While I am interested in many aspects of health, and in particular providing information that individuals can use to exert more control over their health and wellbeing, I do confess to having a particular interest in weight loss. One reason for this is that its an issue that is quite commonly on people’s mind. As our collective weight and waistlines expand, so does the number of people wanting to shed their excess baggage. The other reason why I have an interest in this area concerns what I believe to be a misguided approach to weight loss based on the calorie principle.
I go through the detail of this in my latest book (Waist Disposal). You can read what I believe to be the major issues here. For those not inclined to go back and read this earlier post, here’s the key points transcribed:
“Conventional advice dictates that weight loss depends on simply eating less or exercising more. Curiously, though, research reveals that there is no good evidence that either of these approaches leads to sustained, meaningful weight loss. The normal retort is that failed slimmers must be ‘cheating’. But could the real reason for failure here be not self-delusion, but a fundamental problem with the calorie-based theory of weight loss?
For example, one reason why eating less may not be effective for long term weight loss is that it can cause the metabolism to stall (if you don’t put much fuel on a fire, it doesn’t burn so well). Plus, calorie-conscious individuals tend to cut the fat in favour or carbohydrate. However, it is carbohydrate that is mainly responsible for the secretion of insulin – the hormone that is chiefly responsible for the deposition of fat in the body.
Another problem with eating less is, well, hunger. And while we might be able to put with this for awhile, in the long term going hungry makes conventional approaches to weight loss quite unsustainable.”
The bottom line is that the way we conventionally think about weight loss (based on the calorie principle) makes significant, sustained weight loss hard to achieve. And I’m not into making this hard for people. I genuinely believe in helping individuals achieve their health goals easily. And that’s a major motivation behind me not perpetuating the calorie principle mantra that so often causes people to end up hungry and demoralised (and, usually, overweight too).
As I wrote in the blog post linked to above:
“In reality, the key to successful, sustainable weight loss is to eat a diet that truly satisfies (so no hunger), but at the same time induces relatively little in the way of insulin.”
What this means, essentially, is eating a relatively low-carb, protein-rich diet based on meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables and some fruit. It’s a ‘primal’ or ‘paleo’ diet. It’s eating a bit like a caveman (or cavewoman). For most people, successful weight loss in the long term is really is as simple (and as easy) as that.
Because I like things to be easy, I’m interested in little tricks and tools that can aid individuals achieving their health goals with minimal effort. Getting a bit more sleep (by getting into bed a bit earlier) and getting more sun exposure are examples of this. But getting back to the weight loss theme, I was interested to read a recent study which examined the effects of supplementing women with nutrients, in terms of the apparent effect of this on, among other things, weight and fatness .
About 100 overweight (average body mass index 28) women aged 18-55 were treated with one of the folowing:
1. a multivitamin and mineral tablet
2. calcium (162 mg per day)
3. a placebo (inactive medication)
The study lasted a total of six months. A number of measurements were taken including body weight, body mass index (BMI), fat mass and waist circumference.
Those taking the multivitamin and mineral, compared to those taking placebo, saw significant falls in body weight, BMI and fat mass.
Why? Well, another measure monitored in this study was ‘resting energy expenditure’ (the amount of energy consumed by the body at rest). This was found to be up in the group taking the multivitamin and mineral. This finding suggests that taking the nutrient supplement sparked a little more life into the metabolisms of the ladies in this study.
Perhaps of some significance is the fact that those taking the multivitamin and mineral saw a fall in a physiological measurement known as the ‘respiratory quotient’. This is assessed by measuring the amount of oxygen an individual uses and comparing that with the amount of carbon dioxide they release in their breath. Respiratory quotients vary between 0.7 and 1.0. Lower values suggest better fat-burning in the cells. Although the fall in the respiratory quotient seen in those taking a multivitamin and mineral did not quite reach statistical significance, this finding suggests that nutrient supplementation might have the potential to enhance fat-burning in the body.
Now, this is one study, and it was done in women (and not men), so I don’t think we’re at a stage where we can recommend nutrient supplementation as some sort of fat loss panacea. However, the idea that nutrient supplementation might aid weight control and fat burning is not too far-fetched: the reactions that convert food into energy in the body depend, to a degree, on ‘co-factors’, many of which are nutrients found in multivitamin and mineral supplements.
1. Li Y, et al. Effects of multivitamin and mineral supplementation on adiposity, energy expenditure and lipid profiles in obese Chinese women. International Journal of Obesity (2010) 34, 1070-1077