Sometimes it feels like we are being bombarded with weight loss advice. It seems every week there’s a new fad diet that promises a “magic bullet” solution to losing those extra kilos.
That’s why Dr Giles Yeo is a refreshing change.
A geneticist at the University of Cambridge, he has a scientifically backed, no-nonsense approach to dieting, which has led to his new book Gene Eating being hailed as the “anti-diet book”.
He is dedicated to exposing dangerous diet claims and combating them with clinically-proven research. Think of him as the mythbuster of the diet world.
For example, he points out that sometimes calorie counting can be a flawed weight loss method as it ignores the fundamentals of calorie absorption (our bodies take in calories at different rates and respond radically differently to food groups).
At Cambridge, Yeo has studied obesity and the genetics of how the brain controls food intake. He says that by understanding the physiology of our bodies, their hormonal functions and their caloric needs, we can overcome the misinformation of modern dieting trends and make better decisions on how we eat.
He has distilled his key findings in Gene Eating and says there are two key points he hopes people take from his book.
“First, obesity is not a choice,” he tells news.com.au.
“No one chooses to be obese. Because of biology however, some people are driven to eat more, and so will always find it more difficult to say no,” he explains.
“Second, there is no one diet to suit all. Many diets out there do work, at least in the short-term, and I cover which and how in my book. If we need to lose weight, then we need to find a diet that suits our lifestyle, so that we can stick with it in the long term,” he says.
So why do some people eat more than others, and always feel hungry?
“While our environment and culture will play a role, our genetic makeup plays a huge role in influencing our behaviour around food,” he explains.
“This can be making us feel more hungry or less full, why some people like sweet food or fatty food, or why some people respond to stress by eating while others stop eating.”
If you have that annoying genetic makeup that gives you a huge appetite, or a penchant for unhealthy food, that can become a nuisance. But he says there are two things you can try.
“First, put together a strategy to expose yourself less to foods that you have a particular weakness for, so is you love chocolate, maybe have less of that lying around your house,” he advises.
“Second, there are certain foods out there that will make you feel fuller than others — foods higher in protein and fibre for instance. If you feel fuller, it will make it easier to eat less.”
For anyone who feels they need to shed a few kilos, his advice is simple.
“The only way to lose weight is to eat less than you are burning,” he says.
“Therefore, any strategy you can stick to that makes you eat less, will work. You just need to find a strategy that works for you in the long run, and that you can stick to, and that is going to be different for everyone. Remember, a diet only works when you are on the diet. So you have to find something which you can incorporate into your lifestyle.”
Dr Yeo found his own personal diet strategy through his work trialling diets as a presenter on the BBC show Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.
In one experiment he ate vegan for a month and lost about 4.5kg. His blood cholesterol levels also dropped and he says he found the diet manageable (unlike the popular 5:2 diet, where he often felt faint).
He hasn’t been able to stick to a regimen quite that strict — he missed eggs too much — but has found a balanced formula that works for him.
“I am currently ‘flexitarian’, where I have a number of vegan meals a week,” he says.
“I find this, coupled with my cycling [Yeo commutes nearly 50km a day on his bike], works for me to maintain my weight.”
“My problem is I seriously love my food, so I have to have a strategy where I don’t overeat. It is difficult to overeat plant-based foods, because it is just so much bulkier than meat, meaning you have to eat a lot of plant-based food to match a steak”.
He has cut his meat intake by half through his new ‘flexitarian diet’ and told a reporter from The Guardian he tries to stick to vegan lunches now because he understands his metabolism better.
“I realised if I had a coronation chicken sandwich or something with white bread, I would get very wobbly when I cycled the 14 miles (22.5 kms) home. But if I had a vegan buddha bowl, I didn’t have the wobbles. That was purely because the buddha bowl takes longer to digest. The white bread carbohydrates would have gone in faster and been used up.”
He is quick to point out that even when you find an eating style that works for you, it will never be a walk in the park.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to weight loss is believing it can be ‘effortless’,” he says.
“It can’t. Weight loss will always be hard, because your brain makes it hard.”
Since revealing his findings, people are loving his refreshing take on weight loss, with many hailing his findings as the “anti-diet” plan.
Dr Giles Yeo is the author of Gene Eating published by Hachette Australia and available in all good bookstores now.