The Oxford Dictionary definition of diet is ‘a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.’ It’s a catch-all description that sounds generic but changes wildly and sometimes weirdly, depending on the type of weight loss needed.
For example, many people want to lose fat and keep their muscle shape the same, while others want to bulk up into a more ripped appearance. However the simple ‘less calories, less weight’ ethos is not actually as simplistic as first thought.
The debate about whether eating fat actually leads to fat accumulation has been skewed on its head by the results of some longitudinal studies, which push the emphasis towards high-fat, low carb diets as better mechanisms for weight loss.
A report in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, recently described in the Independent, revealed that 53 long-term studies dating back to 1960 found low-carb diets far out-performed low-fat versions.
These are long-term studies surveying around 68,000 people, meaning that they hold a little more water than the faddish crazes that hit the media every so often. More recently still, the structure of several of these diets, such as paleo, Atkins and others has been shaken by the assertion from the World Health Organisation that eating processed meats such as bacon and ham could cause bowel cancer, and red meats are probably the same.
Whether or not the claims should be taken as gospel – and there are many internet naysayers – the fact remains that many people will believe them. So for optimal weight loss, what do we eat: a high-fat meaty diet that could have fatal consequences in years to come, or a diet that excludes meat and is boring and frustrating, and perhaps substitutes our carnivore cravings for sugary short-termism? What’s the balance between desperately trying to lose weight, and putting our health in jeopardy?
Diets are generally problematic for multiple reasons. They can be expensive or boring, or difficult to follow. Some are verging on dangerous, again depending on who you believe. Those diets are often unsustainable and their positive effects, if any, are soon negated once the diet has finished. Changing one’s lifestyle permanently to enjoy the odd treat while maintaining discipline and cutting out excesses of sugary foods, with regular exercise and perhaps some supplements, is a safer bet for long-term happiness.
A crash diet of losing a stone in a month sounds fantastic, but is unsustainable in the long term. Dropping a pound or two a week is both healthier but more likely to endure.
Not only does anecdotal evidence tell you this is the case, but an historical look back at athletes who ballooned in weight and were forced to starve themselves in desperation shows their careers were usually stunted or disappointing. Former light-welterweight boxing champ Ricky Hatton regularly packed on between three and four stone between bouts, and his reign was perhaps shorter than first hoped. Multi-weight world champion Bernard Hopkins, who strictly maintained his fighting shape even when no bouts were on the horizon, is still boxing at world-class level at the age of 50.
The more diets arrive on the world nutrition stage, the more doubts arise as to their validity. One thing is certain – a lifestyle change trumps a diet every tim