Weight Loss & Nutrition: Beyond Calories in Versus Calories Out
By Brad Crump,
Health Services Manager
Most of us have found ourselves in a position of wanting to lose a few pounds. For some, it is a life long quest often resulting in a mixed bag of results. For a majority, hundreds of pounds have been lost and subsequently gained back leading to feelings of failure, disappointment and a loss of hope for future success. In addition to the stresses of fluctuating results comes the confusion of weeding through all the opinions shared by experts (and self appointed experts) and deciding who is right.
One of the major mistakes people make in establishing a healthy and effective weight loss strategy centered on food and nutrition is assuming that all individuals are created equal. Each of us brings to the “dining room table” differences in genetics, metabolism and specific lifestyle factors that must be considered. There is no “one size fits all” model. Once we begin considering these differences, a more specific and individualized nutrition plan can be established.
Another major failure in developing nutritional guidelines is depending solely on the law of thermodynamics, which teaches us that if we consume less calories than we burn, weight loss should follow. There is no argument that if a person consumes 4,000 calories and only burns 2,500 that that person will not gain weight. Caloric balance is essential and must be determined by proper and specific testing like indirect calorimetry. However, there are many who have greatly reduced their calorie intake and increased their exercise and have experienced weight gain. There is an easily explainable answer and one that is very rarely discussed or considered.
The answer is that all calories are simply not created equal. To clarify, a calorie, in fact, does equal a calorie but only in terms of quantity. If I consume five grams of fat, regardless of its source, I have consumed forty-five calories. It does not matter if it is from a healthy source of omega three fats such as salmon or whether it is from a saturated variety of fat from a processed food; the calorie value is the same. What is not the same is the physiological affect each of those fats will have on my body. How does each of these fats affect my metabolism, immune system, hormone regulation and inflammation in my body?
We need to begin looking at food as an information source for the body and not just an energy or calorie source. As it relates to weight loss, we can consider the role that inflammation/allergic reactions play in our quest for weight loss as it relates to food.
In his book “The Fat Resistance Diet,” Dr. Leo Galland, M.D. provides a beautiful description of the role that inflammation from food plays in fat resistant weight loss. In it, he provides a description of a vicious cycle related to the hormone leptin and its role in supporting metabolism and regulation of appetite. Due to sensitivities or allergic reactions to specific foods, inflammation results in a change in our ability to respond to leptin. This results in changes in the rate at which we burn calories and causes us to constantly feel hungry. As this vicious cycle continues, we gain more body fat, which is in itself inflammatory, and we continue to gain weight. This causes us to assume that we are still taking in more calories than we should and we continue to decrease our caloric intake resulting in a perceived famine and resultant fat storage. This inflammatory response is sending inappropriate information to the body.
The inflammatory response we experience from food is simply one example of how we can consume the right number of calories and still gain weight. As we begin to look more specifically at what it is we are eating versus simply how much we are eating, we will begin seeing more long term and healthy weight loss.
Here is a few couple of suggestions that can assist you in your weight loss objectives:
- Identify your Resting Metabolic Rate. This is an easily administered yet scientifically based test that determines the number of calories you burn under complete resting conditions. Knowing this number will keep you from falling into the trap of over or under consumption. Remember that under consumption of calories can cause as much weight gain as over consuming.
- Determine if you’re a sensitive to or allergic to specific foods. You can best do this by following an anti-inflammatory diet which focuses on the removal of the most commonly found allergenic foods for one month. You will then go through a process of reintroducing these foods back into the diet one at a time. During the month of elimination, most people lose weight while consuming more than they were typically consuming.
Enjoy the process! As your understanding of food changes, so will your relationship with food and long term, healthy weight loss will follow.