Why breakfast could be causing you to gain weight, says professor Tim Spector

If you were led to believe that breakfast was the most important meal of the day… then you may have fallen victim to one of the many diet myths, says professor Tim Spector. 

The nutrition expert who is an epidemiologist at King’s College and a specialist in microbiome (gut health) and diet has revealed the many falsehoods surrounding diet. 

Appearing on This Morning, he shared a series of ‘basic truths’ behind diet myths, revealing why calorie control doesn’t work, why exercise is not the key to losing weight and why Britain’s ‘lack of food culture’ could be to blame for our waistlines… 

Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford speak to professor Tim Spector on ITV's This Morning

Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford speak to professor Tim Spector on ITV’s This Morning

Why is there is so much misinformation? 

Discussing his newest book, Spoon Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food Is Wrong, Professor Spector told This Morning: ‘Many of diet falsehoods have been around for a while and have even been taught to me as a doctor and a medical student. 

Spoon Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food Is Wrong by Professor Tim Spector

Spoon Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food Is Wrong by Professor Tim Spector

‘Firstly we have a vacuum because we don’t have a strong food culture in the country, and we don’t have the grandmothers teaching us what we should be eating, as they do in Italy and Spain and France. 

‘We eat more ultra processed food than any other country in Europe, and this junk food and snacking is something that’s now become part of our culture.’

Professor Spector also believes that large food companies are to blame for distorting research surrounding the food we should be eating, as well as the UK government’s lack of funding for research.

He adds: ‘Food companies have got very big and strong, and they are distorting a lot of the research about foods. And the government’s not putting money into nutrition research as it should. This has left a really big gap and the public have been hit with the problems.’

Why breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day…  

Professor Spector said: ‘I love breakfast, but for many people, it actually makes them put on weight. And so there’s about half the population you would probably do very well by skipping breakfast.

‘We’ve been told the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for the last hundred years by breakfast manufacturers. It simply isn’t true. 

‘And, studies have shown that if you have the same amount of food, but broken between two meals instead of three. Most people will actually be better off and healthier and lose some weight.’

The British nutrition expert adds that giving your gut a rest using the technique called ‘restricted time eating’ can result in a healthier gut and overall improved health.

He adds: ‘This [time restricted eating] can be done every day, or even just once a week is a good idea to not eat for 14 hours so that your gut and your gut microbes can have a rest overnight. 

‘That means not eating all the time and, obviously, this goes against what the food companies want us to do – they want us to eat all the time. But the scientific evidence is showing we should be compressing our eating times, and so starting later and finishing earlier.’

The nutrition expert who is an epidemiologist at King's College and a specialist in microbiome (gut health) and diet has revealed the many falsehoods surrounding diet

The nutrition expert who is an epidemiologist at King’s College and a specialist in microbiome (gut health) and diet has revealed the many falsehoods surrounding diet

Why calorie counting will not work… 

With labels on food displaying calorie counts that are only accurate to within 20 per cent and restaurants displaying menus with calorie counts for meals that can actually total 50 per cent more or fewer calories than stated, Professor Spector said there’s no wonder that counting calories doesn’t always work…

Professor Spector said: ‘It’s the biggest oversell in history really the calorie. No calorie controlled diet have ever worked long term, you can’t measure it accurately.’  

‘Calories in doesn’t equal calories out and everything you eat depends on how you cook it, how it’s prepared and when you have it, so it really doesn’t add up.’

Asked why people do lose weight when restricting calories Professor Spector said: ‘Yes obviously we know if you starve you don’t have calories therefore you lose weight, but the idea that you can measure it accurately, that you can go and every day tick off those calories [is wrong]. 

‘The reason it doesn’t work is that they’re very hard to measure and everyone has a different requirement.’

Professor Spector said that those looking to lose weight should look at the types of food they are eating and the frequency of their meals, rather than the calories involved

Professor Spector said that those looking to lose weight should look at the types of food they are eating and the frequency of their meals, rather than the calories involved

He also believes that the limits placed on calorie intake for men and women are incorrect.

The expert added: ‘The idea that women only have 2,000 calories is complete nonsense, because our recent studies have shown that everybody is different.

‘Everybody’s unique in how many calories they need and how many calories they burn. And so the idea of the guideline that fits everybody is also nonsense.

‘So, yes, chips are more calories and spinach, but basing on your choice of food on calories, rather than the quality and the ingredients, is basically nonsense because we’re obsessed with looking at labels about low calorie foods low fat foods low sugar. We should forget all that, and start eating properly. And if we do that, eat better and at the right time. Then we could all be much healthier and lose weight.’ 

Why are current generations fatter than ever? 

When asked by This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes why every one ‘got fat after the 1970s’ Professor Spector suggested that we look to Southern Europe for inspiration.  

The professor said: ‘That’s absolutely right yes that’s when it all went wrong, really. And you know what, when I was at school, they just weren’t any fat kids. Now one in three kids are fat. And I think it’s the culture also of of snacking as well continue eating and this.

The nutrition expert also added that he believed the prevalence of overweight children in our society had increased due to processed food

The nutrition expert also added that he believed the prevalence of overweight children in our society had increased due to processed food

‘Many people don’t believe in a healthy snack because they think you should wait like they do in southern Europe for their main meals and eat those properly rather than constantly graze.

‘We were told about 20 years ago that eating a little and often was better for you and it turns out that data was based on about ten people 20 years ago and it’s complete rubbish.’ 

Why exercise is not as worthwhile as you think for losing weight… 

With most people believing that you must also expend calories through exercise to lose weight Professor Spector has another bubble to burst…

Cardio exercise slows down your metabolism after the fact meaning you are more likely to tip the balance with a biscuit, says Professor Spector. 

He stated: ‘I believe in exercise is good for you and reduces your risk of many diseases, but what it doesn’t do for 90 per cent of people is make them lose any weight because it simply changes your metabolic rate so that it will slow down.

While exercise is still good for you, according to Professor Spector, he also states that people wrongly expect it to help them lose weight

While exercise is still good for you, according to Professor Spector, he also states that people wrongly expect it to help them lose weight

‘So you might burn some calories exercising, but afterwards, your body’s reset. Again, and your body’s basically slowed down to such an extent that just having a biscuit with your tea you probably wipe out all that exercise.’

Asked why most health advice seemed to suggest the opposite, that exercise speeds up your metabolism and even helps burn fat when you are resting the professor said it was a ‘fallacy’.

‘The reality is that these watches that tell you how many calories you’ve burned and therefore you can go and have a donut are wrong,’ he said.

‘In real life, we just haven’t been able to measure how much people burn very well. Everyone burns at a different rate. So I’m not saying, nobody will lose weight exercising, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be using these average figures as many people will get worse.’

He concluded: ‘The only way to lose weight really is to focus on the food and the diet and the timing of your food, and don’t depend on exercise, although exercise is great for us.’

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