By Chris Forbes-Ewan, Defence Science and Technology Organisation
The obesity epidemic sweeping across the world is being closely followed by another, more insidious epidemic – an ever-increasing number of books on how to lose weight.
No two of these books advocate the same approach, but all promise that their method – and only their method – will result in the desired weight loss. Another common, and significant, characteristic of most of these books is that they are written by people with no relevant qualifications or professional experience, and no publications in the peer-reviewed literature.
One of the latest in this long line of books is Six Weeks to OMG, subtitled Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends, by Venice A. Fulton (whose real name is Paul Khanna). According to the (UK) Daily Mail “Six Weeks To OMG … has knocked the Dukan Diet from the top of the bestseller list and secured its author a seven-figure book deal in the US.”
The title is derived from the expression Fulton claims will be used by admiring friends who haven't seen you since you began following his advice. According to Fulton, within six weeks you will have lost so much weight and become so much healthier-looking that you will be greeted with exclamations of “oh my god!”
The Amazon.com site where you can buy this book says, “For over 10 years, Venice A Fulton has been … using a mix of biology, chemistry, physics, genetics and psychology … to produce outstanding results.”
So how deep is Fulton's understanding of the science he claims to have used to devise his unique approach to weight loss and better health?
A good indication is his opinion about the relevance to human metabolism of the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy may be neither created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another. Fulton dismisses the First Law as merely “physics". He claims that “this could be true if our body only paid attention to physics. But it doesn't. We obey other subjects like biology, chemistry and biochemistry.” Denying that human metabolism necessarily obeys one of the fundamental laws of science is just one of many gross errors Fulton makes in this poorly"‘researched book.
Six Weeks to OMG is also replete with contradictions. For example, after pointing out that if your body fat “ever gets below 3%, you'll probably never get out of bed again”, Fulton states that “there's no limit on how much fat you can lose.”
As might be predicted from his lack of understanding of basic science (and even simple logic), Fulton's recommendations on how to achieve weight loss constitute a mixed bag, with some worthwhile advice overshadowed by many inappropriate recommendations, and even potentially dangerous advice.
According to Fulton, you should determine how much weight you need to lose by looking in the mirror and deciding for yourself how much extra body fat you are carrying. Unfortunately, most people are not good judges of their body shape and likely body fat levels. This applies especially his intended readership (Fulton's book is clearly targeted at female adolescents and young women). Many young females compare their image in the mirror with the airbrushed photos of the very slim models who dominate women's magazines.
At the extreme level, an adolescent female with anorexia nervosa may still “see” an obese image in the mirror even when her body fat percentage is life"‘threateningly low. What's more, anorexia nervosa is no longer the preserve of females; it also occurs in males and its incidence is apparently increasing. Telling adolescents – many of whom have distorted body images – that only they can accurately judge their body shape, and that there's no limit to the amount of fat they can lose, is fraught with danger.
Fulton advises that you should never eat breakfast. Not only is this advice unlikely to be effective, it will probably lead to inadequate nutrition, poorer cognitive performance, and may even result in increased body weight. And his recommendation to take a cool bath each morning is very unlikely to lead to the claimed “12–15 hours” increase in metabolic rate.
Fulton (appropriately) discusses the importance of eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, and not “just a few foods” as recommended in some diet books, but he inappropriately stresses a high protein/low-carbohydrate intake. In fact, his recommended intake of carbohydrate is less than the minimum recommended for good health by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Fulton also advises drinking a couple of cups of unsweetened black coffee each day. The reason he gives – that caffeine will boost metabolic rate – does have some support from the scientific literature, but his claim of a substantial and sustained increase is not based on sound scientific evidence. The increase is likely to be less than 10%, and to last for only a few hours.
There is some worthwhile advice scattered seemingly at random among the dross. Fulton points out that “movement” (physical activity) is very important for both weight loss and general health, and he notes that excessive physical activity is potentially harmful. But he claims that you need to take part in resistance exercise (e.g. weight training) only three times a month to obtain desired benefits. This is inconsistent with the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine, which include the advice that “Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.”
Six Weeks to OMG has the capacity to do very little good, and the potential to cause much harm to many vulnerable people. I would not recommend this book to anyone.
In 2006 Chris Forbes-Ewan received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council for his contribution towards the development of Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. His contribution was in the area of Estimated Energy Requirements.