You must be your own pet scientist

So there’s paleo, there’s high fat, there’s low fat, very low low calorie, there’s Dukan, there’s Raw Vegan … they all promise fat loss – but they can’t all be right.

So who is?

I think they’re all a bit right and quite alot wrong.  There’s some truth in them all – which is why when perfectly applied they will all result in weight loss:  just very rarely will anyone be able to sustain it;  and if you did for years, you’d probably develop at least one serious deficiency.

Incidentally, have you noticed recently how every new diet has proclaimed ‘This isn’t a diet – it’s a lifestyle change’?  Sorry, but what is a diet but a lifestyle change involving food?

As to the ones who claim you’ll never be hungry or feel deprived if you follow the mealplans they’ve worked out for you – I have occasionally totted up the calorie counts of their daily plans, and found some to be under 1000 calories.  No hunger or deprivation? Yeah, right.

So you will be hungry and you will feel deprived – but as the Perfect Person, your diet guru, said you wouldn’t be, you’ll blame yourself for it.  You must be at fault.  Something must be wrong with you or you must be doing it wrong.  It can’t be the diet, sorry, lifestyle change.

My mother’s family is riddled with Type 2 Diabetes – it killed her father at 58, and her at 64.  My mother was treated in the era when diabetics were told to eat a low fat, high carb diet:  advice that would now make a diabetic practitioner grow pale and fall over.  It killed her.

So your GP is doing his best – he’s giving you the advice he’s been given.  But he hasn’t had time to go and research it himself.  She’s already overworked to the point of exhaustion.  She’d love to read the studies herself, but how and when?  So they just have to hope the information they’re passing on is right – but it has so often proved not to be.

GPs fed Thalidomide to pregnant mothers in the 1960s for morning sickness.

I am not, for the record, anti-science, far from it.  I would not choose to live in a world without the extraordinary scientific advances that have, for example, made it a rarity, rather than commonplace, for a parent to lose a child.  If you remember the swine flu epidemic a decade or so ago – my youngest was hit with it and believe me it was not the ‘bad cold’ some had (possibly to quell the mounting panic) dismissed it as.  I have never seen any of my children so sick and it was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me.  Although he did not in the end require hospital treatment, I realised how phenomenally lucky I was to live in an era of technical advancement where emergency help would have been available to save his life should he have needed it.

We’re all doing the best we can – but GPs, doctors, scientists are human and will get it wrong sometimes.

So what should you do?

Well, you could spend years reading every scientific paper on nutrition for the last two decades – only you’d probably be dead before you finished and in a position to distil everything you’d read into a workable nutritional programme.

Come to that, unless you’re a scientist, how would you tell which experiments were well designed and run and which were ropey as hell?

You could try just looking out for the ‘take home’ of these studies reported in the media – but as my eldest son, who has a Masters Degree in Drug Design & Discovery, says – much to his fury – the way the mainstream media, and some self-proclaimed health and nutrition gurus, misrepresent scientific studies has become dangerously irresponsible.

So you cannot and will not be able to figure it out for yourself.  So don’t try.

And happily, maybe you don’t even have to.

Here’s a little experiment.  Google photos of the British aristocracy a hundred years ago.  Now these people could afford the most indulgent foods and as much of them as they wanted.  So scout those photos for the fat people.

Find any?  Isn’t that curious.  And yet, they didn’t have the benefit of the last hundred years of scientific study or diet gurus to guide them.  So what were they doing that kept them relatively slim?

Use your mind to cut through the rubbish and think.  What makes the most sense to you?  And then try that out, under certain conditions and your own scrutiny, on  your body.  What happens to the way you feel, your muscle tone and your weight if you eliminate fat from your diet?  Or if you increase protein?  Cut back on carbs?  You are your own best scientist and laboratory.  Only you can really know how food affects you.

See if you can get back to a time where you had a simpler and better relationship with food, and replicate as best you can what you did then, before it all got so messed up.

Personally I think we all know a few things, and possibly the only things we need to know – that we should eat a moderate amount of as wide a variety of foods as possible.

We are after all omnivores, and that is precisely what we were designed to do.

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