This story is an attempt at pulling many different threads together to create a whole picture of how human nutrition governs our mental and physical health and our body shape. I can’t ask if you’d prefer the good or bad news first, so will just go for it.
Rather than peppering the flow with citations, I will show the books and sources of this information at the bottom. As a journalist, I aim to follow the facts to reveal the hidden story about weight, nutrition, exercise and health. This means I’m building a complete picture, which relates to adults in the United Kingdom under Lockdown and similar sudden changes in circumstances.
The bad news
Diets are not just for after Christmas, they are for life. We see the same high percentage of Brits on diets ‘most of the time’ today, that existed in the 1960s. Weight gain affects those who work from home more than those who do at least part of their commute every day on foot. People who stop going out to work regularly – as many have during the lockdown – results in weight gain. It is preventable but not by following any diet, calorie counter, short term restriction of starchy foods or exercise boot camp.
The good news
Neither a blow out at a wedding buffet nor an indulgent, well deserved holiday are going to set your waistline on an undesirable trajectory outwards. When we over eat on occasion, our bodies respond by increasing our metabolism to burn off the excess energy. Therefore, just as the weight creeps on when we stay at home every day, keeping up a routine of taking exercise or a walk three times a day could replicate some of the previous activity when going out to work.
To set new goals for staying at home, imagine your day when you went to the office and plan a daily routine so your daily activity level does not drop off. For those who cycled long distances to work, perhaps find an activity converter to translate your weekly game of squash or cycle commute into steps.
During the winter in the UK, we do not make enough sunlight to make vitamin D between October and April. If we are inside a lot, it is good to take a supplement each day when we do not see spring or summer sun for at least 10 minutes a day, with longer for darker shades of skin. Vitamin D3 (animal protein) or D2 (plant) 10mcg (1000 International Units) or 25mcg (4000 IU) each day will suffice.
This is prevention rather than cure and is not a remedy or inoculation against infection, nor is it anti-bacterial. It is good to take a supplement each day, which supplements vitamin D in a nutritious diet and it is fat soluble so easier to absorb if eaten with food containing healthy fats (fish, meat, eggs, dairy, olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, oils from any of these).
How to Stay Healthy During Lockdown
There are a lucky few people who will not naturally face worsening health during Lockdown. These people have not had a greatly disrupted daily routine. However, those people might still struggle to find the motivation to jog on spot, do sits ups, use the staircase for steps or follow a yoga or dancersize instructor on YouTube.
In order to maintain your weight and health during lockdown, it is very important you keep up some activity twice of three times a day. Otherwise after 3 months your weight and metabolism with have adapted to your new routine. This is to prevent you from bouncing off the walls or experiencing the huge surpluses of adrenalin that give you that buzz after exercize.
Why do you think so many people are on permanent diets?
Nutritionists and doctors now know that short term, restrictive, high activity diets do not work long term. Our bodies are designed for 12 weeks of famine and intense exercise and adapt accordingly, to help us survive and keep us alive. That is the very reason short term diets do not work. When we reduce our calorie intake to less than what we need, our metabolism slows down to conserve energy so we have enough to get through ‘hard times’.
Too much information is taken out of context. Yes, people who had been in prison camps for a period of time became skeletal. Do you wonder how they survived? When they were released, special products had to be made to bring them back to normal eating again. They could not just tuck into a roast dinner on leaving their prison. Their bodies had adapted to keep them alive through extreme hardship, inadequate food and excessive activity.
How do we deal with our sedentary lives today?
The bad news: you cannot sustain an unrealistic, fashionable, sinewy teenage boy figure all your life, even if you are a sinewy, teenage boy. If you become an athlete, perhaps you will maintain your size and shape, depending on the consistency of physical activity and, as you get older, the increasingly nutritious diet that you eat.
Think about ‘acquired taste’ and, perhaps, memories of being sick on the first few days of family holidays abroad. These are natural phenonema.
Below are the books I read to gather information from this story, starting with the direct, succinct, to the point and light-hearted This Slimming business by John Yudkin.
Firstly, our young bodies are able to process just about any foods, which means we do not need rich, nutrient dense foods, such as anchovies, avocados, olives or too many eggs until we become adults, in order to get micronutrients we can access from chicken, potatos, cabbage, rice and peas.
The age of thirty is most associated with change to our bodies, lifestyles, routines and responses to food. Thirty may also be the age when we start our own voyages of discovery about food, health and quality of life.
The next blog will look at how to maintain our health and quality of life through food and activity.
Here are the other books. They all focus mainly on nutrition and none of them provide the complete picture and truth behind the statement that all diets run along: ‘eat less exercise more’ to show that a sustained lifestyle with daily activity is the most important part. Weight gains and goes slowly. If rushed, it will bounce back.