Public Health England have recently started a campaign encouraging adults to aim for a 400-600-600 calorie diet. Basically, we should have 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for dinner and 600 for tea. The remaining calories should be used on snacks. This campaign comes out of an urge to help tackle the current obesity crisis and make people more aware about what they’re eating.
I always tell my clients that food is the hardest part of any training programme. My mentality towards food is a lot better than it ever used to be but I still struggle a lot. HFE posted a tweet asking people to share their thoughts on the new diet. This was my response:
I thought I would elaborate on these thoughts and why I think we are currently facing a problem when it comes to our diets. I am going to split this into the 3 main points that I mention within this tweet.
- The problem with focusing upon calories.
- Nutrition is different for everyone.
- Eating better, not eating less.
I would love to here your thoughts on this new campaign and the huge range of diets that are currently available.
The problem with focusing upon calories
We are obsessed with numbers. I say we because I too love to know how many calories I am eating. The fewer calories the more chanceI have of losing weight, right? Wrong. There is such a thing of gaining/ staying the same weight due to eating too little. Our bodies cannot function without food and tracking calories with such precision as is being promoted here has the potential to lead to some unhealthy eating habits. For example, I could get 2000 calories a day from chocolate or sweets. I would have still had 2000 calories so according to what we are taught, that is perfectly acceptable. Obviously it isn’t. Not to mention the unhealthy mental ramifications that can come from calorie counting. Just like tracking your macros, that level of precision and constant tracking does not work for everyone. I for one do not have the mental ability to maintain a sane relationship with food whilst scanning and tracking everything I eat. I really try my best with macros but I get obsessed and cannot maintain that level of precision, which leads me into binge eating. This isn’t the case for everyone, but it certainly is for many people I speak to. This leads me on to my second point.
Nutrition is different for everyone
The amount of food we need varies depending on a lot of factors. Our age, weight, gender and activity level can all have an impact. 400-600-600 is far too simplistic an approach. Some people require more than 2500, some people require less. Some days my body might need some more calories, some days it might need less. Setting such rigid rules, even though the intentions are of course good, does not take into account our different nutritional requirements. Nor does it take into account the reality of life. Being consistent is key. It is hard, but it is key. However, being able to go out and enjoy yourself is also important. A mentality where you cannot go out for breakfast as it is likely to be over 400 calories is not a healthy one. One of my clients has lost 8lbs. She was proud but wishes she would have lost more. However, she has enjoyed the last 5 weeks. She is enjoying her training, she is eating well most of the time and she is going out for meals and drinks and LIVING A LIFE. I would rather have a client who was happy and losing at a sustainable pace, rather than a client who was not enjoying themselves but losing a lot of weight.
Eating better, not eating less.
I want to flashback a few years to before I began training. I hardly ate anything some days but when I did it was pretty rubbish. I’d skip dinner to have a chocolate bar or I would starve myself all day and then gorge on whatever was in the kitchen. I was eating very few calories but I was fuelling my body on rubbish. I was unhealthy, unhappy and very hungry. After starving myself, I would then have days where I would eat everything in my path. I’d bake cakes with butter cream and eat 3 or 4 at a time. I could not stop myself. On days like this, yes I needed to eat less, but more importantly I needed to be educated on eating better. I had only even known ‘eat less food’, so if I thought I had eaten too much I would go to my room and force myself to exercise or I would make myself sick to get rid of it. I didn’t need to have numbers rammed down my throat and be told that food was a ‘syn’. I needed to be taught how to develop a healthy relationship with food. I am not under the illusion that my relationship with food is now great. I go through stages where I binge and stages where I really struggle with this. I really believe that tracking and counting is a short term fix. In order to get a long term fix it comes down to education. We need to be educated from a young age about how to develop a healthy relationship with food where we are taught how to fuel our bodies better.
I really believe that the intention behind these campaigns are good and I understand how difficult it would be to offer nutritional advice to masses of people compared to individuals, however, I also believe that it is missing the mark. Let us think about the recent Weight Watchers campaign encouraging over weight children to join.This is the wrong way to approach the issue. We don’t need to be told to diet. We do not need to be fed such a restrictive and unsustainable mentality. We need education. Get into schools and teach young children about fuelling their body and caring for themselves physically and mentally.
To end, I will leave you with my response to the Weight Watchers campaign. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.