Why are we meant to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit?

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit? - BBC News

A simple, clear article about the history of the 10,000 step target set by many organisations – where did that come from, anyway?

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Your lizard brain and you

Supernormal Stimuli

This is a fantastic comic that hits home – it explains the history of the ‘argument’ you (big-brained you) are having with your subconscious every time you pass the biscuit tin.

Our instincts have served our bodies well for millennia. But they aren’t adapted to this world of plenty and abundance we’ve created. It’s only through reflection- using our conscious, determined mind- that we can rewrite our aims.

I found this comic referenced in an article by Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness, a fantastic resource for the more geekly-minded. His philosophy is great; he has adapted the terminology and approach of video games (levelling up, for example) to fitness as a whole. Worth a look.

The men who made us thin

As a follow-up to The Men Who Made Us Fat, the fairly-predictably-titled The Men Who Made Us Thin was, on the basis of its first episode, a disappointment.

Now, you may feel that as someone who writes about diet approaches and offers weight coaching, I’m biased. And I am. Totally. I’m biased because I believe the central proposition of the programme was faulty. The host, Jacques Peretti, stated that only around 5% of people who try to lose weight keep it off. But he misspeaks. Firstly, the study he cites is limited to WeightWatchers- a weight loss approach I feel is outdated. Secondly, only 5% of people keep all of their weight off. Of course dieters are likely to put a few pounds, a kilo or three, back on once they adjust to a weight maintenance lifestyle. But in Peretti’s argument, they’ve failed.

It’s not to say that the episode made no good points. One aspect that was hammered home repeatedly was that someone on a diet is starving their body and the body responds appropriately – attempting to conserve as much of that energy as possible, slowing down metabolism and increasing food cravings. This is well known; it’s the source of the ‘starvation mode’ urban myth.

It’s telling that many of the facts shared in the original programme were omitted from this. For example, the first study that was referenced was explained to be from Ancel Keysdemonised as the ‘fat maker’ in the last series as he unscientifically identified fat, rather than sugar, as the main cause of obesity. This wasn’t mentioned here. Equally, the mention of Atkins was carefully phrased; something like “his detractors said that his diet caused his heart attack” without clearing up that misconception.

The whole thing was made to sound calculated and distrustful- when in fact, you could sum it up in two sentences.

  1. Every diet works, if you stick to it.
  2. Stop using the diet’s rules and you’ll regain your weight.

Is obesity purely a willpower problem?

 

A fascinating article by David Berreby about obesity as a clinical issue. Are public policies that focus on personal responsibility helpful? Does that even matter?

The issue, rather, is whether the government policies and corporate business plans are in fact doing their best with the evidence they already have. Does the science justify assuming that obesity is a simple matter of individuals letting themselves eat too much? To the extent that it is, policies such as Japan’s mandatory waist-measuring […] will be effective. If, on the other hand, there is more to obesity than simple thermodynamics, some of the billions spent on individual-centred policies and products may be being wasted. Time, in that case, to try some alternative policies based on alternative theories, and see how they fare.

How to restart your weight loss

Sometimes, losing weight becomes harder than normal. Plateau, stall – there are lots of names for this, but sometimes it feels like the weight just won’t come off.
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Of course, that’s not true – there’s a way to get rid of the weight, but it will probably need a little change to your approach.

So, before you despair and think about giving up, run through this list.

Has this been a consistent problem for more than 6 weeks?

Weight loss isn’t a straight line; we all go up and down. This is especially true for women, where hormonal differences can cause weight gain. Weigh yourself on the same day at the same time each week. If your weight hasn’t changed for 6 weeks, you should start to look for other reasons.

Are you drinking enough water?

Amazingly, many of us confuse thirst for hunger. If you’re not getting enough water, you’re making it harder for your body to run and harder for you to avoid the snacks!

Are you getting enough sleep?

It’s not just that if you’re asleep, you’re not eating (although that’s a help). A recent study has shown that just one night of bad sleep leads people to be hungrier and to choose larger portion sizes. Here’s Why You Should Get More ZZZ.

Are you eating enough veg?

Green, leafy vegetables are low in calories and help you feel full after a meal.

Are you measuring your portions?

It’s too easy for portions to creep up as you get comfortable with your new style of eating. It’s usually gradual; a slightly-larger portion of Shreddies in the morning, or the swap of the soda water back to a swift half on Friday evening. Why not go back to weighing your food, just to make sure you’re eating what you think you are.

Are you eating something which only seems good for you?

Salad dressings, Greek yoghurt – there are many foods out there that are healthy in principle, but are easy to eat too frequently or too much. Always check the nutritional label!

Are you overeating for emotional reasons?

It’s something we all do from time to time, but it’s not really helpful. If you’re eating just to change your mood, see if there’s something you can do instead. I’ve taken to making and enjoying a big cup of tea.

Have you reduced your physical activity level?

Maybe you’ve gone back to taking the lift at work, rather than walking up the 4 flights of stairs. Amazingly, little things like this add up. Have you tried to walk 10,000 steps every day?

Are you weighing yourself consistently?

Remember the old rhyme, ‘a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter’? Well, if you drink a pint of water, that’s how much your weight will immediately increase! It’ll go down again as you go through the day, but that’s why we always recommend weighing in the same clothes at roughly the same time of day.

Have you already been losing for a while?

If none of the above apply, it’s possible that you’ve done so well that you’ve shrunk below your current calorie-count. When you started to lose weight, you were larger, and so needed more calories just to fuel yourself. Well guess what? You’re smaller than you were before, so now (cruelly) you need fewer calories to ‘run’. That unfortunately means you may need to reduce your intake to continue the good work. Try working out a reasonable calorie target here.

What the world eats – what does your food look like?

What the world eats -- a week's worth of groceries - Imgur

The Bainton family’s week, Cllingbourne Ducis, UK

 

Sometimes, it helps to lay it all out in front of you.

Food’s a funny thing. We all eat, but there are some significant differences from person to person and from culture to culture.

In 2008 husband-and-wife photojournalists published a book with a week’s worth of food from 25 families in 21 countries. TIME published 45 of these photos in three sets, linked below.

There’s an interesting insight into individual culture’s demons; the US’s prepared food, the UK’s reliance on snacks and Mexico’s love affair with Coca-Cola are all visible.

Does your weekly shop look more like this or like this?

Tapeworms and baby puke – what would get you to lose weight?

Would a nutrition-sucking parasite be your best approach to losing weight? What about ruining your appetite by carrying a small jar of vomit to sniff when you’re hungry?

It sometimes seems that despite the depressingly similar advice given by most in the industry, few have the guts to try something new or controversial.

Research shows that half of obese children become obese adults, compared to about 25% of non-obese children. And the cost to society is high: obesity-related healthcare makes up almost 20%  of all of [the USA’s] healthcare spending, for example.

So what happens if you get a dozen people from different walks of life (both related and unrelated to the weight loss industry and academia) and ask them to “explore the biological, behavioural, political and economic angles of obesity”? What if you ask them for their best ideas, regardless of whether they would be acceptable to the public?

You get a very thought-provoking 40min podcast, where no ideas are off the table. Are you willing to see if you could use any of their ideas?

Junk food – and why it’s so much worse than you thought

 An amazing article by Michael Moss in the New York Times – which was adapted from his book – recently showed in full, unflinching detail exactly how well the snack food industry knows its sins.

In summary – The food industry has been doing amazing science, for decades, to make terrible food more addicting, and to market it so it penetrates every potential meal you eat. It worked.

It’s a little longer than the reads I usually publish here so if you’d rather, there’s a nicely-summarised version at Buzzfeed, which turns the article into 23 points. I’d encourage you to read the full version.

The book and its article go to great lengths to avoid painting the industry as evil, but rather just dispassionate – responding to the demands of the market. Moss writes:

The public and the food companies have known for decades now that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiralling out of control?

It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.

This is one way to look at it. But Moss already spoke about how the industry is aware of the damage it is doing.

[Michael Mudd, a vice president of Kraft,] drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes.

“If anyone in the food industry ever doubted there was a slippery slope out there,” Mudd said, “I imagine they are beginning to experience a distinct sliding sensation right about now.”

Viewing snack manufacturers as corrupt drug pushers, like tobacco vendors can now be seen by many is an easy and possibly glib caricature. But more and more evidence is coming out regarding the real, systematic damage these food can do and the lack of understanding among consumers. There may be a time in the future where Big Sugar stands alongside Big Tobacco as one of society’s problem children.

Should we label food by exercise needed, not calories?

An interesting study led by Sunaina Dowray, a student at the School of Medicine of the University of North Carolina, looked into the impact on people’s habits if they were shown one of four different menus, giving them the food’s calorie count, the time it would take to walk those calories off, the distance it would take to burn them, or none of this extra information.

People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal with up to 200 kcals more than those with the exercise information.

This wasn’t in the real world- it was a hypothetical test online. But the results are promising; saving just 100 kcal twice a week could add up to over a kilo of weight loss over one year.

How little we move – and why you should stand up more often

Even if you do get off your bum a few times a week to get to the gym, the studies are starting to show that this might not be enough for some. Most of us now work in an office chair, drive our commute and slump in front of the telly at home. Even with our deliberate attempts to improve our exercise levels, we’re still falling short of what’s needed.

Even worse, sitting for too long is now considered another of the many things that may cause diabetes.

So what should we do? Fidget. By incorporating more of these smaller exercises into our days we can increase our overall activity level outside of the dedicated forms of “Exercise”. Cutely, the academics call this Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT.

Six ways to get more NEAT and be more active

Inspired by Travis Saunders, here are some good tips to getting more not-exercise exercise:

  1. Wear a pedometer – or a FuelBand, or an UP; something that can help you monitor your NEAT. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. There’s no need to start with a too-ambitious goal. Can you get your step-count (or Fuel, or whatever) to be a hundred or so more than last week?
  2. Take the stairs – you probably wait longer for the lift than it would take to walk a couple of flights of stairs.
  3. Active transportation – can you walk, cycle, bus or train it? If not, have you considered parking at the far end of the car park?
  4. Drink plenty of water – It’s good for slimmers anyway, but it also encourages you to get up – if only to refill your glass and to visit the loo!
  5. Forget the phone, have walking meetings – If you need to chat with someone in the office, walk over there. If it’s a longer chat, why not invite them to go for a walk? It always looks impressive on the West Wing…
  6. Walk during your lunch break – I do this regularly. Not only does it improve my mood and give me a proper break away from my desk, but it encourages me to find new lunch venues, too!