Confused about diets

a woman holds her hands over her face

By Holly L

July 3, 2020

If you are confused about what is or is not a healthy diet, don’t despair. You’re not alone.

I spent most of my 20’s moving from one diet to the next, everything from Atkins to the vegetable soup diet.  As I look back now, I realise my only goal was to be thin. I didn’t give much consideration to health or whether I was nourishing my body with the right things so long as I lost weight.  The problem was, the weight never stayed off.  I never succeeded in finding a diet that was sustainable.

Whilst there is more information available about eating healthily it seems to be even more confusing.  Paleo? Vegan? Low carb? High fat? Low calorie? Intermittent fasting? Juicing? GI? Mediterranean? Buy a book on any of these approaches and it will try to convince you that this is the life changing solution you have been looking for.

But what is healthy? Should I give up wheat? Is it ok to have dairy? It seems as though the advice on what to eat changes daily and no one agrees.  It’s enough to make anyone give up and head to Mac Donald’s!

Why is it so difficult for nutritional scientists to to agree?

One day I read alcohol is bad and the next red wine is good for me?  That meat is the cause of all our disease and next I should be eating like a caveman to be healthy.

The truth is there is so much that is unknown.  Experiments are almost impossible when it comes to testing hypothesis about specific foods.   In order for an experiment to be be valid and reliable (I.e test what it says it will test and give consistent results over and over) you need to be able to control all the variables, and with human beings that just isn’t possible.  Imagine we wanted to conduct an experiment to see if drinking coffee helps you burn fat.  We would recruit a group to test on, we could control certain variables by making sure they were the same sex and age, feed the groups the same diet, give them the same amount of calories, make them do the same exercise daily.  We would then split the group in 2, give one coffee everyday and not the other and see how much fat they burned.  If on average the group that drank the coffee burned more fat does that prove our hypothesis? No.  What about their weight and height, muscle percentage, genetics, underlying medical conditions, personal history?  There are just too many factors that can influence the outcome that can’t be controlled.

Rodents and experiments

Believe it or not the mouse has many similarities to humans in terms of anatomy, physiology and genetics. However, the results are not always straightforward.  Staying on the subject of coffee; I remember reading an article some time ago that said scientists had found a link between coffee and cancer.  I couldn’t believe it, I thought to myself, another thing I love that I can’t have!

I decided to do some more research. There is a chemical formed in the roasting process called Acrylamide.  In this specific experiment Acrylamide was injected in high doses into mice and it was determined that this chemical is a carcinogen. Did I stop drinking coffee, no.  I would have to be drinking coffee all day everyday to get anywhere near the amount that they injected the mice with.  And my one cup of coffee a day provides me with many other benefits as well as the enjoyment which include antioxidants, b vitamins, magnesium and potassium.  Therefore, I have decided the benefits out weigh the risks.  (I’d just like to point out that’s my opinion).  And I know that if you wanted to find reasons not to drink coffee the world wide web will be full of them!

So, where does all this leave us? more confused than ever?

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I studied nutrition as part of my personal training qualification and was really disappointed that we were being made to study the governments ‘eat well’ guide as a basis for advising clients. This guide was last updated in 2016, a lot can change in 4 years! I set about reading widely to try and gain as much knowledge as possible. (This is just a small selection of the books I’ve read. From audible I have also listened to The blood sugar solution, Mitichondria and the future of medicine, Gut, Whole, The fast 800, The china study, Intermittent fasting, you get the idea).

There were so many contradictions I felt bewildered.  As a result of this, I decided to focus on the commonalities, things everyone seems to pretty much agree with and not worry too much about the things that are still being debated.

What I have learned is there is no one diet that suits everyone. And personally, I didn’t maintain my weight until I finally stopped dieting and started focussing on my health and how I felt as opposed to how I looked.

From this moment on I was set free.  I never counted another calorie again and I’m in the best shape of my life! Dieting doesn’t work, it’s too prescriptive and can’t be followed long term.

Evidence shows that dieting often leads to more weight gain overall.

Therefore, it is my belief that for results to be sustainable you need to change your mindset around the word diet.

What does ‘diet’ mean?

What usually comes to mind when you hear the word diet?  I bet you associate it with negative thoughts like having to give up things you like, feeling hungry, feeling deprived. Often people think of it as a short-term solution to lose weight.  That was me. Now, my diet is the way I live my life and nourish my body. It’s a diet for life.

If we just focus on being slim, it is possible to be slim and very unhealthy. In fact, there is such a thing as skinny obese. A person might look slim on the outside but still have dangerous level of visceral fat around their organs leading to the same potential medical conditions and disease as those classified as obese by their BMI.

When we focus on being slim alone then the basic energy balance equation applies.  Put simply, eat less calories than you burn each day.  Roughly speaking a 500-calorie deficit a day should lead to a 1-2-pound loss in weight a week.

Did you know that a 2 finger KitKat contains just 106 calories, whereas a handful of mixed nuts has 170 calories! When I was only interested in counting calories which do you think I went for? The KitKat every time.  What I didn’t know was that the KitKat wasn’t just devoid of nutritional benefit but was also potentially doing harm to my body.   Whereas the handful of mixed nuts was a great source of many important nutrients.

How I work

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I work with my clients to help them build a new mindset around food for life.  One that appreciates food not just for the pleasure it gives us when we are eating something delicious but for its importance in keeping us alive and disease free.  When you start focussing on what is going on inside we have an opportunity to stabilise a healthy weight without ever having to diet again.

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