Are carbs really making you fat?

Transformational Nutrition carbs making you fat

There is a commonly held myth that reducing carbohydrates promotes weight loss and it is indeed a very convincing argument.  We have all tried a low-carb diet at least once in our life, and the chances are that it worked.  Think about it, reducing processed, calorie-dense carbohydrates and replacing them with protein and whole, unrefined foods will drastically reduce your calories and therefore your waistline. 

Furthermore, research has shown that eating more protein, as well as fibre, keeps you fuller for longer so you will subsequently lose weight.  It isn’t cutting carbs alone that makes us lose fat.

Insulin Hypothesis

Carbohydrates raise the hormone insulin in our bodies and there is a misconception that this hormone makes us hungry and prevents us from burning fat choosing to store it instead.  It goes something like this:

1. We eat carbs

2. Insulin is released

3. It makes us more hungry

4. We store fat

It is important to note, however, that whilst carbohydrates do cause insulin to spike, this is a natural process that occurs to regulate hunger not increase it.  Insulin is in fact an appetite suppressant and a very powerful one at that.  Whilst it does cause blood sugar to rise, this doesn’t continue all throughout the day.  It only takes place in response to a meal.  Here is how it actually works (image from James Krieger):

Image result for james krieger carb hypothesis

Whilst insulin is high, your body does tend to burn carbohydrates over fat (highlighted in green) but once it has reduced again fat is burned (demonstrated in blue).  So, as you can see, it all balances out over the course of 24 hours.  Furthermore, evidence has demonstrated that protein can have just as much an impact on insulin release as carbohydrates do so purely demonising carbohydrates is ludicrous!

Are Low Carb Diets Actually Superior?

Transformational Nutrition no carbs

There has been a plethora of research into this area in recent years and they all draw the same conclusion; low carb diets do work in the short-term but they are no more effective than any other form of calorie restriction

One study showed the same amount of weight loss in participants when they followed a high carb diet proceeded by a low carb version. 1.1lb was lost in both scenarios despite the fact that the low carb diet saw insulin reduce by half. This effectively disproves the insulin hypothesis as have many other studies that I have referenced in other blogs.

As I discuss here, weight loss doesn’t magically occur just by restricting a certain food group – it all comes down to calories in vs calories out.  When you are eating less than you burn, you will lose fat with or without carbohydrates in your diet.

Do Carbs Make You Gain Weight?

It is clear that you do not need to restrict your carbohydrate intake to lose weight but what about the notion that carbohydrates make you fat?

This idea stems from the fact that when we eat carbohydrates, we prioritise burning these over fats.  However, this is a transient process and once complete, our bodies go back to burning fats as pictured in the diagram above.  It is all part of homeostasis; our body’s way of regulating itself so that it all balances out at the end of the day.

Transformational Nutrition carbs fat

Contrary to some claims, it is very rare that carbohydrate is ever ‘turned in to fat’.  This can occur but only when carbohydrates are over eaten on a HUGE scale.  One study showed this to happen when 1000 grams of carbohydrates were eaten in a day – to put this in to context, the average UK female eats less than 200 g a day when not on a low carb diet so would have to eat at least 5 times as much!  Not very comfortable….

Fundamentally, numerous studies have shown that when calories are like for like, the same amount of weight is gained when fats or carbs are over consumed.

They have further demonstrated that carbohydrates do not influence body weight any more than fats do when a person is not overeating and therefore in energy balance.


When calories are matched, there appears to be no ‘best’ way to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss.  It ultimately comes down to the amount you eat not what you eat and this should be driven by personal preference.

Transformational Nutrition unrefined carbs

With that said, processed, greatly refined carbohydrates should not make up the majority of your diet.  If you do choose to retain carbs in your diet, choose whole, unprocessed versions whenever possible.  High carb junk foods are lacking essential nutrients, don’t fill us up and ultimately lead to us overeating.  This excess of calories is what is at the root of the obesity epidemic, not carbohydrates as such.

However, if you find that a low carb approach is the best way to keep your calories low and maintain your health then go ahead.  Just be aware that it is not the only approach but it may well be the best one for you as it helps you to stay on track.

But if it is a struggle and you love your carbs, then there is no reason not to eat them as long as your calories are in the right place.

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The 80/20 Rule And How To Apply It

Whilst we should all aim to eat as healthily as we can as often as we can, being too restrictive more often than not leads to weight regain.  Making consistent nutrition changes that suit your lifestyle is the key to losing & maintaining fat loss.  This is where the 80/20 rule can work.

How it works

The principle is simple; eat whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole unprocessed grains, 80% of the time.  This allows you to indulge in foods you love, that may otherwise hinder progress, 20% of the time.  You can choose to do this on either a daily basis or by having a ‘day off’ every week.  We recommend that you do it daily as it will help you to avoid cravings and achieve a more sustainable balance but if you do decide to have a ‘day off’, then you must ensure that you still remain within your calorie allowance for that day.

Focussing on whole, natural foods for the majority of your diet will lead to you feeling more energised, happier and healthier.  You will find that your activity levels along with your mood increases and your results will be far better.

Guidelines on 80% foods

These should come from natural, unprocessed sources such as:


Fish, lean meats, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, protein powders, tofu.

80/20 diet rule


Rice, potatoes (sweet and white), oats, quinoa, vegetables, salad, fruits, beans/legumes.

Transformational Nutrition fibre


Avocado, raw nuts, oily fish, olive oil, nut butter, butter.

This list is my no means exhaustive, it just serves as an initial, informative guide.


Just try to eat the majority of your food from natural sources 80% of the time and do not feel guilty for indulging once in a while.

Have a question about nutrition? Confused about anything that we have posted? PING US and the relevant coach will get back to you with an answer.


Could your food choices be affecting your mood?

Can what you eat really affect your mood? This is a really interesting area of research that is developing and the data we have to date is promising.  

Food is the body’s essential fuel. Alongside oxygen and water, without food, a human being cannot survive. As science has evolved, people are slowly waking up to the evidence that food choices can dramatically influence the quality of your life – your energy levels, your skin, your propensity to avoid illness and disease and one of the latest studies shows the effect of food choices on moods

The SMILES study 

Transformational Nutrition depression and diet

A 2017 Randomised controlled trial, called the SMILES study, set out to investigate whether a dietary intervention could treat moderate to severe depression.  It was a 12 week, parallel group, single-blind study involving 67 participants. The intervention group received 7 nutritional consulting sessions alongside a Mediterranean diet whilst the control group received placebo, social support sessions of the same length and frequency.

The Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale was used to assess the participants at 12 weeks and the results were impressive.  32% of those who received the dietary intervention were classified as no longer clinically depressed at the end of the trial compared with 8% in the placebo group.  This seems to suggest that diet alone can change levels of depression. It is important to note that the participants in this study were seriously depressed and continued to take medication throughout but it would appear that diet as an adjunct therapy did indeed benefit.  It also begs the question of whether diet alone could help to treat those with lower levels of depression so that medication isn’t required. This has not been researched to date but it is certainly something to consider – if you suffer from low moods, could the quality of you diet be the primary cause?  It is certainly something that I investigate with my clients if appropriate.

What was special about the diet?

Transformational Nutrition fibre

Talking of diet then, let’s look a little closer at the composition of the diet implemented in the SMILES study. Firstly, it included 50g of fibre daily; compare this with the UK average of 15-20g. This was provided through the inclusion of plenty of plant based foods.  The participant’s guts were therefore loaded with dietary fibre which we know is good for our gut microbiota. When we digest fibre, we produce things like short chain fatty acids which provide us with energy and keep our colon healthy.  Our gut microbes communicate with our central nervous system, which is where the ‘gut: brain’ axis theory originates, so maintaining a healthy gut could play a key role in managing our mental state.

In addition to a huge increase in fibre, participants were asked to eat the following daily:

  • 1 serving of Nuts
  • 60 ml of Olive oil
  • 2-3 servings of dairy
  • 6 portions of vegetables
  • 3 portions of fruit
  • 5-8 servings of whole grains.

And the following weekly:

  • 1-4 portions of legumes
  • 3-4 servings of red meat
  • At least 2 portions of fish
  • 2-3 servings of poultry and up to 6 eggs.

They were, therefore, getting plenty of folate from the fruits, veggies and whole grains, vitamin B12 from dairy, eggs and red meat, omega 3 and selenium from the nuts and fish.  All of these important nutrients have been shown to help improve mood and symptoms of depression.

As you can see, it was a well-balanced diet that included plenty of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats which would have met the energy requirements of the participants whilst providing them with all the necessary vitamins and minerals for a healthy functioning body.

I appreciate that vegetarians won’t like the presence of meat in the study. Non-meat eaters might want to replace meat with more fish, dairy, eggs or legumes depending on what their diet allows though I cannot promise anyone will enjoy the outcomes in the trial.

Can we put it all down to diet?

Transformational Nutrition family eating depression

In addition to all this, participants were asked to exercise daily and enjoy meals with others.  Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit from a positive boost in mood and suffer less with depression.  Socialising over food may also have had an impact on; it promotes more mindful eating which has proven benefits for both our mental and physical health.  It prevents eating on the go in a stressed state which helps digestion and thus plays a part in promoting emotional well-being.


In summary, then, it would seem that we can, in fact, improve our mental health through our diet and lifestyle.  Such simple interventions could in turn help to manage and/or prevent the development of mental and physical disease.

So if you suffer from moods or depression, this study strongly suggests that you can positively affect this with your choice of food and remember that food does not have the negative side effects of some medication.


Protein Packed Overnight Oats – The Secret to Effective Weight Loss

Whilst is it a myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, a good breakfast can certainly set you up for the day, especially if you have a busy one ahead.

Two of the biggest mistakes that my clients make are the following:

  1. They don’t plan ahead, leave the house on an empty stomach and then end up starving on their commute to the office.  This means they inevitably go for that huge croissant or pain au chocolat.
  2. They fail to include protein.  So whilst that tasty pastry fills a gap momentarily, they find themselves hungry again at 11 am.  So, what do they do?  Grab the next most convenient thing which is usually not the healthiest.

The Solution

You need a breakfast that is quick, easy, satisfying and can be easily transported for whenever hunger strikes.  For this reason I want to share with you the recipe that helped one of my clients lose a stone in 6 weeks – protein-packed overnight oats!

It can very easily be prepared in advance and will last up to 5 days in the fridge.  This means you can make a big batch on a Sunday night that is ready to go as you rush out the door every weekday morning.

As it is high in protein, fibre and contains slow-releasing carbohydrates, it will keep you full until lunchtime which my client said really helped with curbing her ‘elevenses’ cravings!


The Recipe

I am sharing the basic recipe here which can be adapted to suit your own personal taste.  The great thing about this is that you can vary it each week or even make 2 versions per week.

It also means you can add any ingredients you have readily available.

This makes one serving but you can amend it according to how many days you want to be super prepared for.  Once it is ready, you can transfer in to separate pots.


  • 150g Greek yogurt
  • 30 g rolled oats
  • 150ml milk of choice
  • 1 scoop whey protein (flavour of choice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Preferred fruit
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)


  1. Whisk all of the above together and then transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  3. Top with berries when ready to serve (optional)

To conclude

So there you have it – super simple hey?? You can go ahead and play with different variations.  I like to add nuts and seeds sometimes or my favourite sugar-free syrup for a sweeter taste.  A little shaving if dark chocolate on the top is also a great way to add some indulgence without sacrificing too many Kcals.  The possibilities really are endless….

Weight loss does not need to be complicated; it is achieved through small habits practiced every day.


Identity Based Behaviour Change – the key to long term weight loss

Do you ever wonder why, for some people, being ‘healthy’ appears so effortless?

It must be part of their genetic makeup, you tell yourself – ‘I could never be that disciplined,’ is probably your self-narrative.

Yet, the truth is that people who practice healthy behaviours day in, day out, have made this a part of who they are – their identity.  This is the key to long term success, whatever your goal.

Identify Based Behaviour Change

Transformational nutrition goal setting

Whether intentionally or not, people who get results are people who have internalised positive behaviours, they no longer have to think about doing the ‘right’ thing, it just occurs naturally.

They also do not have the mindset that they have to eat veg all day tomorrow as a punishment for eating badly yesterday.  Nor do they see the gym as a short term fix to reach that magic number on the scales.

Quite the opposite; they have identified with the ‘thing’ that gets them results.  They have BECOME the person who eats veg every day or the girl who lifts weights.  It has become effortless because it is a part of who they are.  They never ‘forget’ to add broccoli to their evening meal or have to muster up the energy to get their gym gear because it comes as naturally as brushing their teeth in the morning.

It most likely did not happen over night, however.  They identified the habit they wanted to instil and they practised it over time.  It is this accumulation of efforts that gets results.

The issue for so many of us is that we give up far too soon; the progress is not immediate and so we do not allow enough time to identify with the person we truly want to be.  We tell ourselves it is an impossible dream and end up back in the same rut.

How To Implement Identity Based Behaviour Change

Transformational nutrition self belief behaviour change

In order to believe in a new identity, we have to first believe that it is achievable – that we can be the person we desire to be.  This means pushing self-limiting thoughts aside and remembering that we are ultimately in control of how we act, react, talk and listen each and every day.

Of course, life happens.  Situations, often difficult ones, occur each day to test us.  It is how we respond to those challenges that makes all the difference.

In order to develop true self-belief, we must prove we can do it.

The most effective way is to first identify the small things you want to work on immediately that will ultimately lead you to your overarching goal.  Perhaps you need to be more active – start by increasing your steps by 500 each day.  Maybe sleep is an issue – go to bed 10 minutes earlier each night to begin with.

Decide your focus then write it down; this will be your personal contract.

Then, follow these steps:

Attach it to an existing goal

Maybe you need to remember to take a supplement each day.  Great, put it next to your kettle to take with your morning brew.

Maybe you have vowed to do 20 squats; do them while brushing your teeth.

Attaching a new habit to an existing one means that you are less likely to forget or neglect it.


Make it part of your routine by doing it each and every day.  Don’t just do it for a day or two – keep repeating over and over so it becomes ingrained in your memory.


When you have repeated the habit for an identified period of time, i.e. 7 consecutive days, reward yourself.  No, not with a huge chocolate bar!  Try a nice bath or a relaxing massage.

Monitor progress

Transformational utrition goal setting

Once you have started, begin a habit check list to positively reinforce your new habit.  You can do this on a calendar or create your own chart, whatever works for you.  Motivation will probably be high initially but this inevitably dwindles.  A visual reminder of how you have come can, however, be a powerful way to keep you focused.

If you do miss a day and the chain breaks, don’t give up.  Start again and aim to improve on your last score.  If you find that this happens regularly, however, then you may need to rethink your habit; was it too ambitious, maybe you need to strip it back a  little.  If you have never been active before and suddenly try to run 5k a day, you will find it hard to keep it up!!

It takes an average of 66 days, not 21 like some will have you believe, to make a new habit stick.  Missing one day has no log term effect if you get back on it.  It is the summation of positive action that makes it part of our identity.


Our habits are ultimately a reflection of who we believe ourselves to be.  If you perceive yourself to be someone who cannot lift a weight in a gym or who cannot cook from scratch, then you will live that out. But is this who you really want to be?  If so, crack on!!

If, however, you want to be that girl who can wear a bikini on the beach this year or that bloke who can bench three times their body weight.  Or even that parent who always has enough energy to run after their kids, then start working on becoming that person TODAY!

If you would like more advice and guidance on how to achieve your health and fitness goals, please get in touch.



Is There a ‘Best’ Diet for Weight Loss?

So, last week we discussed energy balance and the role it plays in weight gain and loss. This week I will attempt to present you with some facts about dieting.  

Today’s weight loss industry is misleading so many of us into believing that losing weight and transforming our lives can easily be achieved through a ‘quick-fix’ fad or diet plan!  Whilst in the short term this may well work for some, I want to provide you with the evidence to demonstrate that, in reality, it is unsustainable and will not lead to eternal happiness!  

Come on…what is a life without bread or chocolate?  Certainly not one I would choose…

But what if I told you that you can, and absolutely should, enjoy all the things you love whilst achieving your body goals? 

My ultimate aim is to simplify the science, clear the fog and guide you towards a more balanced, informed approach to nutrition.  Remember that your diet is your choice so make it an intelligent one that offers a longer, happier and healthier life.

Let’s start by looking at how some of society’s most popular diets work: 

Can you see the common theme here?  There is no magical reason why intermittent fasting is better than the ketogenic diet, they all work by creating a calorie deficit.  In other words, if you eat less calories than your body is consuming, the law of thermodynamics means you will lose weight, as we discussed last week.  

For optimal health there are, of course, other things to consider such as food quality, macronutrient balance and, dare I say it, genetics do play a part – not everyone can or should be slim.  However we are ‘not slaves to our genetic set points’ (Steven Novella), we can influence our ‘fate’ through the lifestyle choices we make.

So, I hope we all agree that if you consume fewer calories than you burn, fat loss will occur.  It is merely an equation of calories in vs calories out (CICO); simple science: 

Now we have established this, I want to highlight how recent research suggests that contemporary dieting often does not work.  When a number of diets were compared over time, they all appeared to be very difficult to stick to:

Whilst these approaches do work initially, over time the weight creeps back on because people cannot adhere to their structure and/or rigidity.  In other words, they do not match our lifestyles and can lead to sporadic or ‘yoyo’ dieting.  This more often than not has a huge emotional and physical impact that over time simply isn’t worth it. 

Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis that compared high and low carbohydrate diets concluded that there was no real difference in weight loss.

The bottom line is that no single, contemporary diet has the edge over another and maintainable weight loss all comes down to adherence and consistency.  As Steve Novella puts it ‘long term weight control requires sustainable strategies, not quick fixes and not magical diets’.  

The key is to find an approach that works for you over a period of time.  Don’t restrict the things you enjoy, life is far too short for that!  In fact, research suggests that people who heavily restrict in the short term, gain more over time than those who take a more gradual approach.  This is because psychologically we always want what we cannot have so will eventually binge on our self-proclaimed ‘forbidden’ foods.  

It is all about finding a balance and giving yourself permission to love life!  

I will end with a few sensible diet recommendations: 

1. Find something that works for you and you can see yourself continuing a year from now.

2. Include adequate protein.

3. Make nutritious food choices wherever possible –follow the 80/20 rule.

4. Move more!

5. Give yourself permission to enjoy food

6. Learn to love yourself!!! 

I hope you have enjoyed this blog, please leave me some feedback and get in touch with any questions  😊


How Your Body Utilises Energy and The Role it Plays in Fat Loss and Gain

In this article we are going to look at energy balance and how it dictates whether we gain, lose or maintain our weight.

What is Energy Balance?

So, what is energy balance?  Well it is the relationship between what we consume through food and drink vs the energy that we use each day.  Calories are the units that we use to measure this.

This energy equation is governed by the first law of thermodynamics and this is the science behind how our weight drops, increases or stays the same.

As you will learn, this balance is affected by a number of things unique to each individual and as such is very complex.  Therefore, the NHS recommended guidelines of 2500 cals per day for a man and 2000 for a woman are not really that useful as they are based on averages; a person’s particular goals, intake and daily activity MUST be taken into account when estimating daily requirements.  Interestingly, the number of calories required by people in Western society is steadily increasing which is no surprise in light of the obesity epidemic and the ever-growing availability of highly processed, calorific foods.

Going back to thermodynamics then, this law states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it is continuously reused.  The calories we consume must therefore be used as work, lost through heat or stored and this is a continuous, dynamic process.

How Do We Burn Energy?

The amount of energy that we burn and therefore require can broadly be broken down into four stages.

  1. BMR
  2. NEAT
  3. TEF
  4. EE

BMR is our Basal Metabolic Rate.  This is the minimum energy required to keep your body functioning at rest.

NEAT is our Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  This is the energy we expend doing everything except eating, sleeping and exercising.  It includes things like fidgeting, everyday tasks etc.

TEF describes the Thermic Effect of Food.  This is the energy required to break down the food that we consume; protein had the highest thermic effect.

EE is our Energy Expenditure so any energy required to perform exercise.

These all make up out Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).  When we are eating the same as our TDEE, we are in an energy balance which means we will maintain our weight.

Why Is Energy  Balance Important? 

Whilst understanding energy balance is key when it comes to weight loss, it also has a huge impact on vital bodily functions.  When you are in a negative or positive balance, i.e. eating too much or too little, everything from your metabolism to your moods can be affected.  This is because our bodies are happiest when they are in homeostasis, a stable balanced state, so they will constantly strive to achieve this.  This is why people often find it difficult to consistently lose and/or gain weight.

Creating a Calorie Deficit 

To be in a negative energy balance you must eat fewer calories than you require which puts you in a deficit.  This is necessary for fat to be lost.

Severe deficits can, however, lead to a reduced metabolism, decrease in bone mass, imbalanced hormones, reduced concentration, feelings of cold and agitation.  It can also reduce your NEAT and EE.

Your body will literally slow down to reserve energy for vital functions which can leave you feeling pretty rubbish!

Calorie Surplus

On the other extreme we can be in a positive energy balance which means that we are eating surplus calories required for our daily needs.  This can be important to someone who wants to gain muscle and will inevitably lead to weight gain.

If excess calories are consumed without strength-based training, however, it can create excess fat stores which may lead to higher blood pressure, increased cholesterol and our risk of diseases such as diabetes and some cancers increases.

The amount we eat and the amount we move can therefore have a huge impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

Creating Stability

As mentioned, our bodies like balance and we are therefore extremely adaptable.  As we lose weight, our bodies will adjust to the fewer calories and vice versa.  We will basically end up as either smaller or larger versions of our previous selves and the number of daily calories we require will change accordingly.  Therefore, if you are dieting and losing weight, the calorie deficit you created at the beginning will not serve you for long and will likely become your maintenance calories.  This means you will either have to eat less than you previously did to maintain your weight or you will need to exercise more.

The same works vice versa, if you gain weight then your maintenance calories will increase so you will have to create a larger deficit than you may have previously to lose weight.

Is it all down to calories?

Whilst weight gain and loss fundamentally come down to the number of calories consumed, this cannot and should not be viewed in isolation.  Our lifestyle and environment play a major factor in whether we achieve energy balance or not.  Whilst we all have the best intentions, we are constantly tempted by high calorie, processed food and our brains are programmed to seek out the foods that will give us the most energy in any given moment.  In addition to this, people are required to move less and less in modern society yet are often stressed so don’t feel like exercising which plays an important factor in our calorie expenditure.


Whilst the simple law of thermodynamics cannot be broken, it is clear that energy balance is a very complex and dynamic process.  The goal posts are constantly moving and external factors play a key role.  For this reason, it is not an exact science so you will have to experiment to find what works for you.  Whatever you are trying to achieve, increasing activity levels through more activity and/or strength based exercise can help the process and help you maintain your ideal body composition.  But remember, you don’t have to live this way forever.  Once you have achieved your goal you can remain in an energy balance through excellent nutrition and an active lifestyle.

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