Using Food to Normalize Weight
This is not about a diet to lose weight, then go back to your regular diet. This is about a relationship to food that we can be faithful to for life that will keep us healthy and help maintain a normal weight.
What helps most to lose weight? Diet or exercise? Diet is the most important piece of the weight loss picture. Exercise, while important for health, is less important for weight loss. In other words, you can be inactive and lose weight. But if you don't have food working for you, it takes a lot of exercise to lose weight, and depending on how you exercise, it may actually cause you to lose more lean body mass than fat. When we lose weight, we want that weight loss to be fat, not lean body mass.
Why are we fatter? Not just Americans, but worldwide obesity is rampant. There are a number of reasons; we eat too much; don't exercise enough, our foods are denatured from industrial farming and food processing, our metabolisms are stressed and we're too toxic to lose weight.
There are two myths about weight loss that I want to address. The first is the belief that "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie," whether it comes from protein, fat or carbohydrate. So, in order to lose weight, we must reduce total calorie intake from all foods. The conventional wisdom is that because a gram of fat has 9 calories, whereas a gram of protein or carb has only 4 calories, that it is easier to cut calories by reducing fat.
The second myth, which is related, is called the first law of thermodynamics. That means that if you expend more calories than you take in, you'll lose weight. If you take in more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight. This is true in a closed, mechanical system, but not in a complex living organism like a human being. We've all known people who can eat all they want, and not gain weight, and the person who gains weight on an 800 calorie diet. The reason these ideas don't work in human weight regulation is the hormone insulin, and the very different effects that calories from fat, protein and carbs have on the secretion of insulin.
For now, I'm going to focus on one thing, the hormone insulin. Our DNA, our anatomy, our physiology and our nutritional needs are virtually unchanged in the past 40,000 years. If you compressed all of human history into one year, we've only been farming and eating grains for the past day. We've only been eating vegetables oils for the past ten minutes. We've not yet adapted to these foods.
Humans evolved in a carbohydrate poor environment. The hormone insulin is designed to maximize the effects of the few carbohydrates that were available to enable us to survive. Insulin helps us store excess energy as fat. Now that we live in a carbohydrate rich environment, eating far more carbohydrates than were ever available to humans before, insulin still maximizes the effects of abundant carbs into abundant stored energy in the form of body fat.
There is only one teaspoon of sugar in our entire blood supply. Our bodies maintain tight control over blood sugar, as a little too much or too little blood sugar and we will pass out and die. So the pancreas secretes two hormones, insulin and glucagon, which have opposite effects, ideally balancing our blood sugar.
So when we have a breakfast of cornflakes with some sugar, two pieces of toast with jam, a big glass of orange juice and 3 cups of coffee or tea with a spoonful of sugar in each one, if those 20 teaspoons of sugar went right into our blood stream we'd drop into a diabetic coma then die. But the pancreas secretes insulin to first carry glucose into any cells that need energy then converts any of the excess to storage as fat.
Most cells in our body have thousands of insulin receptors, in which a molecule of insulin is required to bring a molecule of glucose into the cell. When there is a chronically high intake of carbohydrates, specifically sugars and starches, which turn into sugar very rapidly, insulin levels stay elevated, eventually causing insulin receptors to shut down, making it more difficult for the body to dispose of extra glucose. This is called insulin resistance causing more bodyfat, and sooner or later high blood sugar, leading to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory disorders.
This is known as metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is one of the main reasons that as we age, it becomes more difficult to lose weight. Our cell walls are damaged. Out metabolisms are damaged.
So what do we do to repair our cell walls and our metabolism? As Michael Pollan says "Eat real food." But more specifically, eat foods that don't stimulate the secretion of insulin.
A low fat diet really means a high carbohydrate diet, an insulin stimulating diet, putting our metabolism into fat storage mode. The low fat fad of the past 20-25 years has stimulated the tide of obesity and diabetes.
Dietary fat does not cause an insulin response. Protein causes insulin release, but a corresponding release of glucagon, insulin's partner, which tells the body to burn fat. Sugars and starches however do cause insulin release, and no glucagon release. Dietary fat does not make you fat. Carbs do. To heal our cell membranes, our metabolisms, our organs, our bodies and minds, we need to give them the foods that our bodies evolved on. That means moving in the direction of our ancestral diets, sometimes called the Paleolithic diet or Paleo diet for short, for the time in human evolution when carbs were scarce, or infrequent, keeping in mind that our nutritional needs are unchanged in 40,000 years.
So what does a paleo breakfast look like?
First of all, if you don't eat breakfast, or mostly carbs, you end up eating yourself for breakfast, especially your muscles and bones -- also called lean body mass. We all wish that we'd burn bodyfat if we skip a meal, but what we burn is lean body mass. And to make it worse, the next meal we have after a skipped meal, the body doubles the insulin release, increasing energy storage, because skipping meals, especially breakfast, tells the body that food is scarce, better store more fat.
A paleo breakfast is protein and fat abundant, carbohydrate poor. Eggs, sausage, bacon, free range of course, or grass fed beef, bison or lamb. Fresh fish for breakfast. This is the most important meal to have protein. Fat and protein will elevate our metabolism and keep insulin low and hunger at bay. If you are hungry between meals, that means your insulin is elevated. Fat and protein for breakfast gives us more long lasting energy and stable blood sugar the rest of the day. When we have a carbohydrate breakfast, or no breakfast, our blood sugar is on a roller coaster all day, and we are trying to medicate it with coffee or sugar and other carbs.
We do want some carbohydrates at breakfast and every other meal as well. We want low glycemic carbohydrates. These are the above-ground vegetables. Especially dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, chard, spinach and collards.
What did I have for breakfast? Two eggs, local pork sausage and kale, stir fried in coconut oil. When we sit down to a paleomeal, our plate should be 3/4 produce, and 3/4 of that should be above ground vegetables, the rest root crops and fruits, but fruit must be restricted because of the sugar content, and most of our fruits should be berries.
The other 1/4 of our plate is protein, preferably animal protein such as grass fed meats, wild caught fish, and high omega 3 eggs.
How do we apportion our calories between fat, protein and carbs? Just as this varied in the thousands of different paleo diets that human evolved on, depending where on the planet they lived, it will vary with each of us as well, depending on where we live and our individual needs. But, if you need some numbers, 40-60% of our calories should come from fat, 20-35% from protein, and 10-20% from carbohydrates, as vegetables and fruit.
This way of eating, reduces insulin secretion, and fat storage. It encourages the body to use fat as fuel.
All of our foods should be nutrient dense. That means more nutrients per calorie. Above ground vegetables and animal and seafoods and fats are the most nutrient dense. Brown rice? whole wheat? quinoa? Lots of calories as starches, few as protein or fat or other nutrients.
Here are some basic guidelines to use food to lose weight and maintain a normal weight:Eat breakfast. Eat protein for breakfast. Eat three meals daily. Have protein and fat at every meal. Eat a high produce diet, mostly above ground vegetables. Eat a low glycemic diet, avoiding sugars, starches and grains. Don't snack between meals. If you are hungry between meals, you might not have had enough protein or fat, or you had carbs the previous meal, or as I said earlier, you are hungry because you are insulin resistant. So if you become hungry between meals, first drink one or two glasses of water. If you must eat between meals, make it protein and fat, such as a hard boiled egg, jerky, or nuts. Avoid fruit juices and dried fruit as they are high in sugar. And lastly, don't eat before bed.
Let me make a few comments about fruit. Fruit is high in sugar, especially fruit juice and dried fruits. Fructose is readily converted to fat. If you are trying to reach a normal weight, avoid fruit. Keep it to one serving daily, and make that one fruit serving berries, especially blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. These still have some sugar, but are more nutrient dense than other fruits. So keep this formula in mind -- fruits equal sugar which equals stored body fat.
Here's another formula to keep in mind -- starches equal sugar which equals stored bodyfat. So, chips, crackers, pasta, breads, cookies and grains of all forms, including whole grains, all turn into sugar, much of which becomes stored bodyfat. Every farmer knows that if you want to fatten an animal, give it grains.
Fat and protein produce the most satiety, the absence of hunger, we feel like we've had enough to eat. Carbs do not produce satiety. That's why it's so easy to eat that whole bag of chips or cookies. They never truly satisfy.
For most people, it is easier to make dietary changes gradually. Begin by removing processed and packaged foods. Day by day, reduce sugars, starches, dried fruits, fruit juices and grains replace these things with leafy greens. Slowly increase protein and healthy fats. Above all, enjoy shopping, cooking and eating.