Today I am on a mission to address some of the top myths perpetuated by the diet and weight loss industry.
If you are anything like me, you are constantly being bombarded by advertisements for weight loss products right now. I mean, makes sense considering its the first two weeks of January, and that’s prime real estate for the diet industry.
Now I have made my opinions about weight loss known on several occasions but in case you haven’t heard it yet, I don’t believe diet’s work. Nor do I believe any of us should be actively trying to lose weight.
But I do not expect any of you to agree with me, and I want to make it clear that these are simply my own personal opinions. One thing I think we can all agree on is the amount of misinformation out there. Which is why I have chosen my top 5 myths that need busting ASAP.
You guys ready? Here goes…
1. Don’t trust the BMI
Myth: BMI is an effective way to measure obesisty
In the 19th century, a man named Adolphe Quetelet decised the Body Mass Index . He was a man of many talents including astronomy, mathematics, staistics and sociology. But he wasn’t a physician.
Over a hundred years later in 1972, another man named Ancel Keys coined the term in a paper published in the Journal of Chronic Diseases. He said at the time that he thought BMI was:
…if not fully satisfactory, at least as good as any other relative weight index as an indicator of relative obesityCommentary: Origins and evolution of body mass index (BMI): continuing saga
Now if that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. Imagine if Apple described their first ever iPhone in the same way. Nothing suggests excellence more than “it’s not great, but it’s as good as anything else on the market”!
Damn, son. Even if that’s true you still don’t say it out loud. Yeesh!
BMI was never meant to be used on individuals
To top it all off, Keys also said that he believed BMI might be good enough to be used in population studies, but it was not appropriate for individual evaluation. And yet here we are, almost 50 years later, measuring weights and heights like it is going out of fashion. In the UK, they start as young as 6 years old. Nice.
Now, some of you might be asking yourself what is an effective way to measure obesity. Good question. The answer is, nobody can really agree. I personally don’t think it matters, because I don’t think we should be measuring obesity in the first place. I think there are far more useful ways to assess an individuals health and well-being that doesn’t involve a measuring tape and a set of scales, but what do I know?
2. Top myths about weight loss programs
Myth: The most effective way to lose weight is to join a weight loss program
That one must be true because healthcare professionals around the country are constantly trying to force referrals to Weight Watchers and Slimming World on to their unsuspecting patients. Surely there’s no way the NHS would spend money on something like that if it doesn’t work?
You’d think not, but you’d be wrong. Back in October 2019, Oprah Winfrey bought a 10% stake in Weight Watchers. Now Oprah is a legend, and I won’t have anyone say otherwise, but she’s also a shrewd businesswoman. And Weight Watchers is a really smart business to invest in.
Why? Because it is designed not to work. A large portion of their business comes from repeat customers. In fact, that’s their business model. And it’s not even a secret. Their former CFO Richard Samber is quoted as saying:
“It’s successful because the other 84% have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from”.BBC New Magazine
Weight loss programs are businesses not charitable organisations – they are designed to earn money
I’m sure other weight loss organisations are similar. At the end of the day, they are businesses and they are trying to turn a profit. If 84% of people are incapable of keeping their weight off and have to return at a later date, then all Weight Watchers is teaching you to do is to depend on them.
I know lots of people who like the accountability of weekly weigh-ins and others who can quote rather impressive success stories. How many times have you opened a magazine to find a ‘before and after’ picture of some guy that can now fit two of himself inside his pair of trousers? And underneath there’s a headline that reads something like “I lost 5 stone on…blah blah blah”.
I have no doubt that there is evidence out there that these programs work. But then again, it depends on how you define work. If you are looking for a life-altering experience that will ultimately change the way you see food forever, then you’re in for a bit of a disappointment. But if you’re looking to lose a modest amount of weight in 12 weeks and don’t mind forking out for the pleasure, then go for it. As long as you don’t mind doing the same thing again a couple of years from now once you’ve regained all the weight you lost.
3. Top myths about diets
Myth: Not all diets work but [insert latest fad here] does
It seems like every year, some celebrity is touting the benefits of the latest diet craze. Someone, somewhere write a book. Some clever PR company promoted the hell out of that book. And all of a sudden, the word of one man or woman has become gospel.
But let’s look at the facts, shall we. The Keto diet was first introduced by neurologists to treat epilepsy in the 1920s. It is designed to mimic fasting, and it puts the human body in to a constant state of famine. Sounds extremely healthy if you ask me.
The Paleo diet was started by one man in the 70s who believed that our Paleolithic ancestors could teach us a thing or two about healthy eating. Apparently we’re supposed to ignore 2.5 million years of evolution!
Intermittent fasting basically teaches you to starve yourself for a couple of days a week. But if you do it for more than two days a week you have an eating disorders. And don’t get me started on cleanses and detox. It doesn’t matter how much [insert latest fad here] you put in to your system, the body will only absorb what it needs and the rest comes out in your poop.
But my all time favourite is the Mediterranean Diet. I think it is because a lot of my family hails from that area so I grew up on a lot of these foods. This particular weight loss craze was first proposed by Ancel Keys (the same guy who brought us the BMI), and was supposedly based on the eating habits of Spain, Italy and Greece in the 1960s. So we’re supposed to believe that the Italians, who brought us such greats as pasta and pizza, eat a low-carb diet? Anyone else see the irony here?
Define the term “work”?
Guys, I could go on but I won’t bother. There is no denying that some of these diet fads work for some people. But once again, it depends on your definition of the term “work”. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence out there that no diet works in the longterm.
So why are people still so convinced that they are the only solution? The answer is simple. Money. The diet industry works on the premise that the majority of us are unhappy with the way we look and want to lose weight.
They feed in to our insecurities and fears. Books, magazines, subscriptions, food delivered straight to your door. Once upon a time that was called take-away. Now they roast a butternut squash, drizzle it with cold-pressed rapeseed oil, pumpkin seeds and some kind of probiotic, and charge us more than a Chicken Tikka Massala. What is the world coming to?
4. What is a nutritionist?
Myth: You can trust a nutritionist because they are health professionals
Dieticians go to university and study nutrition in both healthy people and patients with any number of chronic diseases. They belong to national bodies and are heavily regulated. They usually work in hospitals and in primary care settings, and they are healthcare professionals.
Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. You don’t need to have studied to become a nutritionist. Nutritionists are only able to advice healthy people and are not qualified to offer advise to people with chronic health conditions.
Whilst many nutritionists have a number of qualifications and are extremely good at what they do, they are not considered healthcare professionals. They are allied professionals in the same way that Chiropractors and Osteopaths are.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with allied professionals. In fact, I have no problem recommending them to my patients because I believe in practicing holistic medicine. But beware of the charlatans who masquerade as experts, but have absolutely no qualifications and no one regulating them. You don’t have to trust them just because they have several letters after their name.
[I have a total of 9 letters (MBBS, MRCGP) but I never actually use them!]
5. Should I listen to my doctor?
Myth: I need to lose weight because my doctor told me to
I’m going to let you in to a little secret. Every year, the government sets GPs a whole bunch of targets that we are supposed to meet. If we don’t meet them, we don’t get paid. Suffice it to say, we work very hard to meet them.
A lot of these targets make sense. If you’re diabetic, we need to test your blood sugar twice a year to keep an eye on you. If you’re schizophrenic, we ought to be checking in on you every so often to make sure that you are keeping well.
However, the government has been growing increasingly concerned about the rising levels of obesity in this country over the last few years. So they came up with the idea of an obesity register. Basically, that means that all patients need to be weighted and measured regularly, and anyone with a BMI of over 30 is put on said register.
We have already established that measuring a person’s BMI is not a particularly effective way to get an accurate picture of their health. And so far, the register has been just that – a register. But more and more, GPs are being given incentives to tell their patients to lose weight.
What exactly in the point?
Now I have already stated in previous blog posts that there is no proof that obesity causes health problems or shortens life. Nor is there any proof that telling a person to lose weight by eating less and exercising more is any more effective than using a plaster to dress a gunshot wound. But the government clearly know what they are doing and should be deferred to in all matters of health [sigh].
Even though we know that poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is dangerous for all human beings, we’re only supposed to talk to the fat ones about it. If your under that magic number of 30, you can be trusted to figure it out for yourself. But if you’re above that number then you are clearly in need of a good telling off and maybe a handy leaflet that tells you all about which foods are healthy and which foods aren’t.
Now clearly I am oversimplifying things, and my sarcasm knows no bounds. But I think my profession needs to think long and hard about how we are managing the so-called obesity epidemic in this country, because I am not sure we are doing such a great job thus far.
I feel another blog post coming on, but in the meantime please don’t allow all the misinformation out there on the internet make you doubt yourself or spend money you don’t need to spend. You can chose to be healthy without making weight loss your primary goal, no matter what anyone else says.
Can you think of any other weight loss myths that need busting? Disagree with something I have said? Well then consider leaving a comment in the box below, and share me with your friends if you can.