Why do we get fat? Optimal nutrition 101

weight-loss-coachingFirstly, it’s not for the reasons you have probably been led to believe. In fact, it goes against current mainstream teaching that we are surrounded with in the media, what we are told by governments and organisations or even in common text books. It’s definitely not what most weight loss programs profess.

So what really makes us fat?

So, what is the quick and dirty to answer to why we put on weight? Carbohydrates! The same carbs we are constantly told to eat for our health and to lose weight.

I know it isn’t what you want to hear or what we are taught by almost everyone. I was brought up believing Carbs were the way to go – carbs will give me energy – I’ve heard it from my teachers, my sports coaches, my personal trainers, I’ve read it like a gazillion times in the newspapers, magazines and even the so called fitness magazines. Yet, it simply isn’t true. And you only have to look at carb-munching nations like the UK and USA to see that is where obesity is rife.

Hormones, insulin and weight gain

Actually, to say it is carbohydrates isn’t quite accurate either, it’s actually an imbalance of our hormones, and particularly the spikes in our insulin levels. But carbohydrates have a big effect on our insulin levels and the knock on effect can be weight gain.

The usual suspect – sugars and refined carbohydrates

The worst culprits of insulin spikes and hormonal imbalance are:

Wheat Teff
White flour products Spelt
Barley Soy
Rye Couscous
Kamut Cookies, pastries, etc

And of course anything that has refined and processed sugars. This is just a list of a few of the worst:

  • Table sugar/white sugar (aka sucrose; may be cane sugar or beet sugar)
  • Confectioner’s sugar (powdered white sugar)
  • Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Fructose
  • Glucose syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Dextrose, dextran, dextrin, maltodextrin
  • Fruit juice concentrates

Some real, big, fat obesity statistics

The Scottish Government (I live in Edinburgh, Scotland) state that 65% of adults are overweight and 28% are obese. In just ten short years since 1995-2005 the number of overweight and obese people in Scotland went up by over 10%.

According to Public Health England, two thirds of adults and a quarter of children between the ages of 2 and 10 years old are obese. They estimate that by 2034 (just 18 years from now) 70% of adults are expected to be overweight.

In the USA obesity rates have risen in the last 40 years from 13% to a whopping 33%.

And all this time the message has been loud and clear from the authorities – eat more carbohydrates – it gives you energy! We’ve been spoon fed this reason for the last 40 years, yet you just have to look at the top overweight and obese nations in the industrialised world to realise something must be wrong with what we are choosing (or not) to consume.

Examples of people overweight and obese
Overweight, obese, morbidly obese – bbc

It’s all about calorie counting, right?

Again, no. Yet, once again all the government agencies, weight loss organisations and mass media state that to lose weight you just need to bring your calorie consumption below your calorie output.

News just in:
If you get the calorie counting wrong by just 20 calories per day you WILL BE OBESE.

20 calories is the equivalent of you taking one more bite of a doughnut, or another sip of a fizzy sugary drink. I want to repeat that so I remember. If I get my calorie counting wrong by just 20 calories per day I WILL BE OBESE. More on that from Gary Taubes further below.

Do you know how calories in food and drink are measured?

The original method used to determine the number of kcals or calories in a given food was to directly measure the energy it produced. And it hasn’t change much today either. The food was placed in a sealed container surrounded by water–an apparatus known as a bomb calorimeter. The food was completely burned and the resulting rise in water temperature was measured.

Ask yourself this question – what does burning organic substances essentially made up of four atoms – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen have to do with how those substance affect your body, and more importantly transmute into the energy and nutrients your mind and body need to work efficiently and disease free?

Italy is a country famous for consuming a lot of olive oil, yet in Europe they are one of the lowest obese countries per capita. However, according to the typical method of measuring calories they should be the most overweight amongst us. Look at the calorie content of olive oil in the chart below.

All organic substances can be measured using the same calorie test described above: the same test used to measure the calorie content of your food.

You can see many organic substances , but just like with your food you wouldn’t ever know from measuring the calories what impact they will have on your hormone levels, insulin, enzymes, or the cell membranes in your body. All of which are essential to keeping us healthy.

Calorie measurements of organic substances
Examples from The Eating Academy, Peter Attia, M.D.

In a interview with readers digest, Gary Taubes explains the futility of calorie counting and when you look at it this way you can suddenly appreciate that people who are calorie counting are practically doomed to fail.

Could you accurately count your calorie intake of over 1 million calories consumed in just 1 year?

The typical person consumes about 2,700 calories per day. Over a year they will consume over 1,000,000 (1 million) calories, which is 10 million per decade (that’s ten tons of food – the same weight as some lorries/trucks or buses).

Do you think you could manage to count all those calories to within a 0.74% rate of accuracy, or the equivalent of just 20 calories, per day? Most people can’t even balance their bank statement or know how much money they have going in and out each month, let alone how many calories that yoghurt, iced bun, apple or soda drink has.

Yet, if you eat just 20 more of the wrong calories per day and it is put into your fat tissue, you will gain an extra 20 pounds (9 kilos or 1.4 stones) of weight every 10 years.

To put the extra 20 calories per day into context, Gary Taubes explains it is like eating just one more mouthful of a fast food burger (a friend of mine has had a fast food burger in an envelope at the back of a draw for maybe 5 years now and it has never decayed!) or an extra sip of a sugary soda drink.

That’s 20 calories per day, but what if your calorie measurements were out by 40 calories per day? That’s just 2 or 3 extra bites of a fast food burger or a few extra sweeties. What would happen then? How much weight would that amount to?

Obesity, health and cancer according to the BBC

Being overweight and obese puts people at greater risk of developing 10 of the most common cancers, according to research in the Lancet medical journal.

Led by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers gathered data on five million people living in the UK, monitoring changes to their health over a period of seven years.

They found each 13-16kg (2-2.5 stone) of extra weight an average adult gained was linked firmly and linearly to a greater risk of six cancers.

How big this risk was varied depending on tumour type.

  • Cancer of the uterus had the highest increased risk
  • gallbladder
  • kidney
  • cervix
  • thyroid
  • leukaemia had the lowest rise in risk.

People who had a high body mass index (calculated using weight and height) were also more likely to develop cancer of the liver, colon, ovaries, and post-menopausal breast cancer.

Although they also state, cleverly, that BMI may have no effect, the same is true with most medicines we are prescribed. Personally, I wouldn’t want to take the risk and would rather eliminate the possibility of my nutritional consumption maybe effecting my health, especially in relation to cancer.

What’s the answer to losing weight then?

Well, that’s for another article. But, according to Gary Taube he shed his weight and can now eat as much as he wants, without putting the weight back on. Suffice to say, it is a diet free from carbohydrates like pasta and breads and more green veg (most of you are probably thinking urgh!) and much more meat (yey!). According to Gary Taubes, he eats a lot of meat. He also gives his advice on a healthy diet in the interview with Readers Digest referenced earlier.

Personally, I don’t mind carbs and they don’t mind me, but when I do eat them it is with a very healthy portion of good vegetables. However, cane sugar or any of the refined processed sugars do affect me badly. I do get some weight gain if I really consume a lot, but what is worse, and why I just say no 100% to sugars like that, is how they make my body and mind feel. My body gets aches and pains in the joints, especially my knees and lower back, and my mind is “foggy” is the best way to describe it. When I cut out those sugars within a few days/weeks I feel like I am 18 or 20 years old again. Fun.

Atkins diet

The Atkins diet got such a bad press for a while, yet there is too much evidence now by the experts to prove that it works in helping you lose weight. The only conideration I would make about eating more meat, is make sure it is good meat. I remember some of my friends going on the Atkins diet when it was popular and it mostly amounted to cheap supermarket sausages and processed meats. I think some sausages have more carbohydrates than they do protein, which as far as I know about the Atkins diet is contrary to the advice he offers.

Take a look at the ingredients from this UK supermarket own brand sausage and you will see it has more carbohydrates than it does protein (and other things you really don’t want to be consuming – my Mum never put those ingredients in her cooking when I was growing up – meat and two veg -remember that?):

Pork (43%), Water, Bread Rusk (Wheat Flour, Salt, Raising Agent (Ammonium Carbonates)), Rusk (Wheat Flour, Yeast, Salt), Onions, Pork Fat, Seasoning (Spices (Nutmeg, White Pepper, Mace, Black Pepper), Salt, Stabilisers (Trisodium Diphosphate, Triphosphates), Tomato Powder, Preservative (Sodium Metabisulphite), Rosemary Extract, Rapeseed Oil), Beef Collagen.

Typical Values (cooked as per instructions) per 100g: a grilled sausage:
Energy 936kJ/224kcal 417kJ/100kcal
Protein 10.6g 4.7g
Carbohydrates 18.9g 8.4g
(of which sugars 1.6g) 0.7g)
Fat 11.4g 5.1g
(of which saturates 4.1g) 1.8g)
Fibre 1.7g 0.8g
Sodium 0.5g 0.2g
Salt equivalent 1.2g 0.5g

Gary Taubes

The worlds leading expert, Gary Taubes (http://garytaubes.com/), studied applied physics at Harvard and aerospace engineering at Stanford, received a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University, won the Science in Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers three times, was awarded an MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and has written Nobel Dreams (1987), Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion (1993), and Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007), which is titled The Diet Delusion in the UK.