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The rise (and fall) of the FATLETE PDF Print E-mail

By now you may have heard of the Banting Diet. The diet was named after William Banting, an English undertaker who lived in the 1800's and died at the ripe old age of 82. He is known for being one of the first people to have popularized a weight loss diet based on limiting the intake of refined foods and carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index.

Banting himself had suffered from obesity and whether inspired by his own rotund physique or from wrestling with hefty corpses, he decided to lose the extra pounds. In 1863, he wrote a booklet called Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. This contained the particular plan for the diet that he followed which was based on four meals a day consisting of meat (NO PORK PRODUCTS), greens, boiled fruits and selected spirits (he first consumed sherry but found after a while that it was too acidic). The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, starch, beer, saccharine matter (sugary products), milk and butter. 

The one thing that he kept emphasizing which I found to be very valid was quality and not quantity to be the the key to any eating plan. The second thing he raised which was significant was the practice of eating seasonally! Banting had a certain penchant for green peas which he admits to eating copious amounts of when they were in season and putting on weight as a result. However he knew that once the season for peas was over that he'd also lose the extra kilo's. Weighing in my opinion a modest 202 pounds (91.62kg) he described himself as not being of "very great size or weight" but was unable to stoop to tie his own shoelaces and was unable to perform daily tasks without huffing and puffing. He was compelled to go down stairs backwards to save his knee joints which he kept bandaged. One could presume then that he wasn't very tall considering all these facts. His weight issue began between the ages of thirty and forty and initially he was 'advised' by a physician that gaining a pound a year at his age was in fact quite 'normal'. Banting found this advice to be unpalatable and decided to take the advice of another esteemed physician friend whom advised heavy exercise. Due to the fact that he resided near a river, he took up rowing and rowed for a couple of hours every morning and found an increase in muscular tone. However, the exercise also made him hungry and it would appear that he ate voraciously as his weight kept increasing despite the physical effort. He abandoned rowing, thinking it was an unsuitable form of exercise for his body type and took up various other pursuits including horse-riding but to no avail as his weight kept soaring (perhaps he ate the horse after each ride?).

He turned to body scrubs, Turkish baths, massages and various potions and lotions which all seemed to help a bit, and although he'd lose a few pounds they'd inevitably come creeping back and more! Eventually he "found the right man" who advised that he cut out sugar, refined carbohydrates, beer and starch as these all have a tendency towards creating corpulence. He specifically mentions sugar saying that "5 oz (140g) sugar over 7 days will augment weight to 1 pound (373g) by the end". Thus he embraced this new way of eating with gusto, eating lots of meat (I would assume the fat on the meat too) seasonal vegetables (except for root veggies and beets), toasted bread and whiskey or gin. He admits to eating rice and potatoes occasionally but whereas the latter were his staples before, they'd now make infrequent appearances at his table. Banting documented his weight loss and showed a steady decline, losing a total of 46 pounds (20kg) over a 12 month period. This would have meant that he now weighed 71kg which for him it would seem was an ideal weight. He speaks about how his strength returned, how he healed a hernia and how his knees were once again able to function without the aid of bandages. He was so overwhelmed by this transformation that he was moved to share this information with whomever was willing and even paid certain physicians money to circulate his Letter on Corpulence.

Forward-wind 100 years and we seem to find ourselves still battling the bulge with the added evils of modern advances in the form of junk food, processed food, refrigeration, aeroplanes, globalization and intensive animal farming, not to mention all the unethical practices that are involved in bringing this food to our tables. Despite having technology at our fingertips, we are baffled when it comes to choosing what foods to eat. A lot of this confusion is due to the dubious marketing efforts of various companies who proclaim their food to be bursting with health and vitality when all it is is some dead matter that has been 'fortified' with vitamins. Did anyone read the article in the Sunday Times a few week's back about bread? Some manufacturers (including Woolworths) are adding a spongy rubber powder to their bread mixture (this rubber powder is what gives yoga mats their springiness), in order to improve the consistency of some of their rolls!! So instead of "Eating your hat", you can now stand assured that you are eating your mat. Reflecting on Mr Banting's plight - his main issue it would appear was a severe lack of will power and bad food choices. We can be assured that a century ago, the wheat flour that was used in baking would still have been a thousand times better than the excuse for flour we have today. The irony is that despite the fact that the dairy products in his time would have been "raw" (not pasteurized) and full fat - he still chose to avoid them. The products in the 1800's would not have been made en masse as they are today and furthermore all the fruits and vegetables he consumed would have been grown in proper soil without the use of the harmful chemicals that are employed today. The meat he consumed would have been free range and free of hormones, heavy metals and antibiotics! The fact that he couldn't just stock up on frozen meals for a month is significant- without a fridge he'd have had to have sourced his meat and vegetables daily and he would have not been eating tropical fruits the likes of mangos or bananas and neither would he be eating tomatoes in winter! All of these factors are highly relevant when it comes to keeping one's weight under control by choosing the right foods.

Currently there is a recipe book available that is supposedly based on the Banting diet. Ahem, excuse my extreme skepticism but having read Banting's Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public there appears to be some major inconsistencies which I'd like to address.

    Banting's physician recommended that he avoid processed and high GI carbohydrates and not necessarily exclude all carbs. He never eliminated carbs totally from his diet (he seemed to enjoy his toast a LOT and ate rice occasionally)
    He stopped eating dairy in all its forms
    He never ate pork or cured pork products thus would not have been making "Banting mayonnaise" or eating copious amounts of bacon!
    Banting ate more protein than fat based on his detailed four meals per day 5. He wouldn't have been using coconut oil or coconut milk

The only commonality between the two diets is the complete elimination of sugar in all its forms.

One gram of fat contains 9 calories as opposed to one gram of protein or one gram of carbohydrate which both contain 4 calories. Fat is more than twice as energy dense as either of the latter.  I will concede that a high fat diet would be of benefit to certain groups of people or certain cultures. The original Innuit (Eskimo's) are a good example. For many months of the year they live in sub zero temperatures. They hunt their own caribou which involves trekking through thick snow for extended periods of time. They require A LOT of energy just to get out of their fur-seal duvets every morning. Thus consuming a high calorie diet with fat as the main fuel makes perfect sense. The other group of folk whom a high fat diet would work for are sports people and athletes. These group of people typically have very high energy requirements especially the likes of endurance athletes whom require a continual source of energy as with long distance runners or cyclists. I recently met a gentleman who admitted that he was thriving on a high fat diet and that he still felt strong after 4 hours of cycling and had abundant energy levels during and post work-outs. He had the typical hollow-eyed, skeletal look of a hard-core athlete and I could understand how consuming energy-dense calories primarily derived from fat would benefit this type of individual.                                                        Let's compare the above examples to our average condidate for this diet, Joe Blob in Fourways. He lives in a cluster home with under floor heating which keeps his ample belly warm in the Jo'burg winter, which rarely gets colder than zero and where the daytime temperatures are a blissful 25 degrees. He drives to work in his comfy SUV and sits behind his desk in his cubicle hunched over a keyboard for 8 hours. His food is either sourced from the work canteen or in the form of a take-out in a greasy wrapper or as a ready-made meal from the supermarket. On week-ends he braai's with his mates and is known to enjoy a pint or two. Three times a week on his way home he stops at his local gym and does some bench-press and squats. His good mate at work tells him about this amazing 'diet' where he can eat all the fatty foods that he likes and still lose weight!! What? It sounds incredible. He is admittedly a bit perplexed about having to cut out coke, beer, pretzels and his afternoon sweet treat from the vending machine but is comforted by the fact that he can gorge on bacon, mutton, steak and eggs. FANTASTIC. He knows that he should lose the extra 15 kilo's he's put on since leaving varsity, so he's all in. Initially Joe loses 5kg. Not consuming the pies, sandwiches, pasta, 'slap' chips, fizzy cool-drinks and beer is actually doing him the world of good. The eczema behind his left knee disappears and the occasional indigestion he previously suffered from has eased up remarkably. He feels like he has more energy and is able to stay awake to watch the repeats of the super 12 rugby matches and is even able to manage 10 minutes on the stationary bike now. Life is sweet.

And so the FATLETE is born- a term I've coined for someone who consumes fat-rich foods that only athletes should be eating. Joe loves drinking his dairy concoction (with added whey protein) before his "work-outs". He wolfs down bacon and eggs for breakfast and eats mutton chops with salad for lunch (although the green veggie thing hasn't really grabbed him yet) and snacks on biltong and nuts when he's peckish. After only four months, Joe has lost a respectable 8 kilo's. Everyone is commenting on how good he looks. Although he's not hungry, Joe starts to crave certain foods. The next time he goes out with his mates, he orders a 'lite' beer and some 'slap' chips with his cheddar melt steak to celebrate his achievement. At the match on the week-end he eats the roll with the boerewors as a 'boerie roll' without the former is like Romeo without his Juliet. At the next braai Joe goes to, he sneaks a handful of his favourite spicy barbeque corn chips and eats a slice of chocolate cake just so that Bob's wife isn't offended. He's still loving his roast chicken with a quarter kilo of butter and last time he roasted a potato for "old times' sake".  On average Joe has cut out about 60% of the food on the red and orange list in the book, he consoles himself with the fact that he's been 'good'. Although the book advises to only eat when you're hungry and to stop when you are feeling full- the thing to remember is that if Joe had adhered to this sage piece of advice from the outset of his adult life- he would not have been overweight to start off with. It's like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking after he's had two glasses of wine. Ummmm yes, that makes perfect sense except for the fact that we're dealing with people who have addictions and impulse control issues.

The argument that Homo Sapiens have been consuming tons of meat and fat from when they first crawled out of their caves is simply not true. These people did not have rifles with telescopic sights with which to shoot the woolly mammoths with. They hunted on foot with roughly hewn spears. They did not 'bring home the bacon' (no pun intended) daily. Sometimes they went for weeks without meat and lived on berries, roots and shoots in between. Furthermore being nomadic meant that they travelled large distances and were incredibly active.

The Fat of the matter

All animal fats are saturated fats also known as long chain fatty acids. These are fats that contain a high proportion of fatty acid bonds that are held together by hydrogen molecules. This makes them solid at certain temperatures and liquid at others. Other oils like coconut oil also share this trait although they are medium chain fatty acids. Certain breeds of pigs are specifically bred for their fat (lard) whereas others are bred for their meat. Pigs bred for bacon will be chosen for their higher body fat percentage. Unlike other meats- pork is less marbled, meaning that the fat remains distinct from the meat, unlike a beef rib-eye steak where the fat is 'threaded' through the meat. Fat has an affinity for certain things- one of them is the hormone oestrogen, a sex hormone more dominant in females than in males. However, due to various pesticides, plastics and questionable water quality; phyto-oestrogens (chemicals that mimic natural oestrogen) are finding their way into the feed that intensively reared animals are fed thus excess oestrogen lands up in (you guessed it) - fat! The other thing that fat has an affinity for is heavy metal the likes of mercury, lead, aliminium, copper etc. Once again these can be found in the animal's water, feed and in the vaccines that are administered to them by law, thus there's no getting away from it unless you know that you are buying organic (not Free Range) pork. So now you are given the freedom to eat as much bacon as your heart desires and are encouraged to keep the fat in order to make mayonnaise out of it. Not only are you getting your daily dose of adipose but also a pinch of hormones and a dash of heavy metals for good measure. In lean animals, any excess hormones or heavy metals are processed through the liver and are excreted via the faeces or urine. And last but not least- l need to make mention of the nitrites that are found in all smoked and cured products. Nitrites have been linked to cancers of the digestive system, especially colon cancer. That's not to say that you will get cancer if you eat smoked products but there's a better chance that it may happen.

My next issue with this eating plan is the abundance of dairy products. Have you ever seen a fully grown ox suckling off its mother? It's more likely to be found at the water trough. Cow's milk is for calves, full stop. Our body's are not designed to process as much dairy as what the average person is eating. One of the reasons is that once a human being is fully weaned, their lactase enzyme diminishes if not disappears altogether. This is the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar component of breast milk. Evolution has thus dictated that once we've stopped suckling at our mother's breasts, we should stop consuming dairy. The other problem with dairy products is that they've been pasteurized- once again required by law! This is supposedly to prevent bacterial contamination and diseases the likes of Brucellosis. The problem is that pasteurization is carried out at very high temperatures which not only kills any harmful bacteria but also all the live enzymes which are otherwise abundant in 'raw' milk. So what you are getting out the other side is a mere hint of the original product. So what is the point of consuming it? For the calcium I hear you say. Not true. In order for calcium to be used by the body, it requires equal amounts of magnesium as well as vitamin D. 

Cow's milk has a calcium/ magnesium ratio of 4:1. You are better off getting your daily dose of calcium from almonds, broccoli, oranges or sardines than you are from dairy products. You're drinking it for the fat content? There's another interesting caveat as the fat in dairy products causes it to be highly mucilogenic (mucous producing), thus quaffing down gallons of full fat milk and double thick Ayreshire cream is going to produce a post nasal drip and possible clogged up nose quicker than you can say "milkshake". And if you drink skimmed milk or low fat variants you're wasting your time as there's not even a possibility of a benefit anywhere. The fact of the matter is that there are many diets out there and many derivatives thereof. There's the Atkin's, Dukan, Paleo and now "Banting" diets. There's a reason why the cabbage diet didn't take off (no pun intended). It's simple; most people don't like cabbage. However, there's hardly a human being on the planet who has not been seduced by bacon. People who follow various religions that ban the consumption of pork products have at some time in their lives succumbed to its salty crispiness and it's a fact that bacon is the number one reason why vegetarians fall off the wagon. It's the ultimate temptress. So who would shun a diet whose backbone is cured pork? Throw in some aged cheddar, blue cheese and whipped cream and you might as well have performed a frontal lobotomy on 90% of the population and turned them into instant minions. Yes, if I were to create a food cult, I could see how the Brussels Sprout diet may not have you chomping at the bit. Or how maintaining a modicum of self control may not be as appealing as eating unlimited quantities of buttery roast chicken supplemented with handfuls of fatty biltong and Brazil nuts as snacks.

You've heard the idiom that if something is too good to be true than it is, you should not be able to have your Eisbein and eat it - without any repercussions that is. I agree that animal fat isn't solely to blame for cholesterol -  uncertainty remains as to whether it contributes once there is damage to the blood vessels. However, I'm still a firm believer of the calories in, calories out, dictum. It is simply delusional to believe that if a person consumes more calories than they expend that they won't get fat or ill regardless of the source of the calories. To create a diet that has no significant data to prove its saftey not only borders on recklessness but on narcissism too. Encouraging people to indulge in fatty foods only serves to  to mollify and not educate them about the importance of balanced and healthy eating.

However the proof is in the (suet) pudding - and I'll be watching this space with interest..............