It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? There are more fad diets and weight loss supplements than anyone can keep track of these days. In fact, recent figures show weight loss to be a $21bb industry! That’s a lot of people looking to tantalize you into parting from your hard-earned money with the promise of fast and long-lasting weight loss in a pill, supplement, or diet. Unfortunately, as most of us know, while some of these magic pills or diets can work temporarily, the weight typically comes back with a vengeance once you stop taking them or stop the diet.
Because there are many factors that contribute to weight gain and the inability to lose and keep weight off, I have decided to tackle the issue in a series of blog posts. Here is the breakdown:
- Gut health
- Sleep quality & quantity
- Chronic stress & hormonal imbalances
Without further adieu, let’s get into it, starting with DIET:
The antiquated science of the last several decades has led us to believe that weight loss or weight gain is nothing more than a simple mathematical formula:
- If Caloric intake (eating) > Caloric expenditure (living and moving), we gain weight.
- If caloric intake < caloric expenditure we lose weight.
- If caloric intake = caloric expenditure, we will live in this mystical happy world of homeostasis in which we dance around in a field of tulips, totally in love with our perfect figures.
Thus, all we have to do to lose weight and keep it off is to eat whatever we want so long as we burn more calories than we eat on a daily basis. “You mean, as long as I burn enough calories each day, I can eat chocolate lava cake for breakfast, waffles and candy syrup for lunch, and rigatoni a la vodka for dinner every night? Sounds amazing, actually! Where do I sign up?”
Raise your hand if you believe that (for the sole purpose of weight loss) eating 500 calories of that chocolate lava cake is no different from eating 500 calories worth of kale. Wait…why isn’t every person’s hand raised that is reading this? Don’t you believe that a calorie is a calorie for the purposes of weight loss? Then why does it seem so intuitively natural to us that eating an equivalent caloric amount of kale will have a different effect on our weight than eating an equivalent caloric amount of chocolate lava cake? If you did not raise your hand, then you are on your way to understanding the truth about diet-related weight gain and obesity. Here it is:
A CALORIE IS NOT JUST A CALORIE.
Put simply, there are “good” calories and “bad” calories and if you want to lose weight that is what you need to focus on. When you eat, if you only eat foods that contain the good calories you will lose weight regardless of how many calories you take in (unless you are taking in 3000 + calories per day).
The bad calorie foods are the ones that spike your blood sugar too much when you eat them. When your blood sugar spikes, your pancreas secretes insulin to move the sugar from your blood to your muscles. If your muscles are already full of glycogen stores, they will reject the sugar offering from the insulin. Insulin then stores the sugar in every available fat cell. Fat cells have unlimited storage and expansion space for sugar (aka energy reserves). Hence, we get fat from eating more sugar than our bodies actually need or use. This eventually causes insulin resistance (see this recent blog post of mine on metabolic syndrome.).
Conventional wisdom also tells us that, if we want to lose weight, we must stay away from fat, especially that nasty saturated fat from animal products, because fat is what makes us fat, right? Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!
According to this “wisdom”, we should all be totally svelte! The USDA even has data to show that we have decreased our consumption of “fattening” and “artery-clogging” animal fats:
Unfortunately, that experiment has already been done. It was done on the entire population of the US for at least the last 4-5 decades. So how has it worked out for us? According to the CDC over 35% of Americans are considered to be obese. Check out this very cool representation of the increases in BMI from 1985 – 2010 (towards bottom of the page. It’s STAGGERING. They literally had to start creating new categories as the years went on). That’s at least 100,000,000 obese Americans, and many more than that are considered overweight (probably most of the population), and childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing as well.
The reason behind this is that FAT IS NOT THE CULPRIT. Fat does not make you fat. Sugar and carbs do.
So the trick to losing weight, keeping it off (and getting healthier) is: don’t worry about the quantity of calories! Worry about the quality of calories you consume.
Let me clarify: I’m not saying that calories don’t matter. They do. Regardless of what you are eating (yes even Kale), if you eat 3000-5000 calories a day of it and you are generally a sedentary person then you will gain weight. BUT..and there is a big but here…I challenge you to eat 3000-5000 calories of kale each day. Do you have any idea how much kale or leafy greens you would have to eat to get that many calories out of them? Your stomach might explode before you get there. Foods like leafy greens expand in your belly and do a great job (when eaten along with a healthy fat and a healthy protein) of satiating you for long periods of time, especially when paired with copious amounts of healthy fat. So, when you eat them, you won’t need to count calories. Your body will let you know when you’ve had enough. You typically won’t overeat.
At the bottom of this post I linked to several videos by Dr. Robert Lustig, a brilliant endocrinologist at the heart of the debate on what makes us fat and sick. But to sum all of this up for you:
- Sugar and carbohydrates cause blood sugar spikes when you eat them, which in turn causes your pancreas to secrete insulin.
- Insulin’s job is to get that sugar out of your bloodstream, where it poses a toxic threat to your life.
- If you are a very active person there may be a good chance that insulin will deposit the sugar into your muscles to be stored as energy.
- If you are relatively sedentary (which most Americans are compared to their sugar and carb intake) your muscles, which only have a limited store for energy, will “turn away” insulin’s sugar offering.
- Insulin’s only other pathway to remove the sugar from your blood stream is to store it in FAT cells which, unfortunately, have unlimited capacity for storing energy.
- Every time this happens, you get fatter.
- Chronic excessive sugar and carb intake will cause a condition in your body called “insulin resistance” which basically means that your Pancreas now has to work overtime to supply more insulin to remove the sugar from your blood since the previous amounts of insulin it secreted are no longer getting the job done.
- Hence, with chronic excessive sugar and carb intake you are literally instructing your body to build energy stores, which is what we know as getting fat.
- This mechanism of weight gain, not surprisingly since it has everything to do with blood sugar and insulin, is associated with type 2 diabetes.
If you are looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, you’re not going to get very far if you are having oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich, potato chips, and a coke for lunch, and pizza or pasta for dinner. Unfortunately, that is how most Americans eat. It’s pretty much considered a “low-fat” diet. So, why then is 1/3 of this country OBESE??
My best advice to you for weight loss is to completely cut out ALL grains, most fruit (keep berries), and dairy from your diet. For people who have the willpower to do this, they experience tremendous results, not only with weight loss, but improvement in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, auto-immune conditions, allergies, and digestive issues like GERD, heartburn, IBS, etc.
If that sounds too daunting for you, then I recommend joining a service like fitday which will help you keep track of calories as well as your macros (carbs:protein:fat intake). The SAD (Standard American Diet) recommends somewhere in the line of 260-300 grams of carbs PER DAY. That’s just insanity. If you can shoot for less than 100g of carbs per day to start off, and replace the lost carb calories with lots of healthy fats and moderate protein increase, you will see results.
Some additional considerations:
- Add tons of healthy fats to your diet from coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, avocados.
- Add a moderate amount of healthy proteins to your diet in the form of wild caught fish, pasture raised chickens, fowl, and grass-fed meats.
- Make 60%-70% of every meal a (non-starchy. Sweet potatoes SPARINGLY) vegetable (use a wide variety of vegetables in your diet to optimize nutrient profile) .
- Every meal should have copious amounts of fat, veggies, and a fistful of protein.
Here are the links to Dr. Lustig’s series called “The Skinny on Obesity”. Each one is no longer than 10 minutes and it’s an eye-opening, sobering watch:
Here’s a really interesting youtube video of a presentation by Dr. Christopher Gardner, a professor and researcher at Stanford University (and a vegetarian) who did one of the better studies around comparing the ornish (vegetarian, higher carb, low fat), and the atkins (lower carb, higher fat, higher protein).
So there you have it, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you tried a low carb diet? How did it work for you? What are your main concerns?
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this blog are based upon the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the author.