A popular topical discussion point this past festive season:
“Doc, what are your thoughts on diet X – do you think it works?”
This conversation normally continues with me
explaining that I’m not a dietitian or a medical doctor. I’m a
sport scientist, and therefore not an expert on the topic. However, I
do consider myself well trained in sifting through information and
differentiating truth from fiction. I would also like to think that my
education has provided me with a fair amount of common sense.
Read more: Our ultimate match day muscle meal. Plus, the best low-calorie beers
My answer to the diet question always involves a refresher on
Newton’s laws of physics, and two simple words: calorie deficit. Now, let
me explain further.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be
created or destroyed in a closed system. What this means is that if the
calories you consume (even those snacks you may consider to be healthy)
are more than the calories you burn (your resting metabolic rate
and all your activity in a day), you’re going to gain weight.
Simple. Other way around? You’re now in a calorie deficit, and
on track to lose weight. Simply put, all diets – no
matter if they’re low-carb, Banting, Paleo (I don’t even know if
that’s the same as Banting any more.), low-fat, Weigh-Less,
vegan, Mediterranean or intermittent fasting – work through
creating a calorie deficit. If they don’t, you’re not going to
When you cut down one macronutrient (whether it’s fat
or carbohydrate), or you restrict yourself from eating for 16
hours in a particular day, your total calories for that day will
be lower than for an unrestricted diet. Choosing a diet to
follow to lose the excess kilos around your belly should be less
about the magic each diet inevitably claims, and more about
which diet will be more sustainable in helping you create a long-term
calorie deficit. Look at the food you’re consuming, and
calculate the number of calories in your meals. I don’t advise
counting your calories each day, but do the odd stocktake to
make yourself aware of what you’re eating. This will help you
make better choices around food and meal selection.
Read more: Smash this low-calorie protein feast in minutes
We’re often fooled into thinking we’re doing well by
selecting a smoothie under the "superfoods" category at
our favourite smoothie bar; however, some of these smoothies
may contain as much as 740kCal per 500ml. The popularity
of ketogenic approaches may have us believe that we should ask
for the fat to be left on our steak if we want to lose weight.
But 100g of fat may contain 900kCal. Unless this practice is
reducing hunger significantly enough to still be creating a
calorie deficit (which is how ketogenic diets work), you’re not
going to lose weight.
Now, I know that many readers are not going to agree
with everything I’ve said. And yes, of course hormones play a
critical role. But hormones are not more important than
kilojoules. They may alter the number of calories you burn, how
many you eat, or where you store them. But a hormone is
not going to help you defy the first law of thermodynamics.
Choose an approach to eating (don’t call it a diet –
it’s a way of life) that creates a calorie deficit and that is
going to be sustainable (by including foods that you enjoy
eating). Ensure that your meals leave you satisfied and
not hungry. There are several approaches that may work
for you; but they don’t work through magic, and they don’t
work through some secret bio-hack – they work through creating
a calorie deficit. If you continue to battle to lose
weight, see a dietitian who is specifically trained to assist by
creating an approach to sustainable weight loss.
Read more: Our 14 step weight loss guide to losing fat in 24 hours
Oh, and to answer the original question: “Diet X will
only work if it makes you eat less than you burn.”
What the Doc finds super-useful right now:
This month I thought I’d highlight some very useful and
educational Instagram accounts. Because Instagram doesn’t have to be
filled only with selfies and quacks. There are some really
knowledgeable experts out there who share their knowledge with their
followers, and I highly recommend giving them a follow.
Read more: The truth about sweet potatoes: Are they good or bad for weight loss?
Spencer Nadolsky is a physician who focuses on lifestyle changes
and fat loss. Includes funny memes, and has a strong emphasis on
debunking diet misconceptions.
@DR.JACOB.HARDEN Dr Jacob Harden is
a doctor of chiropractic and shares very useful strengthening
exercises for prehabilitation and rehabilitation of
injury. Helps you avoid injuries.
Yoon is a massage therapist, and he shares content that will
assist you to stretch and improve mobility around certain joints
This article was
originally published on www.mh.co.za
Image credit: iStock