How many times have you read “a calorie is a calorie?” Countless weight loss studies test different diets and everyone loses weight. Calories are drastically limited in most of the diets. At a deficit of 500-1000 fewer calories a day, the diets typically allow people 50-75% of recommended intake.
Of course everyone loses weight. The researchers conclude that it doesn’t matter what diet you use, all of them will work equally well. So the mantra lives on, “Eat Less, Exercise More.” But losing weight is not merely a math problem.
In more sophisticated studies, some diets works better for specific individuals. In 2007 research by Chris Gardner (a nutrition researcher at Stanford University) found that a higher carbohydrate diet helped insulin sensitive people to lose fat weight more effectively. The higher protein diet worked better for people who were insulin resistant.
Researchers with David Ludwig at Harvard University studied a group of overweight adolescents. The teens eating lower glycemic carbohydrates (more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes) lost more fat weight than those eating a calorie restricted low fat diet with all the usual fare.
The test subjects ate whole grains, not refined. They ate oatmeal, not sugared refined cereals. They ate more fruits and vegetables. Not chips, pretzels and other refined snacks foods. They drank water, not sodas.
The teens eating more whole foods also sustained a lower BMI even six months after the research ended. The calorie restricted subjects regained the weight lost—and more. That’s a familiar scenario for too many people.
DIETING AND DISORDERED EATING
The endless struggle to lose weight has cultivated a population of yo-yo dieters, chronic dieters, and many people with disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders. What’s missing is an approach to food that works with the body, mind and soul of the person who is trying to lose weight. Each person needs an approach to food that works for them.
Ironically weight is not a good measure of success. Many in the medical and public health community want to believe weight is a useful way to measure health. It isn’t. Thin people develop heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, digestive disorders, and cancer. The idea that body fat drives the disease state is one of the great distortions of modern medicine.
WHAT’S DRIVING WEIGHT GAIN? WHAT’S DRIVING DISEASE?
What we eat influences our body in ways not anticipated by people who think obesity is a math problem. For most of my clients, poor metabolic health precedes the diagnosis of disease regardless of their weight.
When people eat poorly, the body adapts—and not in a good way. A diet rich in refined starches and sugar can increase insulin resistance—an underlying condition linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.
In addition, eating refined sugar and starch promotes a different bacteria flora to reside in our digestive tract. Eating excessive refined sugar and starch promotes the secretion of gut peptides that influence appetite. Certain gut peptides, like ghrelin, signal the brain and compel us to eat more. It is even thought that the gut microbes linked with refined sugars and starches can promote fat gain.
THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO EAT
Ideally your food plan allows your body to metabolize both fat and glucose effectively for fuel. It allows you to feel satisfied after eating. It provides you with energy needed to complete the tasks of your day—both work and play.
A successful approach includes foods you enjoy, foods that are readily available, and foods that you can afford. The actual mix of food that works for you may be very different than the mix of food that works for someone else.
Too many people ask me what kind of diet I support. Is it Paleo? Raw Foods? Vegan? Do I promote Weight Watchers? The Zone? Pritikin?
This question reveals a distorted understanding of the process. Decades of dieting has cultivated a belief that there is one right way to eat. You just have to find it. People spend too much of their lives trying one diet after another Sometimes they get stuck trying the same one over and over and hoping for a different result.
Ironically the medical world also needs to abandon the idea that there is a single dietary approach to treat any one disease. It is critical that we start treating the patient, not the diagnosis.
There should be is no such thing as a diabetic diet, as if every diabetic will benefit by the same exact food plan. The same goes for diets promoted for any single disease, as well as weight loss itself.
AN APPROACH TO FOOD THAT WORKS
Magical thinking distracts people from the real task at hand: cultivating an approach to food that works. Too many people try and eat like a thin friend, a thin sister or the biggest loser. That food intake may actually make everything worse. It may be so unsustainable that you soon abandon the effort.
We can do better. Anyone who struggles with their weight or their health deserves to figure out an approach to food that works for them.