Thursday 29 September 2011

Calories in, calories out myth - debunked and a fantasy

According to a very interesting article called Diets fail because advice is wrong, say researchers which I came across on the BBC News website the other day, the "eat less and you will lose weight" mantra on which all dieting advice is based on today doesn't actually work.

What these diet companies, along with government bodies, and healthcare professionals are telling us (and have been telling us for years) is that if we reduce our daily intake by 500 calories then we can expect to lose 1lb (0.5kg) in weight every week. Therefore, the reasoning goes, if you stick at it for a year, you can lose 52lbs (23.5kg). The researchers have shown that it takes much longer to lose that kind of weight. Everything from our age, our genes and the type of food we eat will impact how much weight we lose and in what time frame. They've also shown the psychological impact of setting up people for failure by setting unrealistic and unachievable goals. It's what we call the Diet Mentality at Beyond Chocolate.

The part of the article which I found most troubling is an interview with Helen Bond, from the British Dietetic Association who, when asked about the calories in/calories out theory admitted,

"We all recommend it - it's what we are taught. But I don't know what the scientific evidence for it is. It's not very motivating to tell someone that if they cut their intake by 10 calories a day every day for the next three years they will lose a pound of weight. But saying 'cut out your daily habit of a 250-calorie chocolate bar and you will lose about 25 pounds and, if you stick at it, the weight will stay off' - that is.

Well, lots of Fairy dust to Helen for honesty.

I feel quite sorry for Helen. I have this image (which I'm sure is pure fantasy) of a bright, committed woman who is constantly frustrated at working in a medieval environment. Deep down she knows that telling people it's possible to lose 25lb in a year by eating a bit less chocolate - whoever we are and whatever our diet looks like beyond that chocolate bar - doesn't make sense. She can see with her own eyes that the calories in/calories out equation hasn't helped anyone. There have never been so many people on diets as there are today...and we've never been fatter. The old guard can cling on to their diet myths but Helen knows there's another way. Maybe she's heard of Beyond Chocolate! Maybe she is at this very moment plotting a new course for the British Dietetic Association, one which shuns calories altogether and embraces mindful eating. In fact, back in 2003 The Independent on Sunday published an article in which they quote Dr Wendy Doyle of the British Dietetic Association saying that "the Beyond Chocolate appraoch is pretty much spot on". So they've known all along.

Well, while I wait for this great day, I shall continue to fantasise about what this revolution would look like...

Can you imagine a government policy paper outlining the 10 Beyond Chocolate principles and being adopted by healthcare professionals across the land? Can you imagine millions of women meeting each week to practice tuning in, to learn how to eat when they are hungry, to eat foods they like, with mindfulness and enjoyment. Can you imagine these women talking, connecting, laughing, supporting each other, celebrating? Talking openly about their relationship with food. Can you imagine hundreds of millions of pounds being spent to fund local cookery clubs? Places where people can gather to cook and eat good meals. A place to taste new foods and be shown how to cook them. Hundreds of millions of pounds and government backing... just think of what Jamie Oliver manages to do with a fraction of that. Imagine thousands of mini Jamie's doing their thing up and down the country. Inspiring people to eat fresh, local food. Imagine a system of publicly funded allotment projects where you get free produce in return for putting in some elbow grease. A place where young and old can work side by side. Where age old green thumb tips get handed down. Imagine each neighborhood having as many public steam baths as there are libraries. Imagine women gathering to bathe and steam and lounge and chat. Hundreds of women of all shapes and sizes and colours, without their clothes, their makeup, their bags and shoes and jewellery. Just bodies. All beautiful. Imagine the school curriculum completely rewritten to include subjects such as 'Body Image' and 'Consumerism'. Programmes that give girls a place to talk about the changes going on their bodies in those critical teen years. A chance to ask questions, to exchange stories, to meet inspiring, older women who challenge the media's definition of beauty. Programmes that teach children about the mechanics of the consumer society, about supply and demand and the theories behind advertising and merchandising and PR. Generations of children being taught that as consumers they can vote with their wallets. Millions of children watching an advert for cereal and thinking: "Yeah, the Monkey's cool but that doesn't mean the cereal is too". Just imagine...

Ooooh! It is nice to indulge in a little fantasizing now and again. Post me your fantasies of a post diet world. We can collect them and be ready with the best ideas when Helen spearheads the revolution.


  1. What a lovely post. It made me cry.

    Wouldn't it be just wonderful.

  2. I imagine a world where the size zero women would be the oddities and there would be a return to the Rubenesque curves of previous times being celebrated as beautiful, desirable and the norm! I imagine a world where there was no competition between women to see who was the thinnest, who eats the least and where women did not look each other up and down covertly (or overtly!) to assess their size or see who is the thinnest! I imagine a world without 'diet' foods made of rubbish and costing a fortune. I imagine a world where people felt no guilt as they enjoyed sumptuous food, beautifully prepared and presented and did not, instead, stuff it in surreptitiously whilst promising to 'diet tomorrow'. I could go on....Maybe we can just live today as if it were already this ideal world?

  3. I like bibiqueue's idea of live today as if it were already this ideal world :)

    But I wish food revolution for UK. I have lived in two other European countries already, and I still cannot get used to British food culture...I think I lived in ideal world....with vegetable markets form local farmers every day....bakeries with REAL wholemeal breads and rolls...where nobody buys lettuce in winter, because it's not the season...and who prefers grand-mums plum cake to bought chocolate cookies....where every summer tones of fruit and vegetables are turned into home-made jams and pickles, to be served in the winter. I wish that for UK as well.

  4. All I can say is... PLEASE chocolate fairy run for prime minister next time!! That and...I can't wait for the new book...

  5. This read and the following responses had me 'drooling' ! Not for 'chocolate' or 'sticky buns' but for for the 'dream', the 'fantasy' ... so real, I can nearly taste it ! How bitter the taste when I realised the 'reality'! How silly can we be !? Thank goodness we are part of the 'revolution' !

  6. Hooray for the revolution! And for the day when the old 'calories in and out' myth is finally busted and the diet clubs pack up and admit they got it wrong all along ...
    Hooray for Beyond Chocolate - a small still voice of sanity in amongst all the madness.


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