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Diet and Exercise: If they can do it on Catalyst why can’t I?

So as we talked last time there was a very interesting but somewhat unhelpful catalyst program in which Dr Joanna McMillan helped a few individuals with their Type 2 Diabetes using weight and exercise. Over the next few posts we are going to break things down to  try and make this a bit more universally helpful.

But first let’s go through some basics because one of the things we most often hear is “but why is it so hard for me, what’s wrong with me?”. We have covered some of this before, but it is worth mentioning again.

Firstly remember that biochemistry is complicated and by their nature most news articles, shows and blog posts (including this one) are too simple to get the whole message across. One of my favourite quotes is “Biochemistry isn’t rocket science – it’s much, much more complicated”. this means that nothing works for everybody and things that involve very small groups or animals are unlikely to turn out to be helpful for most people.

Secondly with very few exceptions these things are not written by people who are knowledgeable in the field, or even interested in providing information. The goal of a newspaper is to sell newspapers and the goal of TV is to get you to watch the ads – unfortunately simple yet incorrect messages are the easiest way for them to do that. Both positive and negative stories should be taken with a grain of salt. Always look to original science and always remember that the context of the studies is very important.

The upshot of this is that people tend to get an unrealistic view of what is going on and then get unnecessarily down when things don’t turn out as amazing as on TV. Don’t give up, try something new, maybe that story doesn’t apply to your situation.

OK so what do we know then?

There are some things that we have a pretty good handle on through large scale and repeated trials. These are a good place to start:

  1. If you can do this then it really does help. It has been consistently shown that when people do change their diet and exercise to lose weight (even if it is done through bariatric surgery) then blood glucose control returns.
  2. It doesn’t seem to matter how. Whether you lose weight through calorie restriction, exercise or a sensible diet the benefits seem to be the same. So, if one thing doesn’t work for you try something else.
  3. Whatever diet works for you is the way to go. To be clear here I’m not advocating the stupid and dangerous diets that seem to be appealing to celebrities. Get diet advice from a professional but don’t believe anyone who says “this is the one thing that matters”
  4. Genetics play a role, but it isn’t a very big one. In a future article I’ll be covering this in detail but for now just know that a “balanced diet” is different for people based on their genetics and that no you are not fat because you have no control over your genes.
  5. If there is one thing that is (almost) universal it is the need for fibre. In almost all cases getting more fibre into your diet is a good thing. Ideally the fibre should come from high fibre foods (such as woody vegetables or NutriKane) but even simple supplements are helpful.
  6. Variety is a big part of being healthy. As a general rule eat more of lots of different fruits and vegetables and a little bit of high quality meat. The same thing every day (be it the same meat with not enough vegetables, or even just the same vegetables every day) limits your nutrient intake and can make life more difficult.
  7. Calories in calories out is not true: while it is broadly true that you need to eat less energy than you consume to lose weight – it isn’t just a straight numbers game. We know that hunger is not based around calories but rather nutrient profile so where you are getting your calories from is as important as how many there are.

We will delve more deeply into these points over the next few blog posts but for now, remember that you can take control and make a real difference if you take the time to sort through the complexity of it all.