The Weight Loss Myth

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A scientific and cultural myth, often perpetuated by people who should know better — doctors, trainers, and other health professionals, is that in order to lose weight we must decrease calories and increase exercise. Also known as Calories In — Calories Out, the premise is that if you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight.

It is given the air of science by quoting a law from physics called the First Law of Thermodynamics. However, this law of physics has no more to do with weight loss than a more well know law of physics, the Law of Gravity.

While calories in/calories out may help some people lose weight temporarily, it is otherwise a losing battle. Why? When we reduce calories, we get tired, our metabolism, the ability to burn calories, slows down. We don't feel like exercising. Exercising makes us hungry. Many people trying to lose weight end up tired and hungry, with carbohydrate cravings hard to resist.

Calories in/calories out also causes some people to overexercise, doing hours daily of jogging, biking, exercise classes and aerobics, attempting to burn more calories. The truth is, exercise is only a small part of weight loss. Without dietary factors in place, it is very difficult to lose weight by exercise alone. Diet is at least 75% of the weight control battle, especially as we age and it becomes more difficult to lose weight and harder to do hours of exercise.

The calories in/calories out theory makes a dangerous assumption that all calories are equal. Because fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, it is often recommended that fat, being more calorie dense, should be reduced over protein or carb calories.

The idea that eating fat helps you lose fat may seem counter-intuitive. Yet the most dramatically effective weight loss approach ever researched was done by two British researchers in the 1950's. (Kekwick and Pawan, 1956) They divided volunteers into 3 groups of 1,000 calories daily, one group 90% carbohydrates, another 90% protein, and a third group, 90% fat.

The group receiving 90% carbs gained an average of .24 pounds daily. The 90% protein group lost .6 pounds daily, and the 90% fat group lost the most .9 pounds daily.

The 90% carb diet resulted in gaining a pound every four days, the 90% fat group losing three and a half pounds every four days. Clearly, a calorie of carbohydrate has a different effect on fat burning than a calorie of fat.

Why is this true? Fat metabolism is based on hormones, not physics. A number of hormones affect fat metabolism, such as thyroid hormone and estrogen. But the primary hormone affecting the metabolism of fat is insulin.

According to Gary Taubes, author of “Why We Get Fat,” the science of fat regulation was worked out between the 1920's and 1960's. There is no controversy about the science. From Yalow and Berson, 1965: Releasing fat from our fat tissue and then burning it for energy “requires only the negative stimulus of insulin deficiency.” If we can get our insulin levels to drop we can burn our fat, if we can't, we won't. If the level of insulin is elevated we will accumulate fat. That is the science.

A fact of physiology is that when insulin is elevated, we cannot burn body or dietary fat for fuel, we can only store fat until insulin levels come down. Only then can we burn dietary and body fat.

We contain only one teaspoon of sugar in our entire blood supply. Anything over that is considered dangerous by the body, and will secrete insulin to send sugar to cells, or convert to fat for storage.

Fat units of energy, called ketones, are actually preferred by the body for fuel over glucose. Fat burns with less metabolic waste products than glucose, a “dirty fuel.”

A breakfast of bacon, eggs and broccoli will have a low stimulus on insulin. But if you add orange juice, or toast or a muffin, insulin secretion spikes, storing excess calories as fat.

The key to weight loss is to reduce insulin release by following a low carbohydrate diet, avoiding sweetened beverages, beer, soda and juice. Stay off the fattening carbohydrates, wheat, potatoes, rice, corn, breads, pastas, pastries and sugar.

People typically feel better once they are low carb and fat-adapted, as stable blood sugar helps to have stable emotions and moods.

Overexercise stimulates stress hormones that increase insulin resistance. We need insulin sensitivity to lower insulin levels.

By reducing fattening carbohydrates and increasing healthy fats, like butter, coconut oil, olive oil and fats found in pasture raised eggs and poultry and grass-fed meats, you can reduce insulin levels and become a more efficient fat burner.

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
Guyton's Medical Physiology
Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas