Should a diet advisor be slim?

When Atkins slipped on the ice and fell, there were more media comments about allegations that he was very overweight at the time of his death than there were about the tragedy of slipping on a NY pavement.

I regularly attend obesity conferences and you may be interested to know that the size of people at these conferences is very much a reflection of the size of the population as a whole. There may be slightly fewer obese and overweight people than the one quarter obese and two thirds overweight in the general population, but you wouldn’t think you’d walked into a meeting of French people by mistake! We were asked at the UK National Obesity Forum conference to raise our hands if we had a BMI of 21 (generally considered optimal for overall health) and there were very few hands raised.

I must confess – I think you need to be slim to advise other people how to slim. I laughed out loud when Ken Clarke became health minister (1988-90) – call me picky, but I think that the health minister should look healthy. If I want to learn French I’ll find someone who can speak French. In the unlikely event I wanted a personal trainer I would want them to look fit (Richard from Britain’s Biggest Loser has pleasantly sprung to mind!) I am sorry if this is wrong, but I cannot take seriously an overweight dietician telling other people to lose weight. If they can’t do it – why should we listen to them? It made me think that it would be interesting to think about how I could get overweight…

So, are there any circumstances in which a diet advisor could/should be overweight?

The only reasonable ‘excuse’ for being overweight as a diet guru has to be unrelated to diet! If any diet advisor is doing their own diet and is overweight either a) the diet doesn’t work (I include that they can’t stick to it in – it doesn’t work) or b) something else is going on. There are a number of other things that could be going on and, very interestingly, they are all related to hormones and have little or nothing to do with food.

1) I could develop a thyroid condition. This could go one of two ways – if I developed an underactive thyroid I would likely gain weight. If I developed an overactive thyroid I would likely lose weight. I could receive treatment for a genuine and diagnosed problem (more people think they have a thyroid condition than actually do) and I may be able to return to my current weight. Balancing thyroid function with medication, rather than with the thyroid working properly, is notoriously difficult so (with an underactive thyroid) I could gain a noticeable amount of weight and have trouble getting my weight back to where it is now and stable. This would be a serious bummer as a diet guru and could threaten my credibility. But it’s rare.

2) The more likely thing that could happen is any hormonal changes during the menopause (hopefully some time away!) Just as teenagers (girls particularly) gain weight during puberty, so hormonal changes (especially in women) can lead to weight gain during the menopause. Some experiments have been done on rats (it’s always the poor rats that cop it) and they have shown that the removal of ovaries (and therefore the hormone oestrogen) can lead to excessive hunger, inactivity and weight gain. The ovaries stop functioning during the menopause (this literally defines the female menopause – the reproductive system stops working/the ovaries stop producing eggs) and hence you can see that this would be exactly as if the ovaries have been removed. Directly with the hormone changes in the body and indirectly with this observed desire to eat more (likely carbs and the wrong things), we can see how weight might change.

3) I could need to take steroids for medical reasons (it would need to be a pretty serious condition before I would agree to this). Very similar to thyroid – steroids can send a person one of two ways. I did actually take steroids in my 20’s for a horrible eye problem, which had proven resistant to every other possible treatment and it was an absolute last resort. I was warned that I would either have the energy of the Andrex puppy, be unable to eat or sleep, or the exact opposite would happen and I could gain weight and lose all energy. I went the hyper manic route (you don’t choose – your body just reacts one way or the other) and I was hoovering the house at 3am and had no interest in food. Knowing now how I react to steroids, I don’t worry about this making me fat.

4) The hormone insulin is the most likely hormone likely to make any person fat, but I would have no excuse for this one. The production of insulin is directly related to consumption of carbohydrates and so diet gurus should know this and manage this to not become overweight.

So – I reckon my biggest risks are thyroid and the menopause but I’m not losing sleep over either – if they happen, I’ll see what I can do and try to get back to my natural weight.

If all the overweight dieticians I have met have got thyroid problems then a) thyroid conditions would be massively disproportionately found in diet advisors relative to the rest of the population and this has no logical explanation and b) why do dieticians then tell their patients to eat less and/or do more if their own problem has nothing to do with food? Why do they not investigate the hormone problems that their client could be experiencing?

There is another way I could get fat of course – I could follow the Food Standards Agency’s advice and base my meals on starchy foods, eat the 731 grams of sugar and 1400 grams of flour that the average UK person eats per week and I reckon I’d be overweight in no time!

12 thoughts on “Should a diet advisor be slim?

  • avatar
    May 20, 2011 at 11:58 am
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    The press had a field day on the death of Atkins the usual misinformation. True Atkins was over weight at his post mortem but 60 of his pounds had been gained in hospital due to fluid retention caused by multiple organ failure.
    True again Atkins had suffered a heart attack it was however due to a cardiomyopathy caused by a viral infection and not coronary artery disease.
    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister)

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      May 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm
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      Good comment! I should have made it clear at the opening that I didn’t buy the rumours. I’ve seen the explanation you share elsewhere from reliable sources. People spent much of Atkins life bashing what he stood for – why would death be any different?! He just revived the work of Banting and Pennington (and said so) and the world would not have an obesity epidemic if we listened to such people.

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    March 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm
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    Hello Zoe,

    I am a big fan of yor diet and i am absolutely inspired to do it. I just have once question. You said that meat is great, so why actually are u a vegetarian?
    Looking forward for a reply,
    Lena

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      March 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm
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      Hi Lena – great question! I am no longer vegetarian! I think it was a bad case of physician heal thyself! I always knew that meat and fish were the most nutritious foods on the planet – I thought I could be optimally healthy without eating meat and fish and that animals would be better off for this. I came to realise that getting the nutrition that we need requires us to eat animals. It’s called a ‘food chain’ for a reason and animals lower down the chain process things that others higher up the chain can’t, but it’s all part of the circle of life.
      I can understand very much people who don’t want to eat animals for animal welfare reasons, but I have come to realise that the health of those people will be compromised – that’s an individual choice.
      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes – Zoe

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  • avatar
    February 23, 2010 at 10:08 am
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    Totally agree!

    If I was a smoker (which I’m not) I wouldn’t listen to advice from a stop smoking advisor who smoked! (that would be daft). Likewise if I needed marriage counselling (which i don’t – lol), I would ‘t have counselling from someone who had just got divorced.

    I have to confess when I heard about The Harcombe Diet, one of the first things I did was to find photos of you and see how slim you were! Especially as I am also 5’2″ – I guess I needed some inspiration.

    So yes – without a doubt – a diet advisor should be slim.

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  • avatar
    January 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm
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    Great article! I can’t count the amount of different slimming clubs I’ve been to where the ‘group leader’ hasn’t exactly been on the thin side either…

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    January 14, 2010 at 9:08 pm
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    Frankly I am shocked at your post regarding Diane Kress. I can understand disagreeing with her point of view on weight loss and counseling your followers differently but to accuse her of being overweight and having health problems is so rude and unprofessional, especially given that you are colleagues in the weight loss industry. I have been a patient of Diane’s for 6 months and after 25+ years of struggling with weight and trying every specialist and diet there was to offer I have really benefited from Diane’s program over the last 4 months to the tune of 35 pounds lost. I am currently in training for a half marathon in May and have never felt better in my 33 years. I am a very accomplished professional woman but Diane’s program has given me my life back and I think your personal attack against her is totally inappropriate. I encourage your followers to read Diane’s blog where she does explain the inaccuracies of some of your assumptions about her diet. I have actually be doing the diet, not reading about it, for 4 months and it is not at all how you described. Everyone has the right to make their own choices and I can certainly understand your commitment to your livelihood and program but why don’t you leave the unsubstantiated criticism of the Metabolism Miracle as well as the personal attacks out of it. This posting is truly offensive to me.

    P.S. I also don’t understand why you keep focusing on Diane’s photos from the shoulder up when all your pictures on your website are the same way. Your personal attacks really impact your own credibility. Diane is totally fit and exactly the right weight for her body type and I know this because I meet with her in her office. I am also a VP at a leading Financial Services company and smart enough not to be following the advice of an overweight nutritionist…

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    • avatar
      January 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm
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      Hi Lauren – you can only have looked at one page of my site – there are full length pictures on most pages and all my videos are deliberately shot to show the waist and above. It is very important for people to see that the author of the diet is a role model for their own advice. If Diane looks as good as you say, why doesn’t she want to show that fact to potential clients? This is not a personal attack, it’s a matter of professional credibility. A professional golfer needs a scratch handicap and a professional diet advisor should have a perfect BMI (generally recognised as 21 by the medical profession). It does DK’s credibility no good to have the video and photos that are available as the only ones. I am a fan of very low carb diets and recommend them to my clients if they are so carb sensitive that they don’t lose enough on The Harcombe Diet (this is very rare). I do praise Atkins (not the processed carb bars) and I did a blog about the MM Diet which started off with three positives – these have been ignored by DK and people that I suspect she has asked to comment on these pages (it is too coincidental that MM diet fans have all just discovered my web site in the past 24 hours!) I would happily refer clients needing a very low carb option to this diet (but telling them to avoid all the sugar-free, sweetened junk allowed – this is not healthy), but I can only do that if it has credible author endorsement. Pictorially that is lacking at the moment and the video some of my fans saw does not suggest that the MM Diet is working for the author. This can so easily be verified, so I don’t understand what the problem is.
      I am really pleased to hear that the diet has helped you. There are 1.1 billion overweight or obese people in the world, so there need to be many options that work for people to solve this terrible obesity epidemic. I wish you continued success with the programme.
      Very best wishes – Zoe

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  • avatar
    January 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm
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    I have Airwaves Zoe, and no, I don’t chew it all day, only if my mouth dries up, a quick chew and I throw it away. My 5th day today, so will get weighed tomorrow. I’ve found it easy to stick to, and apart from a cuppa with milk, I don’t miss anything, which is surprising straight after Christmas!!
    Am looking forward to being 3 stones lighter at some point this year!!
    Have the recipe book, and I see I am going to have to learn to cook!!Jacqui x

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  • avatar
    January 7, 2010 at 11:02 pm
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    Hi Zoe, I heard about your diet on a forum I belong to, it seems you have a great following on there with nothing but praise for the weightloss everyone is experiencing. I’ve bought your books and started on Phase 1 this week on Monday 4th, and so far so good. However, I also have another vice (besides all fattening things!) and that’s smoking, and this week I decided to do both things at once, cut down on ciggies till I’ve stopped (doing pretty well) and starting your diet. I’ve stuck religiously to your book, BUT, I’ve had some chewing gum! It never occured to me that I might be breaking the diet with it, as it’s not sugar free!
    Can you advise please? Thank you, Jacqui

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    • avatar
      January 8, 2010 at 9:28 am
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      Hi Jacqui – don’t worry! & don’t beat yourself up – you are doing SO well trying to tackle both at once anyway. If a bit of gum helps you stop smoking AND lose weight – you will have had an awesome start to N Year. Check out the sweetener question in the book or on the Top 5 FAQ pages: http://theharcombediet.com/faqs/top-5-faqs/ The worst you are doing is risking waking up a bit of insulin with a slight sweetness detected. Plus keeping a ‘sweet’ tooth going. I wouldn’t worry about the health offset of a bit of gum vs fags – it’s incomparable! Try to have a strong mint/sugar free gum – ideally one that doesn’t taste sweet. Try not to chew literally all day long – or your body may think you are eating all day long. Have a stick when the ciggie cravings mean you need one. You could also try peppermint tea? Similar taste and you may be able to build an association between “craving = I want peppermint tea”, rather than “craving = I want chewing gum”.
      Good luck!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

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    January 7, 2010 at 11:27 am
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    Hi soul mate! I’m really sorry to hear about your thyroid problem because, as the blog says, this is a quite rare and very difficult condition to treat. I don’t know enough about thyroid medication to see if your doctor has ‘got it right’ but I would talk to her or him about your problem losing weight and see if you are taking enough thyroxine to compensate for your underactive thyroid. (If they refer you to a dietician or start suggesting you base your meals on starchy foods, run a mile!)
    If you do an internet search on natural thyroid supplements, there are many advertised. I can’t recommend any, as I’ve never tried any, but I would always be open to investigating natural alternatives. I came across an interesting site (http://www.nutrivital.co.uk/Articles/thyroid-article?gclid=CNLC5-yRkp8CFVCZ2AodH2jGiw) which is based in Hampshire and may be worth a look. You should get a feel if something sounds sensible or a rip-off, but there are alternatives to explore out there.
    Hope that’s a couple of thought and you’re deffo addicted to options – read the ingredients in Horlicks on my least favourite products page. Options has probably got even more things that you don’t recognise or can’t pronounce (http://theharcombediet.com/products/least-favourite/) I can just about make out guar gum and disomething phosphate – surely you don’t want to be that nasty to your body?!
    Good luck – Zoe x

    Reply

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