Why you shouldn't worry about an Easter Egg...Will cutting 13 peanuts out of my diet really make me lose weight?

Aisling Cowan Belfast

I noticed this billboard around the streets of Belfast and I suppose it's nice of the Public Health Agency to invest in comedy, it gave me a laugh on the Monday morning that I first saw it.  That is a laugh that quickly turned into me face-palming in despair at how far off the mark they are. The public are becoming increasingly aware that its refined carbohydrates, processed food and sugar that we should be concerned about. Many people are moving away from calorie counting and to more higher fat, high veg, lower carb diets but yet Government bodies are sticking with their old line, outdated research and looking increasing ridiculous as they do so. 

There are 14lb (pounds) in a stone. Wow..

So eating 1.5 digestive biscuits will mean 10lb a year? No it won't.

100kcal worth of chicken is also 10lb a year?  No it isn't.

With a crisis of obesity and type 2 diabetes and pretty much government inaction against the food industry, this advert I can imagine will have zero impact.   Keep putting the responsibility on to the individual and keep telling people struggling with weight the same thing, just cut calories- any calories- no matter what from and you will lose weight?  Simple eh.  Why has no-one tried that yet??

I can guarantee you right now that this advertising is not based on any research paper but on an outdated theory that others have deconstructed much better than I can here.  Click here to read where this theory came from. Basically it is based on the misguided idea that 3500 calories equals one pound of body fat.  So for this calorie theory (and it is just a theory, trust me) to be true, that eating 13 peanuts a day could result in 10lb of weight gain in a year then it has to be true always.  Each and every time that someone does it.  

Let's just break this down to simple common sense:

For anyone out there eating easter eggs today, let's imagine that a 23 year old eats 2 Easter eggs on a bit of a chocolate binge...let's say A Dairy Milk one and a Creme egg if they ate the eggs and the bars it would be around 1800 calories each, a total of 3600kcal.  For easiness lets say they do that 2 days in a row and take in a total of extra calories of 7200kcal. By the reasoning in this advert that would mean the person would put on 2 pounds in 2 days. Is that likely? I think not.  Things balance out, your body has ways of storing excess calories in the short term for when they are needed, it prefers for you to stay at a stable natural weight.

For something to be a statement of fact, it must always hold to be true.  If what this advert suggests is true and it is as easy as this for our body to gain weight, then of course it should also hold true for when we want to lose weight.  Then therefore 'simply cutting out 100kcal per day could result in weight loss of 10lb over a year' is what people will infer from this ad.  This is indeed along the lines of what people keep being told.  I think any of my long term weight loss clients who have really worked hard at losing weight, could weep with frustration at being told this piece of 'information.'  (By the way If you or anyone you know has managed to lose 10lb in a year by taking 13 peanuts or equivalent out of their diet, then I would really like to talk to you.)

Why is it so wrong?

How much time do you have?

1) My main anger with this advert is that it is a completely unrealistic expectation to set in peoples minds, that if they restrict/eat any food by 3500kcal they will lose/gain a pound.  Unrealistic expectations are one of the main reason that people feel they have 'failed' at weight loss, look back a previous blog post to read about this more in depth. Expecting to 'drop weight' easily means people also despair easily when they haven't lost what they expected.

2) It is also a misguided and unhelpful idea to put into the minds of young people who are often already hyper-aware of their weight, that it doesn't matter what the type or quality of the food is, 'even that one extra biscuit is going to make me put lots of weight on'.  This increase in food guilt can either cause people to end up eating more or to cause them to develop restrictive eating practices.

3) A calorie is not just a calorie.  In other words it is very much about the quality and type of the food you are eating.   We have 3 main macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates and fat. These contain very different nutrients and micronutrients for our body, are digested differently and are used for varying things within our body.  For example for maintaining our basal metabolic rate (BMR), fat and protein will be used while the body would prefer to use carbohydrates as providing energy for movement if its available. 

4) Different macro-nutrients require different amounts of body energy and time to digest.  So for example, from the chicken, it might take your body 5-6 hours or more to be actually using the chicken as an energy source and will therefore keep you full for much longer as it is a slower digestive process.  Things like nuts and chicken will also trigger a slower release of insulin compared to sweets and biscuits.  Lots of studies show that when people feel satisfied they will snack less and when a sugar spike isn't triggered within the body it will have many other health benefits beyond just weight.

5) High carbohydrate/high sugar diet is what will cause weight gain over time.  These foods are all very different...to have put nuts, milk and chicken in peoples minds in the same category as processed sugary sweets and biscuits as they 'all contain 100kcal' is a dangerous and stupid message to be giving out.  They are all widely different foods. They should be looking at the nutrients contained within, and drop this focus on calories.

I am not supporting or encouraging people to eat loads of Easter eggs this year, but what I am pointing out is that you will not put on weight because of one or 2 days bad eating habits. You certainly won't be putting on a half a pound for every Easter Egg you eat! Your body has lots of mechanisms to balance this out.  What matters is what we do the other 80-90% of the time.  If you decide you want chocolate today, eat it, enjoy it and don't feel guilty about it.

In my mind there is only one consistent Nutrition message that the Public Health Agency should be giving:

Eat real unprocessed food.  
Eat real food.
Eat real food that doesn't need a label or calorie counting.

but then there wouldn't be billions made by the fake food industry?..

This kind of messaging with the focus on calories is absolutely intentional it allows the industry to keep saying, yes all of our processed junk can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet, while the evidence would say otherwise....

 "sure just drink the coke and then just cycle it off around Belfast on our coke zero sponsored bikes!" 


ok...rant over.  Thanks for reading.

Aisling Cowan is a Registered Nutritionist & Mindcoach

working at the Belfast Chiropractic Clinic, Ormeau Road Belfast.