We were having dinner with some friends recently. One of them complained that she was having trouble losing weight. She said this as she scooped a large amount of white rice onto her plate. While this is not surprising, we were eating Burmese food, it perfectly underscored the issue at hand for most people in the today’s world. I related to her that in the past year I’ve lost over 15 pounds (without realizing it until I happened to weigh myself one day) without ever feeling hungry. Needless to say, I had her full attention.
Obesity has shot up in the Western world and the United States in particular. All this has come about during a period in which the low-fat craze has influenced food manufacturing and food choices. While it used to be simplistically thought that eating fat “makes you fat” and that the fat you eat “clogs up your arteries”. The truth is very different. In fact, in many ways it is the exact opposite.
I explained to her that the shift for me occurred in earnest a little more than a year ago. While I always been one to eat healthy and avoid sugars and candy and pastries, I still ate quite a bit of bread, grains and pasta. As I read more about longevity, it became clear that one of the big factors that age us seems to be connected to increased sugars and, as a consequence, increased insulin levels in the bloodstream. And this is also precisely relates to what makes us fat.
To put it simply, the body’s signaling hormone that instructs it to take calories that have been consumed and store them as fat is insulin. Our body secretes insulin in response to carbohydrates entering the bloodstream, including grains. This last point is important. Our bodies do not secrete insulin when we eat proteins or fats only carbohydrates. This understanding undermines the “calorie in, calorie out” myth of weight loss. The thinking used to be that if you took in more calories than you burned out with exercise, you gained weight. If the reverse was true, you lost weight. The truth is a bit more complicated than that because not all calories are the same. If you can imagine it, eating 2000 calories per day of candy bars would not be the same as eating 2000 calories per day in the form of steaks.
In the first case, you eat the candy bar and your bloodstream is flooded with insulin such that your body is signaled to store the calories as fat. After your body processes the sugars your blood sugar level plummets and you start craving more food. As a result, you will probably end up eating more than those 2000 calories in candy bars. In contrast, that steak you ate for breakfast will keep you nice and full so you won’t be hungry any time soon. Plus, you will tend to burn off the calories rather than store them as fat. So even with strong enough will power to avoid eating more, the candy bar eater will still tend to accumulate more fat.
Naturally, I’m not advocating a diet of meat only. Vegetables are an integral part of a healthy diet. If fact, the ideal diet will entail many more vegetables and some fruits compared to meat intake.
The counter intuitive part of all this is that to lose weight you should not eat less. According to studies, the absolute best way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Initially, some weight loss will take place, but eventually the dieter will almost surely gain that weight back and more. Note that I didn’t say you can eat whatever you want. Eat as much as you want of the following categories: vegetables, fruits, meats, some nuts. That’s it. For drinking: water or herb tea.
Even if it is difficult to eat perfectly in this regard, think of it as an ideal. Doing so 90% of the time will yield very significant health benefits.
After hearing all this, our friend got excited at the challenge and vowed to change the way she ate.