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A couple of weeks ago it was revealed that Maggie was following a special diet that was heavy on eggs, grapefruit and various other things. It’s a diet that I’m actually quite familiar with and which calls itself the “Mayo Clinic Diet”. Unfortunately it has two minor drawbacks: 
  1. It has nothing to do with the Mayo Clinic, which is a respected medical practice in the US 
  2. It’s bollocks

Someone introduced me to it when I was at uni 10 years ago and needed to lose a couple of stone. I decided to give it a try but after a couple of days something didn’t seem to add up. I did a bit of Googling , had a look at a couple of calorie counting websites and did some cross checking with the NHS pages on diet and nutrition. What I found was this: 

  1. This diet is an ultra low calorie one (c. 500 calories a day), an amount which is advised against by many dieticians
  2. Claims of food combinations that dissolve fat have no basis in science
  3. Another claim is that it is used by cardiac wards. I seriously hope not. While the diet is very low in calories, it is very high in saturated fat via things like eggs and pork chops. 
  4. Carbohydrates are absent . Cutting out an entire class of nutrients, particularly carbs, is common with fad diets but it’s one I’ve never understood

As soon as I found this out I stopped the plan and went out to buy a pork pie and some cakes. Only sensible thing to do in the circumstances

I think this is one of the reasons why I’ve since been sceptical about amateur nutritionists. Gillian McKeith is an obvious quack but there’s a lot of other nonsense out there. One problem of the “caveman diet” that seems to be overlooked is that people back then had a life expectancy of 33 whereas now life expectancy is more than double that. Others advise against processed food or food that’s full of “chemicals”, but all food is processed to some degree. Some foods cannot be digested properly until they’re cooked and some are actually toxic. Food processing is done to make it last longer, keep it safe in storage, and to improve its taste or appearance among other reasons. “Chemicals” have been used in food preparation for centuries, such as saltpetre being added to cured meats such as bacon and ham. The problem with processed foods is not the fact that they’ve been processed per se, but because some of them contain a lot of processed fat and salt (one of my biggest downfalls in my larger days was those 10 packs of Herta sausages: a full day’s worth of fat and salt). Processing and rendering can also be used to disguise low quality ingredients such as mechanically recovered meat. I worked in a bacon packing factory for a week so I know what low grade food can look like. Not pretty.

Another one I’ve never understood is why fad diets and quacks dislike carbohydrates so much. Some say no carbs after 12, or 3 pm, or in the evening. What do you do when the clocks go back? I think this is one of those that’s been repeated so often that it’s become received wisdom with little basis in fact. Here’s an alternate take on the idea: not having carbs after a certain time is counter productive because later on in the day your blood sugar level crashes and you lose energy which makes you feel weak and dizzy. If you don’t get any more until breakfast the next day, it just makes it worse. There used to be an idea that carbs were responsible for making you fat, but science has since moved on from then.

So, one problem with nutritionists and fat diets is outdated or incorrect science. I was looking into qualifications, and becoming a qualified dietician takes a 4 year degree course. Much easier to call yourself a nutritionist and give out advice that might occasionally hit on what works. Add some kind of gimmick to make it proprietary and you can charge for it. Probably safe to say that I’m not enamoured of these people, but what would I suggest for healthy eating? Losing nearly 50 kilos over 3 years while training for some of the toughest sports around needs a certain level of knowledge of these things and fad diets just won’t cut it. I go for the calorie deficit theory: eat whatever you want to lose weight as long as you burn up more calories than you take in. The main things I do are: 

  • Watch the calories! This is the main point. Around 500 calories less than you burn off through exercise or just day to day living will do.
  • Plenty of carbs, mostly starchy ones like pasta or bread 
  • Reduce the amount of fat and sugar. 
  • Eat a mix of things at every meal, regardless of what time of day it is 
  • A light snack such as a cereal bar about an hour or so before training will help keep you going 
  • Baked things like pastry or cakes contain a lot of fat (shortcrust pastry is 33% fat) 
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Protein tends to be lean stuff such as chicken breast or diced pork or beef, and either stir fried (in things like curries) or baked (things like chicken bakes) 
  • Processed food and ready meals are fine and can be very convenient if you don’t have a lot of time to prepare food, provided they’re made from reasonable quality ingredients and don’t contain too much fat or salt 
  • It isn’t actually essential to eat 5 portions of fruit or veg a day. It was invented to make sure you eat a range of foods to get a mix of nutrients

Got to say I’m glad I never had to share an office with Maggie when she was eating 4 eggs a day, anyway. Did she dislike miners so much because she was banned from mines for being a source of firedamp?

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mhoulden

February 2011

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