Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why do people get fat? Because it's easy.

I have had a few ideas for some articles recently, but I've felt kind of disillusioned at the moment like trying to talk sense just gets lost in all the noise and idiocy that is rampant everywhere else.

I had this idea though for a "why people get fat" article.

Everyone's looking for like a "root cause" like it's a mystery. We argue about whether the issue is with total calories or with choices of foods irrespective of calories... and then there's some bizarre ideas going around about "over eating doesn't make people fat, being fat causes over eating" and so forth. Crazy.

There are borderline orthorexic theories as if certain foods are impossible to not over eat, crap about sugar being "more addictive than cocaine", and nonsense about certain foods instantly being stored as fat just because they're "bad" for some reason due to being processed, or transported long distances, or including GMOs or whatever.

All nonsense and taken to extremes, potentially harmful as people start to get neurotic about which choices of foods are "ok" and which ones aren't. Don't get me wrong though, it's a good thing that people are considering the underlying, root causes and trying to treat the cause rather than just the symptom.

So then. Why do people get fat? 

BECAUSE IT'S EASY.

It's easy to get fat. Most of us have no need to perform any strenuous activity or even move around much in our daily lives. Therefore a "normal" amount of food is enough to make you gain weight. It's easy to consume a way above normal amount too if you're not a little bit mindful especially in regard to snacking and choice of beverages.

It's no mystery. We get fat because it is easy and truthfully, unless you take a few steps to make up for an otherwise inactive modern lifestyle, it's not just easy... it is the most likely outcome.

The issue IS with total calorific intake. You can either resolve this by limiting your choices of foods to ones with a really good satiety to energy content ratio (meaning they fill you up without a lot of calories),  or by simply planning to meet your requirements with appropriate (and therefore non excessive) amounts of whatever foods you fancy.

You'll be well aware by now that my preferred course of action is the latter. Since appropriate calorie intake is the key, you might as well ensure success by determining and planning to meet your requirements. I see the other option as something of a shot in the dark, and if you don't see the expected results you're really left guessing as to what adjustments you need to make. Are you making all the most wise choices of foods, but still eating too much of them? Or are you making all the most sensible choices of foods, but with a total intake that is insufficient, forcing your body to compensate and conserve energy? It's certainly not down to any one off individual choice of a more indulgent meal, although this is what people tend to assume, leading to more of that neurotic fear of "unclean" foods that we touched on earlier.

So then. What to do?

It's pretty simple. Sort of.

An excessive intake of energy above the amount you require will result in excessive weight via increased body fat. Therefore, simply consume an appropriate amount rather than an excessive amount.

There's a problem though. This will work, but it's not terribly efficient. In most cases people have gained weight gradually, almost without noticing. When trying to lose weight, we want to see consistent results, or we lose interest.

Bigger problem. You have psychological needs as well as just energy and micronutrient requirements. On a total intake suitable only for an inactive lifestyle, there's just not enough room in the plan for much indulgence or enjoyment. We can address this somewhat by increasing activity levels, but simply by "moving more" we're still left with a fairly inefficient strategy that it isn't much fun to stick to.

So then. What to actually do?

The same thing I always say. We need to do more than just "move more", and apply some strenuous effort in the context of a more strategic training program. A program that is designed to promote the increase and maintenance of lean mass... specifically increased bone density and muscle tissue, at the expense of body fat stores.

Following a program such as this, your energy requirements are increased significantly, and continue to increase as you make progress and improve performance at training. Within these requirements there is plenty of room to base your nutrition plan on the choices of foods you enjoy, secure in the knowledge that all of the resources those foods provide will be utilised to good effect in building your healthy, athletic goal body condition at goal weight.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How do you "prove" something?

God all this "calorie myth" stuff that blew up during the week is doing my head in. Nutrition must be the only field where literally anyone can decide they're an expert based on reading a couple of articles on the internet and maybe one of the books they refer to, also all written by self appointed experts with no qualification on the subject.

Actually climate science would be the other one, apparently. All the qualified people who have made meteorology their life's work have got it wrong, and the deniers are the ones who really know what's going on. It's all a conspiracy, innit?

SO... god help me. Everyone has their own idea or their own opinion. I suppose that's fair enough. For nutrition, everyone is entitled to make the decision to follow whatever strategy or ideal they feel is best for them. However, that doesn't give them the right to insist that their way is the "only" way that's healthy, and present their opinions as "proven facts" to convince other people. It would be fine to say "well I think this is quite sensible and it has worked out nicely for me, so I do recommend that you consider trying it".

That's never what anyone says though, is it?

So to PROVE something, what's required seems to vary on the setting.

In a court of law, if you're the prosecutor / Queen's counsel or... you know... depending on what country you're in I think they're called different titles. If you're the law talkin' guy trying to put an alleged crook away, you can't just stand out there and say "Isn't it obvious? He's responsible. Everyone knows that, the Counsel for Defence probably still thinks the Earth is flat too! lololol"

Nope that aint going to cut it. You have to present all the evidence, and then there's a highly educated expert on the law who's job is to poke holes in all of your evidence. You have to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" in order to get a conviction. The standard of proof is quite high.

In real science... I'm happy to have a real scientist correct me on any of this if I'm mistaken but my understanding is, to prove something is correct, what you actually have to do is set out to prove that it is incorrect.

For example... we have a theory that if we do AB&C, the result will be XYZ. We test that theory and as expected, the result is XYZ. Does this prove that AB&C (and only AB&C) causes XYZ? Not necessarily. To prove that this is the case, we'd have to try to re-create the same result in other ways, without success. So if you get to the point where you can say "we tried literally everything, and AB&C was the only thing that produced the result XYZ...." then what? Is it proven?

Not yet. My observation of reading a few studies is that the conclusion might be something like "the evidence suggests that XYZ is indeed caused by AB&C", which is still a safe distance from a statement more like "this is now proven and anyone who thinks otherwise is a deluded idiot". Right?

But we're still not done. Scientific method then requires a "peer review" process, where... I believe it is three other, independent scientists will review the work and see if there is anything wrong with the way the study was conducted, that would cast doubt over the results. Again, the standard of proof is really very high indeed.

Now let's get back to talking about nutrition. There is so much confusion in ideas about diet and nutrition especially related to weight loss, and it is because people are so eager to inflict their opinions on others as "indisputable facts" that only an idiot wouldn't know already. Their standard of proof is much lower.

For example "I cut out bread and lost weight. Therefore bread makes you fat, and you can't lose weight without cutting out bread". For this to be true, you'd have to ask "well, has anyone ever lost weight while still eating bread?" and of course the answer is yes. Finding more people who've cut out bread and lost weight doesn't strengthen the position. Substitute bread with whatever other supposed single culprit people like to blame, be it grains, GMOs, sugars or whatever.

The bottom line here is total calories. There are people who have lost weight by cutting out a particular food or food type, but it is not proof that this particular food choice is to blame for all cases of overweight or that cutting it out is required in order for weight loss to be successful. If removing a particular choice of foods from your daily eating habits means that you are now no longer consuming an excessive amount of calories, you'll lose weight.

Appropriate vs inappropriate total calories will always be the primary determining factor in body weight. How you arrive at an appropriate intake is up to you, although obviously I'd suggest learning your requirements and planning to meet them with your choice of foods is a better strategy than trial and error through restriction of food choices.

Whichever way you do it is up to you, and is fine. But it's not fine to present this approach as a proven "only" way of doing things, which disproves all other approaches and ideas, and it is far from OK to claim that this is "backed by science".

Another disturbing trend I (and others) have noticed recently is the claim that something is "proven by science", supported by links to research which has actually reached the opposite conclusion. You have to worry then... are these people just mistaken and lacking in some comprehension skill, or are they deliberately setting out to confuse and deceive the public?

Friday, July 4, 2014

The problem with diets

i can't remember where i found this.
Credit goes to the creator.
All diets either work by creating a calorific deficit. Some people out there will talk a load of bollocks about how it's not the calories, it's how different foods effect your body in different ways and a whole bunch of hocus pocus science fiction type explanations... but that's ... did I mention that it's bollocks?

It comes down to calories.

If cutting out certain foods means that you end up consuming less calories over all, you'll probably lose some weight. It doesn't mean that those foods were "bad" though or that no one should consume them in any amount. It just means that you had a diet that was in excess of your requirements, and by cutting out... let's say bread... by cutting out bread you ended up with a diet that was not in excess of your requirements.

It is about total energy intake, and it is only about individual food choices in the context of how well they fit into eating habits that make for a not-excessive total intake. It certainly isn't about specific ingredients (fructose, gluten, aspartame and so on) in any circumstances other than due to a diagnosed medical intolerance, either.

The way I do things... it would be more correct to say "it is about total energy balance". We all know by now, just cutting calorific intake lower and lower while pushing energy expenditure higher and higher is a poor strategy that will eventually backfire. What we need to do is quite simply consume the appropriate amount of energy (in an appropriate ratio of protein to carbs to fats) to maintain our goal body weight, goal body condition (aka results from training) and adequately fuel our lifestyle and activity level.

So the problem with diets... whether that is a diet out of a book or a meal plan you might buy from a trainer on the internet or at the gym... if it's just a list of "foods to eat" and another list of "foods not to eat"... you're really not paying any attention to that balance of energy which is crucial in achieving and maintaining long term results. The foods you're supposed to eat might all be tremendously sensible, nutritious choices, but if you are still left over or under fueled you will not see results from training.

The worst danger in my experience is with the difficulty of adhering to such a strict plan, and the demonisation of different food choices. It becomes more of a matter of willpower and discipline in avoiding the banned foods, rather than just a simple matter of physiology. When people fail to see results due to being under fueled despite managing to adhere to the rules and restrictions of the diet, what option do they have? Eat even cleaner, whatever that means? Paleo harder, whatever that means? Just smaller portions of the allowed choices? All disastrous choices for someone who is already not providing significant resources for their body to function on, as evidenced by the lack of results from training.

Now, if they are not adhering to the rules and restrictions of the diet 100% of the time and not seeing results, the usual interpretation and in fact the message I have seen from various sources is that this is a personal failing of their strength of character in not being "good" enough to stick to the rules. AKA "they didn't want it bad enough".

This is offensive and incorrect. The issue is quite simply with providing sufficient resources to produce results from training at goal weight. Putting the blame on one choice of meal last Tuesday that wasn't on the "allowed" list is ridiculous and dangerous.

Eat this, don't eat that. That about describes most of the diet and weight loss plans out there, doesn't it?

That isn't what you need. At best, you're looking at an "it might work if you stick with it" plan, but there's certainly no reason to believe success is assured. There's a much greater risk of ending up under fueled, unsuccessful, and developing a bunch of negative beliefs about different food choices.

To be successful, you simply need appropriate target ranges of total calories, calories from protein, calories from fats, and calories from carbohydrates.

I say "target ranges" because you don't need to nail some specific pin-point amount. If you're overweight, you just need to make an effort get it in the ballpark as often as you can, and you'll make progress. At advanced levels more accuracy and consistency will come into it, but you'll have had lots of practice by that point and will be able to fine tune without too much fuss when the time comes.

You do not need someone to "tell you what to eat".