Eat Less – The Dietary Advice That Has Failed

Modern nutritional advice has been reduced to oversimplified dogma. When it comes to weight loss or healthy living, most of the powerful sources of nutrition advice suggest low calorie ways of life.

This is the result of the nutrition research community, over simplifying the obesity problem to an overconsumption of Calories.

It is clear that different types of Calories have different effects on the body. To understand the absurdity of reducing the problem to one of Calories, we can look at an analogy that Gary Taubes brought up in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories.

It goes like this: Imagine you enter a room that is full of people (literally shoulder to shoulder) and you wonder “how did all of these people get in here?”. You proceeded to ask someone: “How did it get so busy in this room?”  and their answer is: “More people entered the room than left the room”, that wouldn’t tell you anything!

Same goes for the explanation that we get fat because we over consume Calories and lack physical activity. Some people are blessed with the ability to eat as much as they like without getting fat. Two people with similar builds can go on and eat the same amount above their daily Calorie expenditure but they will not put on fat in the same places or the same amounts. Why is that?

Turns out that it comes down to more than just food amount. Food choices are actually more important than amount. This can be attributed to multiple different aspects. Here are some of those aspects:

  1. Glycemic Index
  2. Thermal Effect of Food
  3. Satiety of Different Foods
  4. Adaptations to Diet

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is something that should be understood by everyone. It’s a shame that it’s not taught in mainstream education. The glycemic index is a number assigned to different foods based on how quickly they are turned into glucose in the blood stream. [1] The higher the number, the faster it digests into glucose.

The speed of digestion into glucose is what determines the insulin response that will be sent by the pancreas. The faster the digestion, the greater the amount of insulin required to handle it is. Insulin is the main regulatory hormone for blood sugar levels, nutrient intake and fat storage. When insulin is floating around in the blood in excess, the required glucose is taken by the cells that require it and the excess glucose is then stored. Here is a comprehensive list of different foods and their glycemic index. [2]

Without insulin, it is very hard to gain fat. That is why we are seeing a shift in dietary advice to low-carb diets. Since carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can directly be broken down into glucose, it is logical to eliminate them. Eliminating carbohydrates will ensure that insulin is kept low and fat is lost quickly.

The glycemic index is a great tool to determine what carbohydrate sources are best to ensure a minimal insulin response. Shifting to a diet that includes carbohydrates with a glycemic index under 50 will create favorable results in fat loss.

Great danger lies in a diet full of high glycemic carbohydrates like wheat flour and sugar (that includes certain fruits). This constant influx of glucose causes a constant of insulin response. This results in an increased resistance to insulin (more is required to do the same job). Eventually this resistance reaches the point where the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand. As a result, blood sugar starts to rise, at which point type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed.

Thermal Effects of Different Foods

The thermic effect of food (aka thermogenesis) is the increase in metabolic rate that occurs from the ingestion of food. Factors that influence the thermic effect of one’s feeding pattern are: meal frequency, meal size and macronutrient composition.

The changes in metabolic rate occur from the production of heat as a by-product of metabolism, hence the “thermic” in the name. The more heat is given off, the more Calories have been burned in the process. The higher the thermic effect, the more energy is required to break down the food. [3]

The thermic effect of the main macronutrients are as follows: the highest is protein, the second highest is carbohydrate and the lowest is fat. Keeping this in mind can provide some insight into how to structure a proper meal plan.

Satiety of Different Foods

People are often convinced that to see weight loss they have to starve themselves. Not only does this lead to a rebound that puts one right back where they started, but it also doesn’t always work.

How is that possible!? Well, your body really doesn’t want to lose fat. Stored fat is an adaptive mechanism. It’s your body’s way of saying: “we’re getting food right now (regardless of if it’s only a little bit) so we should save the fat for times of starvation”. This makes it really frustrating for someone who limits Calories and doesn’t see results.

The way that the body conserves these fat stores is by dropping your daily energy requirements. Effectively, it means that whatever you consider to be “limited Calories” is actually your body’s new maintenance Calorie level.

This drop in energy requirements comes at the expense of important bodily processes. Things like decreased energy, decreased libido and crappy moods happen as a result. Imagine a spaceship flying through space with a sudden warning that the on board batteries won’t last till the desired destination. Shutting down some of the power hungry processes would be the only option.

Businessman Thinking on Steps Paris, France

So if starvation isn’t the answer, what is? 

It shouldn’t be far fetched to believe that our body’s can regulate hunger based on needs. When one’s diet is out of order and primarily high glycemic carbohydrates, they are always hungry. This causes a large influx of Calories.

Fortunately, there are specific foods that can allow for the body to receive its required energy and therefore relay a message of satiety. Many argue that insulin is a regulating hormone of satiety (fullness) but it’s not the only one. For example, leptin and ghrelin also play an important role and can be regulated through a high fat low carb diet. This is not to say that one diet is better than another but, it is nice to know that there are multiple options.

This is great news. You can be selective about what you eat and never have to worry about starving yourself.

Adaptations to Diet

Although hard to believe, fat storage is actually an adaptive mechanism. Constant insulin responses signal to the body that there is an excess of food (although not necessarily true when consuming small amounts of refined carbohydrates). This excess of food should be stored for times of starvation that could occur in the future.

One way that the body makes it hard to lose fat is by taking the insulin receptors (that work to open cells up for nutrients) from muscle to fat cells. This makes it effortless to gain fat, but it’s not irreversible. It is a genetic adaptation to the environment of excess food. However, in most modern cases, there isn’t an excess of food but rather a diet consisting primarily of high glycemic carbs. This fools the body into thinking that a large meal was ingested.

It is logical to assume that overweight people carry more muscle mass since they are weighed down by excess fat weight. This is actually the opposite of the truth. Since the insulin receptors have moved to fat tissue, muscle tissue is eventually wasted because of a deprivation of nutrients that insulin makes available.

Limiting the need for insulin will allow the body to revert to a healthier state of energy utilization. 

Another adaptation that can take place is to high fat diets. The use of high fat diets has the power to upregulate specific enzymes associated with the metabolism of fats. [4] This is beneficial because it completely changes the way that the body uses stored fat in times of Calorie deprivation. This doesn’t mean that calorie restriction is required, but instead that stored fat will provide some of the energy needs which may translate into increased satiety.

People usually underestimate the power of adaptations. We are not linear machines. Gene activation can completely change how our body handles fuel based on our environment. An example is that people often assume that going for a long walk every morning is causing weight loss because of the Calories expended. This may not be true. It may also be that the body is adapting to the fact that you’re walking everyday by becoming lighter. Becoming lighter will cause a decrease in the energy required to move.

Conclusion

As I’ve discussed in this article, there are many ways to look at the fat accumulation problem, last of which is Calorie counting. If the proper diet is followed, Calorie restriction will occur naturally.

Foods that provide the appropriate nutrients while being used in the appropriate manner in the body will create increased satiety and calorie restriction without effort.

In my opinion, a low carbohydrate, high fat, high protein diet is most favorable for fat loss. This will decrease the effects of insulin, increase fat metabolizing enzymes, encourage satiety and utilize the high thermic effect of protein. This diet will automatically lead to a recomposition of the body.

Don’t fall for the mainstream advice that’s thrown around. Many authorities on the topic have written this problem off and believe that there’s no need for further discussion. Their belief is that if you’re gaining weight, you have a lack of willpower. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

References

[1] Hormone Health Network. “What Does Insulin Do?”. [Online] Available: http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/insulin

[2] Harvard Health Publications. “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods”. [Online]. Available: http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

[3] Lean Muscle Project. “How the Thermic Effect Of Food Impacts Calories You Burn”. [Online]. Available: http://leanmuscleproject.com/thermic-effect-of-food/

[4] NCBI. “Metabolic Aspects of Low Carbohydrate Diets and Exercise”. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524355/

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