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  • April 21, 2023 3 min read

    Myth Busting Tim Spector: do calories matter?

    Dr Tim Spector argues that everything we’ve been told about food – particularly for dieting – is wrong. He thinks the concept of calorie balance for weight loss is flawed, and urges us to instead look at foods from a gut health point of view – even if weight and body composition is the main goal.

    Who is Dr Tim Spector?

    Tim Spector is a Professor of Genetics and Epidemiology (a PhD kind of Dr, not a medical one). His areas of research are genetics, particularly in twins, and the causes of health outcomes and diseases. He’s also the co-founder of a well-known commercial nutrition programme. 

    Spector’s public work around nutrition (which includes book writing, speaking, and podcasting) represents a relatively recent part of his career. His research has gone from epidemiology to nutrition via an interest in the microbiome.

     

    Why is Tim Spector controversial?

    Tim Spector has always been a divisive voice in nutrition, ever since his book “The Diet Myth” was published in 2015 (just three years after his previous book which was about his original research area of twin genetics). The Diet Myth claimed that traditional approaches to losing weight – calories, macronutrients, “eat less and move more” – are wrong. Instead, he said, it’s all about understanding the gut microbiome.

    In 2020, Spector published “Spoon Fed”, a book which aimed to debunk common food myths… like calorie balance. From there, Spector began to appear on podcasts and interviews talking about the microbiome and vehemently criticising the idea of calorie balance.

     

    What does Tim Spector say about dieting?

    Professor Spector’s views on nutrition for weight loss centre around dismissing calorie balance, calorie counting, and “eat less, move more”. Instead, he heavily promotes food quality (not quantity) to support the personal microbiome. This, he says, is how to lose weight. It’s not maths, it’s biology.

     

    How to eat according to Tim Spector 

    According to Professor Spector, there’s no point counting calories at all, because everything we’ve been told about calorie balance (especially for weight management) is false. Instead, we should eat to improve our health. Weight loss will follow.

     

    Spector’s key advice includes:

    • Eating more plants (aim for 30 different plant foods a week) and include fruit, berries, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs
    • Eat at least one type of fermented food containing probiotics every day (kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt, cheese)
    • Use fasting and meal timing to improve your personal microbiome health
    • Limit snacking to give your gut microbes a rest from digesting food
    • Reduce or avoid very processed foods which are bad for gut health

     

    Is what Tim Spector says true or false

     Like most very vocal, visible gurus, there are grains of truth to what Tim Spector says about weight loss. But calories do matter. Dismissing calories and calorie balance completely is like telling people they can save money and get out of debt without ever once looking at what they spend or how much they earn.

     However, some of his advice is common sense in terms of health. It’s a good idea to eat more plant foods, for fibre (and – guess what – low calorie ways to fill up). It’s also a good idea to eat some fermented foods for the natural probiotics. None of us should be snacking all day long – it’s not good for the digestion. And why not discover the meal timings that work best for you. It all makes sense.

    But telling people calories are a lie seems provocative at best… and completely wrong at worst.

     

    How to eat healthy

    If you want to combine some of Tim Spector’s advice, whilst also keeping an eye on your calorie balance, here’s what we suggest:

    • Make most of your meals yourself, this way you can control calories, ingredients and portion size
    • Eat plenty of plant foods and think outside the box to get a variety of vitamins and micronutrients
    • Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat (or at least be mindful of your choices)
    • Find a source of fermented food you enjoy eating and have some 3 times a week or more
    • Eat more mindfully: reduce snacking, eat more slowly, leave more of a gap between eating and bedtime

    What do you think about Tim Spector’s nutrition and diet advice? Let us know – we’d love to know what the Gravity community thinks.