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 Firstly, the study he cites is limited to WeightWatchers- a weight loss approach I feel is outdated.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.
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Could 3 minutes of exercise help make you fit?

Dr Michael Mosley tries high intensity training

It sounds like the holy grail. Forget the long, arduous weight sessions and hours on the treadmill. Just three minutes a week is enough to make “significant and measurable changes to [your] fitness”.

This is the promise of HIT, or High Intensity Training. (some people stick an extra I in there – HIIT – for Interval).

It’s actually very simple. You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds.

A couple of minutes to catch your breath, then another 20 seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then a final 20 seconds going hell for leather. And that’s it. [Repeated 3 times a week].

Back in February last year, Dr Michael Mosley starred in a BBC Horizon programme about his own attempts to use HIT after reading about it in some scientific studies. The belief is that because you are exercising at full blast with your entire body, HIT uses more of the glycogen stored in your muscles. This in turn increases your sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that signals to your body that it should store sugar. Diabetes is an insulin-related issue.

So what happened for Dr Mosley? He found that his insulin sensitivity was increased by 24% – coincidently the same amount as the average member of the HIT study.

So is HIT the only exercise you need? Well, no, unfortunately. HIT May increase your insulin sensitivity and (if your genes allow) improve your aerobic fitness. Both of  these will improve your general health and help you lose weight faster. But it’s hard – by definition it needs you to be working at your absolute maximum output. If you’re not already doing some form of exercise HIT could be a turn-off.

If you’re already exercising, try adding HIT to your routine – you can hardly complain that you can’t find the time…