Many people approach weight loss as a task of optimizing a simple mathematical equation:
# calories IN – # calories OUT
In other words, the dogma is to eat less or burn more.
There is usually a preferred way to go. Some choose to eat (much) less to minimize the IN-calories, while others choose to burn more by extensive physical exercise and training. They maximize the OUT-calories.
The brave ones attempt to do both. And while they may have stunning results short term, such as fantastically sculpted body, there is usually the darker side of the coin. This is the invisible side of their loss of energy, constant fatigue, nutritional imbalances and cranky moods. The best way to know this is to ask their spouses, family, friends and co-workers.
If this simple equation above could only work. Yeah … All the dieters / exercisers would have been super slim once and for all.
But they are not.
The calorie restriction and/or extensive exercise may work, of course.
For young people.
In some circumstances.
However, the majority of people over 30 will generously loose weight at first (if this happens) to only gain it back some time later. (People below 30 oftentimes can achieve better results thanks to their fast metabolism.)
Dieting and exercise may become a way of life. A life of calorie counting, food restriction, and perhaps malnutrition.
Is it a part of your life? Have you tried another diet or training? Oh, yes, the initial success followed by the weight gain again.
The simple truth is this:
A healthy body will loose weight and maintain appropriate weight as a natural course of events (assuming a healthy approach to well-being and daily movement, of course).
We have a perfect example of this phenomenon. KIDS. I mean, active kids who consume high calories, but are on move. There are differences between them, as some may be slimmer than others, but overall, they are in good shape and have great levels of energy. They can eat a lot of calorie-dense foods but still remain lean and healthy.
The healthiest kids are robust and just eat. Not necessarily the healthiest food under the sun, but they eat a good amount of food. Saturated fat, lots of sugar and carbs and proteins.
Why is loosing unnecessary weight difficult?
A more important question is: Why did you get the extra weight in the first place?
The answer is simple.
The body is not healthy (optimal), at least in some aspects. You will not maintain the optimal weight unless you address these internal imbalances.
The equation for the IN-calories minus the OUT-calories does not account for what is the most important in your body:
the emotional, hormonal and metabolic environment.
This environment is primary because it defines how food is digested and utilized, and what is going to happen with the calories that arrive. In addition, it is also the content of calories that matters in the context of your past health/disease history.
There are many ways to Rome, and there are many ways to loose weight if you choose to focus on that. The real decision, however, is how to optimize your health first, and maintain the optimal (healthy) weight, second. This is a long term perspective, meant for years. Not a quick fix.
The magical word behind your health, energy and optimal weight is metabolism. This is the key to optimize I believe.
Let me define metabolism now as in most cases we have a wrong idea what it is. I used to think that metabolism refers to the speed of digestion and elimination.
Metabolism refers to the characteristics of cellular respiration. This means how much energy (counted in the units of ATP, the energy currency in the body) your body produces from food, oxygen and carbon dioxide you provide all the time (yes, you need carbon dioxide as well as otherwise oxygen will not burn glucose, check the Bohr effect). If the preferred mode is the oxygenation of glucose, then the process is optimal and you will produce a good amount of ATPs. The metabolism is fast and the energy is there.
If however, glycolisis (fermentation) is the dominant mode (as it occurs e.g. in cancer, under a strenuous cardio exercise, in poor breathing, when the thyroid is compromised etc), then there is little energy produced. As a result, in time, you are energy deprived and fatigued on daily basis.
There are many factors that play a key role in metabolism. The main ones include well-functioning thyroid (and parathyroids), nutritional balances and diaphragmatic slow breathing. But there are many more.
Eating less for weight loss
What happens when you eat less food/calories than needed (and you exercise)?
You believe that in the context of calorie restriction you will force your body to burn adipose tissue (fat) for fuel. But … you fall into the fallacy of the math equation above.
Weight loss often happens initially. This is the anti-catabolic stage, where body burns the stored fat for fuel. This often feels great and there is the initial hype. The mistake most people make is that this immediate effect is the result of their dieting. They believe that it will continue for a long time.
This is not the case though.
There is the cumulative effect of calorie restriction which is more important. With time (say a few weeks to a few months), when you slightly/greatly deprive yourself of food, the body will stop burning fat and choose to store fat instead. The loss of weight becomes minimal until it stops.
Because your body is smart. It recognizes it gets less food/calories than it needs so it has to protect itself in order to survive. Your body has a constant “red signal” switched on. There is a danger of starvation. As it is semi-starved after a number of weeks, it will choose to store energy for the hard times. The most efficient way is to store fat. (Of course, first glucose in the form of glycogen is stored in the liver but once it is full, extra glucose will be turned to fat as well.)
To achieve that, the body has to slow down metabolism. This means that the hormonal balance is down-regulated: less thyroid hormones are released. In addition, the balance between leptin and ghrelin, which maintain the satiety and hunger at check as well as the control over the adipose cells, may be compromised. Perhaps, there is also more fermentation going on than oxidation. If this is the case, you will become energy depleted which means you will have hard time getting out of bed and going through your day.
Finally, the body will skip the metabolically expensive tasks (such as female periods) and will use other substitutes to get the fuel for the daily functioning. In practice, this means burning muscle tissue. If the later happens, you may still loose weight, but this loss is achieved by muscle loss, while your fat will stay happily around your waist, say. This is rather bad as you will become weak, drained and simply lifeless overtime.
What is the consequence in a long term?
Your calorie-deprived diet or/and extensive exercise, even for a short time such as four weeks, has slowed down your metabolism and compromised the working of your thyroid. This has a far reaching consequence.
Every cell in the body depends on the thyroid hormones because they regulate the speed with which metabolism works. Thyroid produces about 80% T4 (thyroxine) and about 20% T3 (triiodothyronine). T3, however, is the active form and possesses more power than T4. Thyroxine has to be converted into T3 (in the liver) to be used in the body. The thyroid hormones regulate your heart rate and how fast your intestines process food. So, if T3 and T4 levels are low, your heart rate may become slow and you may experience constipation or a weight gain. Interesting, isn’t it?
As a result, when you are back to eating the “normal” way (aka stopping the diet), your slowed metabolism will still keep your body prepared for the hard times. You will keep storing fat. More fat than before the diet, in fact. So, you are soon back, weight-wise, to where you started.
Welcome back to the real you.
But now weakened and compromised.
Because your gentle thyroid is out of balance. The thyroid gland is the key to health in my view. It regulates or influences the majority of important functions in the body: heart rate, body temperature, breathing, energy levels, nervous system, muscle strength, body weight or menstrual cycles.
Are you going to follow another miracle diet or an extensive exercise program?
If so, you are on the way to create hormonal imbalances, which in turn, will make you predisposed to many complex and/or chronic diseases. And these are the real ones.
Healthy, instead the short-term slim
Instead of asking the question: “How to loose weight?”, I would rather ask “How to be healthy?”
When you are healthy, which means that the working of the body are optimal, weight loss will come naturally, if this is needed.
How to achieve that?
There is no one size fits all solution, simply because everybody is unique with respect to her/his metabolic, hormonal and emotional environment. But there are some guidelines.
First of all, it is your responsibility to develop a healthy relation with yourselves and food.
By real food, I mean the natural one. Food that grows on fields, trees or comes from animals. It is butter (not margarine). Lard. Vegetables. Fruits. Meat. Whole milk (not skimmed). And so on.
No bars. No protein powders. No fat-reduced, cholesterol free or sugar free products.
What to eat?
My personal approach is to eat as much as you need (this excludes emotional eating) to feel satisfied. (Remember that eating less than your need will work against you long term. ) Eat a variety of food, including a good portion of animal fat from milk, butter, lard etc (yes, you need this fat because otherwise you will lack the vitamins A,D,E and K), vegetables and fruits.
My super miracle food is eggs (soft yolks only) for its unique choline content and fat we need so much and potatoes/yums (with milk and butter). I am also personally in favor of eating relatively high-fat. I know, I know … It is super unpopular and considered a crime perhaps by mass media. However, this works for me, and I understand why. So, I don’t bother what others think 😉
Everybody needs carbs, proteins and fat, in amounts suitable for the specific metabolic and hormonal conditions. If you are afraid of eating fat (or anything else for the matter), learn first how food is digested. Look at biochemistry. You will learn interesting things, not in agreement with what we are being told 😉
The food to eat is the food in season and the one that occurs naturally in the country you live in. Eat in a balanced way. For instance, eat more salads or fruits in hot summer, but nourish yourself with warm, dense stews and soups in the winter.
What about exercise?
If you think about demanding exercise, ask yourself whether the exercise supports you and gives you more energy long term.
If we look at research then we will find out that the daily micro-movements and efforts, standing up, walking the stairs, walking to work / bus stop / school, chopping vegs for soup, vacuum cleaning, gardening, cleaning, tidying up, are exactly the ones that keep our muscles at work. These daily micro-exercises are exactly the ones that keep burning the calories we want out, by keeping us “oiled” and supple muscle-wise.
If you want to improve your physical being and burn the calories the natural way, keep standing up often during a day if you have a siting job, and take any possibility to walk or do your daily chores. Then, if you like, add exercises which match your current energy level. I am personally in favor of stretching or gentle movements such as in yoga, pilates or tai chi.
Still want to follow a diet?
I am not in favor of any particular diet, unless it is meant for therapeutic / healing effect, certainly not for the purpose of weight loss per se. If you want to choose a diet to follow though, do your research first whether the particular diet will nourish you or create hormonal/nutritional imbalances, instead. You can win a battle but loose the war, so to speak.
Look whether a diet you want to choose will:
– help you get and maintain the appropriate body weight
– keep your cravings at bay
– improve brain function and mood
– improve skin condition, strengthen hair and nails
– nourish you
– stabilize the blood glucose levels
– promote regeneration and quality sleep
– strengthen the immune system
– prevent health disorders
– improve digestion and elimination
– increase energy supplies and vitality
– be based on real food not the processed ones,
and be simple to follow and maintain.
Be in charge
It is your life and your health. Own it.
Don’t merely follow the gurus or authorities. It is your responsibility to educate yourself at the fundamental level.
Once you understand how food is digested, how hormones work in the body, how important adequate nutrition and calories are, how crucial relaxation is and sufficient sleep, you will simply be able to design your own food-style, i.e. what and how you eat to keep you well and healthy.
Wishing you a happy journey to your optimal health!