I won’t bait you by making you read all the way to the end of the article or, even worse, force you to pay me a sum to “reveal the magic secret.” So here is the greatest fat loss secret of all-time: FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT; SUGAR DOES.
Confused? Of course you are. If you’re obese, you literally have too much fat. So how can any rational person think eating the stuff that you have too much of won’t add to the problem? The problem arises because most Americans have been brainwashed into thinking fat is bad for them, so any theories to the contrary are viewed as heresy.
Let’s face the facts: not only are Americans becoming fatter by the minute, but the world is also becoming more obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2008, 1.4 billion adults were overweight and 500 million were obese. The WHO also stated that each year, over 2.8 million people die as a result of being overweight. Additionally, the United States is in first-place amongst industrialized nations with the largest number of fat people (35% of adults and 17% of the young) according to the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHC). The NCHC also reports that the medical costs associated with obesity exceeded $145 billion in 2008; per person, it was $1,429 more expensive to care for an obese person than someone of normal weight.
Take a step back and consider these basic ideas:
It is vastly more profitable for people to be fat and sick than thin and healthy. If people are deceived into eating the wrong things and consequently become overweight, there are millions of perverse and greedy entities ready to sell you the “medicine” to (allegedly) make you better.
For millions of years, human beings were mostly lean. It is only in recent human history (the end of WWII onward) that humans have become so fat. Why the sudden shift?
Open up any medical textbook or literature from the 19th century and back, and the prescription for weight loss was cutting back on carbohydrates. Back then, obesity was not an epidemic, so why the change?
These issues shall serve as food for thought for now, but keep in mind there is a magnificent book that addresses all the questions above in detail. One should have an open mind when reading it, because it declares the truth and shatters many misconceptions and myths about current weight-loss paradigms. The book is entitled Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.
Now let’s face the facts: sugar tastes good and the sweet taste is attractive. There is even some literature to suggest that the “sugar-rush” is as addictive as cocaine.¹ The New York Times Magazine also recently wrote about the processed food industry purposely engineering unhealthy foods for all of us to eat, in order to create an addiction based on sugar, salt, fat and flavoring.² Of course, having sugar every now and then will not make you fat, but the modern American diet is loaded with processed, refined sugars: In 2012, on average, Americans consumed about 130 pounds of sugar, which equates to just under 800 Grams every five days. In the 1700s, the average American consumed four pounds of sugar a year. In the early 1800s, the average American consumed about 45 Grams every 5 days (about one can of soda). From the 1700s until now, that’s a 30-fold increase in sugar intake. The reader must also not forget that sugar, particularly fructose and high-fructose corn syrup, has been linked to (list not exhaustive): heart disease, chronic kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, promotion of obesity and all its subsequent health problems including certain cancers, and narrowing of the arteries supplying the brain.
Before I get into the specifics, one must remember that human bodies all follow the same rules, but genetics play a very large role. People who are thin tend to come from thin families and vice versa. We all know people who have always been skinny as rails, eat what they want, and never gain an ounce. We also know fat people who come from families of other fat people, who gain weight if they think about ice cream. There are also distinct differences between the sexes. Men are programmed to be leaner and more muscular, while women are programmed to store more fat; men tend to gain weight above the waist, women below.
In addition, when I talk about weight loss, what I really mean is fat loss, since “losing weight” just means losing fat and muscle. When you’re goal is to lose fat, it would be a bad idea to dump your precious muscle with it. I also don’t speak of “weight gain” because the term is relative: all human beings should be gaining weight from birth until we’re in our late teens; others routinely exercise or engage in athletic training and gain healthy, lean muscle mass as a result—that’s always a good thing.
So, how do we get fat? What programs the body to store those unsightly love handles? The answer is INSULIN. That’s right, the same hormone that our body sends out to lower our blood sugar is the same hormone that tells the fat cells to “consume more and get bigger.”
All the fat cells in our body have a wall around them called a membrane. On this membrane is an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). What this enzyme does is pull fats from our bloodstream, and gives the fat cells fuel to get bigger and expand. Insulin tells LPL to work faster and harder, and it’s carbohydrates that elevate our insulin levels. This explanation is broadly simplified, and there are dozens of other enzymes and contributing factors, but the basic point remains the same: Eating carbs causes a rise in our blood sugar, which causes the body to make insulin; the rise in insulin is then what gives LPL the signal to draw in fat from the bloodstream into fat cells, making us fatter.
Pretty simple, right? The reader may now begin to see the irony in this paradigm and the USDA’s infamous food pyramid, which suggested a majority of each person’s nutrition come from carbohydrates (6-11 servings) and a minority to come from lean meats (2-3 servings) and fats (sparingly). Ironically, according to The Wall Street Journal, since the food pyramid was introduced in 1992, the number of overweight Americans has grown by 61%. The USDA eliminated the pyramid in 2011 and introduced MyPlate, which still recommends a large intake of carbohydrates.
The next logical question then, is: If I’m eating less carbohydrates, then doesn’t that mean I will be eating more protein and fat? And isn’t fat bad for me?
Yes, you will be eating more protein, and yes, you will be eating more fat. Lean protein is an excellent source of nutrition, but not all fat is created equal. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts) for example, are generally good for you, whereas all processed fats (vegetable oil, hydrogenated oil, margarine, butter, shortenings) are alien to the human body and toxic to our systems. This is so because in order to make these products, high heat and various industrial chemicals are used to extract the oils from their natural state, changing the chemical structure of the fats, and this makes them harmful. Hydrogenation is completely unsafe for humans to digest and trans fats weaken the immune system, cause narrowing of the arteries, and cause a host of other detrimental effects.
Cholesterol is the next highly complicated issue. The point is that its not so much about your cholesterol as it is about inflammation in our bodies, which is caused by the overconsumption of sugar and carbohydrates. Let’s also not forget that our liver makes 85% of the cholesterol in our bodies, the remaining 15% is what we eat (There are some genetic disorders were this process is severely altered). And guess what? If we don’t eat enough cholesterol, our liver makes more and vice versa. Cholesterol is essential for life, provides the backbone for a myriad of hormones (adrenal and sex glands), is an integral part of the lining of the walls in our cells, provides the backbone for the development and maintenance of the nervous system (brain and nerves), and plays an essential part in the functioning of our immune system.
Also keep in mind that in undertaking a new way of eating, you should not “go on a diet,” but instead initiate a lifestyle change. After all, if eating a certain way has made you fat, it’s illogical to do something else for a while, lose weight, and then go back to what you were doing before. You have to think about changing the way you eat and your perceptions about food permanently to promote long-term health, weight loss, and then weight maintenance. Anything in life worth something requires hard work, diligence, and focused determination; you will not have a beach body in 90 days. What you will have is a formula for the continual burning and loss of fat and to make yourself healthier.
With all that information on what NOT to eat, what should you eat? A fantastic book to answer said questions is The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain.
Generally, in order to burn fat you will still end up eating carbohydrates, but limit your intake to approximately 80-130 Grams/day and to those foods with a low-glycemic index. Eliminating all carbohydrates is a BAD IDEA (even less than 50 Grams/day) because this can put your body into a state of ketosis, where it begins to break itself down. Moreover, the brain’s primary source of fuel is sugar, and we need to remain awake, alert, and non-irritable to stay focused. As the book goes into great detail to explain, staying away from breads and grain is a good idea. The best source of foods for carbohydrates will be organic fruits. The author provides a table of fruits and their sugar contents at: http://thepaleodiet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Fruits-Sugars.html. Vegetables also provide carbs, but their content is often negligible; also, their glycemic index is low enough that it will not induce a spike in blood sugar, and thus a spike in insulin. Weight maintenance is best achieved with a daily carbohydrate intake of 130-180 Grams/day.
Finally, who the heck am I to give anyone weight-loss advice? Have I ever been on the cover on Men’s Fitness? Well no, I haven’t. But, I am now in my early thirties and the lowest weight I have ever been, in the best shape of my adult life. I am 6’3” and once weighed 330 lbs. I am now 225 lbs and have never gained an ounce of the weight back. In my family, my father, mother, and brother are all average weight, so I can’t blame genes for my excess weight; rather, I blame my own lack of self-control as well as misinformation. I was born a big baby but classified as obese or morbidly obese for all of childhood, grade school, the teenage years, college, medical school and as a newly-minted physician. Now, the reader must ask themselves: Who is a better spokesperson for weight-loss advice—the lifelong fat kid, giving free advice, who was able to take the weight off and keep it off, or the lifelong “stud” who was always skinny, and probably blessed with the good genes, who wants you to buy their DVD/Video/CD/Book for the low price of only $19.95?
1 Lenoir M, et al (2007) Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward. PLoS ONE 2(8): e698. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000698
2 Moss, Michael. “A Food Designed to Addict.” The New York Times Magazine 24 Feb 2013: 34-41, 46-48. Print.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal