Ask 20 people to eat the same diet for 10 weeks and you’ll get 20 different results, despite everyone being under the same controlled conditions. This shouldn’t really be surprising. If we put 20 people in an environment where they are all taught to play a musical instrument, we wouldn’t expect all 20 to be playing at the same level. We’re all different, biologically, physically and intellectually.
So why do we still sign up to diets that follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach? Wouldn’t it make more sense to personalise what we do, in terms of both diet and exercise?
The over-simplification of ‘eat less and move more’
What we understand about weight loss and calorie management has changed dramatically over the last few years, although this information is slow to filter down, in part due to media reporting and advertising. We are still recovering from the brainwashing we received in the 1970’s about fat being the source of all our weight problems, leaving us thinking it’s the macronutrient to be avoided at all costs. Actually, what scientists are now discovering about why some of us struggle with our weight, blows the ‘eat less and move more’ and fat demonisation theory out of the water. Here’s why.
It’s in your genes
Scientists now understand that how we respond to basic nutrition relies a good deal on our genetics. Dr. Claude Bouchard, faculty fellow at the Texas A&M University, says “the response to environmental, social and behavioural factors is conditioned on the genotype of an individual. Your adaptation to a diet or a given amount of exercise is determined by your genes.” It is believed that one day, medical treatments will be created bespoke for us according to our genetic make up, and it is already possible to buy a DNA test which tells you the best type of exercise for you and your ideal diet type. Other factors such as your gastro-intestinal health and the microflora in your gut also have a profound impact on how you process food, absorb micronutrients and store fat.
The obesegenicity of the environment
The term ‘obesegenicity’ is the term used to describe how the environment contributes to obesity. In the first-world, our environment is set up to be as efficient as possible; we have multi-transport systems which remove the need for walking; we have fewer outdoor spaces and fewer pavements; there are fast food outlets everywhere, usually rich in refined carbohydrate; many of our jobs are now desk-bound; we have labour-saving devices which minimise our need to move; our food shopping can be ordered online and delivered straight to our kitchens; our factories and machines emit toxic gases and pollutants which disrupt our hormone profile and in turn can affect our weight.
It’s become commonplace to prioritise price over provenance with foods, and we end up eating ‘cheap’ foods that are not as nutritious. Many of us are now used to eating on the run or in front of the TV, and consume processed foods because they’re quick to heat up. We’re losing the love of home cooking which just takes a bit of time. It’s about prioritising our health over that extra half-hour. We’ve also normalised outsize portions – fast food and drinks sizes have risen year on year. The supermarkets are always running promotions on supersize bags of crisps, chocolates and biscuits, and people do fall for it. It’s even got to the point where people of a normal weight are being touted as thin because so many of us are now overweight, it’s become the normal.
Linked with social factors, there are a number of behavioural factors which affect weight management. We are now more sedentary, and less disposed to walk than we were. We have become more reliant on transport and labour-saving devices. Many of us have a powerful cognitive dissonance, so even though we know we should move more, or perhaps leave the train a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way, we don’t. We often drink more alcohol than we should, or postpone the visit to the gym, even though we know we should be doing it. There is an increasing reliance on medications now too which can have an impact on weight. The contraceptive pill is commonly known to cause weight gain in some women, and many anti-depressants and anxiety drugs also cause weight fluctuations. Our decisions to take these medicines affects how we store fat and burn energy.
Calories in versus calories out
Traditionally, a calorie has been seen as a calorie no matter whether it comes from fat, protein or carbohydrate. We now know this to be oversimplified and inaccurate. The energy cost of digesting, absorbing and metabolising each of the macronutrients varies from each (although not by much), but the nutritional value of each can vary. Not only is each macronutrient processed differently, but individually we will process foods differently depending on our genes and our gut flora. I’ve taken a DNA test to establish the best type of diet for me, so I know that I am highly sensitive to carbohydrates. I am likely to convert carbohydrates into a higher number of calories and I am also more likely to store excess carbohydrate as subcutaneous fat. There’s lots to be said on this subject, but if you’re unsure, take the test and remember, calorie-restricted diets won’t work. A calorie is not a calorie.
Let’s move on from one-size-fits-all
I hope I’ve established that weight management is highly individualised and what works for one person may not work at all for another. The simplest way to look at this is to think about what you know of yourself, and then consult a health expert who can help you mesh that self-knowledge with the results of tests and then some easy-to-follow advice. The sorts of tests I recommend include potential food intolerances; gastrointestinal health; DNA (for diet and exercise only); vitamin D3, and adrenal stress. Consult a health expert who will ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle, medications, allergies and sleep routine to form a picture before delivering your results and recommendations.
Personalisation is the future
I’ve been saying it for a while; personalisation is the key to success in fitness and weight management. The weight loss industry is expected to be valued at £220 billion by 2017. Let’s not contribute any more hard-earned pounds to these behemoth companies in an effort to shed physical pounds. Be smart about your weight management, and make it personal.
Leanne Spencer is a Fitness Entrepreneur, Author of the Amazon Bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot specialises in bringing the science of genetics to the world of fitness. Connect with the team @BodyshotPT or Facebook or visit our website at www.bodyshotperformance.com.