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Nutrition and Weight Loss

It's Not Just Calories. What We Eat Matters.

by Daniel Lebowitz

Most people believe a very simple concept. In order to lose weight, calories taken in must be less than calories burned on a daily basis. This is not entirely wrong. The laws of physics cannot be broken. If one eats 500 calories a day and is alive, they are going to lose weight. That being said, nutrition and weight loss are much more complex than this oversimplification. Let’s delve into why.

The body preferentially burns carbohydrates for fuel.

If there is an adequate supply of carbohydrates around (especially sugar and starch), the body is going to use them to fuel metabolism. Therefore, it will not be burning fat stores, and no weight will be lost. But even more important than that, eating carbohydrates tells the pancreas to produce insulin.

Insulin spikes accomplish several things. Number one, they drive sugar into cells so the cells will have energy to function. Number two, the insulin spikes tell the body to store fat. Number three, the insulin spike will ultimately lower blood sugar. Guess what happens then? We’re going to be hungry, tired and craving more carbs.

When losing weight, eating protein helps to conserve muscle tissue. 

In general, when there are no carbs around, the body will turn to fat stores and muscle tissue and will start breaking both of these down to fuel the metabolism. The net result? Weight loss.

But hold on a minute. If we lose muscle, we’re going to slow down our body’s metabolism, because muscle tissue is metabolically active and burns a lot of calories—even at rest. So, if we diet and lose a lot of muscle, our metabolism may be a lot slower at the end of the diet than when we started. The end result? We are more likely to gain back the weight we just worked so hard to lose.

So, what can we do about this? Two things. First, work out with weights while dieting. This signals the body to hold onto as much muscle as it can, because, obviously, we need it to be able to move those weights. Second, eat enough protein. This will give the body the building blocks it needs to hold onto that muscle. People who lift weights and eat enough protein while losing weight keep their metabolisms running while losing the weight and are therefore more likely to be able to keep that weight off. (As an added bonus, they have nice muscles.)

What we eat matters, whether dieting or not.

Food is not just something we eat to survive or because it tastes good. Both of those are important, of course. But here’s something even more important. Food is information. If we are eating science experiments and chemicals, what is that telling the body? Nothing good. If we are eating living plants and natural-fed meats, that’s something else again.

Our bodies are being told what to do by what we eat. Therefore, it’s imperative that we send healthy instructions in the form of healthy foods. In most cases, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia are the end result of diet and lifestyle and not just some disease that we become victims to.

Whether dieting or not, we must start to change how and why, what and where we eat. Stop telling our bodies to get sick and instead tell them to get healthy.

Daniel Lebowitz, M.D., is chief medical officer of the World Wellness Health Institute, in Bala Cynwyd. Connect with him at 610-228-0400 or February 2015.

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