The article, titled "Myths, Presumptions, and Facts About Obesity," breaks down seven myths that are pervasive in the conventional wisdom about dieting and weight loss. First among them: calories in/calories out.
According to the article:
- "For example, whereas the 3500-kcal rule predicts that a person who increases daily energy expenditure by 100 kcal by walking 1 mile (1.6 km) per day will lose more than 50 lb (22.7 kg) over a period of 5 years, the true weight loss is only about 10 lb (4.5 kg),6 assuming no compensatory increase in caloric intake, because changes in mass concomitantly alter the energy requirements of the body."
For 50 years, doctors have been prescribing calorie reduction/ control ("diets") as the only reliable method for weight loss. This has all been based on the assumption that the human body operated under the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. The problem is that the human body is an adaptive machine that is bent on, above all else, maintaining balance among a score of different systems while compensating for hundreds of variable factors. And the human body is masterful at conserving energy.
That's right, metabolism is a moving targetIn the 1940s, a University of Minnesota study confirmed that long-term, extremely low calorie diets did not result in a continuous linear progression of weight loss. In fact, after a couple weeks, the body completely adapted, cutting energy levels, making the participants lethargic and chronically cold, and the weight loss slowed to a crawl or halted altogether. The subjects also became obsessed with food to the point that many had complete mental breakdowns. After the completion of the six month study, all rebounded and gained, on average 10 pounds above their pre-study starting weight.
Does this sound like the dietary woes we have all heard of and experienced?
Furthermore, many studies have confirmed that overweight or obese people don't necessarily consume more calories than those who are not.
The basic concept of needing to expend more energy than you take in still stands. BUT - it is impossible for anyone to exactly and consistently calculate their actual energy expenditure on any given day, let alone over a period of time. Those calculators on the treadmills and on websites are estimates based on models. They are directionally correct for populations, but exactly wrong for individuals.
If not calorie counting, then what?So if the NEJM is finally refuting the concept of sustained weight loss based on reduced calories consumed or increased calories burned, and this is supported by our own observation time and time again, what do we do about it? For starters, stop counting. It makes people crazy and it doesn't work.
The heart of our obesity problem is not total calories, but the quality of those calories we take in. Studies on metabolic syndrome have repeatedly shown that the heart of the issue is a sustained bombardment on our systems of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Our body does its best to deal with the issue, but over time, the overload takes its toll. The liver becomes fatty, your muscles become resistant to insulin, your hormone levels are impacted, and LDL cholesterol goes through the roof.
Consider this: what would it take to remove 80-90% of the refined carbohydrates and sugars from your daily consumption and replace them with foods your body can actually use? It requires a mindset change and some planning, but are baguettes, bagels, potatoes, and white rice worth the road to diabetes? All we have to do to reverse the damage is stop inflicting more damage. Once your metabolism is no longer at war with you, you might be surprised to see the weight steadily coming off.
I'm not saying to purge any and all carbohydrates from your diet. You need them. Just choose the ones that have the lowest glycemic index: vegetables, whole grains (actual whole grains, not a label on a box), and fruits in moderation.
In upcoming posts, I will be publishing a three-part series called Mastering your Macronutrients, which is aimed at equipping people to make the very best selections for their health possible. In the meantime, keep reading, learning, and sharing what you find. Together we can overcome this.