If you have followed the topic of weight loss over the years you should have noticed a change in what has been thought of as THE cause of weight gain and therefore the SOLUTION to weight loss! If previous thinking was correct, shouldn’t most of the weight loss centers have closed down by now and that the United States wouldn’t rank 2nd among the fattest countries in the world? (Australia just recently passed us to capture 1st). Clearly, we haven’t gotten it right yet, so what is the real deal when it comes to weight loss and specifically, fat loss. It boils down to the science that’s happening in your body that we can’t argue with and then there are some nuances person to person within the science that is true for each person.
It all started with calories…
Long ago, when I was in 7th grade science class, we learned about energy expenditure in the human body. The unit of energy we were talking about is the calorie. And we all thought that if you put a bunch of calories in, let’s say 2,000, and you use or burn up only 1,000 calories, then you have 1,000 remaining that could qualify as weight gain!
Simple! You are gaining weight either because: 1. you are consuming more calories than you are burning OR 2. you are eating an ok amount of calories but your are not burning them up enough. Weight loss regimens back then basically said a low calorie diet plus exercise does the trick! And maybe it did, temporarily.
If you are reading this and thinking, well yes, isn’t it all about calories in vs calories out?
Throw away your calorie counter right now and keep reading!
And then came pasta primavera…
Soon to follow the calorie theory was the era of heart healthy meals and low fat eating!
The US had a surge of non-fat, low-fat, lite and fat-free foods that were manufactured and that we still see on grocery store shelves today. I’m not saying that ALL of these foods are bad but when it comes to eating fat free breakfast pastry or morning cereals are good for you because they are fat free as are some candies like licorice or gummy worms….you get the picture, we are totally missing the boat!
This is the same time when heart healthy eating centered around low fat eating and so dishes like Pasta Primavera were born. This is basically a dish of pasta with some kind of fat free vegetable mixture on top. As most of you know now, that is one big plate of fat causing carbohydrate with some healthy fiber on top. Heart disease in the US did not slow down nor did obesity or obesity co-morbidities using the fat free model for weight loss.
Finally, a look at the science…
So here we are, back to the basics of studying the science that really happens in the human body! This is where things can sound a little complicated due to long chemistry words and hormonal mechanisms that can get even the top grad students lost!
To simplify it for you, here are 3 critical areas to take into account:
1. What raises your blood sugar too high and too fast?
2. What raises your Insulin too high and too often?
3. What combinations of foods are creating 1. and 2. above specifically for you?
Carbohydrates are the primary drivers of blood sugar. Elevated blood sugar is the primary trigger to ask Insulin to come out for a play date. Insulin is the primary driver of fat accumulation! For the purposes of and space within this article, this is THE basic concept to get:
Carbs → blood sugar rise → insulin rise → FAT GAIN
Carbohydrates, particularly the simple processed ones, or what we call high glycemic carbs – the ones that raise your blood sugar quickly, increase fat storage and slow down fat burning. And then there is an efficient feed forward cycle where fat storage creates more fat accumulation, inflammation and so on. Not pretty.
Protein, healthy fat and vegetable fiber are best when it comes to keeping blood sugar stable, which means lower and slower ups and downs.
And now the nuances…
Sorry to tell you, but there are 3 other fat storing hormones with big long names that will make you fall asleep if I tell you their names….like Acylation Stimulating Protein, Glucose-Dependent Insulinotrophic Peptide, and Grehlin….see what I mean?
The first two are triggered by fat intake! So, even though I just said that fat is great to keep blood sugar stable it still has a component of increasing fat storage in the body. This is where you have to figure out your own needs and nuances of how much fat do you tolerate and is fat accumulation your primary issue or is stabilizing your blood sugar your primary issue, or both? What it means is, how much healthy fat you take in may be different than someone else and when it’s combined with a carb (ie. cupcakes with buttercream frosting, deep fried donuts, french fries, potato chips and sour cream dip), the combo is even more deadly for you in terms of gaining fat!
And finally, let’s talk about the 3rd fat storing hormone grhelin. Listen up all of you under eaters, meal skippers and fasters! Grhelin’s job is to increase hunger, especially to sugary, fatty and salty foods, and to store more fat in response to lowered food intake! So when you finally do eat, you will crave sugary, salty and fatty foods AND get fatter more quickly!!!
So what does all of this mean?
Here are some key points that you should take away:
1. Keep your carbohydrates from whole, real food sources that are complex and
nonallergenic – quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, beans, for example.
2. Get to know your complex carb tolerance and keep your servings modest, maybe
that’s a 1/2 cup or maybe that’s just 3 – 5 forkfuls per meal.
3. Do add lean proteins, healthy fats and vegetable fiber to your meals to stabilize
your blood sugar.
4. Know your healthy fat tolerance, are you a fat with your carb or a fat without your
5. Make sure your diet has plenty of non-starchy vegetables, 3-6 cups per day!
To close, I love what award winning author Michael Pollan said:
Not too much