Quick-fix regimes are set up to fail, says Dr Michael Greg, who sorts fact from fiction in his new book
Obesity is not some moral failing. Battling bulge is battling biology. We’re living in a toxic food environment, floating—and sometimes drowning—in a sea of excess calories while being bombarded with ads for candy, liquid candy (soft drinks), breakfast candy (sugary cereals), and fast food. Becoming overweight is a normal, natural response to the abnormal, unnatural ubiquity of sugary, fatty, calorie-dense foods.
With each passing month, a new diet trend or weight-loss craze seems to shove its way onto the already overcrowded field, and they never fail to sell because they never fail to fail. The diet industry’s business model is based on repeat customers, which enables it to rake in up to $ 50 billion USD a year. The power of guilt and self-hatred of failure are often enough to get people to line right back up to be fooled again.
The weight-loss industry is so corrupted by financial and ideological conflicts of interest that you can never know who to trust. Too often in diet books, the rule is to obfuscate rather than illuminate, cherry-pick facts to push some pet theory, and ignore the rest to promote one’s own agenda. It’s the opposite of science. In true scholarship, conclusions follow from the evidence, not the other way around.
With so much nutritional noise and nonsense out there, I wanted to write an evidence-based diet book. If you want testimonials and before-and-after pictures, you have come to the wrong place. I’m not interested in anecdotes; I’m interested in evidence. How Not to Diet is for those who want the facts, not your typical filler, fantasy, or fluff.
My goal was to build you the optimal weight-control solution from the ground up, whether you’re morbidly obese, just overweight like the average person, or already at your ideal weight but wanting to stay there.
Almost by definition, diets don’t work. Just by going on a diet, you’re implying that you’ll go off of it at some point. When have short-term fixes ever prevailed against long-term problems? What we need for lifelong weight control are lifelong lifestyle changes. What you eat today, tomorrow, or even next week doesn’t matter as much as what you eat over the next months, years, and decades, so you need lifestyle changes that fit into your lifestyle. What might that look like?
Sustainability is a must. Look at water-only fasting, the most effective diet there is. It’s so effective, in fact, that it’s 100 percent fatal if you manage to stick with it. This is why an optimal diet needs ingredients to ensure long-term viability.
So, it needs to be as safe as it is efficacious and sustainable. Remember the liquid protein diet craze in the 1970s? It was wildly popular until the diets started killing people. We need to lose weight safely without losing our health.
Of course, any long-term eating pattern must also be complete nutritionally, with all essential vitamins and minerals, and, our chosen diet should be life-extending. At the very least, what we eat shouldn’t shorten our lives and ideally should be healthy enough to lengthen them. What’s the point in losing weight if it causes us to lose it all?
Is there any way to tick all of these boxes? Yes.
I took a deep dive into the medical literature for an answer to the obesity epidemic and not only did I succeed in finding a plain solution to the crisis, I discovered the same solution that helped my dear grandmother after she had been given a medical death sentence and cured her of end-stage heart disease: a diet centered around whole plant foods.
We should eat natural foods that come from the ground and from the fields, not factories, and from gardens, not garbage. The very diet I discussed in my previous book, How Not to Die—the diet that has been proven to prevent, treat, and even reverse some of our leading killer diseases—just so happens to be the same one with the greatest potential for achieving and maintaining permanent weight loss.
The one piece of advice that probably best sums up my recommendations in How Not to Diet would be to wall off your calories. Animal cells are encased only in easily digestible membranes, which allow the enzymes in our gut to effortlessly liberate the calories within a chicken breast, for example. Plant cells, on the other hand, have cell walls that are made out of fiber, which acts as an indigestible physical barrier, so many of the calories remain trapped.
Processed plant foods, however, like fruit juice, sugar, refined grains, and even whole grains if they’ve been powdered into flour, have had their cellular structure destroyed and their cells walls cracked open, so their calories are free for the taking. When you eat structurally intact plant foods, though, you can chew all you want but you’ll still end up with calories completely encapsulated by fiber, which then blunts the glycemic impact, activates what’s called the ileal brake that dials down appetite, and delivers sustenance to your friendly flora.
So, the bottom line is to try to make sure as many of your calories—whether from protein, carbs, or fat—are encased in cell walls. In other words, from whole intact plant foods.
Certainly, we should all stay away from fatty, salty, processed junk whether we’re trying to lose weight or not, but what about meat? In addition to being completely devoid of fiber, meat today could be considered junk food. For more than a century, a major goal of animal agriculture has been to increase the carcass fat content of farm animals. Consider chicken, for example. A century ago, chicken was approximately 23 percent protein by weight and less than 2 percent fat. Today, due in part to genetic manipulation via selective breeding, chickens have ten times more fat.
Weight gain has been associated with consumption of meat in general, and poultry appears to be the worst offender. One daily ounce, which is about a single chicken nugget, or one chicken breast every ten days has been associated with weight gain compared to eating no chicken at all.
Permanent weight loss requires permanent dietary change. Healthier habits just need to become a way of life. And if it’s going to be life-long, you want it to lead to a long life. Thankfully, the single best diet proven for weight loss, one centered on whole plant foods, may just so happen to be the safest cheapest way to eat, for the longest, healthiest life.
Every day tips for safe and evidence-based weight loss
Preload with water: Drink two cups of metabolism boosting cold or cool water before each meal.
Follow the Twenty-Minute Rule: Extend meal duration to at least twenty minutes to allow your natural satiety signals to take full effect.
Black Cumin or Nigella seeds (¼ teaspoon)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled, weight-loss trials found that about a quarter teaspoon of black cumin powder every day appears to reduce body mass index within a span of a couple of months. Note that black cumin is different from regular cumin, for which the dosing is different. Sprinkle on your salad or add to your pepper mill.
Garlic Powder (¼ teaspoon)
Randomsised, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have found that as little as a daily quarter teaspoon of garlic powder can reduce body fat at a cost of perhaps two cents a day.
Ground Ginger (1 teaspoon) or Cayenne Pepper (½ teaspoon)
Randomized controlled trials have found that ¼ teaspoon to 1½ teaspoons a day of ground ginger significantly decreased body weight for just pennies a day. It can be as easy as stirring the ground spice into a cup of hot water, and ginger may work better in the morning than evening. Chai tea is a tasty way to combine the green tea and ginger tricks into a single beverage.
Cumin (½ teaspoon with lunch and dinner)
Overweight women randomised to add a half teaspoon of cumin to their lunches and dinners beat out the control group by four more pounds and an extra inch off their waist. There is also evidence to support the use of the spice saffron, but a pinch a day would cost a dollar, whereas a teaspoon of cumin costs less than ten cents.
Green Tea (3 cups)
Drink three cups a day between meals (waiting at least an hour after a meal so as to not interfere with iron absorption). During meals, drink water, black coffee, or hibiscus tea mixed 6:1 with lemon verbena, but never exceed three cups of fluid an hour (important given my water preloading advice).
Don’t consume large amounts of caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
Deflour Your Diet
Check this box every day if your whole grain servings are in the form of intact grains. The powdering of even 100-percent whole grains robs our microbiome of the starch that would otherwise be ferried down to our colon enclosed in unbroken cell walls.
Frontload Your Calories
There are metabolic benefits to distributing more calories to earlier in the day, so make breakfast (ideally) or lunch your largest meal of the day in true king/prince/pauper style.
Time-Restrict Your Eating
Confine eating to a daily window of time of your choosing under twelve hours in length that you can stick to consistently, seven days a week. Given the circadian benefits of reducing evening food intake, the window should end before 7:00 PM.
Optimise Exercise Timing
My Daily Dozen’s recommendation for optimum exercise duration for longevity is ninety minutes of moderately intense activity a day, which is also the optimum exercise duration for weight loss. Any time is good, and the more, the better, but there may be an advantage to exercising in a fasted state, at least six hours after your last meal. Typically this would mean before breakfast, but if you timed it right, you could exercise mid-day before a late lunch or, if lunch is eaten early enough, before dinner.
Weigh Yourself Twice a Day
Regular self-weighing is considered “crucial” for long-term weight control.
Extracted from How Not to Diet by Michael Greger (RRP £20). Buy now for £16.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514