Joy Martina explains why what doctors and dietitians tell us is not enough to guide us to a healthy weight, and shares 5 secrets to successful weight management.
Life can be broken down into a few simple slogans:
- Eat healthy foods, especially veggies and fruits
- Exercise half an hour a day
- Don’t eat junk food
- Sleep 7 to 8 hours a day
- Don’t fret about the past
Is this enough to steer us to a happy, long life?
Unfortunately not. Science is catching up fast with many of the sound bites of the past. One day, coconut oil is full of bad, saturated fats and the next thing you hear it is healthy for your heart! Aerobics has been the big fad since Jane Fonda found her calling, wearing pink tights and dancing on little elevations called steps. Now we know that aerobics is bad for your knees and doesn’t really help with losing weight. Now interval training is the best exercise you can do.
In this article I want to tackle the big myth that weight gain is just due to eating more calories than you burn and that calories are all the same. So let me put it clearly:
Not All Calories are created Equal!
The concept of “eat less than you burn” to lose weight has been preached as the basic infallible truth of the multi-billion-dollar weight loss world for many years and it’s completely WRONG. So you’d better be sitting down as I deconstruct this ‘truth’ and give you valuable insights that will help you win the battle of the bulge.
The Bald Truth
The number of calories you eat is not the only factor that affects your weight.
In fact, there are at least 5 other factors that need to be put into the equation as well:
- The thermic effect of the food ingested
The thermic effect of food, also known as “diet-induced thermogenesis,” refers to the increase in metabolic rate (i.e. the rate at which your body burns calories) that occurs after you eat. The thermic effect measures the amount of energy required to support the processes of digesting, absorbing, and assimilating food nutrients, as well as the energy expended as a result of the central nervous system’s stimulatory effect on metabolism when food is ingested.
Here’s a simple example: when you drink ice-cold water (which has zero calories) your body has to warm up the water to body temperature and that takes energy. So, drinking lots of ice-cold water has a thermic effect and therefore aids in weight loss!
Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), protein has the highest thermic effect. In other words, it takes more energy to burn protein than it does to burn carbohydrates. So technically, proteins have a greater effect on weight loss than carbohydrates.
Roughly 25% of the calories in pure protein will be burned after consumption due to the thermic effect of food. Fat and carbohydrates, on the other hand, each induce a burn of roughly 5% of the calories consumed. So, for example, if you consume 400 calories of pure protein you will burn 100 of those calories (25%) through the thermic effect of food. If, on the other hand, you consume 400 calories of pure fat or pure carbohydrates, only 20 calories (5%) will be burned through the thermic effect of food. So a calorie is not just a calorie.
Tip: Eat some protein with your salads! This will help you lose weight, especially if you go easy on added oils and salad dressings. The protein will also help you feel fuller faster and for longer, especially if you take the time to eat consciously without the distractions of phones, watching TV or reading magazines.
- Your best friend: fibers!
We all know that fibers are good for you, but here’s a fact that most people don’t know:
Because fibers are mostly indigestible they contain practically no calories!
Due to their chemical makeup, fibers are classified as carbohydrates, but even though each gram of fiber officially contains four calories, these calories will remain undigested and will therefore not be absorbed. That is really good news! The more you load your food with fibers, the faster you will feel full, the better your digestion will be, the more toxins you will eliminate, all of which will make losing weight a lot easier!
As an example, if you consume 300 calories of red beans (a food in which nearly 1/3 of the caloric content is from fiber), approximately 100 of those calories will pass through the intestinal tract undigested. So basically, you only ate 200 calories. When I make a green smoothie I add lots of fibers like Chia seeds, Psyllium husks and Flax seeds to thicken the smoothie and give me a full feeling. The additional benefits are a great bowel movement and reduced hunger cravings because the fibers also protect against absorbing sugars into the blood too fast. You cannot lose with fibers!
- The glycemic and insulin index
The glycemic and insulin index has been all the rage, and part of many trendy diets for well over 15 years now. The glycemic index refers to how quickly a particular carbohydrate source enters the bloodstream as sugar while the insulin index tells us how much insulin is needed to rid that sugar from the bloodstream. When your blood sugar levels increase quickly, the body reacts by sharply raising the amount of insulin it secretes and, as a side effect, fat-burning comes to a screeching halt. When this becomes a habit (such as regularly eating high sugar content foods) you develop what is called “insulin resistance”. This means your cells don’t react to insulin any more and you gain weight, as practically all the sugars you eat are turned into fat! This is why insulin resistance is one of the main reasons for weight gain.
So it makes sense to eat lower glycemic carbs (those that enter the bloodstream more slowly), like brown rice, instead of white rice every chance you get – right? Wrong.
Instead, you have to look at the Glycemic Load of your carbohydrates, which takes the fiber and fat content into consideration. This determines how much of the carbohydrate (or sugar) part of the food actually gets into your bloodstream.
Additionally, portion size and combining a higher glycemic food choice with other foods are also factors that will impact your body’s blood sugar response. For example, eating white rice with broccoli or mixed with black beans is far better than eating brown rice combined with protein. For an optimal glycemic balance, two-thirds of your meal should be high fiber vegetables.
I’m not saying you can regularly binge on high-glycemic, processed carbs without getting fat. But be careful of “trendy” diet plans that claim they’ll keep you in “the fat burning zone” with the Glycemic Index. Also, if you are already eating healthy and want to get your fat loss moving again (meaning you don’t just want to lose weight – you want to reduce the fat content of your body), it is a good idea to limit the amount of carbs you eat – but don’t cut them out completely as this tends to lead to binge-eating and you will miss out on some essential nutrients.
- Fat and sugar combined are fat bombs
Insulin’s primary function is to transport sugars into the muscles, but it also carries many other nutrients to their respective storage sites; this includes fat. As you have read in the previous point, refined carbohydrate consumption results in spikes of blood insulin levels and fat ingestion causes a rise in the levels of fat in your bloodstream, the problem is that when carbs and fat are consumed together in high levels (especially without protein) it promotes the greatest fat storage. That is why ice-cream, milkshakes, cookies, etc. will create more problems than just the number of calories they contain!
- Timing is everything
Eating a large amount of carbohydrates (especially if they are combined with fat) before going to bed spikes insulin and increases fat storage during sleep. If you consume the same number of calories earlier in the day it does not have the same effect; rather, these calories are likely to be used as energy to support daily activities.
Tip: Exercise first thing in the morning, before breakfast, to burn all the sugars that have accumulated in the body overnight and force the body to start burning fat! This way you are already starting the day with a boost to your metabolism.
In summary, if you are on a diet, doing everything you’ve been told you should do and are still struggling to lose weight, you could be eating a relatively small amount of calories daily, but still causing a great deal of fat storage by:
1) Making poor food choices (not eating enough fiber and eating too many refined carbs)
2) Eating carbs and fat together in large amounts without protein
3) Consuming large meals that are high in carbohydrates just before bedtime
The true secret to weight management is a combination of a healthy diet and exercise, and to control your caloric balance. Don’t starve yourself but re-examine what you eat (and when) – this is the best approach to losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight.
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