09/08/2013 18:00 BST | Updated 09/10/2013 06:12 BST

The Men Who Made Us Thin: A Review From a Health Professional


Last night at 9pm I sat down on my sofa with great anticipation as I watched 'The Men Who Made Us Thin', a follow up to the great documentary series 'The Men Who Made Us Fat' on BBC 2. When the credits started to roll I felt an overwhelming anticlimax that I was not expecting. In this first episode of four Jacques Peretti investigated diet companies, from meal replacement shakes to quick fix diet books. The overall message was that diets don't work in the long term. As a health and fitness professional that works with overweight people on a daily basis this is not particularly useful advice and doesn't supply anything constructive for the viewer to think about it.

As well as missing a constructive message for the viewers Peretti neglected to address one of the diets properly, carbohydrate restriction, as it has a completely different paradigm to the others which are based on calorie restriction. The quick overview of carb restriction is that it's not the amount of calories you eat that makes you store body fat but what you eat, and excessive carbohydrates make you secret excessive insulin which makes you store fat. Not only is this supported by countless biochemistry and medical text books [1], that contradict themselves when it comes to thinking about obesity, but also supported in lots of randomized control trials not only in weight loss but in improving overall health in the long term [2], plus my own short term experiment where I ate over 5,000 calories a day and lost 3cm from my waist. [3]

Peretti credits Atkins for coming up with the concept of carbohydrate restriction but it had actually been around for 100 years before that, most famously from William Banting's "Letter On Corpulance". [4] Not only has it been around for a long time but it was used in most academic institutions before World War 2 to treat obesity.[5] I appreciate that the creators of the documentary only had an hour to articulate their point but they missed the massive difference in paradigm that carb restriction has compared to calorie restriction. Carb restriction is based on the full spectrum of science, from biochemistry to physics, and calorie restriction is just based on physics. Along with this massive oversight they skipped over Atkins cause of death and said that his critics attributed his diet to being obese at the end of his life rather than telling us what actually happened. In 2003, at age 72, Atkins slipped on ice while walking to work, hitting his head and causing bleeding around his brain, his death certificate states that the cause of death was "blunt impact injury of head with epidural hematoma". In his bed ridden state he gained 63lbs most of which was fluid retention due to major organ failure.[6]

I agree with the documentary's conclusion that quick fix fad diets are dangerous and health is the solution, who on Earth is going to survive on maple syrup and cayenne pepper for the rest of their lives. However, to say a well thought out structured diet based on science is the same as a quick fix fad diet is a bit irresponsible and provides nothing useful for the viewer to walk away with. For instance at the end of the documentary Peretti questioned Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientist at Weight Watchers, about the low adherence to their programme and although I don't agree with Weight Watchers methods I'm in agreement with what her response was "what's the alternative, have nothing at all?" Not all diets are created equal and in a world where there is junk food everywhere, with no hope of regulations restricting it, we need structured strategies to be able to eat real food for real health.

Overall I thought Peretti and his team did a good job of exposing the quick fix diet industry but didn't show the other side of the industry where you have some amazingly passionate and purposeful professionals who are truly helping people in a well thought out structured manner which is what essentially a diet is. Diet after all is just a 4 letter word for what you eat, it's just that there are good diets and bad diets and at the moment it's up to us to educate ourselves in what is good for us and what is bad for us.

Below is a video from one of my longest serving clients along with 22 months of her weight and measurements, who follows a carb restricted nutrition plan based on real foods rather than calorie restriction with junk foods. You can go to my YouTube channel to see many other similar stories :)

1. 2 Quotes From One Of The Seminal Text Books On Diabetes, Diabetes Mellitus: A Fundamental And Clinical Text

"Insulin not only promotes fat storage but it also restrains fat mobilization."

"Lipogenesis (fat storage) is high in the fed state and following carbohydrate administration, whereas it is suppressed by fasting, high-fat diets, or insulin deficiency, such as in uncontrolled diabetes."

2.2 Randomized Controlled Trials Showing That Carb Restriction Is A Superior Diet In Weight Loss & Other Health Bio-Markers

Gardner CD, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and learn Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women. The a to z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2007;297:969-977.

Westman EC, et al. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low- glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr. Metab (Lond.)2008 Dec 19;5:36.

3.Why I Didn't Get Fat From Eating 5,794 Calories a Day

4.Letter On Corpulence, Addressed To The Public By William Banting

5.Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;67(8):789-96. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.116. Epub 2013 Jun 26.

6.The Truth About Dr. Atkins' Death