The concept of calorie in vs. calorie out has died in this decade. With the abundant research on this topic, we finally get to understand that there’s more to weight loss than how much we eat vs. how long we sit.
Food is information. Food is not just calories. It tells our cells what to do. We change our gene expression, our blood and our microbiome with every bite. Food impacts our bodies in many ways. Think of your enzymes, gene expressions, cellular communication, hormones, immune function, detoxification of the body, gut flora and digestive function as well as your mitochondria.
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. We live in a world with 39% adults, 18 years and older that are overweight. Of these over 13% are obese.
WHO (World Health Organisation) determines BMI over 25 as to overweight and over 30 to obese.
Being overweight and obese is influenced by multiple factors: environmental, genetic, physiological and psychological.
However, many official resources still base dietary recommendations on the energy balance - how much you put in, vs. how much you spend. In that light, I wonder: do we lack the willpower, motivation, character, or could it be something else? Is it possible that so many people are lazy and missing moral fortitude?
Dietary composition is what primarily drives obesity and not the calories.
By studying this topic and researching more than 100 different dietary theories, I’ve come across the term “addictive foods” for many times. I asked myself - if some foods are biologically addictive, how come that governments don’t regulate their consumption? How come that we advertise sugar to children? How come that diabetes is covered by primary medical insurance?
41 million children under the age of 5 have been overweight or obese during the last year.
In the noise of contradictory dietary theories, abundant research, success stories and devastating data, we tend to forget that every food we eat needs to go through our human biology.
Energy balance (calorie in/out) seems like a very naive and basic outlook on how our bodies interact with the food.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, our metabolic rate, our storage of fat as well as our hunger depends on dietary composition, food quality, hormones, neurotransmitters and inflammatory cytokines.
Moderation and the willpower is a fiction in the face of food addiction.
According to Michael Moss, the author of the book Salt, Sugar and Fat who analyzed 300 different food industry scientists, there has been a deliberate creation of addictive foods. Taste institutes hire craving experts who produce the foods that we cannot seem to get enough of.
The calories in/out approach can induce the weight loss, which can work in the short term. However, the compensatory mechanisms in the body will eventually override calorie restriction leading to increased weight. Our hormones easily backfire and make a havoc in the body, making it susceptible to future weight gain. Remember, food is information. Broccoli and Oreos might have the same calories, but they are biochemically different which causes your body to respond differently.
Furthermore, when the weight loss is achieved by dieting, there is a high rate of relapse among people who have lost weight. This notion has a firm physiological basis. Our body wants to get back into its homeostatic state which means that it does everything to maintain internal stability to compensate for changes. For example, if you take a cold shower, body raises its temperature. The homeostatic regulation of body weight occurs primarily in the part of the brain called hypothalamus. This system protects us against weight loss more vigorously than from weight gain.
Does being fat make you hungry or being hungry make you fat?
Dr. Hyman argues that overeating doesn’t make us fat. Being hungry is driven by the kind of foods we eat. Being fat makes us overeat.
He says that visceral or belly fat is the driver of our behavior. It is anabolic, hungry and wants to build and grow. It makes hormones, inflammatory cytokines, neurotransmitters.
Behavioural and neurophysiological changes that happen upon ingesting the certain foods are very similar to those with substance dependence.
Some argue that there is no such thing as food addiction, and others point to an unhealthy behavior happening on an individual level.
In order to shed some light on addictive behavior, I’m sharing Yale Food addiction Questionnaire with an intention to help you explore the possible addiction to high-fat and high sugar foods.
Yale Food addiction Questionnaire:
1. Do you consume certain foods even if you are not hungry because of cravings?
2. Worry about cutting down on certain foods?
3. Feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating?
4. Health or social problems (affecting school or work) because of food issues and yet keep eating the way you do?
5. Spend time dealing with negative feelings from overeating certain foods?
6. Withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and anxiety when you cut down on certain foods?
7. Behaviour around food and eating causes you significant distress?
8. Food issues decrease your availability to function effectively?
9. Need more and more of the foods you crave to experience any pleasure or to reduce negative emotions?
Relying on your willpower will set you up for failure. This resource isn’t infinite, and by every decision you make during the day, you are deliberately spending it. By the time you get to choose the food you’ll eat for dinner, your cravings will overpower your will.
People tend to have much more control over what they eat than how much they eat. If you change what you eat (real food, high plant-based, phytonutrient rich food, low glycemic load food), you’ll start to improve your metabolism.
Where to start?
1. Increase diet quality
2. Improve dietary composition
3. Introduce foods that lower systemic inflammation
4. Treat insulin resistance with proper exercise and right phytonutrients
And most importantly, during the process, make sure to find an accountability partner. It could be your friend, trainer, colleague, health coach, but it's crucial to have somebody other than yourself to hold you accountable. Being vulnerable to another human can help you reach your wellness goals much faster and for a long term.
1. Priya S., Joseph P., The defense of body weight: a physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss. Int. J. Med.Sci. (2014)
2. Dirk De Ridder, Patrick Manning, Sook Ling Leong, Samantha Ross, Wayne Sutherland, Caroline Horwath and Sven Vanneste, The brain, obesity, and addiction: an EEG neuroimaging study, Nature (2017)