Last time I talked about why calories in less being than calories out does not necessarily equal fat loss. I’m going to continue on the ridiculousness of that for a little while longer before I move on.
Using that logic when we look at an overweight woman with an extremely skinny child sitting in the waiting room of a medical clinic we would draw the conclusion that that mom is hoarding all the food from her child. While there are extreme cases where that exact thing is going on and a child is rescued from an abusive home, for the most part we know that most moms would do the opposite and starve themselves for the health of their children. What we know from studies that have been done in various countries and communities world-wide is that both the overweight mom and the underweight child are undernourished.
Even in places where there is not a vending machine and a fast food establishment on every corner and the majority of the jobs are “heavy labor” type positions in factories or working on farms helping to bring in the harvest, many studies have shown both overweight and underweight populations coexist in the same community coupled undernourishment. From factory workers in Chile in 1974, to Mexican-American workers in Starr County, Texas in 1981, to the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2005 this has shown to be true time and time again. These are not populations sitting around eating junk food and playing video games all day.
That’s not even counting our genetics, which control how and where our fat is stored once our bodies go into fat storage mode. If thermodynamics are truly all that matters, what would you tell this woman to do? Her upper body is obviously under-eating while her lower body is over-eating. Umm…wait a minute…
(On a funnier note, this is how my weight distribution goes- I gain first in the lower body and lose first in the upper body so without clean eating this could be me…aaahhh!)
I talked about the laws of thermodynamics vs biology last week. So it still seems like obesity is a result of fat accumulation, not energy balance. Biologically, fat accumulation is regulated by insulin. When our blood glucose is too high, we secrete insulin, which causes this blood sugar to be absorbed by our fat cells, instead of causing the fat cells to release fat. When insulin drops, ie our blood sugar is under control, fat is allowed to escape from the fat cells.
What spikes blood sugar and insulin? Sugars and things that are metabolized like sugar- basically processed foods. In many people, too many of what we would consider as the good carbs can cause too much insulin secretion. For instance, what researchers discovered in the communities studied above is that they relied very heavily on high carbohydrate foods for their nourishment. Foods like white potatoes, grains, and corn, even the non-processed stuff, were eaten as the main part, if not the only part, of every meal.
Using that logic you would think that all we have to do to lose weight is count and cut carbs. That’s not necessarily true because there are many Asian populations that rely mostly on rice for their food and are not overweight. There are also vegan and vegetarian populations that are a picture of health despite high carbohydrate consumption.
On a side note, what is this preoccupation with counting something? We have to count calories, we have to count carbs, fats, proteins. No, we don’t. The word calorie didn’t even become mainstream until the 70’s and it’s not like a sudden understanding of energy expenditures and calories caused a decline in obesity. In fact, quite the opposite has happened.
We are humans which means our neocortex takes up about 76% of our brain volume. The neocortex is responsible for higher functions like sensory perception, conscious thought, and language so we’re supposed to be using our neocortex to be creative, fulfill our passions, and make the world a better place. By taking food consumption, which is a basic function of survival, and making it a function of the neocortex we are basically dumbing ourselves down. Don’t do that, please. Okay? That’s all I have to say about counting.
So what does all this mean? Carbs are good? Carbs are bad? It means we have to start listening to our bodies again and paying attention to how certain foods make us feel. It means we have to be patient and stop thinking about losing 30 pounds in 30 days. We to figure out if we do better with more or less protein, more or less carbohydrates. Do we like more raw veggies or steamed? Do we need a big breakfast first thing in the morning or do we do better with something light?
Our bodies desire to be in homeostasis so if they’re messed up it’s more than likely because we did something to mess them up, like feeding a finely tuned precision vehicle farm diesel and wondering why it’s sputtering along. We don’t really have to do anything crazy like counting calories or carbohydrates- just give our body the proper fuel and let our bodies “heal” themselves. “Fixing” this lack of homeostasis is going to take a long-term sustained lifestyle change. Forget fad diets, forget crazy amounts of mindless cardio and exercising.
The right fuel is different for everyone and it takes patience and listening to your body, which we’ve somehow forgot how to do. If you couldn’t see clearly, you wouldn’t ask to borrow your friend’s glasses because they might actually make your vision worse. Don’t “borrow” your friend’s diet either and don’t follow some cookie cutter plan that doesn’t take your complex and individual biology and physiology into account at all.
Next time I’m going to talk about nutrient density and how to get started really paying attention to what works for your body.
Between now and then, please keep a food log. Don’t just write down what you eat though. Try to pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. If you feel a craving for ice cream, cookies, cheeseburgers, or pizza that just won’t go away, go ahead and eat it (not all of them all at once). Just take note of if it makes your stomach hurt, or give you a little more gas. Do certain foods sit like lead in your stomach or could you eat a whole bag of them and not feel full? Do you feel a sudden burst of energy followed by a crash? Had you hardly eaten all day due to a stressful work environment and then come home and cleaned out an entire shelf of your pantry? Try to pay attention to your triggers and responses. That’s it. There’s your “assignment,” should you choose to accept.
Questions? Comments? Please let me know.