Why it works: A rough estimate of whether the number on your scale is healthy based on your height and weight, your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator of your risk factors for certain conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Why does Bill Gates have so much money? Because he earned more money than he spent.
Why did Basketball Team X win the big game? They scored more points than Team Y.
Why is Pete fat?”
The typical answer is that more calories went in than out. Calorie counting may induce weight loss, but why would you care about that?
Losing 10 pounds is great, but wouldn’t you want to know where that 10 lbs. came from?Was it bone, muscle or fat? Then, if it’s fat, which is what most of us want to lose, is it subcutaneous fat or visceral fat?
Pediatric Endocrinologist Robert Lustig points out in his book “Fat Chance” that several studies show that the amount of subcutaneous fat you have, the fat under your skin, correlates with increased longevity; Whereas visceral fat, the fat around your organs that gives you a big belly, promotes inflammation and causes several health detriments meaning the difference between dying early in your fifties or living into your eighties or longer.
A pound of fat being 3500 calories is usually the piece of data we’re provided with to help us create our weight loss goals. For example if you create a deficit of 500 calories per day, then in a week you will lose a pound of fat. But why would the body choose to discard fat first when you restrict calories?
Decreasing your energy intake is interpreted by your body as you being in a situation where less energy (food) is available. Thus, it will do what it can to keep the stored energy it has and slow down processes that spend energy.
Muscle is a relatively energy expensive tissue while one of fat’s functions is to serve as a place for energy storage. So the body would want to preserve the fat and break down the muscle, to conserve as much energy as it can.And that’s what it does. Through a process called gluconeogenesis, “new glucose making,” muscle is broken down into glucose, which can be used for energy.
So now you have successfully reduced your weight by going into a caloric deficit, but now it’s even harder to maintain a caloric deficit and lose more weight because your resting energy expenditure is now less due to having lost muscle.
Jonathan Bailor points out in his book “The Calorie Myth” that “Studies show that up to 70 percent of the nonwater weight lost when people are eating less comes from burning muscle – not body fat. Only after it’s cannibalized this muscle will our body burn fat.”
So your calorie restrictive diet may actually reduce your weight as you intended, but the weight isn’t necessarily coming off from where you’d like it to, and this whole process becomes an uphill battle.
Restricting calories without modifying the composition of your diet will cause your body to lower energy expenditure and increase hunger to provoke you to get back to your normal energy intake.
“Eat less and exercise,” the typical advice for weight loss, is a strategy fueled mainly by willpower. Hunger and lowered energy expenditure is going to set you up to where the last thing your body wants to do is exercise.
Alright, maybe it’s more simple to look at how people get too fat in the first place. Surely to get fat, one has to eat too much. But what causes that excessive eating?
We have very sensitive receptors in our body that let us know when it is too hot, too cold, when we’re thirsty, et cetera. What would cause someone to eat past the point of satiety so much and so frequently that they become overweight or obese?
Of course small fluctuations in weight throughout the year is not unnatural. But when people get significantly overweight or obese over time through overeating, surely something is significantly wrong with the way their body processes food and the way their hunger and satiety receptors work.
So what “calories in calories out” isn’t explaining is why some people’s bodies will just raise energy expenditure in response to eating too much, keeping them thin while other people get fat. Just because you eat extra calories doesn’t mean they have to be stored, they could just be burned off automatically.
The medical journal QJM reports, “Food in excess of immediate requirements… can easily be disposed of, being burnt up and dissipated as heat. Did this capacity not exist, obesity would be almost universal.”
So why is it that obese people don’t automatically dispose of calories, experience intense lethargy, and have voracious appetites despite having massive amounts of energy available in the form of fat on their body?
What is particularly interesting about this is that the satiety hormone, Leptin, is secreted by your fat cells. So if we are to assume that a calorie is a calorie and the type of food you eat does not have any peripheral effects… like disrupting the hormonal environment of the body, then fat people should have less of an appetite than leaner people.
We would need to assume that all overweight people have something like a gene defect that screws up their hormones, leading to this dysfunctional situation where the brain is constantly being told to eat more food despite having plenty of stored energy available on the body.
Robert Lustig explains that only 2 percent of morbid obesity is explained by genes.
“Researchers worldwide have scanned the human genome and have identified thirty-two genes that are associated with obesity in the general population. Altogether, these genes explain a total of 9 percent of obesity. And even if one person had every single bad gene variation, it would account for only about 22 pounds –hardly enough to explain our current obesity pandemic.”
So when people get fat, they are of course for some reason or another, taking in much more calories than they need to. But, their body for some reason chooses to use nearly all these extra calories for body fat accumulation at the expense of muscle.
Dr. Doug McGuff, emergency doctor and exercise expert said: “And I always had it in my head that the morbidly obese were probably pretty well muscled underneath all that because effectively they’re lifting weights all the time. But it’s not the case – their muscles are extraordinarily atrophied. Your external oblique muscle that ought to be you know as thick as a piece of steak, in these people it’s paper thin and stretched to the point of bursting. Because they are having nutrient partitioning that doesn’t allow energy to go anywhere but the body fat. So they are literally starving inside an encasement of blubber.”
A good example for understanding why the body uses calories in different ways is puberty: During puberty, young men and women develop bigger appetites, and that extra energy is put towards developing things like sex organs and making their bodies larger in general. But young men put on a lot of muscle during this phase whereas young women put on more fat. You might attribute this to the fact that young men are more likely to play sports, but the way fat is distributed is very different between the two genders.
Most guys are not gonna find their pants are getting tighter due to butt and hip fat. This is the effect of several hormones, particularly one named insulin. Insulin is an anabolic hormone – it’s known as the energy storage hormone, or sometimes the “fat storage hormone” – one of its jobs is directing how the food you take in will be stored. And, puberty is associated with a higher than normal secretion of insulin.
A very clear illustration of insulin’s fat accumulation abilities is the side effect some diabetes patients experience where they develop a mound of fat at the site where they frequently inject their insulin. This is called lipohypertrophy. So understanding how food affects hormones would be better for weight management than understanding how many calories are going in and out of your body.
Other than insulin, worthwhile hormones to look at are Leptin and Hormone sensitive lipase:
Leptin is the satiety hormone – if you have higher leptin levels and your brain has no problem reading these levels, then you feel “full”.
And, hormone sensitive lipase breaks down fat so it can be used for energy, this of course is important if you want to lose body fat.
So the ideal situation is to have high levels of leptin so you are not hungry all the time, and you would want lower levels of insulin so your body doesn’t store too much energy, and you would want hormone sensitive lipase to be activated so it would break down body fat. Losing body fat while not being hungry would be the ideal situation, right?
The problem with calories in calories out is it doesn’t tell you anything about how to achieve this preferred hormonal situation. But, paying attention to how much of and what kinds of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are in your meals will tell you much more about how your hormones are going to respond.
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