GOODFATS: Do Calories Matter?
Despite eating a whole foods diet, exercising regularly, getting to bed at a decent hour, and avoiding sugary foods, many people continue to wake up unrested, unenthusiastic, and unable to lose unwanted pounds. It may then be perceived as necessary to cut calories even further to see weight loss results; but the less that is consumed, the worse one often feels. And still, those pounds won’t budge. This cycle of feeling beat, bloated, and helpless against belly fat is exactly the opposite of what I know you’ll feel when you take charge of your metabolism and get glowing.
Does dieting work?
Yes… and No. A diet is what you eat, not what you avoid eating. You might eliminate certain foods to manage health concerns, such as avoiding gluten due to celiac disease, or cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance; but keep in mind that when a diet “works,” it’s fueled by the food you are consuming, not what you’re eliminating. The nutrients you do consume are the ones that have the ability to boost your health and energy levels.
Do I have to count calories?
Calories matter — to an extent. There are natural limits present when ignoring calorie intake; for most people, high-calorie diets will cause weight gain, whereas starvation will cause weight loss. But outside of these unsustainable extremes, it’s worthy to note how people have a vast array of experiences with cutting calories: some lose weight they are able to keep off, some lose weight they soon regain, some cannot lose any weight, and some even gain weight. Counting calories does not seem to cut it in certain situations, such as:
- Comparing a 1,600 calorie-per-day diet of processed bars and grain products and specialty flavored latte drinks to a 1,600 calorie-per-day diet of whole produce, goodfats, and diverse proteins.
- Being a female who has had children, and being female in general.
- Having a diagnosis that is hormone-centric, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism.
- Chronic stress and feelings of burn out.
- Inadequate sleep.
- Living with vitamin D deficiency.
If you have counted those calories and experienced similar frustrations, this post is for you. The not-so-secret truth is that the human body is complicated. It talks to itself. It regulates itself. If we respect what the science tells us, we have to admit that a more integrative approach to health improves weight and body composition (muscle-versus-fat), rather than calorie counting alone. It is these age-defying, health-sustaining principles that I outline in my book, Glow15. In my experience counting calories is not a sustainable method to lose or keep off weight.
There are weight reducing, disease-defying, and metabolism-hacking strategies in the Glow15 plan that will help you shed pounds and preserve muscle. In order to accomplish this goal, your focus should be less on calorie counting and more on simple self-care, smart nutrition, and efficient exercise.
Sugar Burner versus Fat Burner
For decades, nutritionists have supported a high carbohydrate diet because, at 9 calories per gram, fat seemed worse for weight than sugar at 4 calories per gram. However, consuming a diet high in carbohydrates, especially refined sugars and processed wheat products, leads to weight gain, promotes insulin resistance and diabetes, and can negatively impact your energy levels, mood, skin, immune response, and vitality.
When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises. Your pancreas releases insulin, which is a hormone. Insulin tells your cells to use the sugary energy in your bloodstream. Cells all over your body hear the insulin’s message and take sugar out of your blood. Fat cells then insulate, taking up fat from your blood. Cells use this energy to do work, some of which is building proteins.
On the other hand, when you eat carb-free and high-fat, such as starting your day with AutophaTea, or a half-avocado drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper, something very different happens. Your blood sugar does not go up. Your pancreas releases glucagon, a hormone that sends a message to your cells that “glucose (sugar) is gone” and that it’s time to burn fat instead of sugar for energy. Eating a small boost of fat alone helps this process, but your body will also burn fat while fasting.
Key point: when you eat carbohydrates with fat, that fat gets stored. When you don’t raise insulin, fat does not get stored. This is the hormonal mechanism of weight gain (or loss) and the science behind eating more fat and fewer carbs.
Of course, health encompasses more than body weight alone, and the more you raise your insulin and blood sugar, the worse you can feel. High sugar moving through your blood means sugar can attach to other molecules. Proteins with sugar stuck to them can damage the inside of your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. They can also damage skin cells, accelerating the aging process and damaging your skin. Over time, your body can become overwhelmed by, and resistant to, insulin’s message; as a result, your risk of diabetes increases. The ultimate aging insult is none other than high blood sugar. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is now casually referred to as “Type 3 Diabetes” by many health professionals.
The most well-known “feminine” hormone, estrogen, serves a myriad of functions in the body. It’s a powerful molecule for many reasons: it boosts mood, nurtures the developing brain, and improves bone density. On the flip side, imbalanced blood sugar, a high stress lifestyle, previous pregnancies, and genetic tendencies can contribute to having an overabundance of estrogen (or not having enough progesterone for balance). Estrogen is similar to insulin in that when it is high, it adds mass: bone mass (great) or fat mass (not as great). Like all other hormones, balance is key.
A separate issue that affects skin, weight, blood sugar balance, liver health, and estrogen levels is exposure to toxicity. In our environment and in many of our homes are several kinds of xenoestrogens. These are foreign compounds that behave similarly to estrogen in the body. These compounds not only drive fat storage (and are sometimes called obesogens for this reason) but also challenge your liver and kidneys to spend maximum effort helping you detoxify. For this reason, toxic exposure can wear the body out. Although there is no calorie difference between organic and inorganic celery, the organic celery has a lesser risk of delivering a high dose of xenoestrogens.
Communicators, not Calories, are at the Crux of Health and Disease
In some diseases, the metabolism is so deranged that one can eat incredible amounts of food and not gain weight. Type 1 diabetes, in which the hormone insulin is absent, is such an illness. Runaway cachexia experienced by cancer patients is another. What connects these extreme situations are drastic shifts in hormones.
Hormones are messengers or chemical communicators. As noted above, diabetes is a hormonal (endocrine) disease in which eating carbohydrate, fat, or protein can make or break one’s medical management. High blood sugar and poor weight control are damaging to the whole body. The thyroid gland is a hormone-generating organ that also affects weight, and it can malfunction. Inadequate blood sugar maintenance, high stress, and an overactive immune system can all damage your thyroid gland. When the thyroid is underactive, the metabolism slows, and the body is more likely to gain and retain weight.
Chronic stress impacts the whole body because high levels of the stress hormone cortisol initiate “emergency actions.” Though these “emergency actions” can serve a vital function for survival, when they are in a constant state of overdrive, this will cause fatigue and damage. Not only does high cortisol raise blood sugar, which lays the foundation for the problems noted above, but it also raises blood pressure, drives deposition of belly fat, and pushes the emotional panic button. Moreover, ceaseless stress drives chronic inflammation and causes oxidative stress at the molecular level — two processes that are associated with an increased risk of stubborn weight gain and long-term diseases like depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Even over-exercising can be a source of chronic stress, so it’s essential to find the proper balance for mind-and-body by accepting your individual health needs and listening to your internal cues.
Furthermore, nourishment matters. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than other vitamins and as such, it talks to several types of cells all over your body. In current research, vitamin D deficiency is associated with difficult weight loss, serotonin-related depression, diabetes risk, immune system challenges, and cancer risk. While organic, fortified dairy products and wild-caught fatty fish provide preformed vitamin D, you can double down on your investment in self-care with careful supplementation and spending time in the sun.
Rest and Repair to Rev Your Metabolism
If all this talk of hormones seems a bit much, let’s end this discussion with the simplest hormone-regulating weight-busting activity you can do: get some shut-eye. During the sleep cycle, your liver does a lot of detoxifying work: it processes toxins and repairs your cells, reducing the effects of weight-sabotaging xenoestrogens you were exposed to during the day. Inadequate sleep tends to worsen blood sugar control and reduces mental muscle to resist sweets the next day. Furthermore, during deep sleep, a critical cancer-fighting, age-defying hormone, and antioxidant, melatonin, circulates and repairs. Every metabolic benefit you build into your day can be sabotaged by poor sleep, so be sure to get your rest!
Simply put, there is more to weight loss than nourishment by the numbers. Ditch the focus on calories for weight loss. You can feel fantastic, reduce disease risk, nourish and care for yourself with smart science, and you may create it in 15 days or less.