Unlocking the Mystery: The Science Behind Diet Failures

After we had such great response to our first blog article Fad Diets Exposed, we realise the public is hungry for the truth. Here we share a section of Patrick Holford’s book The Low HL Diet Bible to shed more light on the subject.

Why so many diets fail

Dieting can be like negotiating a minefield of misconceptions. Many methods for losing weight have no basis in science whatsoever. So, if your dieting life has been one long string of depressing failed attempts, it’s hardly surprising. Maybe you should have tried fat burner pills from Sculpt Nation much sooner.

Here, I’d like to debunk some of these ‘methods’ and expose them as myths (the biggest of all being that the best way to lose weight is a conventional low-fat, low-calorie diet). That way, you’ll have the knowledge to prevent a life of yo-you dieting and long-term health problems.

Myth number 1: the only way to lose weight is to eat less fat and less calories

Hard-wired into our culture is the false idea that the best way to lose weight is to eat a low-calorie diet. Losing weight is beneficial to your health. But eating a low calorie diet is not the only way to do this. Some people have even looked into companies such as Cars Bought for Cash to sell their vehicles that they take to work or use for short distances. Instead of this method, alternatives like walking or taking public transport may make the difference to your weight loss.

We all know the simple equation: calories in, minus calories out, equals your weight. Since fat has more calories per gram/ounce than protein or carbohydrate, the easiest way to cut the total number of calories you eat is to eat less fat. That’s what you are told. However, in reality, there are number of methods that can be carried out to help you lose fat, not least of which being the process of cryolipolysis. Medical institutions such as Ice Aesthetic, who can be found at, use controlled freezing methods to help their patients lose weight in certain areas of their body.

Low-fat, low-calorie diets have become the orthodox approach to weight loss, jealously guarded by doctors and dieticians the world over. But orthodoxy doesn’t necessarily mean right, just that it won the battle of the diets. In fact, it’s wrong. As you will see, whichever way you look at it, low-GL diets work better. Let’s examine the evidence, both by looking at the big picture, then at what the latest science shows us about burning fat.

Let’s start with the big picture. America leads the world’s obesity epidemic. In fact, obesity has recently overtaken smoking as the number-one preventable cause of premature death. Flying the low-fat, low-cal flag in the 1970s they set out to reduce the total percentage of calories eaten from fat. In 1977 fat averaged 42 per cent of calories. Their campaigns were extremely successful, and by 1997 fat averaged 32 per cent of calories. Did the decrease in fat intake stop the obesity epidemic? No. It’s accelerated.

So, what about the UK? Government diet surveys conducted between 1985 and 2000 show that, like the Americans, we have been successful, both in cutting the percentage of fat and the total intake of calories. People are eating less. Calorie consumption has gone down, changes haven’t halted our escalating epidemic of weight gain one iota. Just watch a movie from the 1980s and notice people’s size. Something is going seriously wrong in the twenty-first century, and clearly the blame cannot be laid at the level of fat intake.

Not only have we been told that eating fewer calories is the best way to lose weight but we’ve also been told that a calorie is a calorie and that’s all that counts.

Myth number 2: a calorie is a calorie is a calorie

It’s not easy to control rigidly how many calories a person eats, but you can do it with animals. So, let’s look at what happens to animals given identical diets in terms of calories and all other nutrients – with only one difference: GL. In the chart on page 38 you’ll see what happened to one group of rats. Half were given a high-GL diet, the other a low-GL diet. They couldn’t cheat. They had exactly the same number of calories – and there weren’t any sweetshops around the corner.

In this strictly controlled study by one of the world’s leading experts on weight loss, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney, the low-GL rats gained no weight. But the low-GL rats gained weight week on week, and pound on pound. By the end of 32 weeks, the high-GL group were not only 16 per cent heavier but they gained 40 per cent more body fat on the same number of calories!

Another study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that mice with a low-GL diet lost almost twice the body fat in nine weeks as mice given identical calorie-controlled diets, the only difference being that one group was on a high-GL, the other a low-GL diet. The low-GL dieters was substantially leaner and slimmer.

Same calories, very different results. Yet, of course, this is nothing short of heresy for conventional calorie theorists.

But, you may be asking, does the same thing happen to us? After all, rats and humans don’t always respond in a similar way. The answer is yes. Here’s a couple of examples.

Researchers in the human nutrition department at South-Africa’s University of the Orange Free State assigned 15 volunteers to a low GL diet and 15 others to a normal calorie-controlled diet for 12 weeks. Both diets contained identical number of calories. The two groups then switched diets for 12 more weeks. During the first 12 weeks both groups lost weight, but those on the low-GL diet lost more weight. During the second 12-week period, the group that switched to the low-GL diet lost 40 per cent more weight than the group that switched to the normal diet. Yet the caloric content of both diets remained the same.

Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine put volunteers on to one of the three diets: a conventional low-calorie, low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet, restricted for calories and high in fibre and monounsaturated fats; and a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, similar to the Atkins Diet, but emphasising vegetarian sources of protein rather than meat and dairy products. Both the Meditarranean diet and the low-carb diet were effectively lower-GL diets. Despite similar calorie intakes the participants lost 4.5kg (10lb) on the low-carb diet, 4.3kg (9.5lb) on the Mediterranean-style diet and only 2.7kg (6lb) on the low-calorie, low-fat diet. The fact is that low-fat, low-calorie diets were not as effective for weight loss as the low-GL diets.

Despite all this evidence, some so-called experts still say ‘a calorie is a calorie is a calorie”, as far as weight loss is concerned. Whichever way you slice it, this is simply not true. You can lose weight by changing the quality of what you eat, even if you don’t change the quantity. Of course, if you change both the quality and the quantity by eating fewer calories of lower-GL foods, that will trigger the most rapid weight loss.

But that’s not all. We now know that people who eat low-GL food eat significantly less anyway, simply because they feel much more satisfied. One study compared hunger between those on a conventional low-calorie, low-fat diet with a low-GL diet. Those on the low-GL diet reported much less hunger.

So, if you eat a low-GL diet, you not only lose weight but you also tend to want to eat less. It’s a double whammy in your favour.

But calories can’t just vanish. If two people eat the same number of calories and one, eating the high-GL diet, stores some of the calories as fat, what happens to the calories in the low-GL dieter? Think about those animals that lost more weight on the same calories. A calorie is a unit of energy and, if it’s not going into fat, it must be burnt off as energy. This either means that the body’s metabolism speeds up, ‘burning’ up the calories, or the person becomes more active and burns them off through exercise, or possibly both. We’ll never know in those animal studies because they didn’t fit the animals with pedometers! But, either way, it’s good news.

Myth number 3: you can’t change your metabolism

Your metabolism is the way in which you turn your food into energy or into storage as fat. We are programmed to respond differently to the food we eat. This programming is partially inherited: some people’s metabolism rapidly turns food into fat, for example. But your metabolism is primarily down to what you eat and how active you are.

Because of this, you can change both the efficiency of your metabolism and your metabolic rate – the speed at which you burn calories. Crash diets usually lower your metabolism and your metabolic rate – the speed at which you burn calories. Crash diets usually lower your metabolic rate dramatically, for instance, whereas intensive aerobic exercise can increase it tenfold, and leave it raised for up to 15 hours.

By changing the kinds and combinations of food you eat, and exercising, you can reprogramme yourself to burn fat more rapidly. And the less fat and the more lean tissue you have, the more calories you burn off just keeping your body alive. In other words, your metabolic rate has increased, and you’ve changed from fat-storer to fatburner. This is what a low-GL diet, together with exercise, will do for you over the long term.

The dramatic drop in metabolic rate is one of the main problems with low-calorie diets, not only because you burn fewer calories but also because you feel tired and sluggish. This means that dieters find it increasingly difficult to lose weight the lower their calorie intake, because they don’t have the energy to exercise and raise their metabolic rate. Low-GL diets cause half the reduction in metabolic rate compared to a typical low-fat diet and consistently increase energy levels.

This was shown in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers assigned 39 overweight or obese adults to one of two diets. One group was on a low-GL diet, the other group followed a conventional low-fat, low-calorie diet. They were then followed for two years while on these diets. Each person had their metabolic rate measured once they had lost 10 per cent of their body weight. The group on the conventional low-fat, low-calorie diet had almost twice the reduction in metabolic rate compared with the low-GL group.

Myth number 4: if you eat a high-protein diet you lose calories in urine, so you will shed more weight

When you’re on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, your body switches from using carbohydrates as its primary fuel to using fat and protein instead – including the body’s fat reserves. As the body burns fat, ketones – a by-product of the process – are excreted in the urine. This is called ketosis.

Supposedly, since fat and protein constitute a less efficient fuel than carbohydrate, you can eat more. The thinking is that the body will excrete some of the calories of this inefficient fuel as ketones.

Nice theory, but wrong. It is true that people do lose more weight on high-protein diets. But the reason is that they eat less on those diets. And the reason they eat less is that high-protein diets help to stabilise blood sugar.

This high-protein-diet camp, led by the late Dr. Atkins, was one of the first to say that sugar makes you fat. But its solution was to say that carbohydrates are bad and protein is good, so you should eat a high-protein, high-fat diet that’s very low in carbohydrates. Now, a high-protein meal has a low-GL, which in turn balances our appetite and helps us lose weight. But a meal with some protein and some low-GL carbohydrate works in the same way. There is absolutely no need to avoid or massively restrict carbohydrates to lose weight, provided you are eating the right low-GL kind, plus protein.

Let’s take a look at three weight-loss trials published on the Atkins-type high-fat, high-protein diet versus a conventional low-fat diet. The first showed that, after six months, those on the high-fat, high-protein diet lost 5.8kg (12lb 11oz), compared with 1.8 (4lb) on the low-fat diet. That’s a rather unexciting 225g (8oz) a week. However, after 12 months, there was no significant difference.

The other trial showed no real difference in weight loss between the high-protein approach and conventional dieting, with an average weight loss of 4.5kg (10lb) after six months. That’s less than 225g (8oz) a week.

The third compared the Atkins Diet with the Slim-Fast plan, WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley’s Eat Yourself Slim diet and fitness plan in a community based sample of otherwise healthy overweight and obese adults. Weight and body fat changes were measured over six months.

Results showed that all diets resulted in weight loss, averaging 5.9kg (13lb) over 6 months, or a rather unimpressive 225g (8oz) a week. The Atkins Diet resulted in significantly higher weight loss during the first four weeks, but by the end was no more or less effective than the other low-fat, low-calorie diets. A review of all the high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet studies done to date concluded, ‘Weight loss was principally associated with decreased calorie intake.”

In other words, an Atkins-type diet works, but the results aren’t spectacular and are principally due to eating less in general. Moreover, there are problems, and even serious dangers, associated with eating high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.

The problem with high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets

High-protein diets are usually high in meat and dairy. High meat intake is strongly linked to increased risk for cancer of the colon, breast, prostate, pancreas and kidney, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. They also recommend, “If eaten at all, limit the intake of red meat to no more than 80 grams a day.” High-dairy diets also dramatically increase the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. High-protein diets are also proven to tax the kidneys and can tip older people with less than perfect kidneys into kidney failure. Since high-protein diets first became popular, kidney problems have increased. Another problem with high-protein diets is bone mass loss. What’s more, high-protein diets are often designed to produce ketones, which are toxic by-products of running your body on protein.

In excess, ketones can be very toxic and in extreme cases ketosis can be fatal. Reports suggest that 58 deaths have been associated with very low-calorie, very high-protein diets. Moreover, recent research has proved that the amount of calories lost through ketosis is negligible. One study put people on a ketone-producing very low-carb diet (5 per cent of calories as carbs) versus a non-ketone producing low-carb diet (40 per cent of calories as carbs) for six weeks. This second diet is closer to the Holford Diet. Both lost weight – 6.3kg (1st.) vs 7.2kg (16lb) respectively – but those on the ketone-producing diet had an increase in markers for inflammation and felt worse. So, if you don’t lose more weight, it makes you feel worse, and the risks are high, why do it?

These high-protein diets promise more than they deliver in other ways too. As I’ve said, I think the switch to ketosis triggers weight loss by stabilising blood sugar, and it’s known that ketosis also suppresses appetite. A low-carbohydrate diet also kick-starts weight loss because you use up your short-term stores of glucose, which are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, bound up with water. In fact, for every pound of glycogen, you store 1.3-1.8kg (3-4lb) of water. The net result is an immediate weight loss of up to 2.25kg (5lb) – just one reason why people claim spectacular short-term weight loss. But it’s not sustainable. The glycogen and water will come back, as will your appetite. Many people on high-protein diets lose weight, get bored, then gain it all back again.

A diet lacking in carbohydrates such as fruit and green leafy vegetables will leave you deficient in antioxidants and vitamins, unless you are very careful about what you eat and take supplements. You won’t get enough fibre, and could get constipated as a result, which can lead to digestive problems. Additionally, many people feel ill as they go through sugar withdrawal and switch to ketosis. Nausea and tiredness continue for some people, making it hard to stick to the diet.

Nowadays, there are many variations on the original low-carb Atkins Diet, from America’s South Beach Diet to Australia’s Total Wellbeing Diet, supposedly based on good science.

The South Beach Diet is really the Atkins Diet with an emphasis on polyunsaturated fats and low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. In a sense, this might be a step in the right direction if the advice on those fats and carbohydrates were up to date. Like Atkins, South Beach emphasises a ‘ketogenic’ diet of minimum carbohydrates for the first two weeks. Ultimately, this doesn’t seem to result in more fat loss, but it may cause greater initial weight loss as the body sheds water. (If you avoid carbohydrates, the body has to break down glucose for energy, which is stored as glycogen. Glycogen is stored with water.) This benefit is immediately attractive and may add to the diet’s short-term popularity; however, the weight will come back because it’s not a loss of fat. The only published trial I could find on the South Beach Diet appeared in a 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, and it reported an average weight loss of 6.1kg (13lb 9oz) over 12 weeks, or 500g (1lb 2oz) per week.

The Australian Total Wellbeing Diet, researched and developed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and Dairy Australia, is another high-protein diet that has hit the headlines. It recommends scoffing no less that ten portions of meat and two portions of fish, plus six eggs and a few servings of cheese in a week. This makes a total of 300g (10 oz) protein a day, just like the Atkins Diet.

The Australian Wellbeing Diet is said to be based on solid research. The reseach in question involved 120 people put either on the Total Wellbeing hight-protein diet or a high-carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks. The trial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no difference in weight loss at all! What it did find, although this isn’t mentioned in the conclusion, was signs of kidney stress (decreased creatinine clearance) and potential bone mass loss (increased bone mass turnover) in only 12 weeks! I guess that’s not something the high-protein diet brigade want to shout about.

The bottom line is that high-protein diets, especially those based on meat and milk, can be dangerous. They potentially increase the risk of bone and kidney problems, and breast and prostate cancer. And as we’ve seen, the weight-loss results are little different to conventional dieting in the long run. In my opinion the high-protein approach to stabilising your blood sugar, and hence your weight, is certainly not worth the risk.

Myth number 5: don’t eat protein with carbohydrates; those foods fight

Food combining diets seperate protein foods from carbohydrate foods. Nature doesn’t. Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds all contain both. And the healthiest nations of the world are the nut, bean and seed eaters.

Despite all this, a number of food-combining diets abound, based on the principles of Dr. Hay, a physician writing back in the 1930s. He emphasised eating wholefoods and lots of fruit and vegetables; he also advocated eating fruit separately from other foods, since, if trapped in the stomach after a steak for example, fruit can ferment. So far, so good.

Dr. Hay also recommended never eating carbohydrate-rich foods with protein-rich foods. So, for example, fish with rice or chicken with potatoes is out. The only study I’ve seen recommending that overweight or obese people follow this kind of diet showed a 3.5 per cent average body-weight change over 12 weeks. Although subjects in this trial were not advised to eat less or change the kind of food they ate, there was no measure indicate whether this weight loss was solely due to food-combining or changes in the quantity or quality of food.

It is now known, however, that combining protein with carbohydrate slows down the release of sugars from a meal to the bloodstream, helps stabilise blood sugar levels and hence helps to control weight. Since the majority of overweight people have blood sugar problems, it would seem that combining protein with carbohydrate would be better, not worse for you. So, in my book, fish with rice is in, not out. This is the staple diet, along with fruits and vegetables, of many island and coastal people around the world, many of whom are exceedingly healthy and slim.

Dr. Hay’s approach, if followed strictly, is probably best for those with digestive problems and worst for those with blood sugar problems. I remain to be convinced that the benefits reported by those on food-combining diets aren’t largely due to changes in the kind of foods eaten, rather than their non-combination.

Myth number 6: it’s eating fat that makes you fat

We’ve already seen many examples of low-fat diets causing less weight loss than low-GL diets, and how cutting fat intake hasn’t worked. Yet most people still believe that the fat you eat turns into fat in your body. It isn’t just fat that makes you fat. All sugar or carbohydrates and all alcohol, as well as all fats, are turned by the body into glucose. (Protein, too, can be turned into glucose, but not easily.) Glucose, remember, is the fuel our bodies run on, and any excess is turned into fat. So, too much fat, protein, carbohydrate or alcohol can all lead to fat gain and weight gain. But the culprit is sugar and refined carbohydrates, not fat.

What is more, looking at fat alone, as far as your body is concerned there’s a world of difference between, say, 100 calories of saturated fat from meat and 100 calories of essential fat from seeds or fish. Saturated fat can only be burned for energy or stored as body fat. But essential fats are used by the brain, the nerves, the arteries and the skin, and they balance your hormones and boost immunity into the bargain. Only if there’s any left over does it make sense for the body to burn it or store it. Although the research is in its infancy, it appears that omega-3 fats EPA and DHA (which is what’s found in oily fish), and monousaturated fats (as in olive oil), as well as possibly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs – as found in coconut), are easier for the body to burn and less likely to be converted to body fat than animal-based saturated fats. So you are more likely to gain weight eating a diet full of animal-based saturated fat or damaged fat in fried or processed foods than you are eating essential fats in fish and seeds.

One big reason for this is that the body craves essential fats, precisely because it needs them to function. This craving means we are drawn to fats in general, and, as we’re surrounded by saturated and processed fats the minute we enter the average supermarket , we may well en up eating them. Yet, afterwards the body still keeps craving fat – so we eat more fatty foods. But, if you eat essential fat-rich foods such as fish and seeds, you’ll fully satisfy the craving and will end up eating less.

Does eating fat make you fat? Of course it does, in excess, but fat isn’t the main culprit. As we saw earlier, the number of calories we eat from fat has dropped, but it hasn’t curbed the obesity epidemic.

Low-fat diets arose out of the belief that fat is the prime culprit in weight-gain. But, as with high-protein diets, there are two potential problems with this approach. First, most low-fat diets are high in carbohydrates, so sugar and refined foods replace fatty food. This encourages a blood sugar problem that, in turn, makes it harder to maintain weight control. For this reason, very low-fat, high carbohydrate diets can often cause fatigue, mood swings and sugar cravings.

But the worst aspect of a low-fat diet is that it cuts out essential fats. Ann Louise Gittlemann is the former director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Centre in Florida, which emphasised low-fat eating. In her book, Beyond Pritikin, she notes certain conditions in people placed on low-fat diets, such as allergies, yeast problems, mood swings, a lack of energy, and dry skin, hair and nails, that she believed were caused by the lack of essential fats.

Although most of us could do with cutting back on fat, the real emphasis should be on reducing foods rich in saturated fats and devoid of essential fats (meat and dairy produce), and instead eating foods rich in essential fats (seeds, their oils and fish).

Myth number 7: the best way to lose a lot of weight fast is to eat a very low-calorie diet

I’m dead against very low-calorie diets and calorie counting. Not only does it encourage obsessive eating but also the maths are patently wrong.

Consider this simple example. A banana is approximately 100 calories. So, if you eat a banana fewer every day for a year you’d lose 36,000 calories. A pound of body fat is equivalent to around 4,000 calories. That means you’d lose nearly 4.5kg (10lb) in the first year, 22.7kg (3.5 st.) by the fifth year, and 45.3kg (7st.) after 10 years – and vanish completely after 15 years!

The calorie equation for exercise is equally ridiculous. Cycle vigorously for 15 minutes each day and you will lose 4.5kg (10lb) in the first year. Quite possibly. But 45.3kg (7st.) after 10 years? No chance. However, according to calorie theory, merely a banana every day undoes all that hard work anyway.

According to Dr Michael Colgan, nutritionist to many Olympic athletes, some athletes burn off more than 7,000 calories a day, but eat only 3,500 calories. Going by calorie theory alone, these athletes should completely disappeared by now.

An investigation by Dr M. Appelbaum of people living in famine in the Warsaw ghetto during World War One came up with the same contradiction. With an average calorie intake of 800 calories a day, and requirement of around 2,500 calories, a deficiency of 1,241,000 calories would have built up over two years. The average body has 13.6kg (2st.2lb) of fat, representing 120,000 calories, to dispose of. Even if all the fat were lost, what happened to the other million calories?

If you still believe it’s all down to calories, listen to this. The Sunday Times put two similarly overweight people on diets, one on an earlier version of the Holford Diet (called the Fatburner Diet, which had approximately 1,500 calories), and one on the Cambridge Diet (330 calories in those days). The volunteer on my diet lost more weight after six weeks.

The missing link in the low-calorie approach is metabolism – the process of turning the fuel in food into energy that the body can use, and burning off unwanted fat. As we’ve seen, people’s metabolism can vary considerably. Having a slow metabolism means youll turn more food into fat.

If you start out this way, a low-calorie diet can simply exacerbate the problem. With crash diets below 1,000 calories a day, the body sees this reduction in food as a threat, and slows down the metabolic rate dramatically. According to Dr John Marks from Cambridge University , “As weight falls, the metabolic rate always falls too.” In the short term you can lose around 3.2kg (7lb) of body fluid and, if you’re lucky, an absolute maximum of 900g (2lb) of body fat a week, which together could account for as much as 4.5kg (10lb) in two or three weeks. But the minute you go back to what you were eating before, the fluid returns. And so will the fat, because your metabolic rate has slowed down, meaning that you now need to eat less food to maintain a stable weight.

This ‘rebound effect’ is good business for mortuaries. A report by the National Institutes of Health, using the findings of a 22-centre study called the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, illustrated that people whose weight showed variability over six to seven years had a higher death rate. It’s also good for food-replacement programmes (using special drinks or bars in place of food), whose customers try crash-dieting on average three times a year.

The bottom line is that the body is intelligent. If you try to starve it, it will turn down your metabolic fire. If you work with its natural design you’ll burn unwanted fat easily.

Very low-calorie diets do more, however, than make you feel bad and gain weight afterwards. They can be dangerous, and are now required to provide at least 400 calories and 40g of protein per day for women and 500 calories and 50g of protein per day for men, to unsure the dieter’s body will not be breaking down muscle tissue or vital organs to meet calorie requirements. These diets do not encourage the re-education of eating habits. And they leave you very hungry.

The solution in the eyes of the people designing these diets is wheat bran, which fills you up while at the same time supposedly triggering weight loss. But does that make diets want to stick to the regime? To find out, I put ten people on a diet of 1,000 calories per day, plus high fibre, for three months. Only four lasted the course, with an average weight loss of a measly 1.4kg (3.25lb). The high drop-out rate is a reflection of how difficult it is to stick to a low-calorie diet for a long period of time.

In another study we put ten slimmers on high-fibre tablets – claimed to induce weight loss – for a period of three months. Five completed the three months with an average weight loss of 680g (1.5lb). Not very impressive.

However, some special kinds of fibre do assist weight loss, and having a high-fibre diet by eating wholefoods – not by adding wheat bran – is definitely good for you.

Myth number 8: stimulants help you to lose weight by reducing your appetite

It’s true that stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and the body’s own adrenalin all help to reduce your appetite. They do this by releasing stores of sugar held in your body. So, sure, you can lose weight by just drinking coffee – in the short term.

However, long-term use of stimulants messes up your blood sugar control. When your blood sugar dips, this leads to fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, sugar craving, weight gain and, of course, dependence on stimulants. The best way to control your appetite, and your cravings, is to eat a low-GL diet.

Myth number 9: slimming pills work

Every year there is a new pill or potion that claims to do it all for you – starch blockers, fat blockers, appetite supressants, slimming pills. Avoid them at all cost. You can’t cheat the body without paying a price.

Starch blockers inhibit the digestion of carbohydrate. The theory is that if you can’t digest it you can’t gain weight. But having a whole lot of undigested carbohydrate in the digestive tract is bad news. It feeds the wrong kind of bugs, causing bacterial and yeast infections as well as terrible gas.

Much touted as an answer to weight loss is a supplement called chitosan, sometimes called the ‘fat attractor’ or ‘fat magnet’, which inhibits the digestion of fat. It apparently works because it has a positive charge and attracts fats, which have a negative charge. Once bound together with chitosan, the fat is less likely to be absorbed and passes through the body, so it is claimed, and cholesterol levels decrease.

However, three studies have found no significant differences in either weight or cholesterol levels in people taking chitosan or a placebo. One study involved 30 overweight people who took chitosan or a placebo for 28 days while eating their normal diet. There was no difference in weight or cholesterol. The second study, involving 51 obese women, found that the chitosan group had slightly greater cholesterol reduction that the placebo group, but no difference in weight loss after eight weeks. Another study, with 68 obese men and women, found no improvement in weight or cholesterol.

The latest fat blocker to hit the market is a patented fibre extract from the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) called NeOpuntia. Although some studies do show that it binds to fat, and also lower cholesterol, I’ve not been able to find any evidence to date that it causes weight loss.

Drug companies are also cashing in on the weight-loss market with drugs that stop you from digesting fat. An example is Xenical, the drug name for a chemical called orlistat. This drug does actually work, in the sense that it does reduce fat absorption. The immediate potential side effects are gas with discharge, oily or fatty stools, oily discharge and an inability to control bowel movements. If that doesn’t put you off, more worrying are the effects on essential fats, so vital for heart, brain and skin, but whose absorption is also reduced when taking Xenical. Since essential fats are probably the most commonly deficient nutrient in the West, the last thing you want to swallow is something that stops you from using the little essential fat there is in your diet. Also, it probably isn’t a good idea to have undigested fat in you digestive tract.

Some slimming drugs are basically stimulants that suppress appetite and wire you up, inducing anxiety and hyperactivity. Similarly, if you drink 15 cups of coffee a day, it would also work in the short term. In the not-so-long term, stimulants mess up your body’s metabolism as well as your physical, mental and emotional health. Even if it sounds ‘natural’, avoid any herb or supplement whose active ingredient is caffeine – and that includes guarana.

Myth number 10: there’s nothing wrong with being overweight

The health risks associated with weighing more than you should accumulate as soon as you are as little as 3.2kg (7lb) overweight. With over half of people in Britain overweight and 20 per cent obese, that’s a lot of extra health risks.

And these are serious risks: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems, osteoporosis, cancer, polycystic ovaries and arthritis. One study showed that about 40 per cent of heart disease in women is linked to overweight, whereas others connect it to higher risks of breast cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and other complications. Diabetes is strongly linked to obesity – your risk of developing diabetes goes up 77 times if you’re obese. With over 200 million obese people in Europe alone, that’s a lot of sick people.

In fact, every year obesity causes the premature deaths of 30,000 people, costs Britain’s National Health Service 1 billion Pounds and is responsible for the loss of more than 20 million working days. According to Dr Susan Jebb of the Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre in Cambridge in the UK, “Obesity is a serious medical condition that reduces life expectancy by increasing the risk of many chronic and potentially fatal diseases.”

And with a thousand people becoming obese every day, we need to wake up to the fact that there’s a disaster in the making here – but only potentially. It only looks like a slippery slope: there is a way out.

Why the Holford Diet works where others fail

You can lose weight on a low-calorie diet, a high-protein diet, a low-carb diet or a no-fat diet. But you are stacking the odds against you. Why? Because…

  • You get short-term weight loss as your body burns its essential store of glycogen – that’s 2.25kg (5lb) gone, but it all comes back!
  • None of these diets satisfy your appetite better than the Holford Diet, so you have to fight hard to stay on them.
  • All of these diets are highly restrictive in some way – who wants to live without carbohydrates or fats?
  • None of these diets have been shown to trigger as much weight loss in the short term or long term as the Holford Diet.

In a trial comparing my original diet to Unislim (a low-calorie, high-exercise regime, with weekly support meetings), on average, the volunteers on my diet lost four times more weight than the other dieters: 6.3kg (1st.) in three months. Every single trial by third parties has proven highly successful, with many reports of additional benefits ‘concentration improved’, ‘no wobbly feeling’, ‘never felt hungry’, ‘easy to stick to’, ‘extra energy’, ‘thoroughly detoxified’. In these trials, not one person failed to lose weight. When GMTV compared the effects over six weeks of WeightWatchers (based on low-fat, low-calorie diet) with the Holford Diet, the WeightWatchers’ dieter lost 4kg (9lb) and the Holford dieter lost 4kg (9lb). The Holford dieter, however, had none of the benefit of weekly support group meetings as had the WeightWathcers’ dieter. The benefits of the Holford Diet, with its increased feeling of good health and well-being, are enough to encourage dieters to continue.

Although the Holford Diet might mean slightly fewer calories than you are eating now, slightly less fat and slightly more protein, the major emphasis is on quality, and there will be plenty of it – all delicious.


  • The major cause of the obesity epidemic is an increase in sugar and refined carbohydrate, not an increase in fat.
  • Different sources of calories have different effects on weight loss.
  • Eating a low-GL diet triggers the most rapid weight loss.
  • If you eat too few calories your metabolic rate slows down to conserve your fat, so you have to suffer to lose weight and will inevitably develop rebound weight gain.
  • High-protein diets stabilise your blood sugar levels and reduce your appetite, but they don’t work better than conventional diets and they’re not good for you in the long run.
  • Low-fat diets are bad for you because the body needs essential fats and keeps craving fats until it gets them.
  • The best diet for long-term weight loss is a low-GL diet, in which low-GL carbohydrates combined with protein and essential fats – in short, the Holford Diet.
Book Now

Book Appointment