This way of thinking gave us the low-fat diet.
Since the fat in food has more than twice the calories of an equivalent amount of protein or carbohydrate, cutting back on dietary fat should lead to automatic weight loss.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as hoped.
Rates of obesity in the UK and US skyrocketed as we progressively replaced fat with carbohydrates.
Recent scientific reviews show that typical low-fat diets produce less weight loss than other comparison diets.
Of even greater concern, a focus on fat reduction may increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cognitive decline, according to new findings from the Predimed study which looked at whether following a Mediterranean diet could prevent cardiovascular disease.
Walking an extra 20 minutes a day can help virtually anyone lose weight
I had little formal training in nutrition – medical schools are notorious for neglecting diet in favour of drugs – but my ignorance turned out to be a blessing.
Rather than thinking of obesity as a simple problem of energy balance, I became interested in why people overeat.
What made some people feel persistently hungry, despite eating enough food to satisfy calorie requirements?
And why were so few people able to lose weight over the long term, even as they suffered physically and emotionally from being heavy?
I spent months in the Harvard medical library poring over research studies, some dating back a century.
Although the knowledge isn’t commonly appreciated in clinical practice, scientists have suspected for decades that biology, more so than willpower, determines body weight over the long term.
Scientific reviews show that typical low-fat diets produce less weight loss than other diets
From this perspective, the conventional approach to weight loss, stressing self-control and willpower, seemed misguided.
Intrigued by these insights I determined to dedicate my career to obesity research and patient care.
This 20-year line of investigation has led me to an entirely different way of thinking about diet – not as a delivery system for calories but instead according to how food affects our hormones, our metabolism and ultimately our fat cells.
And I’ve come to a striking realisation:
Rates of obesity in the UK and US skyrocketed as we progressively replaced fat with carbohydrates
Forget calories, focus on food quality and let your body do the rest
The three-phase programme in my book Always Hungry? aims to address this problem at the source – fat cells stuck in calorie-storage overdrive.
With a diet designed to lower insulin levels and calm chronic inflammation, fat cells can be reprogrammed to release their excess calories back into the body.
When that happens, cravings vanish and metabolism speeds up, leading to weight loss without the struggle.
And because this approach works with, rather than against, biology you get to eat until you’re satisfied, snack when hungry and never count calories again.
The diet is the opposite of low-calorie/low-fat.
It includes nuts, full-fat dairy, rich sauces and spreads, savoury proteins (with vegetarian alternatives) and real chocolate.
You can enjoy a range of natural carbohydrates (root vegetables and whole grains) and in phase three we reintroduce some of the more processed carbohydrates such as bread and white potatoes, creating an individual plan for you.
The diet is so satisfying, you won’t miss all those highly-processed carbohydrates you might have overindulged in.
Participants in a 16-week national US pilot test consistently reported less hunger, fewer cravings, improved energy levels and enhanced wellbeing.
For an end to the deprivation approach to weight loss in 2016, forget calories, focus on food quality and let your body do the rest.