Tal­ly­ing kcals may be out of fash­ion – now re­placed by mod­ish macros – but when it comes to weight loss, it’s the only strat­egy that adds up

Men's Health (UK) - - Agenda -

In my job as a trainer, the ques­tion I get asked most fre­quently (be­sides whether we can train arms to­day) is: “Can trend­ing eat­ing plans such as in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing or the ke­to­genic diet ac­tu­ally speed up my weight loss?” The sim­ple an­swer is yes. But if they all work, why are there so many op­tions, and why is the coun­try in the grip of an obe­sity epi­demic? This is equally easy to ex­plain: the re­sults are al­most al­ways tem­po­rary 1 .

Many peo­ple as­sume that there must be a com­plex bio­chem­i­cal rea­son why th­ese di­ets work, but the re­al­ity is far more mun­dane. It’s all just maths: sim­ple ad­di­tion and sub­trac­tion, the sort you can do in your head. If we con­sider in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing, all that you’re do­ing by cre­at­ing ar­bi­trary bound­aries around the times you can eat is lim­it­ing the amount of calo­ries you con­sume over a given pe­riod of time.

Sim­i­larly, by cut­ting out a food group, or even an en­tire macro nu­tri­ent (in the 1980s, it was fat; in the 1990s, the en­emy was carbs; more re­cently, it’s meat and dairy), you end up re­duc­ing your caloric in­take. If your ac­tiv­ity lev­els stay con­sis­tent, then the re­sult­ing calo­rie deficit will trans­late into weight loss. Over time, how­ever, you in­evitably find a re­place­ment food from within your “per­mit­ted” group, and the deficit is nul­li­fied. For ex­am­ple, if you re­move the roast pota­toes from Sun­day lunch be­cause “carbs are bad”, you will con­sume fewer calo­ries and lose weight. When, af­ter a few weeks, you re­alise you’re still hun­gry on Sun­day af­ter­noon and re­place the pota­toes with ex­tra beef (af­ter all, “pro­tein is good”, right?), the weight piles back on.

The 16:8 diet is foiled in a sim­i­lar way. Not eat­ing af­ter 6pm is an easy way to cut out a late-night snack habit and re­duce over­all calo­rie con­sump­tion across the day. How­ever, if your so­lu­tion to that hunger is to get your evening’s worth of snacks crammed in by 5.55pm, the deficit will be re­versed and that weight will go back on again – even though you’re fol­low­ing the rules 2 . When a Jour­nal of Nutri­tion, Health and Ag­ing study com­pared in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing to caloric re­stric­tion, sub­jects lost an av­er­age of 1.25kg a month through the lat­ter, while the fasters only shed 473g 3 .

Let me be clear: there is more to good health than calo­ries. A low-calo­rie diet that lacks the proper bal­ance of vitamins, min­er­als, fi­bre and macronu­tri­ents will do lit­tle to help you feel great and train hard. Yet, once you cut through the fancy mar­ket­ing spiel and the celebrity en­dorsed books, it be­comes clear that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween food and weight loss is still de­fined by sim­ple calo­ries. It’s en­ergy in ver­sus en­ergy out.

The most suc­cess­ful eat­ing plan is the one you can stick to. If be­ing ve­gan works for you, em­brace it. If pa­leo ap­peals, have a butcher’s at the meat counter. But, if los­ing weight is your pri­mary goal, for good­ness sake don’t pre­tend that your din­ner can tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween 6pm and 10pm. It’s a num­bers game, plain and sim­ple. Start count­ing.

“It’s all just maths – the sort of ad­di­tion and sub­trac­tion you can do in your head”


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