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Are you and your diet a match?

Updated: Feb 1

The new year is a time when so many of us decide to go on highly restrictive diets. We do it as a kind of compensation for ‘over-indulging’ at Christmas. Maybe we’ve put on a few pounds, maybe we feel a bit sluggish after the festivities or maybe we don’t feel anything in particular until we are told how we are supposed to feel by every food brand, gym and instagram influencer imaginable. January 1st comes around and we are bombarded with messages telling us why we need to lose weight, get fit or eat clean. Of course, we’ve also been told all our lives that we have to look a certain way in order to have value in this world…so perhaps for many of us, these messages fit with that belief.

I am certainly an advocate of eating the foods which are good for our bodies. I know that over the last few decades, the exponential growth in processed, chemical and sugar laden foods, are, at least in part, responsible for most of the chronic illnesses we suffer with today. I also know that we are bombarded with messages to eat these foods, just like we are by the messages telling us to stop eating in January. We are, to some extent, at the mercy of the food industry and how they choose to influence us. So in this blog, I aim to show you how you can take back control, avoid falling prey to the latest weight loss fad and make choices which are genuinely good for your body.

Vegetarian, vegan, carnivore, keto, paleo, low fat/high carb, low carb/high fat, the list goes on… There is always an ‘expert’ telling us why their way of eating is right for all of us.

The truth is that no one diet works for everyone, because we are all completely, utterly and wonderfully unique.

My biochemistry is different to yours, as is the accumulation of my life experiences which have affected my biochemistry. Firstly, the genome you are born with is unlike anyone else’s and it provides the blueprint for your body. We now also know that we are host to billions of microbes living in our gut and on our skin (the microbiome) and they have genes which outnumber our genes by 100 times (2). Your microbiome can be 80-90% different from the next person’s! (1). In addition to this vast diversity, there’s the fact that we all live in different environments and make different choices day to day and this is what determines whether those genes are switched on or off. For example, you may have a gene which predisposes you to weight gain, but whether you do in fact gain weight is determined much more significantly by your exposure to stress, toxins and childhood trauma, your food and eating habits, how much you sleep, move your body and whether you live with a sense of purpose and fulfilment. This effect is called epigenetics (3) and it is the reason why identical twins can have the same DNA but entirely different health outlooks (4).

Now that I’ve talked about just how unique we all are, I’ll share with you the most important reasons we should be eating in a way which works for our individual body, starting with some myth busting about calorie restriction…

1. Calorie restriction diets only work for weight loss short term

A new systematic review (5) of 121 studies into weight loss which followed adults on various popular diets such as Atkins and Jenny Craig showed that they don’t work for most people. Whilst after 6 months some weight loss and cardiovascular benefits were shown, after 12 months those improvements largely disappeared. It seems that when we eat in a way which is highly calorie restricted, not enjoyable enough, or too complicated it’s not possible for us to stick to it. Sustained weight loss can only come from sustained food choices that work for your body. Keeping up those choices long term relies on your food being pleasurable and satiating but also on finding ways which make healthy choices easy and convenient.

To take things further, extreme calorie restriction can actually lead to slower metabolism and in some cases weight gain long term. The human body was evolved to be able to cope with periods of food deprivation by reducing the number of calories it burns in order to conserve energy. It’s a natural (and very wise!) response which prevents starvation (7,8,9). So if you are eating a low calorie diet but struggling to lose weight, this may be one of the issues (other causes include Polycystic Ovarian syndrome, Hypothyroidism and chronic stress which can all prevent weight loss during a calorie deficit). In any case, extreme calorie restriction is dangerous, as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies which can cause a myriad of diseases.

I believe we should free ourselves from calorie counting and spend more time thinking about the quality of food on our plates - healthy weight loss comes from eating whole foods that minimise stress and maximise the nutritional needs of our bodies.