The Antarctic Diet
|The 2014 report into obesity by
the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development –
basically the 34 most developed countries in the world) brought the
shocking news that in those countries a majority of the adult population
and 1 in 5 children are now overweight or obese. In Mexico, New Zealand
and the USA more than 1 in 3 adults are classified as obese; in
Australia, Canada, Chile and Hungary it is not much better at 1 in 4. No
OECD country has reduced its obesity rate in the last 5 years, although
Canada, England, Italy, Korea and the USA have at least slowed the rate
The report quotes research which shows that severely obese people on average die 8-10 years earlier than those of normal weight. Every extra 15 kg of weight above the norm increases the risk of an early death by approximately 30%.
Advice from the British National Health Service for people wishing to lose weight by dieting is to avoid crash diets which enable you to lose weight quickly, because people who follow those diets usually put the weight back on just as fast when they stop the regime. In order to avoid that happening, the advice is to aim to lose no more than 0.5 kg (1-2 lb) a week by consuming fewer calories than you need and exercising. (An average man needs 2,500 calories a day and an average woman needs 2,000.) For most people, increasing the amount of exercise they take is important for reducing weight and has wider health benefits as well.
The advice on exercise for adults aged 19 – 64 is as follows:
2 hours 30 minutes moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week (cycling, fast walking, doubles tennis, lawn mowing, skating, skateboarding etc.)
1 hour 15 minutes on two days of vigorous aerobic activity (running, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping, aerobics, hockey)
Muscle strengthening exercise twice a week (lifting weights, push-ups, sit-ups, digging the garden etc.)
Why do humans tend to over-eat, anyway? Experts claim to have identified a number of reasons:
Eating for emotional comfort – people eat unnecessarily to counteract stress, emotional problems or even just out of boredom.
Habit – some people have a regular snack between meals or in the middle of the night, and automatically do so whether they feel hungry or not.
Eating as a social event – for humans it is normal for eating to be a communal activity and this can lead to over-eating, especially for those who can afford to eat out a lot.
Environmental factors – we are surrounded by the sight and smell of food; it is advertised in our media constantly; we see other people eating and are cued to do the same; when we shop for food the experience itself may trigger feelings of hunger.
To counteract these factors some experts advocate a regime of “mindful eating”, i.e. being more conscious of the food you are eating and taking steps to reduce your intake. Some of the techniques of this approach are:
To think about the cues that are causing you to eat too much or too often and take steps to avoid or reduce them. E.g. if you realise you are eating out of boredom you can do something about it.
To eat slowly – eating fast interferes with the signal from the brain that tells you when you have eaten enough. Put your fork down between each mouthful and pause.
Not to eat while doing other things – again eating while working, watching TV or walking down the street distracts you from being aware of how much you are eating.
To deliberately replace the act of eating with some other activity – eg. when you feel the urge for a snack, go for a walk or play the piano.
Some diets that have been popular in developed countries in recent years are:
The Atkins Diet – very low in carbohydrates but allows saturated fats (butter, cheese and meat), therefore could raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
The Banting Diet – actually an 1861 eating plan revived in the 21st century. The high fat, medium protein, low carbohydrate diet that went out of fashion in the 1950s. No processed foods, no snacks, no sugar, no grains at all, almost no fruit. But a similar heart disease risk to Atkins.
The Paleo Diet – short for ‘paleolithic’, this diet claims to hark back 10,000 years to the diet that humans were designed for. You eat proteins (lean meats, nuts and seeds, seafood) fruit and vegetables and healthy fats, but cut out dairy, grains, starches, alcohol and processed foods. Some experts think the reduction in dairy foods could lead to calcium deficiency.
The 5:2 Diet – you eat normally on five days a week, but fast on two non-consecutive days. On the fasting days you eat only around a quarter of the normal calories (men 150 calories, women 125 calories). This is really just an alternative to eating fewer calories every day, and may be more difficult to keep to.
Sugar free diets – some diets cut out all sugar, but this means not eating dairy as well as fruit. Diets which ban only added sugar cut out cakes, biscuits and soft drinks as well as alcohol. Processed foods like bread, breakfast cereal and sauces often contain a lot of added sugar. Scientific research favours reducing sugar intake as part of a reduction in calories. In fact sweetened foods can lead to more eating as the energy high they give you is short-lived and you are left feeling hungry. Some diet experts recommend just reducing the intake of sugary drinks, cakes and biscuits rather than cutting them out of the diet altogether, on the more realistic grounds that the person will be able to stick to that better in the long term.