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New research suggests Government guidelines for weight loss may be flawed – so what’s the best way to shed unwanted pounds?

Traditional weight-loss advice has always advocated the steady and slow approach. According to health guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), this can be achieved by cutting 500 calories a day, which will lead to a weekly loss of a pound of body fat for as long as you keep this up.

Description: Is this the end of calorie counting?

Is this the end of calorie counting?

However, influential new research from Dr Kevin Hall and his team at the University of Maryland in the US has found that these conventional guidelines may be seriously flawed. ‘People have used this rule of thumb to predict for decades now, but it turns our to be incredibly wrong,’ he told nutrition academics at a conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Metabolic changes

Description: Instead, people may be failing to realize that they need to eat less and less core calories as they lose weight.

Instead, people may be failing to realize that they need to eat less and less core calories as they lose weight.

 ‘The reason it’s wrong is because it doesn’t account for the metabolic changes that take place when people change their diet. We know that if you cut the calories in somebody’s diet their metabolism starts to slow down and it slows down more and more the more weight is lost. So eventually you’ll reach a plateau,’ he said.

Hall has created a detailed and complex mathematical weight-loss model which tracks carbohydrate, fat and protein intakes and how they interact with the human body and metabolism. He has found that while people initially lose weight loss eventually plateaus – partly because their metabolism lows down. This means that weight loss may take twice as long as official guidelines suggest.

However, according to registered dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association Gaynor Bussell (womens nutrition4health.com), there may be other reasons why weight loss might take longer than expected which have nothing to do with metabolism slowing. Instead, people may be failing to realize that they need to eat less and less core calories as they lose weight.

 ‘As people lose the first tier of weight, they become lighter. This means they need less total calories than they did at the start of the weight loss – heavier people need more calories per day just to fuel their bodies and keep going. The lighter the body, the less the daily requirements will be. So people will have to recalculate their total calorie intake when they’ve lost some weight and shift it downwards. This could cause the plateau and could be wrongly attributed to metabolism slowing,’ says Bussell.

‘It doesn’t mean the advice is flawed, but it does mean you need to rethink your food intake at each stage of weight loss. Heavier bodies at the start of a diet just need an awful lot more calories and lighter bodies take less effort to move around.’

Traditional advice

Description: ‘Don’t be putt off losing weight for health reasons for fear that it will slow your metabolism’

‘Don’t be putt off losing weight for health reasons for fear that it will slow your metabolism’

In addition, the plateau may simply be down to people not sticking to their diets rather than a slowing metabolism, say some dieticians. After several weeks of cutting calories and early weight loss, motivation and willpower can give many as people sneak more treats and calories than in the early days of the programme.

Bussell says that more research is needed into metabolism and dieting before dieticians will be changing their advice. She adds that dieticians are already aware of the plateau effect caused by becoming lighter and losing motivation, and already take into account. ‘Don’t be putt off losing weight for health reasons for fear that it will slow your metabolism,’ she says.

Registered dietician Natalie Whitehead (healthcareandpamper.com) agrees that dieticians are already aware of the plateau effect, but she says traditional advice is still good for the general population because it is ‘simple and practical’. ‘Dieticians are already aware of Dr Hall’s findings and offer individual advice with this in mind, adapted as a patient loses weight,’ she says. ‘Most people need practical advice, and calculating the requirements may be too confusing.’

Description: ‘Most people need practical advice, and calculating the requirements may be too confusing.’

‘Most people need practical advice, and calculating the requirements may be too confusing.’

‘Your metabolic rate is better described as your energy requirement,’ explains Whitehead. ‘This is largely dictated by body weight. The more you weigh, the higher your energy requirement. Reducing your weight reduces your requirement or rate. A 500 Kcal deficit does roughly equate to a pound of weight loss, but only when deducted from someone’s energy requirement, which needs to be reassessed when their weight plateaus.’

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