Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Gretel's Weekly Rant - another stoopid diet study

Gretel Hallet, came on our Chocolate Fairy Training last year and is running workshops in East Anglia.  If you live in the area and would like to attend a Beyond Chocolate course, Gretel would love to hear from you!  Meet Gretel.

There is yet another study out claiming to have the answer to keeping weight off for good.  The article on the internet claimed this was the ‘world’s largest diet study’ during which 938 ‘overweight’ adults from eight European countries.  These lucky people (it’s unclear whether they were men or women or a mixture) were put on a strict 800 kcal a day diet for eight weeks, and their weigh loss was recorded. They were then randomly assigned to one of five different low-fat diets, and tracked for six months to find out which diet was best at preventing weight gain.

After the initial eight weeks, the dieters lost an average of 11kg. But after 6 months, they re-gained around 0.5kg. Only those on the high protein/low glycaemic index diet managed to maintain their new weight.
People following a low-protein/high-GI re-gained nearly 2kg in weight.

Let’s have a look at those figures before we all get too excited and rush off to find a high-protein-low-GI diet book.

938 people lost ‘an average’ of 11kg.  That means some of them won’t have lost anything at all and others will have lost more than that.  An average is a mid-way point calculated by dividing the total amount lost by the total number of dieters.

I would guess that pretty much almost anyone who was put on a severely restricted food intake would lose some weight over 8 weeks.  But even that would depend on their previous dietary history, their gender, their age, their activity levels etc.  And what did it mean by ‘overweight people’?  A few pounds, a few stone (sorry, kilos!) overweight?  And who decided what the ‘correct’ weight for each of these people was in the first place?  This may have been ‘the world’s largest diet study’ as the article claims, but there’s a lot that isn’t being said here.

And then, these volunteers, having been starved for 8 weeks, were randomly put on one of 5 diets.  Again, the article doesn’t say what all 5 of them were.  The only ones we get to hear about are the most and least ‘successful’ ones.  The most we know is that all the diets were ‘low fat’.

And what about those that maintained their new weight on the high-protein-low-GI diet?  What did that mean exactly?  Well, for those 187 people, (some of whom would have lost weight initially while others didn’t) all maintained the weight they’d started at.  But they were only monitored for 6 months.

Those that didn’t maintain their new weight gained between 0.5kg and 2kg in weight.  All of them?  Apparently so.  So, some would have actually GAINED weight from their starting point if they didn’t lose any in the 8 week initial diet phase.  (For those of you, like me, who operate in pounds and ounces, a quick conversion chart follows.  2kg = 4.4lbs, 0.5kg = 1.1lbs).

So what is my point?  What am I trying to say here? 
  1. 11kg is 24lbs (which in turn is coming up to 2 stones).  That’s a lot of weight to lose as an average and they lost the weight quite fast (in just 8 weeks).  Some people may well have lost a lot more than that in order for 11kg to be the average.  Therefore a gain back of 2kg (or 4.4lbs), over six months, seems quite little in comparison with the weight lost.
  2. We know so little about all the other conditions surrounding this study that it’s impossible to come to the conclusion that the high-protein-low-GI diet would benefit everyone or (as the author of this article claims), be ‘the perfect diet to lose weight and keep it off.’  Because (slap me if I’m being fussy here) those people on this high-protein-low-GI diet DIDN’T LOSE ANY MORE WEIGHT while they were on it.  They maintained their weight instead.
  3. So, the conclusion that this diet would help everyone to lose weight is clearly false in the context of this experiment.
  4. What I know about dieting from my own experience is that it can take longer than 6 months for all the weight AND MORE to creep back on.
  5. Following one diet with another is likely to keep the body in a state of deprivation, and only when these people cease dieting all together will the true consequences of this study become apparent.
  6. What I know about low fat diets is that the body quickly becomes dissatisfied with low-fat foods and will (sooner or later) force the dieter to binge on high fat foods to make up the short-fall.  Fat in foods is necessary for our mental health and for our nervous system – low fat diets deprive the body of an essential food group.

A sample menu is attached to the article:
Breakfast: low fat milk with muesli (without added sugar), wholegrain crispbread with low-fat cheese, an orange
Lunch: wholegrain rye bread with lean meat or chicken, mackerel in tomato sauce with a selection of vegetables
Dinner: Stir-fried turkey with veg and wholegrain pasta, avocado salad with feta cheese and sugar peas.
Snacks: veg and low fat cheese sticks.  Wholegrain rye bread with low-fat liver pâté and cucumber
Only water or low fat milk to drink

Can you see anything missing here?!  How long have you got?!

I’ve been there, done that with low-fat diets.  I’ve also had a spirited go at GI diets of various sorts.  They are all but impossible for vegetarians to do anyway … but even if I did eat meat and fish, the sorts of food restrictions indicated by the sample menu as listed above would drive me straight to the cream cakes within a couple of days.

The only reasonable, truthful and realistic option is the one that Beyond Chocolate advocates and demonstrates so well.  Attempting to remove food groups of whatever sort from our daily intake will lead to feelings of deprivation and from there to binges.  Only when we are at peace with all foods and with our bodies can we achieve a stable weight that will be different for each one of us.  And we never need to diet again.

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