Have you ever met a celebrity and thought they looked different in real life? It’s as if we’ve built up a mental picture of them that, if not quite what expected in the flesh, forces us to have another look to make sure they’re not really an imposter. The thing is, what we think someone should look like is often wrong, as Dolly Parton once found out.
Presumably looking for kicks, Dolly entered a “best Dolly Parton impersonation” competition in a bar near her house. Not only didn’t she win first place, she came last. If you think that’s an isolated incidence, both Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin entered their own lookalike contests. Both of them came third.
When a different, skinnier, version of Adele was recently beamed out to the public, the internet lost its shit. Amongst the comments about how amazing she looked lurked opinions on how she was better before, or how she used to be a role model before she got thin. As a nutritionist, what caught my eye were the critiques of her diet saying it was an unsustainable, starvation inducing, act of self-harm. But was it really that bad? Here’s what Adele did right.
I’ve written a lot of articles on why pseudo-scientific methods of dieting are a load of rubbish that should be avoided, and that’s for good reason. If the marketing blurb is phoney, and the diet itself is dangerous, impossible to stick to, or makes you miserable, then you shouldn’t do it. However, I’m a man who is interested in results first, and rather than centre all of my attention on weight loss methods, I prefer to focus on outcomes.
The idea of consuming 1000 calories a day doesn’t fill most people with enthusiasm, but if it results in, the reported, 40kg plus of weight loss in a little over a year, it suddenly sounds a bit more intriguing. But is eating that much actually starving yourself, and if so, is it dangerous? The answer to this question depends on how much fat you have to lose.
A study from 2005 found that the body can burn about 22 calories worth of fat from each pound of adipose tissue per day. This means that a woman weighing 90kg at 40% body fat can lose up to 1.6kg of fat per week. Assuming they would normally be consuming around 2,500 calories a week to maintain their weight, dieting on 1,000 calories suddenly doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
The key to this is how much fat you are carrying. The more you have, the harder you can push it before there is any danger of starting to burn through muscle or other lean body mass. A great example of this happened in 1973 when a morbidly obese man weighing 207kg fasted under medical supervision for 382 days without suffering any health issues.
Calling a diet a “starvation” diet isn’t accurate. Starvation occurs when all the available fat stores are used up, and the body is forced to break down first muscle, and then internal organs for fuel. If you think this is happening on 1,000 calories a day while eating a sensible amount of protein, you have another thing coming.
So-called yo-yo dieting, which is when someone loses a lot of weight only to put it and more back on again, is often blamed on low-calorie intakes. But a quick look at the actual science behind this paints a rather different picture.
One example is a study from 2010, which set out to find which of three fat loss diets would be the easiest to stick to and which would result in the best weight loss maintenance a year later.
- There were three groups; one with a slow weight loss diet, and the other two with medium and fast.
- As you might expect, the fast group lost more weight, losing 13.5kg compared to 8.9kg in the medium, and 5.1kg in the slow.
While none of this is controversial so far, the real insights were in how people adhered to the diets, and how much weight loss they managed to stick to a year later.
- The results showed that out of all three diets, people could stick to the one aimed at fast weight loss the best.
- On top of that, a year later, 50% of the fast group had maintained 10% of their weight loss compared to 36% from the moderate group, and 17% from the slow.
1,000 calories a day might seem extreme, but it might actually be easier to stick to than a more moderate diet and could lead to better maintenance down the line.
In some corners, dieting for weight loss is seen as just fighting our physiology. The theory being that we all have a pre-determined body fat “set-point” that our bodies will do anything to get back to if we lose weight, and any long term weight loss will only result in permanent metabolic damage. So why bother? Because neither are true, that’s why.
Research shows that while our metabolism will slow down as an adaptation to limited energy availability, it will bounce back again once weight is gained or calories are increased. As for a pre-determined body fat set-point, science is pretty clear that it doesn’t exist.
The whole point of this is to give you options. While you don’t have to, if you want to diet quickly, it’s a perfectly safe and healthy way to do things.
A lot of the internet and fitness industry has been up in arms about Adele’s apparently stupid and restrictive diet, yet she seems to have managed to stick to it and come out of the other side with no ill effects. Do I think that everyone should lose weight on as few calories as possible? No, I do not. But to empower ourselves to make our own choices as to how we lose weight, instead of picking apart the negatives, maybe we should focus on what Adele did right.