Have you ever noticed how the TV ads encourage us to scoff our faces leading up to Christmas, only to scold us shortly afterwards by suggesting it's time to go on a New Year's Resolution inspired diet? One minute, there are images of cream being poured over chocolate cake and only a few days later after Christmas, it's images of smiley slim people on treadmills eating low fat yoghurt.
It can be hard not to be sucked in by the hype of the unavoidable post-Christmas diet industry propaganda we have to endure, but in any case, does going on a diet because of a New Year Resolution even work?
The short answer is, in most cases, a resounding no.
It's no secret that exercise is good for you. Whilst many of us shrink away from the idea of going out for a 5-mile power-run each day, we can still make significant improvements to our overall physical and mental health simply by being slightly more active throughout our normal, day-to-day activities.
One of the main contributors to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is the relentless, progressive march of technology. Compared to previous generations, we're far less active than we used to be; many of us now have automatic washing machines, dishwashers and cars so there's little incentive to do these tasks by hand any more. If we don't have a car, we often rely on public transport to get us around and when do eventually get back home, we slink into the sofa to watch TV or play computer games.
There's no denying that technology has made our lives easier but our bodies are paying the price as a result. We're even less active in the workplace these days too with many of us sitting in a chair all day staring at a computer screen or answering customer enquiries. In fact, the Department of Health and Social Care even refers to our lack of activity in the workplace as the "silent killer". As well as being bad for our health, it's bad for business too, with poor employee health costing UK businesses more than £100 billion a year.
With the festive season rapidly approaching, we thought we'd take a preemptive swipe at the bathroom scales in case they try and tell us things we don't want to hear come the New Year.
We all know that Christmas time is the Season of Goodwill and usually good eating and drinking too. The shops are packed to the rafters with a bewildering array of tasty festive treats that quite frankly, are hard to resist. It's that time when we love to stock up with all those naughty things that we may not normally buy during the other 11 months of the year.
Whilst the lighthearted notion of "reaching for the nearest bar of chocolate" when we're upset or stressed is something of a cliche, the sad reality is that comfort eating can have negative, long-lasting psychological consequences.
Although it's often seen as a source of amusement when we joke about comfort eating with friends or family, emotional overeating is a very real and tangible condition that glosses over the deeper problem of an ineffective coping strategy when we're faced with problems in our lives.
It's a commonplace reason given for weight gain and a subsequent inability to lose it. As a consequence there are queues at the doctor's to check for an under active thyroid!
But there are a number of rational reasons why this weight gain theory is clearly an obesity red herring.
- Weight excess was far less prevalent 50 years ago. If we are to assume that slow metabolisms are the cause of a sudden increase then we have to accept the unlikely possibility that a human evolutionary change is taking place across the world at miraculous speed.
- The distinction between energy that we use to stay alive (metabolism) and energy used through our daily activities is an artificial one and the boundaries are a bit blurred. The combination of both categories represents our total energy expenditure and again, 50 years ago, irrespective of vocation, build, height, age, gender we were much better at matching our calorie input to output. There's no set amount we need to consume. It's just a case of matching our consumption to our expenditure. If it were true that someone only used up a total of 500 calories a day they would be less hungry than the rest of us and they just wouldn't need very much to eat!
- Our metabolism includes our heart and respiratory functions, digestion, brain function, body temperature and cell maintenance, and these tasks carry on largely unnoticed all the time. All that work needs lots of energy. I would invite anyone to explain which aspect of metabolism could slow without the individual affected being aware of it. And even if it could actually occur, with or without awareness, surely appetite would reduce accordingly to compensate? Losing weight is already extremely difficult and building unnecessary barriers is not going to help.
Most people consider exercise an important part of losing weight but might they be expecting too much?
There is now mounting evidence that slimmers won't necessarily derive much benefit from pounding the treadmill and a compilation of over 60 studies confirms this view.
The main shortcomings of exercising for weight loss are:
- Starting from scratch it will take a long while, months or even years, to build up to a meaningful contribution.
- Exercise is often followed up by a recovery period and resting obviously negates some or all of that extra energy expenditure. Can you be sure that more calories have been used up going to the gym, compared to a normal busy day?
- Burning more calories : consuming less calories, are just opposite sides of the same coin. Both involve going hungry and succumbing to a single snack bar after a workout may be all it takes to nullify all of the previous hour's efforts.
There's still time to catch up and see 'The Truth About Slim People', Channel 4, 8th November. A programme about weight loss that's a bit more science based for a change!
Two slim individuals were followed around to see how they did it and for those who don't have time to see for themselves the highlights were.....
The participants had a low alcohol intake (an obvious one).
They didn't eat late in the day.
Their diet was auto-balancing. In other words, times of excess were instinctively followed by corresponding periods of deprivation. Eating was primarily a response to stomach, not mouth hunger.