In last Sunday’s episode of 60 minutes, Liz Hayes interviewed Peter FitzSimons about his weight and health transformation. He explains how he went from being overweight, not exercising, drinking 2 bottles of wine at a time and eating junk food to then deciding to cut out sugar from his diet. He claimed that after cutting out the sugar, his body fat just “melted off” him.
One change? Or many?
Improvements to health are very rarely attributed to just one change, let alone one ingredient. But one change can have a ripple effect and be the instigator of many other changes. Peter FitzSimons claims his improved health and weight loss were due to cutting out sugar. However, cutting out “sugar” involves cutting out more than just sugar. When we cut out sugar, we are not only cutting out added sugar, but also sugary drinks, confectionary, sweet biscuits, bakery products, desserts, flavoured milk, flavoured yoghurt, ice-cream, take-away, sauces, syrups, spreads, dressings, and of course alcohol. Now that’s a diet revamp! The weight loss Peter FitzSimons achieved can be attributed to more than just cutting out sugar. Sure, it is one change, but this one change applies to lots of foods which adds up to a substantial reduction in calories. Hence the weight loss. No secret. No new revelation. No epiphany. This is simply a reduction in the overall intake of calories. AND he increased his level of activity. This adds up to HUGE lifestyle changes.
Each to his own
Total abstinence from sugar works for some. As it did for Peter FitzSimons. His suggestion is that we “stop the sugar” – essentially, have zero sugar. It is this message that has resulted in a dieting mentality among many, causing more disordered eating, more weight problems and more body loathing. It then takes years for people to ‘undo’ this mindset and to start eating relaxed and intuitively. So, for others, a message of sugar in moderation is more appropriate. It’s time to put aside the sensationalism and ‘one size fits all’ dietary advice and encourage people to work towards their health goals – using an approach that is appropriate for them.
An average, middle-aged bloke?
Peter FitzSimons should be commended for the lifestyle changes that he has made. However, we need to consider that Peter Fitzsimons is not your average middle-aged bloke. Being an ex-rugby player he knows about the level of exercise and discipline it takes to get fit. He is passionate about sport and is very driven to improve his health and fitness. Not all middle aged men are. And not all are ready to make the change. Just as he may not have been 5 years ago.
Dietitians in the hot seat
It seems odd that 60 minutes places Dietitians in the hot seat over Peter FitzSimons’ ‘epiphany.’ The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been around for more than 30 years. The Healthy Eating Pyramid, as well. The Guidelines have always included a message about eating less sugar, eating less processed foods and limiting alcohol. The pyramid has always included sugar, alcohol and discretionary foods in the ‘eat less’ category. And Dietitians have been supporting these messages to advocate for better health for all Australians. In addition, Dietitians are constantly educating people on healthy lifestyle changes and the futility, and at times health risks, of fad diets and Peter FitzSimons admits to many failed fad diets before his healthy lifestyle changes. I applaud Peter FitzSimons for his discipline and determination. However, he talks of the lifestyle changes he has adopted as if they are a recent revelation. Something he has discovered. This is simply not the case.
DAA is sponsored by corporate partners, however, the Dietary Guidelines were written long before this sponsorship occurred and DAA is transparent about, and works independent of, these sponsorships. Furthermore, this funding is used to support the day to day costs of DAA. It is not used to fund clinical research on which the guidelines are based. Every organisation needs money to function. Did Peter FitzSimons’ ex-rugby team not have sponsors? Given that Liz Hayes is a long time friend of the FitzSimons’ family, I would argue that the only conflict of interest is with Liz Hayes reporting on this story. Her body language during her interviews suggested bias: she was warm and smiling during her interview with Peter FitzSimons but frowning and giving judgemental sideways glances during her interview with Nicole Dynan.
An important message was missed !
In the interview, Peter FitzSimons claimed it took him 2 years to lose 40 kg. Two years! That is a different interpretation to the fat “just melted off.” This is an important message which was overlooked. Popular TV programs often mislead people to think weight loss is quick or easy. Or both. It’s not. And it is beneficial to hear this. Not to discourage them, but to make their expectations realistic. And to hang in there, for the long haul!