If you say something that isn’t true it’s only a lie if you knew it wasn’t true when you said it. Most of the lies in modern diet advice fall into this category. The people telling them mean well, they are repeating what they have heard over and over for their lives. Retelling something that isn’t true does not make it true.
Today in the Washington Post I am reading about a lie that is oft repeated in dietician textbooks.
There’s a popular rule you’ve probably heard before about losing weight: for every 3,500 calories you shed from your diet, you’ll lose a pound.
This is the foundation of the ‘eat less, lose weight’ myth. This is how many calories that you must not eat, according to the lie, in order to obtain one pound of fat gone from your frame. If you cut your daily caloric intake by 200 calories per day, not easy, then the thinking goes that you will lose one pound after just over 17 days. This myth is based on the amount of energy contained in one pound of your fat.
Think of your fat stores as a candle…you are burning the top, but at the same time you are adding fat at the bottom. The simple line of logic is that if you decrease the fat coming in, then the candle will grow smaller. I refer to this line of logic as simple, because it is–over simple.
“Over time, the more weight you lose, the more your metabolic rate drops,” explained John Peters, a leading researcher at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. “In order to keep losing weight at the rate you started losing weight, you’re going to have to eat even fewer calories. A month in, you might have to eat another hundred fewer; a month after that you might have to drop it another hundred.”
To take this back to our candle example, as we put less fat onto the bottom of the candle, somehow the flame knows this, and begins to burn less brightly. The candle attempts to keep it’s length exactly the same. Starving is a waste of misery. Your fat body is going to try and stay fat. The second you return to eating normally, and by normally I don’t mean to say that heavy people overeat, your candle immediately begins the job of restoring the lost length to your candle.
The disappointing reality dieters face is that our bodies work tirelessly to defend our weight, even when that weight isn’t ideal. The metabolic changes are actually only one of three biological adjustments that follow severe cuts in calories—there are neurological and hormonal changes that happen too, both of which make losing weight and keeping it off a significant challenge. In fact, it can be nearly impossible. For these reasons some researchers say diets don’t actually work.
Nine out of ten people who diet by trying to semi-starve themselves fail to keep lost weight off for a year. With a ninety percent failure rate you would think the people who write text books for dietician school would wonder why they are giving the same advice over and over. If two out of three Americans are overweight the problem with our diets must not be chronic ‘over eating’. There must be an explanation for why, suddenly, we are all putting way more fat on our candles than we are burning. Turns out that there is–we are eating too much sugar.
These days if you eat any processed foods, then eight out of ten of them will contain sugar that is added to replace the natural flavors of fats. When food science figured out how to lower the fat content of food, they discovered that there was no flavor. In order to get you to buy the product again they added starches and sugars to the recipe. Starches and sugars must be converted to fat in order to keep your blood sugar within the tight band that is safe for your circulatory system. This adds to the length of your candle.
Eating fat does not end up lengthening your candle. If you routinely eat no carbs, then the sugars in your bloodstream do not rise above or fall below the band that they must stay in to be safe. If you eat fat then your cells use the fats in your blood for energy, and during times when you are not eating, like when you sleep, it draws down on the fats in your storage. You burn the candle but do not add to the bottom of it. This process is not fast. You will very slowly fall in weight, month after month, until your weight is at your natural level. Your friends will be amazed, and they will ask you how you did it. You can tell them that you did not starve, you never went hungry. All you did was quit eating carbohydrate.
You can tell everyone that cutting calories is a lie.