One of the most common myths about those who are trying to lose weight, is that they need detailed nutritional information. Yet, despite the vast number of dieticians and nutritional counsellors currently in practice, rates of obesity in the UK have remained stubbornly high. There is more information about “healthy eating” available today than we have ever had in the history of mankind, but we are also fatter than we have ever been. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, nutritionists and dieticians continue to insist that it’s a problem of information; that if we could only educate the population about health eating, then the obesity epidemic could finally be brought under control. This, of course, is fantasy.
Experience suggests that individuals with weight problems are remarkably well informed about the calorific value of foods and which foods to avoid. The point is that even though they know this, they just don’t do it. In other words. It is not actually a problem of knowledge, but of behaviour. You would think this might have dawned on the government’s public health “experts” by now, but they seem deaf to the blindingly obvious: dieting doesn’t work.
But there is an even more damaging flipside to the obsession with nutrition; namely that physical activity becomes relatively neglected. Yet scientific evidence shows that those who are most successful at losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, are not those who know the fatty-acid composition of every food they eat, but those who engage in moderate, daily exercise and monitor their behaviours. What matters is not what individuals know, but what they do.
Of course, we all need to have some nutritional information so that we can make sensible choices. So, here in a nutshell is all the nutritional science you need to remember: in terms of calories per gram, protein is 4 Cals/gm; fat 9 Cals/gm; carbohydrate (and sugar) 4 Cals/gm and alcohol 7 Cals/gm. So, fat contains more than twice the number of calories per unit than protein or carbohydrate.
It should be obvious that to lose weight, you need to avoid fatty foods and moderate your alcohol intake. Then choose a Mediterranean-style diet, practice portion-control and take regular (daily) physical activity. Most important of all, monitor all your behaviours with a daily food/activity record. The principles are really that simple.
Dr David Ashton MD PhD