When trying to lose weight, it can sometimes feel as though our own bodies are trying to sabotage us: making us crave the very foods that we are trying to cut out or cut down upon. Let’s look at the mechanisms of weight loss and see if we cannot dismiss some of the persistent myths and misconceptions of the dieting world.
Calories are everyone’s go-to when it comes to dieting. The belief is that counting calories will work: after all, one pound of excess weight is roughly equivalent to 3,500 calories. Therefore, if you eat 3,500 calories less than your weekly requirements, you will lose one pound per week, enabling all but the most overweight to shed any excess weight within six months or so. So why doesn’t it happen that way?
The first problem is that calorie counting makes two assumptions: firstly, that all calories are equal, and secondly, that all bodies burn fuel the same way, respond the same way to food and exercise, and that nobody ever changes in response to food supplies being cut down.
The ‘all calories are equal’ myth is easily dealt with: look at a slice of cake, and then compare it to a large chicken salad, even one with a small spoonful of mayonnaise on it. Both will contain 350 – 450 calories, but the salad comes with a good amount of fiber, protein, and, if the mayonnaise is home-made, a small amount of ‘good’ fat. The carbs from the salad vegetables are so light and easily processed by the body that they can be more or less disregarded from a macro-nutrient point of view, while their health benefits are already widely acknowledged. The cake is just starchy carbs and ‘bad’ fat. Protein helps the body to burn calories quicker, while good fats help to maintain satiety. In other words, the cake is quickly eaten and causes a blood sugar peak that quickly falls away, leaving you ‘hungry’. On the other hand, the salad is more complicated to eat – taking twenty minutes to eat your food is great as it lets your body ‘realize’ that it is being fed, staving off nibbling later on, which is helped by the long-term satisfaction from the fat.
When you cut, for example, 500 calories from your daily intake, you will lose weight initially. You will also feel tired and unwell and may be prone to catching colds that are going around. And then your body will adjust. It will begin to behave as though the lower food intake is ‘normal’ and hold onto weight if you ever go over this figure, trapping you deeper in the diet cycle of losing and gain. You will also be depriving your body of necessary nutrients, and that adjustment will not be without consequence: you may get more colds, have less stamina, feel more tired and lethargic – and you will still not be losing any more weight!
Once calorie counting has been tried and abandoned, dieters might try exercising as a method of weight loss. Exercise keeps you healthier and makes you fitter – but it puts muscle on, which is heavier (although more compact) than fat and makes you hungrier: you have all those new muscles to feed! Overdoing exercise is actually a process of causing small injuries to yourself. It is this that causes feelings of stiffness and aches and pains after a ‘good’ exercise session, and while this will heal, it diverts nutritional resources away from other parts of the body – like your brain, your immune system, and so on.
The best weight-loss method, as doctors and nutritionists are slowly coming to agree, after nearly five-decades of calorie counting myths, is to eat real foods (only ingredients you recognize as being a food), cut starchy carbs down dramatically (because carbs turn into sugars in the body, sugars cause hunger cravings which can derail attempts to eat well), and enjoying healthful good-fat laden foods: avocado pears, olive oil, grass-fed organic meats, and as much fresh veg as you can get.
If you are eating well and find yourself craving certain foods, you may be suffering a deficiency. For example, if you crave dark chocolate, you may actually be short of magnesium. Nuts are a great source of magnesium, but they can be problematic being high in both carbs and good fats. Supplements can help you too. Taking a good all-round supplement to enhance your good, healthy food diet will strengthen your immune system and give you energy for moderate exercise. While strenuous exercise can be harmful, as stated above, we all need to be active, whether it is a walk each day, a swim three or four times a week, or a game of tennis or squash, try to follow the WHO recommendations on exercise.
Make this relatively simple change to your diet: ditch heavy carbs and embrace good fats – and you will be amazed at how easy weight loss success can be. However, if you’ve tried a healthy balanced diet and moderate exercise and still aren’t seeing the weight loss you’d like, talk to a doctor about medications that can help you lose weight safely and effectively.