After the introduction, in my last article I explained that all calories are equal, along with busting some other common misconceptions. I also promised to share the secret of losing weight.
But before I do that, I’d like to explain where the idea of calorie balance not being the cause of weight weight change even came from. This idea, that counters laws of thermodynamics, is most commonly propagated by low carb fans.
Where did the doubt in calories come from?
From misinterpretation of scientific studies.
Many, not to say most, studies, do not control calorie intake and/or consumption with great precision. This means that the subjects get instructions from the researchers, but they move freely (utilize energy) and eat freely (energy intake), all in their own homes, while keeping food and physical activity diary.
Researchers then take these notes to calculate calorie consumption and intake, believing all data to be correct. Thankfully, mankind is known to be infallible in making judgements and being honest (I’m being sarcastic, if you haven’t noticed).
The results of these studies suggest that same calorie sufficit /deficit do not lead to same weight gain or loss in all subject. Based on that data, some will conclude that calories don’t matter.
However, those who know more about science of nutrition know that imprecise methods that were used cannot be utilized to make these assumptions. What can we conclude from these studies then? Even though there are some interindividual differences in calorie utilization, they cannot explain the whole difference in weight change. What we can see though is that some of the subjects compensated calorie imbalance (deficit or sufficit) by changing their dietary habits – reducing or enhancing the intake, or changing the level of physical activity.
When we look at the results of precisely controlled studies, where the subjects were put in lab conditions and monitored 24 hours a day, which allowed the researchers to control their calorie intake and consumption fully, we get a somewhat different result. In most of these studies, body weight change is a direct consequence of calorie intake change. The only exception are subjects who undertake low carb diets, which show a somewhat greater short-term weight loss. More detailed body composition analysis shows that lower body weight does not come from fat loss, but glycogen and water loss. Over a longer period of time, even this difference disappears.
While the first type of research provides a good base for noting the reactions to calorie intake variations, they cannot lead to these (often utilized) conclusions:
- It’s possible to lose weight with no calorie deficit.
- With same calorie deficit, by changing the macronutrient ratio (low-carb, low-fat, low-anything), it’s possible to achieve a greater weight loss.
Now we can continue.
Treating obesity or how to lose weight the healthy way
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, former American Dietetic Association, recently classified obesity as a disease. Even though I don’t fully agree with this classification, it has the benefit of attracting attention to obesity – one of the biggest health problems of today’s world.
As with any non-genetic illness, one must emphasize the prevention of it. It’s better to be safe than sorry, because prevention costs nothing, and the treatment can be very expensive. Maintaining a healthy body weight saves the country’s money – other than prolonging your life and improving the quality of it.
Easier said than done – I agree with you. But I say again, our ancestors survived through storing fat, and survival is more important than health. Genetically, this tendency is present even in today’s western world where hunger isn’t a problem. I’d argue that this misalignment is the main cause of obesity. However, that does not mean we should accept our destiny and binge eat to death because we can – the evolution did equip us with a developed brain function to control our genetic drives. Some can do this better than the others, that much is true. I’ll stop myself here before I enter too deep into the area that’s not one of my strongest suits.
If you follow my Facebook and webpage, you probably know I oppose the diet that’s on either end of the spectrum, including any over-emphasis of certain dietary habits such as macronutrient ratios – fats in high-fat/low-carb diets, carbs in high-carb/low-fat diets, or proteins in high-protein diets. Main problem with this types of diets is neglecting one or more of other macronutrients, which consequentially leads to neglecting micronutrients and other beneficial food components (phytonutrients).
More fat in our diet necessarily leads to less carbohydrates and/or proteins. Most often we reduce the carbohydrate intake, which reduces the level of main cell fuel, glucose, the simplest carbohydrate that every other carbohydrate metabolizes into in our digestive system. Other than that, we reduce the intake of various phytochemicals, chemical compounds found in carb sources – whole-wheat grain, fruits and vegetables – which have been proven to have a positive effect on health.
If we enhance our fat intake by consuming more plant oils, it’s possible to disrupt the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in our diet, which is nowadays already more to the side of omega-6. Another extreme is eating more carbs. Assuming that we won’t reduce the protein level too much, this means we will reduce fat intake – denying the body its source of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and -6) and vitamins soluble in fats (A, D, E, K).
Every intervention in macronutrient ratio reflects on at least another one. Luckily, human body maintains a high function with different ratios so moderate changes have no effect on health. The problem ensues with drastic „all or nothing“ principles humans tend to utilize. This is the case with many nutrition concepts coming from authors of alternative books on diet and cooking, which unnecessarily demonize certain foods and glorify others. This averts the attention from the things that really do make a difference, like maintaining healthy body weight (calorie balance), a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and an adequate fiber intake. Books with these advices wouldn’t sell well, because they are too simple and this doesn’t make a sale. Sensationalist messages sell books.
Is there an ideal ratio between carbs and fats that can enhance weight loss other than the calorie deficit itself? No.
In theory, more carbohydrate will result in more glycogen stored, which could make a person feel more energized, thus more active, spending a few extra calories. But that doesn’t mean that weight loss will be greater than the calorie deficit – just that the deficit will be bigger. Don’t be fooled by the initial weight loss in low-carb diets (1-2 kg), that’s the consequence of lowering the levels of glycogen and the water it retains. This difference disappears in a short period of time, so this type of diet becomes boring after a while due to its limiting nature. With time, people stick to it less and less, so the calorie deficit along with weight loss disappear. Based on individual preferences, one can choose a diet with more carboydrates or fats as long as this does not compromise the intake of all essential nutrients.
You feel tricked because this article brought no secret pill. to lose weight without making an effort?
Don’t be, because there isn’t one. Weight loss is registered as danger in our body and it tries to fight it – so this cannot go completely effortless. It’s time to stop wasting time on alternative, limiting, diet principles, and focus on including food items into your diet, not excluding them. That’s the best way toward variability, which is the basis of a balanced diet. If you want to lose weight, focus on moderate limitation of calorie intake, including as many food items into it as you can.