“The diet advice we are being given, far from being the cure of The Obesity Epidemic is, in fact, the cause.”―Zoe Harcombe
Everybody knows that all you have to do to lose weight is eat less and exercise more. Just one problem: everybody is wrong. You’ve probably heard this sentence uttered so many times that you assumed it must be true. I am a big fan of minimalism, but it turns out that the mainstream dogma of “calories in, calories out” is oversimplified to point of inaccuracy. Contrary to the promises of every diet program and gym membership, the body is not a simple machine that can be outsmarted into losing body fat by intentionally consuming fewer calories and burning more through exercise.
But What About Thermodynamics?
Many otherwise smart people naïvely argue for the validity of the “calories in, calories out” approach by quoting the First Law of Thermodynamics: “Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It can only change from one form to another.” And there is definitely no arguing against this law. But as Gary Taubes rightly points out in his book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, the law says nothing about why people actually get fat:
“All the first law says is that if something gets more or less massive, then more energy or less energy has to enter it than leave it. It says nothing about why this happens. It says nothing about cause and effect. It doesn’t tell us why anything happens; it only tells us what has to happen if that thing does happen. A logician would say that it contains no causal information.”
You Are Not the Problem; Your Fat Loss Approach Is
Based on their belief in the faulty “energy balance” paradigm, millions and millions of well-intentioned but ill-informed souls today are needlessly suffering through undernourishment and overexercising in a futile effort to lose weight.
Given most people’s lack of results despite “doing everything right”, many of us just assume that we are cursed with “bad genes”. It is indeed true that some people are predisposed to putting on body fat given certain environmental inputs, but it’s crucial to understand that there is a big difference between genetic coding and genetic expression. The good news is that you can actually change how your genes are expressed by changing how you eat.
“Genes load the gun. Lifestyle pulls the trigger.” —Chris Kresser
Is a Calorie a Calorie?
Just as “calories in, calories out” is an absurd oversimplification of how the body works, so too is the widespread notion that “a calorie is a calorie”.
The food industry has used this misconception to great advantage, convincing most people today that low-calorie and low-fat foods are “healthy”, despite the fact that these foods are usually loaded with fattening sugars and refined carbohydrates, inflammatory seed oils, and various terrible ingredients that are anything but good for your body. By getting consumers to focus on calorie quantity, overall food quality is all but ignored.
No, the truth is that a calorie is not a calorie. Fat is either stored or burned based on a complex dance of hormones, receptors, and feedback systems that are significantly more affected by what you eat than how much. 100 calories of table sugar affects your body very differently than 100 calories of butter. Eating the former causes a quick spike of blood sugar and subsequent insulin surge, which triggers excess energy to be stored away as fat and leaves you feeling even hungrier than you began. The butter, on the other hands, triggers satiety hormones (making you feel full) and provides a slow-burning source of energy that will keep your blood sugar stable for hours.
Okay Then, Why Do We Get Fat?
“We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we’re getting fat.” ―Gary Taubes
I know, I know. This seams crazy. But it only sounds nuts because you have been conditioned for so long to believe the opposite. The truth is that getting fat is a product of hormonal dysregulation, not simple gluttony, sloth, or a failure of willpower. And what causes the imbalance? Chronic overconsumption carbohydrates like bread, pasta, grains (including whole grains), etc. Yup, the very foods that the USDA (or the “US Duh” as my hero Joel Salatin calls them) have been telling you should form the foundation of a healthy diet. As Taubes puts it:
“The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one―specifically, the stimulation of insulin secretion caused by eating easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich foods: refined carbohydrates, including flour and cereal grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and sugars, like sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. These carbohydrates literally make us fat, and by driving us to accumulate fat, they make us hungrier and they make us sedentary. This is the fundamental reality of why we fatten, and if we’re to get lean and stay lean we’ll have to understand and accept it, and, perhaps more important, our doctors are going to have to understand and acknowledge it, too.”
Chronically high levels of insulin cause you to continue storing away energy as fat and prevents energy already stored in fat cells to be mobilized for fuel. This makes you feel lethargic and even more hungry for quick sources of easily digestible energy, which keeps the vicious cycle going round and round.
If you’re ready to get off the rat wheel of fat accumulation, it’s time to ignore the misinformed masses that believe the body to be a simplistic mechanical device and start treating your body like the beautifully complex, self-balancing biological system it truly is.