Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The great weight loss scam

You live in a world where an endless stream of diet pills and regimes are marketed to you as a way to lose weight. In addition to this, the usual marketing ploy is to represent these products as a tool to lose weight with little to no exercise. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the warning sign it should be, and so many people fall into this trap, thinking they can just pop a pill and reach a healthier, slimmer version of themselves. This isn't the case, and you need to be armed and ready to refuse products that are going to cause you more harm than good.

How does weight loss work?

Fast weight loss scams are the most predominant in the industry. This is because when people want something, they want it now, and if they believe a product can help them achieve this in 7 days, logic seems to fly out the window. Weight loss can only proceed at a logical rate however, and there is an easy way to quantify it.

To give you some form of foundation to stand on when you judge a product or diet plan, it's important to know some of the logistics of weight loss. When losing weight, the basic principle, rooted in science, is that it takes a reduction of calories to lose weight. If you're consuming more calories than your body needs on a daily basis, you gain weight. If you consume less, you lose weight. It's as simple as that.
Source: Flickr

The human body is like an engine that runs continuously. It doesn't matter whether you're actually walking around or performing some form of intense exercise, your body will still use a certain amount of energy. This is your basal metabolic rate. When you perform additional exercise, you use more energy than your BMR, but even when you lie in bed all day, you are still using the amount of energy dictated by your BMR. Essentially, even when you do absolutely nothing, your body will use energy because there are reactions taking place inside that need to be fueled.

Continuing down this track, any activity you do in a day is an additional use of energy on top of your BMR. You use an amount of energy every day just to be alive, and then the exercise you do during the day leads you to your final energy usage. You get up out of bed to check the're using more energy than your BMR. You take the dog for a're using more energy than your BMR. 

If at any point, the amount of calories you consume in the food you eat doesn't supply your body with enough energy to meet the total energy expenditure of your BMR and daily activity, you will lose weight. The fat stored in your body is used to replace this lost energy, and thus you become slimmer.

What is stored fat?

Your body stores energy as fat when you consume more energy than you require. This is beneficial in that it can be used for energy if you ever suffer through starvation, but leads to obesity in an age where processed foods full of calories have become common, and over-eating is actively encouraged. All over the world, we want more for our money. Bigger drinks, bigger meals. The quality is sacrificed, and the result is that you end up not only eating inferior food, but a lot more of it.
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What exactly is stored fat in terms of energy though? The number that most health organisations and government agencies run with is 3500 calories per pound of fat. This is based on the caloric estimate that a gram of fat is equivalent to 9 calories, a pound is equivalent to 454 grams, and stored body fat is 87 percent actual fat. Estimates of the lipid content of body fat from studies ranges as low as 75 percent, which would equate to just over 3000 calories. To account for this range, we can say that a pound of fat contains between 3000 - 3500 calories.

This means, that for every 3500 calories you consume in excess of your energy expenditure, you will gain one pound of fat. If you were eating 500 calories more than you need every day, this leads to a weight gain of one pound per week, or over 50 pounds a year if this excess consumption is continued. The general logic to take from this is, excess energy is what causes weight gain, and energy deficits cause weight loss. There is no magical formula for weight loss other than this. 

It doesn't matter if you're eating something full of saturated fat, or full of carbohydrates. Whilst either scenario leads to other health complications like heart disease and blood glucose issues when you eat too much of one nutrient, it is the energy from the food you eat that causes the weight gain, not a specific nutrient like fat, carbs, or protein.

Source: Flickr

Energy expenditure of an average person

You energy expenditure varies based on your weight, height, age, and other factors. It's possible to come to an estimate of energy expenditure by using these variables. To estimate your energy expenditure, enter your details into the Sydney University's calculator.

Estimating calories

To estimate your caloric intake, you can also use the values in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization's human energy requirement study.

A 20 year old male who weighs 170 pounds (80 kgs), is looking at an estimated basal metabolic rate of 1941 calories (8121 kilojoules). When you combine this with light activity during the day, this becomes a total expenditure of just over 2500 calories (10460 kilojoules).

If this man was to eat 500 calories less than his caloric maintenance per day, he'd be cutting his daily requirement by 20 percent, and over the course of a week, he could achieve a maximum weight loss of one pound of fat from this deficit. If however, he was eating 500 calories more per day, he'd gain up to one pound of fat in a week. 

How much of a deficit is healthy?

Health professionals recommend to cut your daily energy intake by no more than 25 percent for the healthiest and safest results. If you cut it down too much, you end up losing more muscle mass, and risk damaging your brain, nervous system, and organs. Starvation is not safe, and many diets place you into a condition where your body is literally starving.

This deficit means that on average, you can lose 1 - 2 pounds of fat a week without causing yourself harm. People who weigh more to begin with, can cut their calories by a little more without endangering themselves, and people who are lighter but want to tone up, should cut their calories by less.

Examining a scam diet

Now you have all this information and you're probably wondering how to actually use it. You know how much energy is stored in a pound of fat, and you have an estimate of your daily energy requirements. You know how many calories in deficit it would take to lose a certain amount of fat. Let's apply this to one of the newest, and unhealthiest scam diets: the 'Soup Mate Pro 7 day Soup Diet', which is heavily marketed on television and online.

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According to their marketing, and blatantly listed on their website, they state you will "lose up to 4.5 kgs in one week". The marketer behind the program, Brendan McCarthy, even claims that he lost 10 kgs in 7 days on his diet. Let's have a look at the logistics of this.

The amount of weight loss that is claimed to be possible, is almost 10 pounds. This amount of fat, stores at least 30000 calories if we use the lowest side of the scientifically determined range from before. These 30000 calories, divided by 7 days, equates to over 4200 calories a day that would have to be decreased in order to lose this amount of weight in this time period.

The 170 pound man from our earlier example had a basal metabolic rate of just under 2000 calories per day. This means, even if he was to completely starve himself and perform no exercise whatsoever, he would lose a maximum of just over 4 pounds of fat after 7 days. Keep in mind, doing this is potentially lethal and utterly foolhardy. Even by starving himself completely, he could not lose the amount of fat they say is possible, and a large part of this weight loss would be muscle.

Let's say he adds exercise in order to boost this number up. Keep in mind once more, he's starving himself, so he wouldn't be able to exercise anyway. You don't have the capacity to exercise to any great degree during starvation. To lose those 10 pounds of fat advertised, he would have to not only starve himself, but walk at a brisk pace for 10 hours, every day for that 7 day period.

You're probably thinking, well that's a ridiculous scenario though, he wouldn't be starving himself. The problem is, he is indeed starving himself. If you take a look at the 'reviews' littered over blogs, the 'test subjects' consume an average of two bowls of soup per day, made from water and vegetables only. 

Source: Flickr
There's almost no carbohydrates in these soups because vegetables, whilst a good source of vitamins, are not energy dense like grains. There's almost no fat, which again is not good. Fat does not cause weight gain, energy excess causes weight gain. Fats are required by the body to make hormones, cell membranes, and keep your body functioning properly. Worse yet, is that there is almost no protein in the soups. When you reduce calories, you risk losing muscle, and when you consume little to no protein, there's your muscle mass down the drain right there, as well as your neurotransmitters, hair, skin, organs, brain...the amino acids from protein really are necessary for so many facets of your bodily maintenance and function.

You should also take a closer look at Brendan McCarthy's claim that he lost 10 kgs in 7 days on his soup diet. That's about double what he says you can lose over the course of the diet. In order to lose this amount of actual fat in 7 days, he would have to not only be starving himself, but walk 20 hours per day at a brisk pace. This leads to a total of 560 kms over the course of his diet. He markets this diet in Australia, so try this neat little experiment and plot in a course from Brisbane, QLD to Port Macquarie, NSW. Zoom out. Zoom out again. Get a really good look at the eastern coast of Australia. Can you see just how far he would have to walk, let alone the fact that he's starving whilst trying to do this, in order to reach the energy expenditure required to burn off 10 kgs of fat in 7 days?

Essentially, if you were to go on this diet, you would be starving yourself. Do you know how they get away with it? They call it 'weight loss', not 'fat loss'. This is the biggest scam. Whilst the words 'weight loss' aren't necessarily used to scam you by the majority, scam diet companies most certainly will use them in that way. Weight loss doesn't have to mean fat, which you want to lose. It can mean water, it can mean muscle, it can mean can mean anything that lowers your final weight on a scale.

Basically, you starve yourself, lose mostly muscle and water weight, and you think you've lost weight. They can call this weight loss. You think they mean fat loss. They aren't liable for their marketing claims, and you aren't going to improve your health. It's a terrible, legally justifiable scam, and there's nothing in the law to protect you. The only thing you can do to protect yourself and save your money and health, is to learn their tricks and scrutinize everything.

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