Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Edland has a piece about the latest government diktat.
Yesterday's decree from the Secretary of State for Education unsettled me somewhat. On the face of it, teaching children the basics of how to cook is a laudable ambition. It does seem, on the face of it, that much of the current fatness epidemic is caused by poor eating habits. Children ape their parents so if they are fed a bad example there isn't much that is going to whip them into shape until they are mature enough to set their own direction.

I cannot be bothered to discuss this latest piece of NuLabour fatuity, so I wish to discourse upon the subject of fat instead.

The first point to note is that if you eat more calories than you burn, those unburned calories will be stored as fat.

This is because fat is more efficient at storing energy than sugars (which is why nuts are mostly composed of fat).

However, fats require additional processing before they can be used, and this processing, in turn, requires energy. Sugars require less processing and so will always be "burned" first. What this means is, if you are carrying a little extra weight, and then you have something to eat, then do some exercise, the calories from what you have just eaten will be burned first and not your stored fat.

Providing normal body function, you will always have enough sugar (specifically, glucose) in your bloodstream to deal with most normal exertions. If you do not, you will become hypoglycaemic and slip into a coma and die. If you have too much sugar, you will become hyperglycaemic and you will get very ill and eventually slip into a coma and die. Blood sugar is regulated by insulin, which is manufactured in a part of the pancreas known as the Islets of Langerhans: when, for whatever reason, human insulin production doesn't work properly, you end up with a condition called diabetes.

But I digress: given normal working, you will always have enough sugar in your bloodstream to deal with most normal exertions. So, what are the implications for weight loss?

The single most important thing to remember is that it is far easier to put on weight than it is to lose it.

The second important thing to remember is that it requires reasonably long periods of sustained aerobic exercise before you start burning your fat store.

The muscles store some fat globules in any case, ready for any aerobic exercise required.
Initially during aerobic exercise, glycogen is broken down to produce glucose, but in its absence, fat metabolism is initiated instead. The latter is a slow process, and is accompanied by a decline in performance level. The switch to fat as fuel is a major cause of what marathon runners call "hitting the wall".

In practice, it is a little more complicated than this, of course. However, the main point holds: you need to burn through your blood sugar before you start metabolising your stored fat.

So, putting fat on is an awful lot easier than taking it off, especially with our modern lifestyles.

The answer, as I have explained before, is not to eat so much.
If you are worried about becoming fat, maybe you should try your humble Devil's diet. I eat a large meal only every three to five days, and merely have a snack—bread and cheese, or maybe a couple of Gregg's steak bakes—at lunchtime on the other days. This is because I sit on my arse all day (occasionally twitching my mouse hand and typing this balderdash) and, working from home, I don't even walk to work anymore. You will find that you soon slip into the routine, and hunger doesn't strike (or if it does, porridge really hits the spot).

That was written about two years ago, when I lived in Edinburgh; my lifestyles is even more sedentary now due, perversely, to the fact that London is so much bigger: I tend to take public transport rather than walking everywhere. I have thus reduced my food intake slightly (though it's more regular).

So, there we are: lots of exercise and less food leads to less obesity. But the main point is to take the exercise before your food ends up being stored as fat, because it's a damn sight harder to get rid of than it is to put on.

Here endeth the lesson.


Anonymous said...

Out of interest, do you not get rabid munchies after a good drink? This is the bane of my gluttenous life...

Devil's Kitchen said...

Not usually, no, I must confess. Very occasionally, I do. However, I'm usually too pissed to owt about it.

Tell you what though: if the government is worried about obesity, they should legalise such appetite suppressants as cocaine, speed and Ecstasy...


Anonymous said...

If you enjoy your food but can actually be arsed to do some exercise then do it first thing in the morning before breakfast - you have the lowest blood sugar possible as you haven't eaten for so long.

Mark Hodson said...

"The first point to note is that if you eat more calories than you burn, those unburned calories will be stored as fat."


Some of the calories will be stored as fat, some in other forms (ISTR glycogen plays a role) and some will be excreted.

Your body shape and the proportion of brown adipose to normal adipose tissue have an impact too.

As does the FORM that those calories took.



The Sage of Muswell Hill said...


About 15 years ago - and struggling to lose weight - I read a book called "The Calorie Fallacy" by Barry Groves: it pre-dated (I think) the Atkins Diet. Basically it set out what you have posted (and its underlying rationale is repeated here). Essentially, as you write, the thesis is that it's not over-consuming fat that causes weight gain, it's over-consuming carbohydrate. Anyway, following Mr Groves' advice worked and works for me. I should add that Mrs Umbongo worries about my relative high level of cholesterol: however, the (slightly) above-average levels of cholesterol that I have are apparently of "good" cholesterol (HDL) not "bad" cholesterol (LDL).

It (almost) goes without saying that the hysterical and, in practice, counter-productive mantra that "everything must be low-fat" endlessly regurgitated by the government and health establishment is consequently total bollocks as is the drivel in "slimming" magazines. BTW, for our Scottish readers, it's the Mars Bar that's bad for you, not the fat in which it's fried.

Anonymous said...

The best way to reduce obesity is to put fat people in the stocks and have everybody throw stale krispykreme doughnuts at them, as a deterrent.

And/or make them pay extra on public transport and put extra VAT on large size clothes.

And maybe, get the BBC to do lots of biased anti-fat people stories..just slip a few words in here and there on a daily basis and do lots of positive stories about how wonderful thin people are.

Since fox hunting has been banned, how about hunting fat people with dogs and horses? Friction burns on their thighs, hoarse wheezing noises, sweat...fucking safe!

Devil's Kitchen said...


After taking Biology and Chemistry at GCSE and A Level and then studying microbiology for two years at university, I may well be interested in the minutiae of metabolic biology: the majority of my readers, however, are probably not.

Yes, it's a simplification but is, essentially, true. If you want to nit-pick, you will note that I have not talked about the metabolic pathways of saturated and unsaturated fats, nor of proteins and amino acids. Nor have I talked about the stringy sugars of plant or insect shells, blah, blah.

The reason I didn't do that is because -- although I know this crap -- most people aren't interested.


Simon Fawthrop said...

Breakfast like a king
Lunch like a price
Dinner like a pauper

Ms Robinson said...

I have this week declared myself a trainee dictator (see blog) and will soon put an end to all this fat and ugly nonsense. Work will set the fat free.

Anonymous said...

Umbongo: If it's fried in the wrong type of fat then it is very much the fat too. Olive oil and comparative fats = good, unsaturated/hydrogenated fats = bad.

Anonymous said...

Last year I lost over 3 stone.

What worked for me was:

(a) The knowledge that 3500 calories = 1 pound. I.e. if you undereat by 3500c, you lose 1 pound. Conversely if you overeat by that much, you gain a pound.

(b) Counting the calories & recording them in a diary. That way you can keep a running total & make up for slips. The prospect of having to make up for a big slip is motivation to avoid it. As DK mentions above, porridge is a good substitute for a meal, as is muesli, largely because they are low in sugar and salt.

I had been having 3 or 4 cups of coffee per day made entirely with skimmed milk. Switching to half milk/water saved me 50 cals per cup, or about 1400 cals/week. Rice was also a major source of excess calories. Before I started counting, I had assumed that skimmed milk and rice were negligible, calorie-wise, but it turned out that they accounted for most of my excess.

(c) Weighing myself 2 or 3 times a day at least. I got familiar with the natural variation in my weight during the course of a day. It's surprising just how big the variation is: 4 pounds or more on my scales, and a lot more after eating salty food, because of the consequent increase in osmotic water retention.

(d) Regular exercise on a stationary bike with a calorie readout. The principal benefit of this was that it graphically demonstrated that you cannot lose weight by exercising. I got pretty good on that thing, but at my peak I could manage about 250-300 calories-per-hour-of-hell, which is about one Mars Bar's worth. Fuck that - far easier not to eat the Mars Bar :)

The Sage of Muswell Hill said...


"Olive oil and comparative fats = good, unsaturated/hydrogenated fats = bad."

Yes: I understand that Mars Bars fried in margarine are the ultimate artery stuffers.


Forget about counting calories and frequent hard exercise, just minimise the carbohydrate intake. That way you can have cream in your coffee with a bacon and eggs breakfast: believe me, it works.

chris said...

Or if you don't want to eat less you can push up the amount of energy that you burn.

This time of year thats easier than normal as you can do that just by turning down the heating, the greater difference between you and ambient will mean more heat loss from you so your body will compensate by burning more energy to maintain its temperature.

Simon Fawthrop said...


There are other benefits from the exercise, but I agree just taking exercise is no way to diet. However if you are burning off 350 calories you could allow yourself a couple of large glasses of wine in the evening to releive the stresses of dieting.

There is another problem for those who take up exercise to lose weight. By exercising you bulk up muscle, which is heavier than fat and in the first few weeks it is possible to put weight on whilst losing fat. In these circumstances it is always best to go by waist measurements, indeed I have found my belt is the best guide to how well I am doing.

Anonymous said...

Old adage: to lose weight, eat less move more.

PCTs employ "5 a day" officials - on your money.

John Yudkin called refined white sugar "white death". A diet based on white death, salt, refined white wheat flour and fat is a killer.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Dear everyone,

It occurs to me that many have never met me and thus would not know if my proscriptions work.

When I was last measured, in late 1996, I was a shade over 6 foot (though I stoop very badly). I weighed myself on some scales, six days back, and I am now ten and a half stone.


Devil's Kitchen said...


Plus, shivering id one of the best ways of losing fat over the long term.


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