Despite what mainstream media still so often tells us, weight management isn’t all about weight loss, reports Rosie Greenaway
Advice about what a healthy weight looks like comes in, well, all shapes and sizes.
Those in the medical profession routinely remind us to stick within ‘ideal’ BMI perimeters and keep our weight to less than half our height, while via the media we’re told that a concerning number of children – overweight and slim alike – are engaging with diet culture from a young age (one in four, from as young as eight years old, in case you missed that troubling BBC news cutting in July).
The story highlighted that although older teens and girls are more likely to diet than younger children and boys, the gap is closing. The BBC spoke to study author and dietitian Melissa Little from Oxford University, who said: “We’ve really got to think about getting the right health messaging across.”
Something which may help that messaging is the new HFSS legislation, which came into play on 1 October. The legislation restricts the promotion and placement of foods which are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, meaning retailers now need to make those products ‘less visible’ in store. Compliance as a brand means either lowering the fat, salt and sugar content of a product or being rated negatively on the Nutrient Profile Score and facing higher taxes. You can almost hear the scurry of activity among manufacturers as they scramble to reformulate and avoid financial penalty. But for many natural brands, low fat, salt and sugar is a given – and those just entering the market now are well positioned to capitalize on HFSS-compliant messaging.
The low-carb life
One such brand is Locako. While founder Ally Mellor has been trading since 2017 in Australia, the brand has just landed in UK Holland & Barrett stores via Kinetic, much to the delight of the growing market of keto consumers. Keto, by nature, is low in sugar – a source of carbohydrates – and Mellor proudly confirms that the 16 SKUs now available in the UK will have no issues when it comes to HFSS laws. They’re also packed with native Australian ingredients, a fact sure to attract British buyers.
When Locako landed on the Australian market keto wasn’t quite a trend yet, but soon after the launch it ‘sky-rocketed’, particularly throughout COVID. “In 2017 it was very new; we were one of the first brands to put ‘keto’ on their packaging or marketing. It was very challenging. For the first two years … I had a full-time job; [Locako] was just a hobby.
“We’d hit our peak about a year before COVID. We were really lucky that we had a really good proposition before [it] hit. If it had been a year before we would have struggled.”
Initially, Mellor didn’t care for online channels – “We were all about being a retail brand” – but faced with the pandemic the brand was forced to change its approach. “We were able to market to our own customers, rather than relying on other retailers to do it for us. It changed [us], but for the better.”
A person’s approach to food is a very personal choice. When Mellor first began exploring keto it represented a sustainable way of eating which helped her to overcome long-term health problems which her past struggle with anorexia had left behind. “When I was 17 I was severely anorexic which caused a lot of health issues and it led me to become insulin-resistant with polycystic ovaries. I discovered keto [as] a way to sort of combat that and become healthier and not diet-conscious – more of a sustainable life-style, I guess.”
Mellor believes keto allows for the enjoyment of food and socializing around mealtimes in a way which many calorie-counting diets do not; although ‘keto has an element’ of calorie counting, what’s more crucial is an understanding of the types of carbohydrates and sugars you’re consuming. “Myself, I don’t necessarily count calories, I don’t follow a very strict keto diet but I just follow a low-carb diet and I love keto-friendly products. I think ‘cycling’ keto is a really great idea. I guess it’s just trying to figure out what’s best for you.”
For anyone in the early stages of keto exploration Locako offers Keto Adapt, and soon to join the brand’s raft of snack bars and protein and collagen blends is Apple Keto, designed to curb sugar cravings.
Beyond issues of weight loss, keto is gaining recognition for helping to control a number of serious medical conditions – two examples being insulin resistance and epilepsy. Mellor celebrates the fact that while it’s not possible to makes claims, anecdotally Locako has epileptic customers who have reported the cessation of epilepsy symptoms once in a state of ketosis – and there have been some promising studies which back this up.
A tailored approach
Nutritionist Jenni Gordon often gets asked about keto, as well as intermittent fasting, and says both ‘have their place and it depends on the individual’. “[Keto is] really good for things like epilepsy and certain conditions, but I personally [think] for weight loss it’s just too hard to maintain. Quite a few people have come to me after they’ve done keto, and they’ve put loads more weight back on. You’re just making the next time you try to lose weight a little bit harder because it’s mucking around with your metabolism.”
While keto works for some, Gordon’s view is that professional guidance should always be sought before exploration begins. “I will look at everything … going on in that person’s life – their sleep, their gut. If they’ve got constipation, the keto diet would not be right. It can cause constipation if you’re having quite a lot of protein.
“Intermittent fasting can be quite good for long-term help; it reduces your insulin growth factor, and it can work for certain people as long as they’re not bingeing in that window. But it’s really to give your stomach a rest and let it repair and stop that whole grazing thing throughout the day. I quite like intermittent fasting or ‘window fasting’. I’ve had clients where I’ve changed the windows around, so if they get up and they’re starving hungry, they can eat earlier and not in the evening.”
And what about putting on pounds from medication? Usually, notes Gordon, ‘the actual medication doesn’t necessarily cause the weight gain, it just increases your hunger so you tend to eat more’. “With steroids, yes, you do get an element of puffiness, but it does increase your appetite and that’s part of the reason why they give steroids … to cancer patients because they’re not eating, they’ve got no energy. So it’s about … making sure they’ve always got healthy stuff in the fridge [for] when they do get that ravenous hunger.”
Going for gains
Gordon notes that weight management isn’t always about inch loss; in clinic she welcomes quite a few clients who consult with her to bulk up or maintain their weight. “Probably more than you’d imagine … and more than I anticipated.” The majority of these seek her expertise post-surgery, post-treatment or for sports or training purposes.
With these clients, Gordon works over a long period. “With weight gain we do it quite gradually, so it’s increasing the calories by 100 or so each day until they feel comfortable. Or you can get them to a point where they’re happy before you finish with them; you give them the tools to go further.”
In situations where weight is a triggering emotional issue – perhaps a client has previously suffered from an eating disorder – Gordon’s approach is to leave numbers out of the conversation, as it can easily ‘become obsessive’. “I try and make it more practical. We would never say to a client ‘You need to have an extra 100 calories’; we would put that in terms of food, give them ideas of meals and snacks that have plenty of healthy fats. They wouldn’t notice it quite so much – it wouldn’t seem quite so daunting.”
For those intentionally looking to gain weight, protein of course plays its part. “It’s important, definitely, because it obviously helps with muscle mass.” But it’s also very filling, she points out, so it’s important to strike a fine balance. “We don’t want it to all be about protein because otherwise they won’t have as many nutrient-dense, high-calorie [foods] – especially if they’re having something like chicken which is quite lean. It can make it harder to put extra calories in there.”
Where supplements are concerned, Gordon is led by her clients, what they can handle and what they can afford: “I do use supplements a lot. It depends on the individual and what they’ve got going on. If it’s someone who has a bit of an issue around eating, I might not … because it might make it a little bit too overwhelming. Some people just don’t like taking supplements at all.” With those who are overweight, probiotics are important – “It normally does come to [the fact] that their gut is a little bit out of whack” – but so too are probiotic foods, which she packs into clients’ eating plans.
And while she’s wary of ‘gimmicky’ diet pills, she admits that some people ‘will live by them; they love them’. “As long as it’s not causing any other problems – some of them obviously can cause diarrhoea or constipation and heart palpitations, so I just check out the ones they’re using, and make sure they are safe. But they wouldn’t be my go-to to recommend to a client. Obviously there are scientific things that can help with your hunger hormones. I think you just need to let them know that there is no magic pill and [to] just be cautious. It’s about putting the work in.”
A recent study by the University of Aberdeen found that eating a bigger breakfast could help aid weight loss; among the 30 participants, scientists noticed appetite was significantly smaller after starting the day with a larger plate of food, leading them to conclude that a ‘morning loaded intake (big breakfast) may assist with compliance to weight loss regime through a greater suppression of appetite’. But, notes Gordon, what you eat matters hugely. “Breakfast can be great if it’s quite balanced and you get some protein in there and some healthy fats and complex carbs. A normal cereal is not going to do it – it’s just pure sugar. If you’re having something that’s got a bit of everything in it, that really will keep you full up and stop you snacking and getting that slump.
People don’t realize that protein is highest on the satiety score, then healthy fats. Carbs are the lowest. With carbs you get the ‘crash’. So if you’re getting some protein with your breakfast it’s definitely going to see you through much longer [without] that rise and fall.”
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