On Tuesday 2nd March, we held our second live digital event, Demystifying Diets. We brought together leading nutritionists to discuss which diet plans work and which don’t, key differences between today’s most popular ones, and practical tips and tricks to get started. If you missed the event or just want to catch up on some of the key takeaways, then keep on reading.
Meet The Panel:
Kim Pearson. Kim has worked in the field of nutrition and health for over 15 years and is a weight-loss specialist. A regular contributor to magazines, newspapers and medical journals, she has also appeared on national television and radio.
Drew Price BSc MSc. Drew delivers seminars on a variety of diet and nutrition related topics, and lectures on nutrition at University. Drew is also a published author, and contributes to national newspapers and magazines.
Becs Sandwith BSc MSc ANutr. Becs is an AfN registered associate nutritionist, as well as a qualified personal trainer and CrossFit coach. An Innermost ambassador, Becs has huge expertise in delivering expert nutrition consultations.
Hello, panellists! We’d love for you to introduce yourselves.
Kim: My name’s Kim Pearson. I’m a qualified nutritionist, and I have a clinic with a team of nutritionists who specialise in supporting people who are wanting to lose weight and maintain it long-term. In addition to my clinical practice, I work closely with the National Press, where I write articles for magazines and newspapers.
Becs: Hi guys, my name is Becs Sandwith. I am a qualified nutritionist as well. I’ve only been in the industry a couple of years, but I'm the head nutritionist at CrossFit Putney. I work online with one-to-one clients as well. I’m also a CrossFit coach and get to work with a variety of brands offering nutritional support, and I do blog writing and recipe development.
Drew. Hi everyone, my name’s Drew. I’ve got a degree in Biochemistry and a Master’s in Nutrition that I got in 2005. Since that time, I’ve been working in a bunch of different places in the nutrition world, from elite sports to clinics. I’m also a published author and write for things like Men’s Health. Currently, I’m researching the diet’s influence on cardiometabolic health.
Do you think the word ‘diet’ has a negative connotation? Can you explain how diet plans aren't just about calorie restriction?
Kim: I think for a lot of people, “diet” does have a lot of negative connotations, especially for those who have a history of dieting and “yo-yo dieting”. People feel like their social life is compromised, and the foods they love eating are going to be compromised. But diets are really much more than calorie restriction and deprivation. The term “diet” actually refers to what we eat. We could optimise our diets for a lot of different reasons: to improve our energy levels, to support sports performance, to look after our bodies. We often think of diet and weight-loss, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Becs: I think the word “diet” has lost its true meaning. It's just the way we eat. But for some reason it means “going on a diet” to a lot of people, giving it a negative association.
What sorts of benefits can people expect to achieve by ensuring they have the right diet?
Becs: If you have a well-balanced diet made up of predominantly whole foods and limited processed foods, then you’re going to help maintain good energy throughout the day. You’re going to enhance your mood and sleep. And ultimately ensure that by having a healthy weight, you’ll prevent yourself from being at risk of health-related diseases later on in life. If you’ve got a specific goal, then ensuring your diet is as good as it can be for that goal is going to be beneficial.
Drew: Often, you’ll see people who don’t just have one goal. Fitness and health are all a part of a spectrum. Things like sleep, nutrition and general activity are the foundations of everything else in terms of fitness, cognitive performance and physical performance. It all feeds back, because the fitter you are the more able you are to sleep properly and so on and so forth.
Could you explain the differences between some of the most popular diets at the moment? Let’s start with paleo.
Becs: The basic concept is to eat whole foods and to avoid processed foods. So it focuses on meat, fish, veg, fruits, nuts, seeds and then excludes anything processed (like dairy, grains, legumes and anything artificial).
Kim: Paleo is promoted as the diet that our ancestors would've eaten. That’s where the principles come from. It’s the idea that this modern, processed diet isn’t what our bodies are meant to eat.
Drew: The paleo diet focuses a lot on food quality. It’s a very nutrient-dense diet. It’s flexible. You can include lots of fruit, not just focus on high protein and cutting carbs. There is some wiggle room. Although 60% of the foods we eat are dairy and grain-based foods, and you can’t have that so it might be difficult if you’re out and about.
Drew: With a diet in general, you’re either gaining, losing or controlling something, whether that’s calories, carbs, etc. As far as intermittent fasting, the thing you are controlling is the time you’re eating your food, not so much as what you’re eating. There’s two main types of intermittent fasting. It can be taking whole days off of food or having a very very low calorie intake throughout certain periods. It can also be time-restricted feeding, where you take 16 hours off of eating and then you have this 8 hour window everyday where you eat. Both play on the idea that it’s a simple way to reduce calories within your diet. Fasting is a bit of a stress on the body, but the net result is beneficial. You get things like protection of DNA, cell cleanup, body fat usage and so on and so forth.
Kim: In terms of a lot of the research that I’ve looked at relating to fasting alongside speaking to experts conducting this research, a point is made that you have to fast for longer periods of time to get those cell protection benefits. That’s an extreme thing to do without supervision or without experience, so time-restricted eating has become more popular because it's a much easier way of doing things rather than these fasting methods that are much stricter, but have much more solid evidence of their benefits from a health-longevity perspective.
Kim. I am a fan of good ketogenic diets.They can be very effective in reducing body fat. You're looking at a relatively high-fat diet, while cutting carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s favourite source of energy. If you consume carbohydrates, your body will break that down and prioritise using that as an energy source over tapping into those fat preserves. When you go on a ketogenic diet, your body switches over to burning stored body fat as the primary energy source. If it’s done in the right way, when you’re in a metabolic state of ketosis, people often experience increased energy levels and the appetite is suppressed. If you’re also optimising protein intake, you’re preserving muscle mass as well. The potential downsides are that it is really restrictive. It’s important to do it in a sensible way to ensure that you are covering all of your nutrient bases.
Which is more important for fat-loss? Diet or exercise?
Becs. In my opinion, both should come together always. I look at it this way: it’s a lot easier to remove 500 calories from your intake rather than trying to burn off 500 calories from exercise. That’s the simplest way to put it. Diet should almost come first, but definitely both together are important.
Drew. I see it from both sides. I think obviously they work together. Having one as a focus while having the other just on the side is good for periods of time. You can switch focuses between them. One of the things exercise does is not only burn calories, but also changes how your body deals with subsequent calories 24 hours down the road. I see them going hand in hand. It’s kind of about where you focus and that’s down to the individual.
Kim. It does come down to the situation of the individual. Some of my clients are best suited to start with light exercise and a focus on the diet. On the other hand, with exercise, a big benefit is how it makes you feel. You get that endorphin release. When my clients are exercising, they tend to feel good and not reach for food as much. There are so many ways that exercise is beneficial for us. There’s a calorie factor, but there’s so much more to the benefits other than directly how much fat are we burning.
What are the factors that people should consider if they are thinking about embarking on a diet plan?
Kim. Number one, is it going to support and optimise your health at the same time as reaching your goals? Will it cover all of your nutrient bases? Are you going to get all the vitamins, essential fats, etc that your body needs. It’s important to choose something that’s sustainable and right for you. Does the strategy fit into your lifestyle? There’s nothing worse than starting something and it goes really well, but you can’t stick to it. And then you get that sense of failure. If you are somebody who’s been on diets in the past, consider what has worked in the past and what hasn’t. If you struggle to lose weight, identify why. What are the factors that are compromising your diet? Have that knowledge of yourself, your body, your lifestyle and take the time to figure out what you need in order to make this work.
Drew. From a different angle, when someone walks into a nutritionist’s clinic, what we will be thinking is does this person have a goal? Does that goal align with their health needs? Does it align with what they can do? Are they ready for this journey? A lot of factors determine what works for someone.That’s a wrap of the key points from Demystifying Diets. Keep your eyes peeled for future content from Innermost. And if you have any ideas on topics you’d like us to address, we’d love to hear from you.