I was attempting to give a friend and colleague some writing advice on Friday. Here it is in a nutshell: don’t be flowery and literary with your writing ” keep is short and simple. Because when communicating information of any sort (including health information), I believe the chances of someone acting on it (in the long term) are directly related to how comprehensible the advice is and how east the advice is to apply. In the world of health information, I do believe that less is often more.
I was therefore interested to read of a recent study which looked at adherence to two weight loss programmes . One of these was a Weight Watcher’s diet based on a points system. Basically, from what I know of this diet, foods have different points values ascribed to them, and an individual is allowed a certain number of points per day. Individuals basically choose what they eat, but endeavour to stick to their point limit. The other diet tested was more prescriptive. Known as ‘Brigitte’, it provides users with specific instructions regarding what they should buy and eat. The Weightwatcher’s diet would be regarded as more complex, partly as a result of the fact that individuals need to know the points values for the foods they eat, and perhaps partly because users have to make more decisions for themselves about what they eat.
Anyway, the bottom line was that the complexity of the diet turned out to be the major reason why Weightwatcher dieters defaulted. Complexity was not a similar issue for those on the Brigitte programme. The authors of this study emphasise the importance of considering rule complexity to promote long-term weight management.
The relevance of this to low-carb and ‘primal’ or ‘paleolithic’ diets is that such diets are, in my view, relatively simple diets. Basically, in low-carb the rules are ‘don’t eat sweet and sugary foods as well as starchy carbs such as bread, potato, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals’. The Paleo ‘rule’ is to eat foods that we subsisted on for the vast majority of our time on this planet. Basically, that means the diet consists almost exclusively of meat, fish, eggs, nuts, fruit and vegetables (minus the potato).
You can see that ‘low-carb’ and ‘primal’ diets amount to pretty much the same thing. And both, as it happens, have a kind of simplicity. Eat like a caveman (or cavewoman). It doesn’t get much more uncomplex than that. And not only are the principles of them relatively easy to learn, these diets do not traditionally put limits on portion size or calorific intake. Which means, of course, no need to weigh or measure anything.
I have known, professionally and personally, countless individuals who have had lasting weight loss success and improved health by adopting lower-carb or primal eating strategies in their lives. I actually do believe that such diets are genuinely the most healthy for our species. But another huge boon of such diets is that they’re simple and easy-to-follow. As usual, less is more.
1. Mata et al. When weight management lasts: Lower perceived rule complexity increases adherence. Appetite. 12th September 2009 Sep [Epub ahead of print publication]