone 40 year old female eating nothing at all for 30 days. Come on folks, this is stupid beyond belief but, what do they care? Their job is to peddle their nonsense because it is a business.
It is possible to lose fat more quickly. The good news for obese people is that they have a higher BMR and any exercise they do uses more calories which means that their TDEE is higher.
So, if a person with a TDEE of 2700 calories ate 1500 calories, they would have a deficit of 1200 calories per day, losing 2.4lbs per week. This is one of the reasons that weight comes off more easily at the beginning of a diet.
However, we have to accept that our fat loss will be a direct result of the deficit we create so TDEE and food intake are the factors that matter.
I believe that we simply have to get our head around the fact that progress will be slow and steady. Remember that our weight loss diet is only the first step in creating a new habitual diet. If we start with realistic expectations then we will not be disappointed because it is what we expected.
In addition, if we approach the weight reducing stage as merely stage 1 of a change that will be present for the rest of our lives, it should make things easier. If we are overweight then we know that our habitual diet is inappropriate for us. In stage 1 we are investigating alternative habitual diets that we enjoy and could result in a stable weight.
We then use this habitual diet for our food choices but deliberately eat a little less than we need, so creating a deficit. There is no need to worry, we will not starve to death. The fat we have stored will sustain us.
Over a period of weeks, months or even years the fat will be used because we are creating a deficit (on average). Eventually we will be at a weight that looks right for our body frame and we then add back a few calories so that we maintain that new weight.
Do you know of the quote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? When, I was standing at Land's End about to begin my journey to John O' Groats, I felt totally intimidated by the task ahead. It took me a few moments to collect myself and to take that first step. I had decided to take an extended route around the UK rather than the direct route and I knew that I would not be completing this walk for almost 10 weeks.
Starting on the journey of changing a habitual diet (so beginning to lose weight) is similarly intimidating. We should not take one step and expect to be at the destination. During the journey there will be many pleasant milestones passed. Instead of celebrating these successes (stones lost; clothes sizes reducing; felling better and fitter; looking better etc.) some people focus on the fact that they have not arrived yet and are constantly disappointed. This requires a mental adjustment. Once done, instead of being frustrated by the perceived slow weight loss, the can celebrate their progress.
By comparison with the speed at which we gain weight the weight, losses of 1-2lbs per week are incredibly fast. I once calculated that the weight I had gained (3.5 stone), from when I was a young man to my highest weight, had been achieved by over-eating to the extent of half an apple per day. I lost 2/3 of that extra weight in 4 months; it had taken 30 years to put it on!
6) Water Loss and Retention
The reason this book has been written is because of water retention. I had been losing weight for 6 weeks following a diet that included a lot of carbohydrate and so smaller proportions of protein and fat. This was exactly the weight reducing diet I had followed 20 years earlier. However, after 6 weeks, I stalled and even put on a little weight. I knew from my food diary that I was creating daily deficits so, suspecting it was retained water, I started to search the web.
I was very surprised to see that, while much of the science was the same in 2015 as it had been in 1995, there had been a fairly dramatic shift in some views based on extensive, repeated and compelling research. Many of the things I took as certain in 1995 were now not to be relied upon and, in fact, some were almost certainly wrong.
The fact that we add or lose fat based on a surplus or deficit is still true and cannot change. However, the proportions of foods in our diet, the effect it has on hunger and the way our body reacts to our diet have all been the subject of some very good research. Not all of this is mainstream yet and governments, as usual, will take decades to react. However, I have read enough to change my views in several areas.
I started to take some notes to help me focus my ideas and those notes have become rather long J
Let's do a quick thought experiment. You stand on the scales and take note of the weight. You get off and drink a pint of water (which weighs 1.25lbs). You stand on the scales again. What do you think will happen to your weight? Yes, it will have gone up by 1.25lbs simply due to that water now sitting in your stomach. You have not gained any fat, and, from the last chapter, we see that when we are on a diet we want to lose fat not weight.
In time, these 2 things, fat and weight, will tend to mean the same thing. If we lose 3 stone over a period of a couple of months, we can be pretty sure that most of that will be fat. However, in the short term, weight increases and decreases can be the result of other things.
Juts had a wee? You will weigh less. Not had a poo for a few days? That is sitting in your gut and it weighs something. Ladies can have quite large fluctuations in weight during their menstrual cycle.
So, let's see what typically happens when we start to change our diet, restricting calories in order to achieve weight loss. In particular, let's look at carbohydrate because this has the largest short term effect. The explanation below, is deliberately kept simple and in so doing it is not 100% accurate but it is enough to show why we lose some quick weight. Think of it as “lies to children”. If you want a more accurate description, Google is your friend.
Our body stores the carbohydrate that we eat, in the liver, inside the muscles and a small amount in the bloodstream. It does this by converting the carbohydrate into glucose, releasing that into the bloodstream and then insulin tells the body to get rid of this glucose because it is damaging if the blood sugar level remains too high. It uses as much glucose as it can and then changes the rest into glycogen and stores it as explained above.
Let's say we restrict the amount of carbohydrate we give the body. Our muscles will still need to work so, particularly if we do something very vigorous, it will use up that glycogen stored in the muscles. It was also “drip feed” the glycogen from the liver back into the bloodstream by reconverting it to glucose to make sure our blood sugar does not get too low. In other words our “glycogen stores” will become depleted.
Our total glycogen stores in the body are in the region of 500g although larger people tend to have more. If the body totally depletes that glycogen by using it as fuel we will lose 500g of glycogen (not fat). However, in order to be stored, glycogen has to have water attached to it. There is no clear consensus but many claim it is as much as 4g of water per 1g of glycogen. Let us assume that is true.
If we “lose” 500g of glycogen, we will also “lose” 2000g of water. That water will be mostly urinated. That means that depleting our glycogen will lose us 500g of glycogen and 2000g of water. That is a total of 2.5kg or 5.5lbs and absolutely none of that weight loss will be fat.
This is why most diets create some rapid weight loss and why larger people (who generally have more glycogen) will lose more. We can be certain that those diets that promise rapid results will all contain very severe carbohydrate restriction ensuring depletion of glycogen stores and so a large loss of water.
As with most of the diet industry's suggstions it is all smoke and mirrors. If you want to lose fat, you need to create a deficit; nothing else can possibly work.
However, this mechanism also shows us one of the reasons our weight can fluctuate. If we have several days with low carbohydrate intake, we will lose some water and the scales will reward us. If, the following day, we eat less than TDEE (and so should lose weight) but we consume a lot of carbohydrates, the body will grab those carbohydrates and re-fill the energy stores and, at the same time, store 4x the weight in water. The scales give a higher reading and we say, “WTF, this diet is just not bloody working”. Not true of course, the same as when we lowered carbohydrates and lost water (and so weight) was not a true reflection.
It is very likely that these diets will also tell you to drink a lot of water and they are right. The body always tries to hang onto things it needs that seem to be in short supply. If we do not drink enough water, we will become dehydrated and this makes the body hoard its water. If we drink enough the body is happy and will release it in a normal fashion. If we start off dehydrated then for a day or so the body will grab hold of it and store it but as soon as there is sufficient water on a regular basis it will release it and our weight will fall back.
There is another mechanism that is well documented under scientific conditions but it is not well understood. However, what seems clear is that it does happen, even if we do not know why.
For some reason, the body seems to retain extra water when we eat fewer calories than usual. It does not do this immediately but after a week or two of seeing gradual, almost predictable, weight loss, the scales do not move. This happens despite a calorie deficit. Then, for no reason that has been scientifically proven (but often after a day in which more calories were eaten), the person urinates more and the next day the weight has fallen in line with overall predictions based on calorie deficit.
So, this is saying that we lose weight as expected for a few weeks, then we create deficit for a week every day such that we should have lost another 2 lbs but the scales remain stuck or even move higher. We know from the deficit that we have lost 2lbs of fat this week and the failure for the scales to move must be water retention. Then, one day, out of the blue, we pee a lot, the retained water is gone and we see the 2lb loss on the scales.
There is a name for this and it is called a “whoosh”. It was shown to occur predictably in a semi- starvation experiment in Minnesota that took place towards the end of the 2nd world war when scientists were trying to work out how to safely re-feed prisoners of war. Since then, many other experiments have shown it to happen and there are many anecdotes that also describe it. There is no clear, accepted theory as to how/why it works.
Some call this time when the scales do not move a weight loss plateau. However, while it may be the Whoosh effect, research has shown that when most people complain of a plateau”they have stopped recording food intake and have allowed calorie creep. In addition, the enthusiasm that is often present at the beginning of a diet to undertake regular exercise wanes. Finally, as they have already lost some weight, their BMR will have fallen and every hour of the same level of exercise will use up fewer calories.
We can see from this that BMR calories are fewer and exercise calories are fewer (less exercise at fewer calories burned per session) which makes TDEE lower.
In addition, they are consuming more calories because of their calorie creep. This makes the deficit smaller and in many cases removes it entirely, so no weight loss is to be expected.
It can be very demoralising to restrict ourselves all week and then see no improvement but, forewarned is forearmed, so as long as we know we are creating a deficit there is nothing to worry about. Simply be patient and wait for the whoosh. Of course if you do not know you are creating the deficit because you do not have a food diary, perhaps it is time to start using it again for a while to make sure the deficit is really there.
7) Body Metabolic Changes
This will be the longest chapter and the one that is likely to be the most complicated. I have simplified it as much as I can but, even so, it may be tough going.
In the introduction, I mentioned that part of the process was to “train our body” and that is what I mean by metabolic changes. If we take a different approach to our habitual diet, then our body will react. It will learn to behave differently. A sensible long term diet will enable our body to react in a favourable way that will help us in our goals. If our diet is bad, our body will still react but it is likely that the outcome will not be good news for us.
Metabolism is to do with the chemical process that take place to allow us to survive. Mainly it is to do with how the body makes energy from food and its energy stores but it is also how it synthesises things it needs.
I have touched on a few of these things before but I shall try to cover these again in more detail. As before, the explanations will be deliberately simplified (the biochemical processes are very complicated) and so what I describe will be not quite accurate but near enough.
I shall also describe some things by alluding to evolution. Man has been developing from ape like creatures for a long time. Evolution takes a long time to change things. We can assume that our bodies, and the way they work, are not greatly different from our ancient ancestors who, depending on how far you want to go back, lived anywhere between 2 million and 15 million years ago. On the other hand, it is generally believed that farming for crops and keeping animals only started about 10,000 years ago. However, that was at very low levels and in the UK (for example) it is only in the last few hundred years from about the middle ages that man was really start to exist (poorly) from crops and domesticated animals. Nowadays, in the developed world, there is plentiful food available 24/7 and much of that food is processed, sweetened, salted and full of preservatives. Our bodies and its biochemistry evolved during very different times when we were hunter-gatherers.
I include the picture below not only because it gives some idea perhaps about the time scales for “evolution” versus our modern lifestyle but I also think it's funny!
As I have mentioned before, our diet needs to contain some vital minerals and vitamins and it also needs some essential fatty acids and proteins that it can only get from food. Food also provides the energy (fuel in the tank) for all the things our body needs to survive and this energy can come from one of four macro-nutrients. This chapter will be looking at how our body uses and stores these, including the body's priority for their use.
It is easier to look at storage as one topic rather than discuss it in each of the separate sections.
The body refuses to throw away spare calories; to do so would be irresponsible because it cannot know when we will be next able to find food. In today's Western world we can pick up food any time of the day or night (assuming we have money) but you can easily imagine that when we were wandering the plains of Africa or trying to survive in very cold climates, food was by no means certain. Those who threw away calories would be more likely to die than those who were able to store any excess for times of shortage.
So, given that the body wants to store excess calories, the next question is how to do this most efficiently.
Firstly, the storage must be kept on our bodies (it is no good having a store of food in a cave that we cannot get back to because we are snowed in or a long way from home). Also, we are having to carry it around, and carrying it will burn energy. We all know, it is harder work to walk, run, lift etc. if we are overweight. There is no point in a hunter gatherer carrying more weight than absolutely necessary when he is involved in a 5 mile run to try and capture an animal for food. The body needs to find the most “efficient” way of storage. i.e. the most calories for the least weight.
Secondly, it simply must store anything that is absolutely vital.
These two facts leads us logically to the way the body stores energy.
FAT – is the most efficient storage system and so is the one the body uses as first choice. 1g of fat can hold 9 calories and it does not require any water to be stored with it. This stored fat will also be the store of the essential fatty acids that we need. Because of this efficiency, the human body developed fat cells especially for the job of holding these calories.
ALCOHOL – has no storage space at all in the body. During our evolution, although our bodies would occasional come across alcohol in fermenting fruit, it would be rare, so the body merely evolved to be able to use the calories it found for energy. However, even if there were more alcohol, it would still use the calories rather than store them because alcohol is only 7 calories per gram (less than fat) and has nothing “useful” in it such as essential fatty acids. In fact alcohol is often called “empty calories”.
PROTEIN – has no direct storage space in the body either (although our organs and muscle are made up of protein). Remember, that if we have any sort of reasonable diet then we will be getting plenty of protein. If we are not eating protein then we are probably starving and the body has some serious issues to deal with. It has to maintain the energy needed to survive and it has to find the essential amino acids for metabolism. It can do this for a while by using its fat stores for energy and breaking down the protein in our body from our muscles and organs.
The medical literature generally agrees that death occurs during starvation when we lose ALL our fat or half of our protein. Our hunter gatherer ancestors would not have been overweight and they would have been fairly muscular because of their high level of physical activity. How would that affect the body's evolutionary decision to create a store of protein for emergencies?
The pictures above show various body fat percentages. You can find many of these sort of pictures online including some that are even higher %. We can see that the man @ 20-22% is just starting to look a little overweight and it would be a very lucky ancestor of ours who had managed to get enough food to store that much excess. It is much more likely that the hunter gatherers would have been in the 9-15% range. The lowest % shown cannot happen naturally, they only appear as the direct result of weight training that is aimed specifically at producing these bodies. 5 million years ago there were no gyms!
We all know that the majority of our bodies are water but the body fat % is the number after we remove water (not literally J). What is left is lean body mass which includes, muscles, organs, bones etc. This means that the lucky ancestor who was 20% body fat had 80% of lean body mass.
He will starve to death when he loses half of that “protein” which is 40%. This means that he is much more likely to run out of fat before he runs out of protein. So, in times of starvation, the body needs fat (energy) more than protein. I could do even more maths showing amino acid requirements versus TDEE requirements but it would get even more complicated.
So, in times of starvation, the body has a greater need for energy than protein. This means that, even in the case of protein, the body is best served by using that extra 1g of weight to store 9 calories of energy rather than 4 calories of protein.
CARBOHYDRATES - are digested to make glucose and that can be stored as glycogen. However, every 1g of glycogen has to be stored with up to 4g of water. Also 1g of glycogen (5g with water) only produces 4 calories. This means this a very inefficient method of storing energy compared to fat. However, the body does have a small store of glycogen (which is then converted back to glucose for use by the body) because glucose/glycogen is vital.
The first vital use is to give us energy in urgent situations when we will be out of breath. This might be when we are lifting something very heavy or running hard after (or away) from prey. Our normal method of generating energy does not work when we are out of breath so our body stores some glycogen actually inside the muscle and that glycogen can be used even if are out of breath. Once it is stored in a muscle it cannot be used by anything else; it is locked in for exclusive use by that muscle. It is a very inefficient use of energy so the body does not overuse it. It stores a relatively small amount in each muscle but it would have been enough (usually) to give us the energy needed to survive. It is nature's balance. If it stored lots of energy in our muscles we would have to carry all that extra weight (and so waste energy) for the 99.9% of the time we did not need it. It gives us what, in evolutionary terms, was just enough.
Secondly, our brain needs some glucose as do our red blood cells and a few other bits of our body. All other parts of our body can run entirely on alternative fuels and do not need glucose at all. The store for this extra glucose is in our liver but it is a very small amount. It has the store because it absolutely cannot afford to run out of glucose or our brain will die.
If, it is so critical, why not have a bigger store, in case we do not get any carbohydrates soon? This question is part of a wonderful paradox. We absolutely need glucose but we do not need any carbohydrates. The reason for this is that the body can produce (synthesise) glucose from protein and/or fat.
In fact all of us do this every night. When we are asleep, the small store of glycogen in the liver starts to empty but we are not eating carbohydrate to make more glucose. The body is not going to allow that store to empty (and so allow the brain to die). It will not even allow it to become dangerously low, so it starts to create some glucose from protein and/or fat to top up the liver stores as part of a continuous process.
You might wonder, why, if we do not need carbohydrate, does the body even bother to process it? Well, the answer is simple. Carbohydrate is energy and, if our ancestor could not find an animal to eat then it would have to rely on other sources of food such as plants, fruit and nuts. All of these contain energy. This ability to eat meat and other things allowed us to survive in situations when creatures that were purely carnivores or herbivores would perish.
So, to summarise, fat is the preferred method of storage because it is the most efficient. Alcohol is not stored at all and, essentially, neither is protein. We have an emergency supply of protein in our body but that is our muscles and organs; the body will not use that if it can possibly help it. Finally glucose made from carbohydrate is stored as glycogen but only in quite small quantities. It stores just enough to keep us alive.
I shall start with this because it is, in some ways, a bit of an oddity. 1g of protein will give us 4 calories of energy but, while protein can be used for energy when we are eating enough, it has far more important uses.
Our cells are dying and need to be rebuilt on a continuous basis. This is true whether these cells are for muscle, liver, heart, tendons, blood, hair, bones, nails or anything else in the body. It is protein that provides the “raw material” for that construction. In addition, protein is used to make the chemicals needed to perform the “chemistry” of metabolism. Without protein we would die.
When protein is digested it produces amino acids and it is these things that the body uses. Some of these amino acids can be synthesised, i.e. the body can make them even without protein being eaten but almost half of the amino acids we need are essential meaning we have to find them from our diet.
This sounds very serious but the good news is that the body needs relatively little protein and, if we have any sort of reasonable diet, we will be eating enough protein. Eggs, meat, fish, nuts all have plenty of protein so a non-vegetarian has few problems; after all that is the way we evolved (to hunt and eat meat). A vegetarian has to make sure they have milk products, grains and pulses (beans of some sort). It is interesting to note that all of these are now readily available because of agriculture; before agriculture, vegetarians would probably have died; that's evolution for you.
The RDA for protein is 0.8g per Kg of body weight so an 11st man (70kg) needs 56g of protein per day. If you use a food diary you will see that this small amount is very easy to reach.
So, when we eat protein it is broken down into amino acids and used as described above. These can stay in our blood stream for up to 36 hours it is believed (but research is sketchy). The body will be using these proteins. However, if there is some left over, the body will convert this protein into glucose and store it in the liver. Note that the body's first use for the protein is as building blocks. Only once that job is completely satisfied will it convert it to energy.
Note that simply because that protein is vital as building blocks, it does not mean that more is better. The body does not need a huge amount of protein and it does not store it. Nor does it make more muscle simply because it has some protein left over. It uses all that it needs and then changes the rest into energy in the form of glucose.
The RDA is not a one size fits all solution. Young children, pregnant mothers, endurance athletes and body builders will all need more but this is often taken to excess. For example, despite many repeated studies that show that even the most vigorous weight lifters and body builders can only use so much protein, the myths persist in these circles that to build muscle you have to ingest an absolute shed load of protein.
There is a total disconnect in logic. You have to train muscles so hard that it breaks down in order to gain strength – TRUE. The body needs extra protein to perform the dual process of repair and building extra, new muscle – TRUE. This means that I need to give myself as much protein as possible to make this happen – FALSE. You need to give the body as much as it needs. Giving it extra does not make you stronger; you simply need to give the body enough. All the spare stuff is simply converted to energy.
One study took Olympic weight lifters and split them into 2 groups. The two groups ate the same amount of calories which of course was very high as their training made their TDEE very high. One group ate the standard”weight lifters' diet which had massive protein intake. The other group had a more balanced diet with enough protein only. The results for the 2 groups were identical.
Despite this evidence and that produced by other studies and science, the myth prevails. I wonder why? Maybe jars of protein powder at £30 a pop has some influence. The marketing budget of these companies has a much greater impact than a dusty scientific article.
So, the main point here is that our diet has to have enough protein or else our body will have to start to break down our muscles and organs in order to get the protein it needs to allow us to survive. People who have very low calorie diets (almost starving themselves) can find that the weight they lose can be a large amount of muscle and organ tissue. This is not healthy and is, in fact, very dangerous. Having a little too much protein has not been shown to be dangerous and even a large over supply has no firm evidence of adverse effects (although many still believe that it could harm us). However, if we reduce carbohydrate in our diet, it is best to add in a little extra protein so that the body is able to convert it to glucose after the building work has been done. If we have no carbohydrate and a small amount of protein, the body may use some of the protein to make the vital glucose rather use the protein for the very important work of repair.
As explained it is not stored in the body. However, as it is an energy source, the body refuses to waste it. Food was often a scarce resource so to waste energy by throwing it away would not have been sensible. Even though there was no brewing of alcohol it still existed in fallen fruits and some nuts so the body evolved to be able to use it as energy.
Because the body is unable to store alcohol, it immediately uses it as the energy source of the greatest priority.
There is a misconception that alcohol makes you fat (a beer belly) but this is wrong. It is not the alcohol that makes you fat but the fact that there is surplus of calories. If your TDEE is 2500 and you eat 2500 in food and then drink 500 in alcohol, you have a surplus so that would create fat. If you had eaten 2000 and then consumed 500 you would have an energy balance and so no fat would be stored.
There is nothing wrong with alcohol (health issues aside). However, there are some effects that are of relevance if we are trying to follow a restricted calorie diet in the hope of losing weight.
Firstly, the more alcohol we consume the less food we can eat and still have a deficit. If we are already trying to reduce our calories intake then, if some of those calories are in the form of alcohol, which contain no minerals, vitamins or essential fatty acids or proteins there is a danger that we will fail to get all the essential items (goodies J) we need.
Secondly, it is known that, in moderate drinkers, alcohol stimulates appetite (alcohol lowers blood sugar). I think we all know of the snacking that takes place while alcohol is being drunk, and even afterwards with the traditional kebab on the way home J One of the biggest challenges when losing weight is to find ways to ensure we are not hungry all the time. Drinking alcohol will make this more difficult.
Thirdly, if we are short of essential items in our diet, even if we are not in calorie deficit, our body will try to force us to eat more food by making us hungry. This is slightly different to the paragraph above which is the immediate reaction to alcohol consumption. So, as an extreme example, let's say that our TDEE is 2500 and we use all of that for alcohol so we are not in need of calories for energy. The body will still tell us it is hungry because it still needs all those goodies to survive.
I drink even when trying to lose weight and it makes it more difficult but, as I have explained several times, we are adults; we make our own choices. I love wine and cheese so any habitual diet I will eventually follow will include these. When losing weight I am simply a little more careful and selective.
After digestion, it enters the bloodstream as glucose which can be used to fuel the body. It has very little capacity to store this energy. Some of it is stored inside our muscles, some is in the liver and a very small amount is actually left in the bloodstream.
The liver and the bloodstream can be thought of as the fuel tank (liver) and the fuel pipes (blood stream) in a car. The fuel leaves the tank to be used by the engine (our body). The fuel gets to the engine via the pipes and when some is used the fuel tank releases a little more to top up the pipes. In time, the tank will empty and will need to be refilled.
The energy stored in the muscles cannot be used anywhere else except in that muscle. It is an emergency supply to allow that muscle to work in times of great need. Usually, when our body is working and in need of energy it burns fuel. In order for something to burn it needs plenty of oxygen. However, let us assume that we are sprinting which we know will make us short of breath (oxygen). There is not enough oxygen to burn fuel. That would be very bad for us if we were having to chase an animal for our dinner or having to flee from an animal who thought that we looked tasty. The energy that is stored inside the muscle can be used without the need of oxygen.
When glucose enters the bloodstream our blood sugar level rises and that triggers the release of insulin. This has 4 effects.
- It tells cells to stop using fat as an energy source.
- It tells the liver to stop producing glucose (from protein or fat)
- It tells the muscles and liver to start taking in glucose to store as glycogen
- It switches on “fat storage” if there is excess glucose (rare for this to happen)
Why the urgency? The problem is that if the blood sugar gets too high it is dangerous to our body. Diabetics have a problem producing insulin so after carbohydrate intake they can get blood sugar that it too high unless treated.
After a while when blood sugar has fallen to more normal levels insulin switches off and now the body tries to maintain a steady state.
Look at the diagram below. The red line is the blood sugar levels after eating the sandwich, yogurt, apple, chocolate bar lunch. The green one is after the steak, small amount of vegetables and a Bernaise sauce.
With the high carbohydrate meal the body has had to pump out a lot of insulin to get the sugar level back down into “safe” areas. It also overshoots down to the very bottom end of normal range (4-6). These big peaks and falls to low levels can trigger hunger.
Over time, if people eat a lot of carbohydrate (usually obese people), this frequent release of insulin starts to make the body less sensitive to insulin so even more has to be produced. Eventually the insulin making reaches its limit and the body is unable to get the blood sugar down into the normal range and the person has developed type 2 diabetes.
Experiments have been done with people being put on a diet that had virtually no carbohydrate at all. There were no ill effects. However, the research into very low carbohydrate diets is still fairly new.
What happens is that their body adjusts. As explained before, our brain and some other cells need glucose but it can be produced from protein or fat. However, this is not energetically efficient so, in the prolonged absence of carbohydrates, the body starts to break fat down into glucose and ketones as opposed to glucose and free fatty acids (FFA). Most of the muscles can work just as well using ketones as with glucose or FFA. Even the brain, which uses a lot of energy can switch from using 100% glucose to 25% glucose and 75% ketones. This change in our bodies means that we need to produce far less glucose as the brain and other muscles are not using it as much. When people have this sort of diet it is noted that (in non diabetics) over a few weeks, their blood glucose levels out at about 4 and virtually never changes.
There is a lot of debate and disagreement about how much carbohydrate we should eat and, for now, I shall put my views on that argument aside and cover it at the end of this chapter.
I have a little picture in my head of a schizophrenic, erratic controller of our glucose level.
We give the body carbohydrate and the initial stage kicks in, “shit there is too much sugar in the blood we are going to die; get RID of it!”. Once the level falls a bit, stage 2 starts, “help, we're running low on sugar - start making some to make sure the brain does not die”. The level falls a bit lower and stage 3 kicks in, “bloody hell, I thought they would have given us a bit more carbohydrate by now; quick tell them we are hungry”. We give the lunatic a bit more carbohydrate and we are off on the same cycle.
When we eat fat, the body digests it and produces FFA (free fatty acids). When I say, “eat fat”, I am not just talking about the rind on the bacon or a pint of olive oil. I am talking about all foods that have fat in it. Often in our world of processed food we have fat and carbohydrate mixed such as in chocolate or pastry (or Ginster's pasties) or ice cream. Non processed food often has fat together with protein but there are things that include fat together with carbohydrate like nuts and many plants have a little of each of the 3 (protein, fat, carbohydrate). The body breaks these down and then digests them separately.
It takes a long time for fat to be digested and its release into our bloodstream is on a slow piecemeal basis. This means that having eaten fat (and this works for protein as well) we continue to get energy for a longer period of time rather than in a quick burst as we would get from a sugary drink for example. This slow release of energy helps us to feel full (not hungry) for longer.
The FFA flow around our body and are used by muscles and/or are absorbed by our fat cells. If we remember, when carbohydrate hits the system, insulin tells the body not to use fat so, while blood sugar remains high, the FFA are absorbed into fat cells rather than used by the muscles. However, because the fat is digested more slowly it is possible for quite a bit of the blood sugar to have been used up before the FFA hit the bloodstream and, if insulin production has stopped, the use of FFA as energy is switched on again and, for light activity, the body will use FFA rather than glucose in order to preserve the precious glycogen stores in the liver.
Eating fats (and protein) do not affect blood sugar by much so we are able to maintain the green line sort of reaction as shown in the previous graph in the carbohydrate section.
In time, the FFA will all be used up and, if we had consumed no more food, the body will start to breakdown some of the fat we have stored on our body to provide the energy it needs.
Unless we are feeding our body very frequently during the day we are going to need to dig into our reserves from time to time. As mentioned before, overnight when we are not eating will always be one of these times.
Let's assume we ate a 570 calorie meal at 8pm and that meal was 300 calories (75g) of carbohydrate and 270 calories (30g) of fat.
Our body will have processed its carbohydrate from the previous meal and would have been in a level state in which it was using mainly fat for energy (possibly still from fat being digested or in the blood stream (FFA) or from fat stores) and was gradually topping up the liver with glycogen by using protein/fat.
The carbohydrate in the meal would raise blood sugar from about 5 to about 9 (depending on the weight of the person). The insulin released would switch off fat usage and the body would use glucose for energy and also store some in muscles and liver. Depending on the type of carbohydrates we ate, we would drop into a normal blood sugar range a few hours later and the body would be prepared to use fat again as energy. The fat would reach our bloodstream more slowly and that may drip feed us a little energy during the night
If we did not eat again until breakfast at 8am the following day we would have used some calories as part of our BMR. For example, a 170lb man may have used 900 calories simply to live and sleep. That usage is 330 calories more than the meal we ate. The energy has to come from somewhere and it comes by getting some from the fat stores. Also, the brain will have used about 200 calories of glucose during that time and that is about 50% of the total glycogen stored in the liver. To avoid the risk of brain death, the body would have started to top up the liver slowly from protein/fat.
This system seems to work perfectly. The body uses glucose if there is a lot around and then switches to fat when the blood sugar drops. It has a very large store of fat so there is little risk of starvation and the glucose that has to be found can be found using protein/fat.
There can be problems though with this mechanism and this was mentioned before.
If the cells become insensitive to insulin then we can get type 2 diabetes which is a dangerous condition. Research has shown that losing weight restores the sensitivity. However, it is possible that it may be a side effect of how the composition of the diet changes in order to lose weight.
It is possible for the FFA receptors in the muscles to not switch back on properly when the insulin level drops and so the body does not use enough fat in the early stages after a meal. In time, when our energy levels get very low the fat burning does work (or else we would die!) but by then glucose has fallen very low and we will be feeling starving. Research has shown that the only way to repair this is by moderate exercise. This is because when we exercise moderately (i.e. not out of breath or lifting things that are too heavy) our body uses fat as the fuel almost exclusively
We see from the diagram above that walking gently using mainly fat and a little glucose from the bloodstream but jogging starts to breakdown glycogen (from muscles probably). With exercise, we train our body to use fat to fuel the muscles and it is then more natural for it to switch to this method when insulin falls after a meal.
Some people claim that the body prefers glucose as a fuel source but I think that is a misunderstanding of the science. The body needs some glucose for brain and some other cells and it is certainly easier for the body to get energy from carbohydrates and glucose. In addition there are times when, because of lack of oxygen, the body has to use glycogen (inside the muscles). However, for most of evolution, man has been very active and would have been so at a moderate level of intensity. We can see that when we do that, the body uses fat. If we are sleeping, the body uses fat almost exclusively where it can.
However, fat does not have to be dietary fat. I am not saying we need to eat a ton of lard just because the body uses it. Let' say we had a TDEE and we consumed all of that as carbohydrate. Let's also, for simplicity, say we ate that all in one meal. What would happen?
Insulin would go crazy and fat burning would stay off for a long while while insulin got blood sugar down. Liver and muscle glycogen would be topped up and, because we had so much fuel going in so quickly, the surplus glucose would be stored as fat (it would be too much for the body to cope with on a gradual basis). When things settled down, the body would start to break down that fat it had stored and would start to use that.
The body is perfectly capable of handling any mix of foods we give it. That is how we managed to survive as a species. The only question is whether the ever-present nature of food and the artificial nature of processed foods is giving our body too much to cope with. We have not had time to evolve to deal with these new factors which have come about in a blink of an eye in evolutionary time scales.
The Carbohydrate Question
There is a huge debate in the diet and nutrition world about how much of our diet should come from carbohydrate, protein and fat.
There are also many radical views at the very extremes. There are many “facts” thrown about that support their theories but often this is based on very weak research.
Let's start by seeing where there is agreement.
- Everybody agrees that there are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids so no diet removes all fat and all protein
- Everybody agrees that a diet that has too many processed foods is bad for you but the views still range from “all junk food is rubbish and will kill you” to “processed foods contain many unwanted/hidden items so we need to limit the consumption and introduce a lot of fresh produce”
- Everybody agrees that a diet too high in refined sugar is bad. Again the extremes are “all sugar is hell” and “limit yourself”
- Everybody agrees that we should have a “healthy diet”. The problem is that some view grains as a killer because they were not part of our ancestral diet and others promote grains as being good for you.
With all this confusion, even in areas of agreement, I think it is worth while looking at what has happened.
In the 1950's research came out that suggested that fat in our diet was a major contributor to the health of our heart (cholesterol anyone?) and obesity. This caused the US government to issue guidelines that relegated meats and fats to a much smaller proportion of the diet. There were some leaked documents that imply that initially the largest proportion of calories was going to be suggested to be found from fruit and veg but the agricultural lobby eventually got the US to overturn this and make grains and other processed products like pasta, breakfast cereals and rice the most important. However, as I am sure you are aware that since that time there has been “good and bad cholesterol” and views that the “Mediterranean Diet” which is high in fat and even the Eskimos who eat masses of fat are all “OK”.
Dieticians and nutritionists have been suggesting this sort of diet with approximately 65% carbs; 15% protein and 20% fat for the past 50 years and during that time obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease have all increased. At the same time the average American consumes less fat than before and more carbohydrate than before.
This anomaly has prompted a lot of recent research and almost every report indicates that additional fat in the diet does not (in and of itself) increase risk. Also, a number of shorter term experiments have been done with people being fed different proportions of these 3 main nutrients. If we decrease carbs by 40% it has to go somewhere else so low carb must mean higher fat/protein and vice versa. Strangely they found that despite taking in MORE fat those who ate fewer carbs actually had better blood results in terms of cholesterol and fatty deposits.
Why would this be? Well, the lunatic fringes on either side have their agendas to push but, to me, we can perhaps see why this may be the case. If our body is getting no carbs then it has to use fat. Those muscles are using fat 24/7. The fat is not left floating around the bloodstream before eventually being taken up by the fat cells it is being USED. This would promote efficiency in fat burning. In addition, glucose would have to be produced and that requires converting fat or protein That wastes energy so even more fat is taken out of the bloodstream.
I am not suggesting that my analysis is correct. I d not know and neither does anyone else at present. However, the evidence seems to indicate that fat has had a bit of a bad press for the past 50 years. What I can point to is the worsening health of nations that follow the high carb diets.
I also, think that if we think of this question in evolutionary terms we must start to doubt whether a Western high carb diet is what our bodies expect. The lunatic fringes on the low/no carb side will tell you that our ancestors only ever had 10% carbs (or even less). There is not a single shred of evidence for this. However, looking at modern day hunter gatherers we can see that it is very unlikely to have been higher than 40%. In addition any carbohydrates they happened to get would have fibrous often from roots or seeds. These are digested more slowly than our more processed western carbohydrates so would not cause such a high insulin reaction.
It seems to me that we are probably not doing our bodies any favours by shovelling in a huge amount of easily digested carbs that will spike our blood sugar (followed by a corresponding sharp fall). This cannot be the way we evolved.
I mentioned earlier that if we starve then, after a short time, our body adjusts so that it does not need as much glucose. It starts to feed the brain and our muscles using ketone bodies. When our body is working like that we are in a “Ketogenic State”.
Some advocates of a low carb diet say this is the natural state for our bodies because we never got many carbs in pre-history. They also claim they feel wonderful living this way and that it so wonderful to be living a natural life without any of the foods produced from our modern agricultural methods that are “poisonous” to our bodies.
To me, they have gone a bit far, but, if they are happy then good luck to them. For me, just because our body can work like that does not mean that it is designed to work that way. For me, the deciding factor is that it takes days to enter a Ketogenic state but we can come out of it almost instantly if we suddenly consume a moderate amount of carbs. Surely the natural state is the one that we return to quickly. To my mind, Ketosis is simply the body's emergency system to be used in times of starvation and we can artificially trigger it by removing (or at least drastically reducing) carbohydrate without actually starving because at that point the body realises that it will need a lot of glucose so it switches to ketosis to reduce reliance on glucose, so producing ketones instead. There is also research that shows that although ketones are used very efficiently by the body, there is a high energy cost in getting the body to produce them from fat. In the first place This energy cost increases TDEE and, while that may be useful for a diet that aims to reduce fat, it would not make sense in evolutionary terms for the body to have a wasteful method as its normal state.
I have lost weight using a high carbohydrate and low fat diet and I have also lost weight using a low carbohydrate and higher fat diet. Both worked simply because I created an energy deficit. I found the low carb one easier to deal with. When I tried high carb I used to have to eat 6 times a day simply to deal with the hunger symptoms. With low carb, I rarely felt hungry.
My assumption is, this is because with the low carb method I do not have a roller coaster in blood sugar level and the higher amount of protein and fat make me feel fuller for longer. I may be wrong; others may find the reverse approach better or even something in the middle.
Research has shown that over a 3 or 6 month period the low carb dieters did better than the high carb but after 12 months they were very similar in fat loss. However, that is irrelevant. As I have said many times before, the aim is to find an habitual diet that works for us; one that we can follow for the rest of our lives. During the weight loss phase, we find this diet and then just eat a bit less than we will when we are at our target weight.
I have found that, although I love carbs, a diet that has a little less than I used to is equally acceptable to me and makes it easier to maintain a sensible weight.
What is right for you? Well, I don't know and neither do you – yet! Some people follow a Ketogenic habitual diet and have done so for years. Some people simply do not function well on a low carb diet and resort to a high carb, low fat diet. Some find a middle course.
The fact is that although, if we have put on (lost) extra weight, we must have consumed more (less) calories than we need , the body is too complex for us to say, “right, I'll eat fewer calories and exercise more and I will lose weight”.
WHAT we eat, will affect the way our body works. It will alter TDEE by altering the metabolic functions within the body, using more/less energy. It will also trigger different enzymes and hormones in different quantities that will have a feed back into our sensation of hunger. It may affect our insulin sensitivity or the ability of our bodies to use fat effectively.
I'll take one very simple example. This experiment has been replicated several times so can probably be trusted. A group of people were fed a glass of water, some vegetables and some meat. However, one group ate/drank the ingredients as they were; the other group had their ingredients made into a soup. The soup group stayed full for a lot longer than the ingredients group. This shows that it was not the number of calories that counted but the type of food (even though the ingredients were the same).
This ability to keep the body fuller for longer is called satiety. You can look it up; there are many lists on line. White bread is the standard and is rated at 100. Chips are 116; boiled potatoes 323; white pasta 119; fish 225; beef 176;muesli 100; porridge 209; apple 197; banana 118; cake 65; peanuts 84; yogurt 88. The numbers rate how long you feel full for after consuming the same number of calories of each. So, for example you will feel full for twice as long after a bowl of porridge rather than the same number of calories as muesli.
A similar method looks at energy density which basically looks at how many calories in a gram of the food. The lower the density, the more weight of food you get for the same number of calories. So peanuts are 600 cal per 100g and chicken breast is 148 cal per 100g. You could eat 405g of chicken or 100g of peanuts for the same calories. It is obvious which one would leave you fuller for longer.
The body changes/reactions to what we eat may also trigger psychological reactions that may make it easier/harder to stick to a diet.
Our job is to find the habitual diet that controls our weight and that we actually enjoy. We are all different which is why diets that are produced in a magazine or by a business are not likely to work long term. We need to play with our food diary to find the balance of nutrients that work for us in a form we find palatable. Our body may react differently to the person next to us. We need to teach ourselves what works best for us. For couples there often needs to be a compromise diet that works for both (even if that diet is not absolutely optimal).
This is the fear of every person who goes on a weight loss diet. “Won't I be hungry all the time?”
Well, I have to admit that you will be hungry sometimes but it is nothing to be afraid of. It is nature's way of keeping you alive.
The trouble with hunger is that there can be many causes and we need to learn how to deal with the various versions of it.
The first thing we have to do is to recognise hunger for what it is. It is a signal from our body to be fed. However, what does it want?
If we have not been eating a balanced diet so are short of minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids or essential amino acids you are going to be hungry. It will not matter how much you eat, the body is going to notice that it is short of some important ingredients for survival and is going to motivate you to get them. This is why people who eat a lot of processed or junk food continue to eat so much. They never satisfy their body's essential needs so the body keeps saying, “feed me” only to be disappointed yet again when the required ingredients do not arrive in the next meal.
Sometimes the body anticipates the need for energy and there are a few clues for it like the fullness of the stomach; how much food it is processing in the gut; the level of blood sugar and the levels of a few enzymes. However, think back to pre-history. The body sees a future need for some food so it tells you to go and do something about it. There wasn't a freezer with a Pizza in it or a fridge laden with food. To get food our ancestors had to get off their arse and go and find it. There would be a delay between the first hunger signal and eating. Many people now, never allow that delay; they even eat when they are not actually experiencing any hunger at all; they are not full and so eat a little more.
This is another section about training ourselves. To really understand hunger we need to experience it. Some people are almost paranoid about hunger thinking if they do not eat at once they will die. As we have seen throughout this book, that is not true. Most of us have plentiful energy stores in our fat and could live for a long time without food. In fact in 1965/66 a Scotsman did not eat for 382 days. He drank non calorific drinks, had supplements for the essentials and was medically supervised (very sensible) but he was fine. He lost a lot of weight but did not die!
To understand hunger, we need to allow ourself to experience it. Many obese people have lost this link to their hunger. We should be able to differentiate between being a little hungry and absolutely famished. It takes time to get from one to the other. At the other end of the scale, we need to stop eating before we are full. The reason for this is that the food is still going down and the body has not yet had a chance to tell you that you are full. If you eat until you are full you will soon feel stuffed and uncomfortable (it takes about 20 minutes for the signal to get through).
Eventually, we can start to truly understand just how hungry we really are and we can start to trust ourselves. At that stage we can eat when we need to but more importantly not eat when there is no need. I often do not eat until lunchtime and sometimes it is even later. I do not find this difficult. Most of us are not that hungry first thing and eating is more of a habit than an urgent necessity.
Some people use IF (Intermittent Fasting). They only allow themselves to eat between certain hours (like noon-8pm or 9am to 6pm or 4pm to 8pm say); some even refuse to eat at all on certain days; others may choose a day or 2 per week when they will only eat 500 or 600 calories in total per day. I have done this and the first time or two it can seem difficult but, as well as training ourselves, it also trains our body. The body also learns that these few hours without food are not desperately urgent. What most people find is that keeping active or having a glass of water is enough to take their minds of the sensation of hunger and within 10-15 minutes it passes.
I consider these IFs to be quite valuable for 2 reasons. Firstly, the very fact that we do not eat for part of a day or a whole day or restrict our calories on a day will mean that we create a deficit and that is the only thing that will generate fat loss. Secondly, until we have learned to control our hunger rather than let our hunger control us the discipline of these IFs can help to train us to recognise hunger properly.
I mentioned habit earlier and that is certainly a factor. If you ask anyone who has given up smoking they are likely to tell you that at the beginning they only really missed the fag a few times a day. Maybe it was the first one in the morning or the one in the pub or the one during the afternoon tea break. The rest of their smoking was habitual rather than driven by their addiction to nicotine. Dealing with hunger works in a similar way. We often just eat out of habit. We have a cup of tea and reach for the biscuit jar. We are not really hungry we just always have a biscuit with our tea. When I first started skipping breakfast, it felt odd and I often felt like I should be eating. However, realistically, I was not that hungry; it was just a habit. Now, I sometimes have breakfast but it is when I am hungry. I now know when I am genuinely hungry as opposed to the sensation/thought being something else.
Finally, there is the issue of satiety which is whether the body actually feels full or is demanding food. It has been demonstrated many times that protein keeps us full for longer. It has also been shown (but nobody really knows why) that the spike and then fall in blood glucose caused by eating a large amount of carbohydrate triggers hunger.
This brings us back to the graph shown in the carbohydrate section. We see that protein and fat keep our blood sugars level and also keep our body in the same fat burning mode that it seems to like. There is almost a serenity and a certainty in the way the body produces just enough glucose and releases food gradually from digestion into the bloodstream. When it needs extra energy it just gets on with the business of breaking down some of the fat store.
When I lost weight using a high carb diet (following government and NHS guidelines) I was often hungry despite eating 6 times a day and I felt fluctuations in energy during the day between meals.
When I lost weight on the low carb diet, I often found that I could easily create a deficit because I simply did not want any more food; I was full. It felt to me as if I was just ticking over. I never felt desperately hungry and never felt short of energy. When I was hungry, I would eat but, as the diet was low carb, I often ate some meat or some eggs or fish. This is a meal as opposed to eating a chocolate bar or picking up a sandwich and I felt fuller for longer afterwards.
We are all different and your experience may be at odds with this. That is the point of the food diary; to allow you to learn what foods work for you. When I added a few calories back to slow down my weight loss and get closer to my habitual diet, I added a few more carbs like rice and pasta but did not get back to my pre-experiment levels. The lower level of carbs allows me to feel full for longer because I eat more protein and fat.
Sometimes a craving is simply our body telling us that we need something essential just like the pregnant women who eat dirt to get the minerals they need.
However, often it is simply that we really fancy something. I keep mentioning Ginster's pasties which is my temptation. For others it may be chocolate or a cream cake or a pint of Guinness or.......
It really does not matter what it is. When we start a calorie reducing diet we should not think of it as being a battle. IMO, there should be no “Syns” or “Penalty Points” or “must not have” foods. We are adults and must make our own decisions.
I discussed earlier and I repeat it here. What matters is that in the long run we create a calorie deficit. The bigger the deficit the more fat we will lose. If I really fancied a pasty tonight, I would have one. It is a simple choice, do I want the pasty more than the deficit? I am an adult, I can make that decision. At least, I can if I have the information which is why I recommend again a food diary, at least initially.
So, what I am saying is, don't have cravings. If you feel one coming on, look at the information and make your adult decision. You are accountable to yourself nobody else.
If I decided to have 2 x pasties a day I would essentially be deciding that I not only do not want to lose weight but I actually want to put it on. My life – my choice!
10) Do You Really Want to Do this?
The book is called The cannot fail diet plan
and the title is true. If the plan is followed we cannot fail. We simply have to create a deficit (on average) and we will lose fat. Physics demands that this is so. The plan is very simple.
However, there is a big difference between something being simple and something being easy.
I have not said, follow these recipes for 3 weeks and you will lose a stone. That is the easy way and is what the diet books sell. It is all done for you and they claim you will lose weight effortlessly and without any thought needed on your part.
I have taken a different approach. The most important difference is that the weight loss part of the diet is not the aim it is merely a step along the path to developing our own personal habitual diet. Most diets fail quickly because the dieters hated it and did not keep to it or, much more importantly, the weight/fat loss was only temporary and as soon as they stopped dieting all the weight (and often a lot more) was simply put back on.
My approach has been to re-educate ourselves so that we can find an habitual diet that we a) enjoy b) keeps our weight stable c) we can follow for the rest of our lives. When I say “follow for the rest of our lives” I do not mean that all our food is boring and repetitive but that the choices we make are informed and sensible. There can be huge variety but within certain parameters. From time to time those parameters can be very flexible. To maintain a certain body weight we need a calorie balance over time. Day by day variations do not matter. This means that we can decide to eat stuff that would not be part of our habitual diet and that decision will be informed by our knowledge of the extra calories we may be taking in. Our knowledge is also sufficient to know that over the next few days we probably need to cut back a little to compensate.
There will be a few challenges and some effort required if we are to follow the plan.
At the outset we need to go to the effort of working out our TDEE and starting to build a food diary. The first few days will be hard as we start to set all that up but, as the days and then weeks go by, it gets easier and easier because most of the items we want in our food diary have already been entered. Even then, we need to make the daily effort to enter what we are eating (and exercise if we do it). It only takes a few minutes a day to know what our deficit for today is but it does need to be done regularly until we become very experienced
Choice of Foods
This can be quite demanding for some people at the beginning but for others it will be great fun. When you start this journey you already have an habitual diet and that diet is what made you gain weight. You now have to think about what you are going to eat. Let's say that you enter your current habitual foods for today and find out that it does not give you the calorie deficit you want. If that is the case, you will need to change what you were going to eat. Until you become a little more experienced you may not be sure what changes will work. You will need to play with your food diary to see “what if” you change something. You may also be forced into considering actually cooking something when previously you just pinged your dinner. The reason for that is that in general we can get a lot more food for the same calories if we actually make something ourselves because we do not put the sugar and starch into the food that the manufacturers do. This may involve following a recipe until you are confident enough to simply take a bunch of ingredients that you know work together and cook them in a style that suits today's mood. For example, give me a couple of breasts of chicken, some peppers, chillies, maybe ginger root, onions, a few vegetables and perhaps some pasta or couscous or rice and I will make you an Italian, Chinese, Indian, English, Moroccan or a mixture of any of those you fancy just by using those ingredients and a few herbs/spices from the stock cupboard. It will take about 25 minutes total to cook which is not much longer than pinging two frozen ready meals. In addition, my dinner will provide enough for another night as well and probably even a small amount extra for a lunch so I get some free cooking on those nights when I ping this home-made food. This is all extra effort but it is part of the process. Food is a great joy of life. We would not want our future habitual diet to be boring and full of stuff we do not like. This stage is a journey of discovery; we learn about food and calories and perhaps new dishes or foods we have never tried before during this journey.
We probably have to get used to doing a little exercise. This is NOT jogging or sweating on a treadmill in the gym for hours on end. It is simply doing what we can do given our time constraints and our current level of fitness. Exercise gets our body burning fat more efficiently and repairs our metabolism. It does not have to be a lot, and the diet would still work without it. However, I actually look forward to my exercise each day because I do what I like doing without over-exerting myself. I also am very happy that the few extra calories burned increases my TDEE giving me more food to eat!
We will have good days and bad days because we are human. The weight loss will probably seem very slow (even though it is not) and the fluctuations in water weight can easily demoralise us if we are not careful. For me the food diary is the thing that helps. If I know I am doing the right thing it gives me the incentive to continue, knowing that, in time, it will all come right.
Yes, you will feel hungry from time to time and we have to learn to cope with that. In fact it is probably the refusal to remain hungry that allowed the weight to increase. For a while, it will be a bit of an effort before you and your body get used to it. After that it becomes much easier but it does take a little time.
So, the question is, given the extra effort you will need to make (especially in the short term) does the prospect of fat loss reward you sufficiently for the effort? For me the answer was easy. I did not want to adversely affect my health or my mobility and I was certainly starting to feel fat so for me it was an easy, “yes”. We are all adults; the decision and consequences are down to us.