Sunday, 13 September 2009

Death by diet

Tragically, a British bride-to-be died this week, with many pointing the finger at her low calorie diet as being the reason for her death.

Samantha Clowe was 34 years of age and had been following the "Lighter Life" diet for eleven weeks, losing over 3 stone (42 pounds, 19kg) in the process.

Unfortunately, Samantha is not the only one on the "Lighter Life" diet who has suffered.

In 2006, Matilda Callaghan died after losing 10 stone (140 pounds, 64kg) on the diet.

Last year, Jacqueline Henson (a mother of five), died three weeks after starting the Lighter Life diet. The diet apparently suggests drinking 4 to 6 litres of water per day (140 to 210 oz). She drank four litres in two hours, causing her brain to swell, leading to her death.

Sarah Barker was also on the Lighter Life diet - shedding 11 stone (154 pounds, 70kg) in eight months in 2006. However, Sarah now blames the diet for continuing muscle pains, poor vision, memory loss and tiredness, three years after having given up the diet.

In 2007, Christina Massingham began the Lighter Life diet to reduce her weight from 22 stone. Within less than a year, she had lost over 11 stone and tried to start eating normally again. Unfortunately this didn't work and she ended up losing a total of 13 stone, and was diagnosed with anorexia.

Before I get sued, I need to stress that no inquest was able to prove a direct causal link between the diet that these women were on and the tragic consequences.

It's also worth pointing out that, on the newspaper websites on which these stories are reported, that there are a substantial number of comments from people who have followed the Lighter Life diet, lost substantial amounts of weight, and have kept it off. There are also comments from people who have lost a lot of weight and then regained most or all of it, or sometimes regained even more than they lost in the firt place.

So why am I writing about these tragic stories? Because I was worried that I too may be losing weight too quickly and risk having similar effects. My weight loss is currently averaging around 1.5kg per week - equating to around a stone per month. This is a similar rate of weight loss which these women were also experiencing.

On a bit of closer examination, however, I'm comfortable that the approach I'm taking is a long way away from the Lighter Life.

Firstly, the Lighter Life allows around 500 calories per day every day. I may get down towards that on my fasting days, but am substantially above that on other days, so overall I'm getting a lot more nutrition than anyone on the Lighter Life programme.

Secondly, much of the calorie deficit I'm creating is coming from exercise. The stories I read about these women suggested that exercise was not a large part of their programme.

Thirdly, I'm not intending to be cutting calories to the extent I am for any longer than three months - by that point I should be at (or close to) my goal weight of 85kg.

However, the question still remains around what is a 'healthy' rate of weight loss. Almost everything you read suggests that it is between 1 to 2 pounds per week. However, the I've yet to see the science behind why this is the right number, and not the 3 to 4 pounds per week which I'm currently losing.

Let's take the NBC show "The Biggest Loser".

The last winner of that competition, Helen Phillips, lost 140 pounds over the course of the show. Just taking the regular part of the show into account, when they had weekly weighings, she lost 91 pounds between week 1 and week 17 - over five and a half pounds per week.

Mike, however, lost 142 pounds over the same period - almost 9 pounds per week! To be honest, I don't understand how that is possible, as it equates to a caloric deficit of well over 3,500 calories per day and that's allowing for the fact that some of that weight loss will come from water and lean tissue and not just from fat. Creating that kind of caloric deficit (assuming that he's still eating at least something - 500 calories per day?) means that he is burning up over 4,000 calories per day, every day. Lots of lots of exercise - very impressive.

But these cases lead me to the conclusion that my, relatively modest, three to four pounds per week weight loss, is well within the range of being healthy.

You can keep up with my daily weight loss progress in the top right corner of my blog, or click on my "Losing Weight" page to see my daily weighings since I started trying to lose weight properly.