The Government has recently come under considerable criticism for its flabby attitude to the ballooning rates of obesity in the UK. However, even if the politicians weigh into this area, my sense is that reversing our growing epidemic will be akin to turning the Titanic: the situation that we have taken a few decades to get into could quite easily take a few decades to get out of. I suspect many of us aiming to live in reduced circumstances will be wanting results more rapid than those that might be achieved through political leadership and legislation.
Statistics show that, at any time, about one in four of us is exercising some personal responsibility in this respect by putting ourselves on a diet. This figure will almost certainly bulge at this time of year as many of us face the prospect of revealing our beach bums and tums. For most, the investment made in terms of dietary restraint will be repaid in the form of lost pounds. However, the chances are that a year on, most would-be slimmers will find themselves no lighter than they are now, and may even have gained a few pounds in interest. The problem for so many is not losing weight, but keeping it off.
While the reasons for weight regain are complex, the primary cause of this phenomenon is almost certainly the return of individuals from a restricted regime to their default diet. Our dietary predilections are notoriously resistant to change in the long term, so I was interested to read a recent report which suggests that many individuals who have come off a carbohydrate-restricted diet (such as Atkins), continue to eschew fattening foodstuffs such as soft drinks and confectionery in their everyday lives.
This report seems to offer a glimmer of hope for those seeking to shed pounds permanently, because there is good reason to believe that long-term restriction of specific carbohydrates can offer enduring weight loss. Eating less carbohydrate ensures that the body makes less insulin – a hormone that predisposes to the deposition of fat in the body and at the same time stalls the body’s fat burning potential. There are now several studies which show that restriction of carbohydrate is generally more effective in bringing about weight loss than diets that are low in fat. Considerable evidence now exists which shows that, compared to standard low-fat approaches, low-carbohydrate eating brings about favourable changes in blood fats such as higher levels of ‘healthy’ high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lower levels of unhealthy triglycerides.
Just last month, two studies were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine which bore out the advantages of lower carb eating. Tellingly, one of these studies found that individuals ascribed to a low-carb diet were better able to stick to the regime than those on a low-fat plan. This finding mirrors my own experience in practice that many individuals find eating less refined sugar and grain-based starches like bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and rice quite sustainable, and can look forward to long-term weight loss as a result. Basing the diet on natural, unprocessed foods which tend not to disrupt the body’s biochemistry (such as meat, fish, eggs, fruit, green vegetables, nuts, beans and lentils) really does seem to help ensure that weight shed this summer remains long lost.