The Key to Exercising Sustainably

The US Department of Health & Human Services recommends a bare minimum of two and a half hours of  “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” and two sessions of “muscle-strengthening activities” per week. That’s all very well and good, but trying to adhere to such strict and measured guidelines is not a sustainable means of staying in shape for many of us. In fact, being subject to such perceived pressure can in fact have the opposite effect (i.e. “If I can’t do that I might as well do nothing”). I believe that in order to create sustainable exercise habits, you could benefit from ignoring government recommendations and focusing on something else altogether.

The first thing I’ll say is this: even if you know that you’re not doing enough exercise, don’t worry about it for the moment.

You may be wondering why I advocate such an approach. My reasoning is simple: the healthy enough way is to create habits that last a lifetime. If it takes you six months to get to the point where you’re doing “enough” exercise (as deemed by the authorities), so be it. Trying to go from doing little or no exercise to the prescribed amount instantly will almost certainly end in failure (whether that failure is immediate or weeks or months down the line), so it’s best that you adopt a more gradual approach.

Start by moving more. Don’t put any pressure on yourself by setting quantifiable targets. Exercising sustainably is linked intrinsically to the habits you form, and habits are formed through repetition. It’s far easier to repeat something you enjoy (and thus create a new habit) than impose an exercise regime that fills you with nothing but dread.

The thing with moving more is that it can have an exponential effect. Once you’ve got into the swing of things, you may want to move even more. If you’ve been taking the occasional stroll around your neighborhood, you might be inclined to go further afield and find somewhere scenic to spend an afternoon rambling. That’s the beauty of allowing yourself the time to build sustainable habits: when the pressure’s off and you’re focusing on moving in ways you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like a burden. Quite the opposite.

Of course, if six months pass and you’re doing no more exercise than you did before then you need to give yourself a kick up the ass. However, don’t berate yourself for not going from 0-60mph in an instant. We’re playing the long game here.

Why Yo-Yo Dieting Can Be Healthy

In a recent post I argued that there is no reliable evidence for the negative health implications of yo-yo dieting. Today I want to go one step further by arguing that yo-yo dieting can in fact be good for you – perhaps not in the strictest biological sense, but in terms of your general health and wellbeing.

I like to think of health from a holistic point of view.

If I can’t sleep, I have a health issue. If I I can’t breathe properly, I have a health issue. If my arm drops off, I have a health issue. These potential issues all relate to my overall health. Health is not just about whether I’m more likely to have a heart attack because I gained 5lbs.

My holistic approach to health is why I think yo-yo dieting can promote good health (i.e. good physiological and psychological condition). Because let’s face it: we all like to treat ourselves. We all like to eat the food we love. Even the most gluten-free of vegans out there might eat a chocolate bar if it were somehow revealed that there were no associated weight-gain or physiological health issues.

So when I think of my own tendency to yo-yo diet, I don’t just think about the physiological health implications (although as I have argued previously, yo-yo dieting hasn’t been linked to any proven negative physiological health implications) – I also think about how my eating habits affect my overall physiological and psychological state.

Yo-yo dieting allows me to eat whatever I want (within reason), most of the time. When I start to get a little more “malleable” than I would like, I know it’s time to cut back, but I know that it’s not forever. It’s how I operate and it works for me. Furthermore, I think a lot of people out there would benefit greatly from an adjusted approach to weight management that doesn’t involve seeing yo-yo dieting as the enemy.

I’m happier when I get to eat what I want. Furthermore, I’m perfectly happy to go on a relatively short-term restrictive diet in the knowledge that it’s the price I pay for being able to eat what I want most of the time. That means I’m happy all the time, adhering to a gastronomic way of life that has been in no way proven to be unhealthy. What could be wrong with that?

Why the Calories In, Calories Out Argument is False (How to Eat Well and Live Right)

Back in 2009 I did quite a lot of running and followed a pretty strict diet.

I would calorie count down to the last gram of food, keeping a detailed log of everything I ate. It was utterly ridiculous. However, it seemed to be effective – over the course of nine months or so I lost nearly 30lbs and was the lightest I have ever been in my adult life.

It doesn’t mean that my method was optimum though. After all, if you’re running 20–30 miles per week and eating less than you normally would, the weight is bound to fall off you. Back then I subscribed to how I think most people interpret the calories in, calories out theory (i.e. that all calories are equal in terms of their effect on weight gain). Fortunately, I have since seen the light.

In this post I want to reveal the fallacy that is calories in, calories out; suggest that you do away with calorie counting altogether; and finally, offer up a more enjoyable, sustainable, and intuitive method for weight loss.

Defining the Calorie

The calorie (or to be precise, the kilogram calorie or kcal) is a unit of energy that was defined by the French physicist and chemist Nicolas Clément in 1824. It is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

But what does this have to do with food? Well, the human body requires energy in order to operate. Everything from brain activity to blood flow requires energy, which is where the calorie comes in.

Conventional thinking assumes that the interaction between food and the human body is as follows:

Calories In – Calories Expended = Calorie Deficit/Surplus

For example, let’s say your body supposedly requires 2,000 calories every single day to keep things ticking. If you consume 1,800 calories then you will be at a calorific deficit and the body will seek the necessary extra energy from another source (such as your fat reserves or your muscle mass). Conversely, if you consume 2,200 calories, your body will store the surplus energy as fat.

Many popular diets are based upon nothing more than creating a calorific deficit. How so? Well, a pound of fat is often said to be equivalent to approximately 3,500 calories. Therefore, it is popularly argued that if you enforce a deficit of 3,500 calories over the course of a week, you will lose a pound of fat.

It’s a simple concept and makes dieting straightforward (in theory) and highly marketable. If you want to lose weight, simply consume fewer calories (and eat our ‘specially formulated’ and wildly overpriced meals while you’re at it).

However, the theory is fallacious at best. For those of us who are willing to think beyond the calorie, a greater understanding of the effect of food on the body can enable us to lose weight without putting ourselves through grueling calorie-controlled diets.

Exploring the Three Main Nutrients

Calories are all alike, whether they come from beef or bourbon, from sugar or starch, or from cheese and crackers. Too many calories are just too many calories.

~ Fred Stare, founder and former chair of the Harvard University Nutrition Department.

While Fred may have a point in general terms – i.e. you shouldn’t eat too much food – this point of view simplifies the dieting equation to a damaging degree.

The theory that the number of calories you consume versus the calories you expend ultimately determines weight loss (or gain) is false. In reality, the equation is far more complicated than that, due to the fact that human beings are incredibly complex biological machines. If you take more than a moment to contemplate the notion that a unit of energy as simplistic as the calorie can precisely determine the makeup of your body, you’ll realize just how absurd conventional thinking is.

In reality, the way that different types of food influence the chemical reactions within our body has a huge impact on how many of the calories your consume will ultimately be converted into fat.

Let’s start by considering the three main nutrients we consume: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.


Protein contains about 4 kcals per gram.

You’ll find it in animal sources such as meat, fish, and dairy products. However, protein can be found in a wide variety of other sources such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Protein is the second most abundant molecule in the body (after water). It is required for a number of functions within the human body – everything from building and repairing muscle tissue to replicating DNA. Protein cannot be wholly synthesized by the human body and as such is essential for life.

The body is unable to store protein indefinitely. Excess protein can be converted into alternative energy sources (such as glucose) or is excreted in urine. These processes require energy.


Fat contains about 9 kcals per gram.

It is actually a general term for a number of different compounds that share key characteristics. In terms of what you eat, fats are found in a wide variety of sources such as oils, butter, and nuts.

Fat has a number of functions within the body. It is most commonly understood to be a source of energy (within fat reserves), but it is also vital for the absorption of certain vitamins, maintaining healthy skin and hair, maintaining body temperature, and even providing shock protection for the body’s organs.

The ingestion of fat is largely unnecessary for life. The human body only requires two types of “fatty acids”: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Foods such as fish, eggs, certain oils, and leafy vegetables contain these essential fats. Theoretically, you could take omega 3 and omega 6 supplements and live without any additional fat in the diet (although I wouldn’t recommend it).

Fat can be stored within the body, then converted into glucose and used at any point in the future as an energy source.


Carbohydrates (or ‘carbs’) contain about 4 kcals per gram.

You’ll find highly concentrated carbohydrates in a wide range of refined foods such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, candy, and chocolate. You can also find it in unrefined foods such as beans, tubers, and rice.

Carbohydrates are typically broken down into glucose to initially be used as energy in the body. They are what your body will first call upon when it wants to do something beyond the functions that require protein or fat. That’s why runners “carb-load” before a marathon – to maximize the amount of energy stored within the body for the huge effort ahead.

In simple terms, carbohydrates are completely unnecessary for life; you can exist entirely without them. If you consume no carbohydrates, your body will synthesize the necessary glucose from the available protein and/or fat in the body. That said, carb-heavy foods (such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits) offer up a wealth of nutrients that the body does need to survive and thrive.

Dispelling the Calories In, Calories Out Myth

If you’ve got this far then your intuition may have already convinced you that the calories in, calories out theory is a fallacy. While conventional thinking states that your body will treat a calorie of protein like a calorie of fat like a calorie of carbohydrate, nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s start with protein. Its primary function is to make your body fit and strong. Protein is not a good source of energy – it has to go through a process of synthesis to be turned into glucose, while the rest is lost in the urine. Furthermore, a higher percentage of calories are lost during the digestion of protein when compared to fat and carbohydrates. On a theoretical level, this effectively means that eating 100 grams of protein will make you no fatter than eating 80 grams of carbohydrates.

Furthermore, it has been argued that protein increases satiety, increases the metabolic rate, prevents muscle wastage, and promotes muscle growth. Incidentally, more muscle requires more protein.

But what about fat? While it may be demonized by dieters across the world, fat is necessary for human life, and some fats are good for you in moderation – especially if you stick to the essential fatty acids. You need fat.

What you don’t need are carbohydrates. ‘Simple’ carbs (e.g. refined sugar, refined grains, fruit juice) just can’t wait to get you fat. Excess carbs are converted into fat and stored for later usage. The only problem is that you probably won’t use that spare fat, as you’ll be too busy consuming more carbohydrates.

When it comes to carbs, your body is living in the past, when food was scarce and excess fat stores were a good thing. It doesn’t know that you’ll have just as many carbohydrates available to you tomorrow as you did today.

While I won’t suggest that you eat zero carbohydrates (as I’ve already said, certain carb-heavy foods are rich in vitamins and minerals), if you reduced your consumption of carbs, you’d probably be far healthier than you are now, and at no risk to your health.

Intuitively, one might assume that a ‘normal’ person embarking on a high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diet would lose weight. But how does that relate to the calories in, calories out myth? For instance, would someone eating the exact same amount of calories but with a far greater consumption of carbohydrates experience the same amount of weight loss?

Scientific Evidence Against Calories In, Calories Out

A number of recent studies have concluded that a diet low in carbohydrates can result in greater fat loss when compared to alternative (yet calorically comparable) diets.

In 2003, a study conducted by Green et al. at Harvard University observed participants over twelve weeks as they followed one of three diet regimes:

  1. A low fat diet
  2. A low carbohydrate diet with the same amount of calories
  3. A low carbohydrate diet with 300 more calories per day

The first group lost 17lbs on average, the second group lost 23lbs, and the third group lost 20lbs. Greene concluded that, “There does indeed seem to be something about a low-carb diet that says you can eat more calories and lose a similar amount of weight”.

In fact, the study proved the calories in, calories out argument wrong in two separate ways. Firstly, diets with identical calorie amounts resulted in drastically different outcomes. Secondly, the third diet’s total excess of 25,200 calories compared to the other two diets should have resulted in a net weight gain of 7.2lbs, as opposed to a loss of 3lbs (compared to the first diet) or a gain of just 3lbs (compared to the second diet).

In 2004, a study conducted by Yancy et al. for the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded as follows:

Compared with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet program had better participant retention and greater weight loss.

So what you eat (rather than simply how much you eat) can not only affect your weight, it can also affect the likelihood of you sticking to a particular eating regime.

Anecdotal Evidence Against Calories In, Calories Out

I am walking, talking evidence of how fallacious the calories in, calories out theory is.

I’ve already mentioned that I married a high-mileage running routine with a calorie-controlled diet in 2009 and lost a lot of weight as a result. What I haven’t mentioned is that in the latter part of 2009, I continued running but abandoned my diet altogether. I started eating whatever I wanted, which included a lot of Domino’s and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

But I continued to lose weight – right up until the end of October when I stopped running. It seemed that no matter what I ate, the fat was still dropping off me.

The potential reasons for this are myriad, but one particularly strong argument is that my metabolism had been heavily boosted by the running. In short, I was able to eat more food than I could have before (even with the calories burned through running accounted for) and lose more weight than I otherwise would have.

In other words, my body was changing the way it dealt with the calories that entered my body.

Examples of such outcomes can be found with ease. Consider this: when Ray Cronise, a material scientist at NASA, heard that Phelps consumed 12,000 calories per day, he couldn’t believe his ears. The calories in, calories out theory told him that to do so and not become morbidly obese simply wasn’t possible. The following excerpts are from The Four Hour Body:

In order for Phelps to burn those kinds of calories above and beyond what his resting metabolic rate was…he would have to sustain more than 10 hours of continuous butterfly every day. Not even he can do that.

After a great deal of thought Cronise hit upon a theory: that the thermal load of the water was affecting Phelps’ metabolism.

The effect was the same as pouring hot coffee into a metal cup instead of a ceramic mug; the former loses calories (heat) much faster.

Cronise discovered that while the simple theory of calories in, calories out might technically be correct (in its most literal form), the popular interpretation of the theory is completely wrong.

Why? Because it assumes that calories can only follow two pathways once they enter the body: exercise or storage. The concept of excretion (through heat or waste) is largely ignored.

Mountain climbers lose enormous amounts of weight while scaling the tallest peaks in the world because their body needs far more energy simply to exist. Extreme temperatures can have a drastic effect on how calories are expended by the body (and thus, how much fat is stored).

Alternatively, we could talk about the astonishing number of other factors that can affect your weight, such as the amount of sleep you get, the times at which you eat, and the type of exercise that you do.

While these examples aren’t directly relatable to the main argument of this article (that protein, fat, and carbohydrates are all treated very differently by the body), they serve to highlight that the calories in, calories out theory is hopelessly flawed. While you can lose weight by simply adopting a calorific deficit, there are far easier (and more enjoyable) ways to lose weight.

What This Means for Being Healthy Enough

It makes logical sense that a diet high in the nutrients that the body needs most would be good for you. But what does this mean for us? Should we all immediately jump on high protein, low carbohydrate diets?

I’ll say this first: do whatever you want. Don’t feel that you have to get sucked into something like the Atkins diet (which, incidentally, is not a diet I would ever recommend). If you replace your daily chocolate bar with a chicken drumstick then that in itself is an improvement worth of applause (and should result in net weight loss in the long term).

The Healthy Enough way is not to encourage eating regimes that are difficult to sustain. If you take anything away from this article, I want it to be that even the smallest of changes can help you to lose weight in the long run. My point in the context of this article is that you don’t even need to reduce your caloric intake or even worry about how many calories you are actually consuming – just eating different things can help you to lose weight.

With the above in mind, let’s look at three simple adjustments you can make to what you eat that will enable you to lose weight.

1. Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast

Replace your cereal, bagel, and/or toast with bacon and eggs (or a protein-rich equivalent).

Seriously – starting the day with bacon and eggs can be good for you. Just try it for a couple of weeks and see if your weight loss increases (or weight gain reduces).

2. Eat Protein-Rich Snacks

I personally like a couple of slices of smoked salmon in the late afternoon. It’s high in protein and essential fats, and is delicious to boot.

You can try anything you like though – pre-cooked chicken breast, deli meats (make sure you get the good stuff), cheese, and boiled eggs work too.

3. Replace Carbs With Lesser Evils

One of my favorite things to do with curry is first halve the rice and double the amount of chicken, then halve the rice again and add some broccoli or cauliflower to the mix. You’ll still be eating the same mass of food (i.e. your eyes will still see a full plate and tell your brain that you’re not trying to starve yourself), but the carb hit will be much lower.

Alternatively, you can do complete swaps. I really like lentils in place of rice. You can try cauliflower mash in place of potatoes (it’s surprisingly good, especially when you throw in some salt, pepper, butter, and mustard), and spaghetti squash in place of pasta.

What About Candy (and Other ‘Sinful’ Treats)?

The biggest problem I have with low carb diets is the lack of chocolate. I love chocolate.

For me, it can’t be substituted. While I can cut out potatoes from a meal and not feel like I’ve cheated myself, missing out on chocolate is a pretty big deal for me. Nothing beats it.

So my advice here is simple: if you can make sustainable changes to your diet and lose weight despite still eating ‘sinful’ foods, you’re golden. Remember – if you’re losing just a little weight week by week on a sustainable diet, you will keep losing weight for a long time, and you will eventually get to where you want to be. You should be running a marathon, not a sprint.

If you’re not losing weight then you will have to consider making changes. However, I would still not advise that you cut out candy from your diet in the long term – that’s a relapse waiting to happen. Here are a few things you can try instead:

  1. Reduce your consumption. This doesn’t have to be dramatic. Say you buy a candy bar; before you start eating it, throw a small portion of it in the trash. You’ll feel good about yourself for doing so and you’ll be reducing the carb hit.
  2. Cut treats out sporadically. Resolve to take a day off here, a week off there – temporary periods of time where you know your willpower will hold out.
  3. Try alternative treats. Experiment with different (yet still appealing) snacks that are higher in fat and/or protein, but lower in carbs.

Is There Still a Place for Calorie Counting?

Proponents of calorie counting will argue that even if the calories in, calories out theory is imperfect, it can still be used as part of a weight loss program.

I won’t disagree with that – after all, I’ve personally counted calories to lose weight in the past. However, I have never been on a calorie restricted diet that has satisfied me. Going hungry or dissatisfied is not the Healthy Enough way, which is one of the main reasons that I do not recommend calorie-controlled diets.

If you count calories but still consume a diet that is high in carbohydrates, not only will your weight loss be less efficient than it would on a low carb diet, but you will also find yourself going hungry. This is due to the decreased effect on satiety that is brought about by the consumption of carbohydrates (when compared to protein or fat).

It’s exactly why you can eat a hefty portion of ice cream with little trouble but can’t so easily eat an enormous slab of steak. In simple terms, the ingestion of carbohydrates leads to a spike in blood sugar that leads the body to want more of the same. This same reaction does not occur in the body when you consume protein or fat, which both release glucose into the system in a far less impactful manner.

In my opinion, it is far better to cut down your consumption of carbs and carry on eating without concern for calories. If that doesn’t result in weight loss then you should take another look at the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming – it is probably still quite high.

Put simply, if you live off a low carb diet you will almost certainly not gain weight (regardless of how much you eat). Eating enough food to satisfy yourself and keep hunger at bay while maintaining or losing weight is definitely how we like to do things at Healthy Enough.

Forget Calories

I’d like to wrap things up by formally inviting you to forget about calorie counting. It’s an onerous and ultimately misleading method of weight management.

Instead, think intuitively and practically about what you eat. While I love carbs, the decision to have two breasts of chicken and half the amount of rice with my curry is a no-brainer. I like rice and want it in my meal, but I love chicken and have no problem having less rice for more meat. On a similar note, starting the day off with bacon and eggs is highly satisfying and can keep me going all the way through to lunch.

Understanding the effect of different nutrients on your body should give you pause for thought, which can be enough to discourage you from gorging on carbohydrates. Next time you pick up a chocolate bar, take a moment to realize that your body may convert every last bite into fat and send it off to some unsightly place on your body. Yes, it’s damned tasty (and I’m not going to tell you to put it down), but eating it is not really a natural act. If you feel comfortable with grabbing a chicken drumstick instead, be my guest. Your body will do far more good with it.

In conclusion, the more educated you are on what happens to the food you eat once it’s in your body, the more likely you are to eat right. Forget about calories – just be mindful of the kind of foods you eat. The rest will follow.

Change the Way You Think About Exercise in Three Minutes

Most of us don’t like the word “exercise.” It is associated with many negative connotations such as pain, suffering and toil. A lifetime of trying to exercise has led us to hate the very notion of it. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn to love the idea of exercise in just the time it takes to read the rest of this article.

Let’s start by defining exercise.

Exercise is not running a treadmill for an hour. It is not picking up the nearest weight at a gym and doing twenty bicep curls. These are types of exercise but they do not represent the bounds of exercise.

The dictionary definition of exercise is as follows:

Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.

I hate that definition and reject it entirely. For example, you can exercise for the sheer love of whatever activity you’re doing – it doesn’t have to be about sustaining or improving health and fitness. Let’s not put that pressure on ourselves. Let’s not stick a label on exercise and make it something to aspire to (or feel pressured by).

Instead, let’s define exercise as follows: anything that elevates your resting heart rate. For the record, that involves just about anything beyond sitting or lying down and doing nothing.

By my definition, just about anything you do in life is exercise. And that is incredibly liberating. No longer do we have to think about “physical effort carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness” when it comes to exercising – we can just think about moving more.

That opens up a world of possibilities. After all, there are undoubtedly a huge number of things you like (or don’t mind) doing that involve moving, which means that you just have to focus on one simple fact: if you do more of those things, you’ll be healthier.

If you make a conscious effort to engage in more physical activities that you enjoy, you’ll get fitter and healthier without engaging in any prescribed exercise. That’s the reality.

So take this opportunity to move more, in whatever way you enjoy the most. Don’t worry about the numbers of calories burned or whether your heart rate is poised perfectly within the so-called fat burning zone. Just enjoy moving more.

One Simple Way to Eat Fewer Unhealthy Snacks

For many of us, our diets fail in-between meals. We might eat quite healthily when it comes to mealtime, only to be let down by unhealthy snacking in the afternoon and evening. With that in mind, logic dictates that if you can modify your snacking behavior, you can improve your diet and lose weight. In this article I have one simple suggestion that can help you do just that.

The key is to make yourself work for it. Don’t ban yourself from eating the snacks that you love, but make the process of getting your hands on them more difficult.

Will this really help? Science says yes. It’s all to do with convenience.

In an article on overeating on This Emotional Life, Suzanne Phillips, PsyD referenced a handful of studies that hammer home the effects of convenience on eating (paraphrased):

In one study, a dish of chocolate kisses was moved over the course of weeks to different locations in secretaries’ office: the corner of the desk, the top of the left hand drawer and on a file cabinet six feet from the desk. It was discovered that the further the dish was from people, the less they ate – a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time they had to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

In another study a cooler full of free ice cream was placed in a cafeteria. It was in the same place every day, but on some days the glass lid was left open and on other days it was closed. On the closed lid days only 14% of the diners had ice cream compared with 30% on the days it was left open.

We’re talking about a simple exercise in psychology: if you’re getting a craving for a particular snack then put yourself in a position where you have to put effort into get hold of it. Don’t make it as simple as opening a cupboard – make it so that you have to walk or drive to your local store.

That little extra effort required may be enough discouragement to convince you not to have the snack (or choose a healthier alternative that you already have in the house). Worst case, you’ll burn a few more calories making the trip to get the snack!

If you want a more challenging version of this and your local store is a semi-considerable distance away (say a mile or so), resolve to walk to the store if you want to get a snack. Your net calories consumed will be lower.

Why You Should Skip Breakfast

We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you are willing to divorce yourself from the idea that breakfast is a necessity, you can adjust your diet to better suit your body’s needs and lose weight at the same time.

Cutting out an entire meal can seem pretty daunting, especially considering that breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day. Past studies have claimed that eating breakfast provides many benefits for health and weight loss: it boosts your metabolism, prevents you from overeating, positively affects your mood and more (depending upon who you speak to).

However, these claims are typically based upon dated, small-scale studies that follow spurious lines of reasoning. More recent studies have concluded that breakfast is no more important than any other meal when it comes to weight loss, and that skipping it can in fact lead to weight loss.

That shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, given that breakfast, lunch and dinner are all relatively modern concepts. According to food historian Caroline Yeldham, the Romans only ate once per day and the British “social classes” didn’t start eating breakfast in the until the 17th Century. And we can of course go back to early man, who ate whenever it was possible to do so – not at set times.

Several studies have concluded that by skipping breakfast, you are likely to consume far less over the course of the day. One such study measured a net calorific deficit of 400 calories per day amongst subjects that skipped breakfast. That’s 2,800 calories per week, which is approximately equivalent to 0.8lbs of fat.

The old argument that you make up for lost calories from skipping breakfast later in the day has been discounted. Although you are likely to consume more calories later in the day than you would have otherwise, the net result will be a calorific deficit.

I haven’t even mentioned the benefits of “fasting” for 12-18 hours that are also connected with skipping breakfast, but that’s a topic for another day.

However, what about the negative side effects commonly attributed to skipping breakfast, such as hunger pangs and decreased alertness? While it is true that you are initially likely to experience what you consider to be hunger pangs, your brain is fooling you. After all, you can survive for weeks without any food; I think you can manage a morning. The “hunger pangs” you feel are nothing more than your body expecting food out of sheer habit. Go without breakfast and after a period of time (possibly just days), the hunger pangs will reduce to a more than tolerable level. I say this from personal experience.

As for decreased alertness, some studies on children have argued that skipping breakfast can lead to decreased cognition and academic performance, but findings are sketchy at best. A systematic review of 45 studies conducted between 1950 and 2008 concluded as follow:

The evidence indicates that breakfast consumption is more beneficial than skipping breakfast, but this effect is more apparent in children whose nutritional status is compromised … Few studies examined adolescents. Studies of school breakfast programmes suggest that such interventions can have positive effects on academic performance, but this may be in part explained by the increased school attendance that programmes encourage.

So if you’re a malnourished child who is likely to skip school if you don’t have breakfast, you should probably eat breakfast. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it.

I’ll conclude with a simple suggestion: try skipping breakfast for a few days and see how it goes. Give your body a chance to adjust. Drink plenty of fluids to combat your hunger pangs and look forward to an even more satisfying lunch. It could be all you need to do to lose weight.

If that seems too daunting, check this instead: How to Lose Weight Without Dieting [Breakfast Edition].

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting [Breakfast Edition]

According to Science Daily, the number one reason why diets fail is because dieters underestimate the amount of calories they consume. In my opinion, the number one reason why diets fail is because dieters want to eat things that most diets don’t permit. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to lose weight that don’t involve giving up your favorite foods. In this post we’re going to take a look at breakfast.

First, let’s focus on when you eat breakfast. Out of habit (or what might be perceived as necessity), many of us eat breakfast soon after waking.

I propose an alternative approach based upon intuition: eat breakfast when your hunger demands it. Not many of us jump out of bed with our stomach rumbling, and if you do experience hunger, it can often be sated by a glass of water or your morning brew of choice.

Logic dictates that the later you eat breakfast, the more sated you will be later into the day, which means that you are likelier to eat fewer calories throughout the course of the day.

In fact, you could you do yourself a lot of good by skipping breakfast altogether, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now let’s consider what you eat for breakfast. The clear winner is protein. In an article on WebMD about hunger-curbing foodsPurdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, PhD had the following to say about the satiety benefits of protein:

You are most likely to feel fuller after eating protein than other nutrients, including fiber, and one of the theories behind why higher-protein diets work well with weight loss is because it helps you not [to] feel hungry.

That statement was on the back of two studies from Purdue in which it was argued that you are likely to feel less hungry after eating a protein-rich breakfast when compared to an equivalent meal made up of carbohydrates.

I’m sure we can all think of a protein-rich breakfast meal that we would love to eat. Now you can do so without guilt, safe in the knowledge that it can help you to lose weight. When I do eat breakfast (which is pretty rare these days), my meal of choice is grilled bacon and poached eggs.

Speaking of eggs, in a study presented at the 2007 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss between two groups of dieters. The first group ate bagels for breakfast, the second group ate eggs. Researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD concluded the following:

Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks, as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83% [and] reported higher energy levels.

When people eat [sic] eggs, rich in protein, at breakfast, they felt more satisfied and consumed fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who ate a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel.

The moral of the story is this: a high protein breakfast helps to keep you full and, by extension, can help you to lose weight. Couple that with delaying your first meal of the day and your chances of weight loss will be given a nice boost.

The Happy Truth About Yo-Yo Dieting

Yo-yo dieting gets a bad rap from most people. It has been linked to everything from lower life satisfaction to increased risk of mortality. As someone whose weight has fluctuated by around 30lbs during adulthood, I was keen to discover whether yo-yo dieting is as deadly as many claim it is. The truth I discovered was both enlightening and relieving.

Here’s the “bad” news: there are plenty of studies that link yo-yo dieting with various unpleasant conditions. I’ve already mentioned lower life satisfaction and increased risk of mortality, but you don’t have to look too far to find arguments for yo-yo dieting’s contribution towards increased abdominal fat, high blood pressureheart disease and cancer. I could go on.

The good news is that all of the above mentioned studies and opinions are lacking in conclusiveness or are simply not worth the paper they’re written on.

Take a 1996 article by Robert W Jeffery in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as an example. While the article concludes that “all patterns of weight change other than stable weight appear to be associated with increased mortality risk,” that rather bold statement is qualified by the following:

A key requirement for inferring causality from observational data is … lacking in the current research literature, namely biologic plausibility. To date, no mechanisms have been identified … that might mediate an association between weight variability and ill health.

Although epidemiologic data on weight variability and health are intriguing, they are at present insufficient to alter public health recommendations regarding weight control.

In other words, Jeffery admits that while his findings are statistically intriguing, they prove nothing. He recognizes that correlation does not necessarily lead to causation.

Jeffery’s passion for due scientific and statistical process puts a new light on any yo-yo dieting study you care to mention. All of the arguments I have found the effects of yo-yo dieting are laden with qualifying statements – words like “appears” and “may be.” Just about anything can be argued as potentially true if you qualify your statement appropriately, but doing so does not make it true.

In short, having researched this topic at length I can find no conclusive evidence to support any arguments for the negative health implications of yo-yo dieting. And although conventional wisdom rails against the concept of yo-yo dieting, there are a number of studies in circulation that confidently state it is not proven to be unhealthy nor make future weight loss any more difficult. Here’s a particularly compelling statement courtesy of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

…weight cycling [is not] associated with an impaired ability to lose weight. Moreover, we did not find that weight cycling was associated with increases in depression, disordered eating … the percentage of weight as fat, or abdominal obesity.

I’ll conclude with the final statement in Jeffery’s article:

Maintaining a lean body weight throughout life is recommended. Weight loss in those who are obese and in those with obesity-related health conditions is also warranted.

Those are the obvious ideals that we know we should work towards. However, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if our weight fluctuates within reasonable bounds.