Diets don't work: The chapters of weight loss

Adam Atkinson

Diets don't work: The chapters of weight loss

Our Diets don't work blog is by Ascot-based personal trainer Adam Atkinson. He offers health and fitness advice on our websites each month. Today, he looks at the chapters of weight loss...

The rocket ship

The rocket ship uses 95 per cent of its power and effort to get into orbit. But once it’s there, only 5 per cent of that effort is needed to stay there. You are just like the rocket ship. Weight loss requires some effort; to lose 2lbs a week, you need to eat 500 calories less than you need each day. However, maintaining weight is much easier. You just need to match the energy taken in with energy expended. Let’s say you need 2250 calories a day to maintain weight. To lose the 2lbs a week you need to lower that to 1750 a day. But once you hit target weight, you can return back to eating more food a day, back to around the 2100 mark. This will now be slightly less, as there’s slightly less of you to maintain, but close enough to be easily maintained.

Umbrella of overall calories

The media is full of what types of food you should be eating. But they are losing sight of the fact that overall calories are still the governing factor in weight loss. Yes it’s a bit more complex than that, but the need to undercut energy requirements (eat less than you need) remains the umbrella that covers everything else.

Carbohydrate is not the enemy

Again, the media has been full of bad press for carbohydrates and weight loss. But we need some carbohydrate. Or we die. The key is the right sort of carbohydrate. When thinking of carbohydrate, many people think about pasta, bread and potatoes. They might also think about sugar. But vegetables are carbs too! So are berries. And beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and peppers to name a few. These complex non-starchy vegetables are not just terrific for you, but they are difficult for the body to digest. They have a low GI (glycaemic index). Thus they don’t cause raised blood sugar levels, insulin is not needed so there is less chance of fat storage. These non-sugary/starchy carbs also contain fiber, helping speed up the metabolic rate. They contain vitamins and nutrients that we need, and also prevent disease.  They are essential to growing lean muscle mass.

But protein is important

Protein has no GI. It doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels, so won’t trigger insulin and won’t lead to fat storage. Thus, if you eat only protein and fat you will lose weight (provided you are taking in more energy than you need). This is why the Atkins diet works (although the down side is that protein alone will actually kill you, over time).  Protein is also vital to maintaining and increasing lean muscle mass and a vital ingredient to permanent weight loss, see below.

Fat dosen’t make you fat.

Like protein, fat has no GI. So no raising of blood sugars and less fat storage.  Although it does have more than twice the energy of protein and carbohydrate, in moderation fat is needed to maintain cell integrity, absorbs vitamins and is generally helpful health-wise. It also makes you feel fuller longer.

Chill – it’s the hormones

Although the umbrella of overall calories is still the governing factor, we are not machines, so weight loss is just a little more complex than this energy in – energy out equation. Survival mechanisms mean that if our body perceives stress, it will want to gain fat to ensure survival. This stress can take many forms; lack of sleep, work or family stress, poor diet and severe dieting will all cause a hormonal reaction designed to make us fatter. So chill, get some sleep, eat healthily and don’t do a silly diet.

 The food pyramid is wrong

Subject to huge agricultural and corporate pressure, the food pyramid is always under pressure to make lots of people happy. This and some random science from 1963 means that the 60 per cent carbohydrate, 30 per cent protein and 10 per cent fat guidelines have only served to make us a really fat nation. Instead, apply the chapters above and go for a third of each food group.


If weight loss is hard, then sustained weight loss is even harder. Be prepared to have a few bad weeks here and there. Your target goal is a series of battles; you won’t win all of then, but win most and success will be yours.

Get a set of accounts, use technology

To know how you are doing a set of accounts is vital. Like a shop, we need to see if you are in profit or loss, and how you got there. So a full set of accounts is important to make sure you hit the correct loss. So a detailed food diary has to be done. A manual note is a fine guide, but the more detailed the accounts the better. Fortunately modern technology has made this much easier and accurate. There are many apps and websites that can help. Good ones have a bar code scanner and a large database of foods, This makes working out what you had and how many calories it contained easy.  Using one for a week is great; you will learn a huge amount about food and calories and how to make smart choices.

Longer term app use is great too if it’s not obsessive or stressful for you.

Avalanche foods

Many foods that are high in sugar and starch (or both) will be converted into blood sugar quickly. This energy is quickly release but soon gone. This causes you to feel twice as hungry. These “avalanche” foods also have a mental aspect. They are a treat so you want to eat more. The best thing with avalanche foods is identify your unique ones and then practice avoidance.

The trade off

Smart phone apps also make it easy to start to plan trade offs. You will learn to have the three-bean salad for lunch as it means you can have that dark chocolate later. Try to be good in the week so that you have earned a nice meal out on Saturday. Plus dessert. We call this the 80/20 rule. Be good for 80 per cent of the time, the rest is yours. Learn to make trade offs.

Strength and HIIT

Exercise is important for weight loss, but the right type is paramount. Strength training is the real key – building lean muscle and tone increases the metabolic rate not just in training but all the time. Even when you are sleeping. Large compound movements that use lots of large muscle groups at once are best. Deadlifts, squats, push ups, inverted rowing will all help. HIIT (high intensity interval training) will also keep the metabolic rate stoked long after the session. It’s time effective too.

Watch the clock

Timing of meals is important. Eating most of your food later in the day is just at the wrong time. Taking on lots of energy just as you settle in for EastEnders means that there’s less energy is being burned, more being stored as fat. So try to eat when you are most active, not being lazy.

Adam Atkinson

07830 148300/0800 0407526

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