Watching your weight

A look at diet stories in the media…

It’s reckoned over half of us are on a diet at any one time so it’s not surprising that weight loss articles and features are so popular. But worryingly there’s been a spate of features where fasting and very low calorie diets seem to be being promoted. Watching your weight

Today another one – a fascinating article about how a reporter lost almost a stone eating Marks and Spencer Simply Fuller Longer range of foods. I think this is a great idea to kick-start a healthier eating plan because you don’t have to think about your eating and calories are counted for you. But I was shocked by the total ‘recommended calorie count’ of this diet – which according to this feature, is a mere 1050 calories a day. Perhaps this is just the food and doesn’t take into account drinks. It doesn’t say anything about beverages, but four teas or coffees a day with one sugar and milk comes in at just under 200 calories. However, if this is truly the amount of calories anyone is expected to survive on a day then it is dangerously low.

A few months ago and for the first time in my life, I went on a ‘diet’. And not once did I drop below eating 1700 calories a day – in fact I discovered if I did nothing at all and laid in bed all day, my body needs some 1300 calories just to keep my heart beating. So to be eating just 1000 calories a day would be ridiculous.

To put all of this in perspective, for most of my life I have been a twig. My old maternity records (I have three children) reveal I got pregnant with each child when I weighed 71/2 stones. I am 5ft 7″ and actually hated being a beanpole during my teens, twenties and thirties. But as I reached my late thirties and mid 40s the weight did gradually go on, albeit very gradually. Hence, after an Easter family holiday in March I was absolutely horrified when I weighed myself to find I was 10st 4Ib. Not having stepped on scales for years, I knew I’d put on weight but not that much!

With my BMI still an acceptable 23 (anything between 18.5 and 25 is normal) I wasn’t heavy enough to be accepted to any traditional weight loss club. So, as detailed in a post a few months back, I decided to keep an online diary of everything I ate. At the same time Sainsburys, the online diet diary I used, formulated a calorie count for me so I would lose weight. I have always run around 12 to 15 miles a week and I also weightlift twice a week – although the rest of the time I am sat at a computer. This calculation came in at 1700 calories. By June I weighed around 9 1/2 stones. Since the end of June my weight has stabilised at around 9st to 9st 2Ib – but I eat at least 2000 calories a day! The amount of calories calculated by the diary to maintain my weight is 2100. Any less than that over a few days and I notice I slowly lose weight – and I am very happy at the weight I am now.

As well as very low calorie diets of 1000 a day, I’ve been aghast at the idea of fasting. This punishing regime, which involves not eating for two days a week and eating what you like on other days, has been promoted as some sort of healthy way of keeping your weight down. And since it was covered by an enthusiastic fan on a Horizon programme as the cure for all ills, has again been featured in lots of articles. I do not believe deliberately denying your body food fuel is ever a good idea. If I knocked out two days eating a week (around 4200 calories) I would surely be losing a serious amount of weight now. My BMI is only 20 and I am a size eight (I was a size zero for most of my adult life and so am still heavier than I was when I was nine months pregnant with my two sons and daughter) but being older now, I would not want to go that low.

I cannot comprehend how anyone can exist living on these small amounts of calories. I have usually consumed around 1200 by the end of lunchtime alone and there’s absolutely no way I could concentrate on writing if I were fasting or faced the rest of the day ravenously hungry.

A word about how I changed my diet as well. I did not lose 2Ib a week as suggested for many diets – my weight loss was rather smaller at around half a pound a week. I cut back the two or three sugars I used to have in around eight teas and coffees a day to four drinks with one sugar and rather than keep up with the 6ft males in our family who eat so much, cut back my portion sizes (the recommended portion size of quarter of a quiche rather than a large third etc) I also never realised how many calories were in some of my favourite yoghurts (around 300 in many!) so I replaced those with lower 100 calorie ones. At the same time I still ate my takeaway curry every single week (and still do) and ate chocolate every single day. I did not up my exercise – four days a week running etc has always felt just right. Since I have lost the weight though I find I can run much faster.

The point is no-one has to do anything as extreme as fasting two days a week or trying to exist on 1000 calories a day. And I wish my colleagues in the media would stop promoting these diets as I believe they can encourage eating disorders and faddy eating. I am also proof making a few small tweaks you will hardly notice can work wonders!

What do you think about these low calorie diets and fasting? Let us know your thoughts below. And if you’ve had a good or bad experience using one of these diets let us know here: Contact Us.

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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