I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but as the Christmas season starts and over-indulgence sets in on all levels of our lives, it made me think about the whole paradox of excessive indulgence vs the obesity crisis we are facing. This time of year ironically exacerbates the situation and actively encourages people to eat more and pile on the pounds.
As delicious as all these foods, snacks and treats are, they are hugely body unfriendly. In January everyone will be back scrambling for the next super diet to help shed the pounds, with no thought, perhaps, for what has gone on inside the gut. This excess to abstinence approach surely can’t be good for our bodies in any way.
At a recent FDIN event on free-from, I was really inspired by the speaker Tim Spector and I would urge anyone to buy his latest book - The Diet Myth.
He experienced significant illness and tried multiple diets to help him recover. As a doctor he also worked with patients suffering from obesity.
He classes exclusion-style diets - eg cutting out biscuits and savoury snacks - as “sticking plaster approaches to treating a massive haemorrhage”. The body simply adapts and tries to hold on to what it is being starved of - eg fat.
After much clinical work over 20 years with 11,000 adult twins, he pioneered looking into the differences between diet and environment and the effect of our genes in extreme detail.
Fascinatingly, he discovered that our genes affect so many key functions including our appetites, how much we weigh, what food we like and dislike and how much we exercise etc - all of which play a key role in obesity.
The future of cracking obesity, he says, lies in our individual microbiomes in our gut, which allow obesity to be predicted and behaviours changed.
It’s all about microbes. Each of us apparently has 100 trillion of them, which weigh four pounds in our guts alone! Microbes affect how we digest food, how we control calories and provide vital enzymes and vitamins. They also keep our immune systems healthy.
Because we only eat a fraction of the food types that our ancestors did, we only have a fraction of the good microbial species in our guts, which is part of the problem. Similarly, the whole clean food, clean living, super-hygienic lifestyle trend seems to be the opposite of what he says is needed in our guts to help manage good weight and wellness.
If elite athletes are already having their microbes profiled and diets modified by nutritionists to manage their weight, my gut tells me he is right and the food and drink industry should heed some of his thinking.
Claire Nuttall is founder of The Brand Incubator