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Are All Calories Created Equal?

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a href=”http://www.liveinthenow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/iStock_000003447220XSmall.jpg”> It’s warm out and most people are looking to trim up their mid-sections (or hips or thighs, or everything). Most weight loss advice centers around the advice that – you need to eat less; and that it doesn’t matter what you eat so long as you eat less of it. I disagree.

I don’t disagree with the first law of thermodynamics – the energy left inside of your body is equal to how much came in, minus how much has left your body. If you force yourself to eat a lot less, you will end up weighing less, but is that really sustainable for most people?

Here’s an example: Ancel Keys was a big shot nutrition scientist who developed the K-Rations for soldiers in World War II. During that war, he wanted to understand more about the physical effects of starvation in Europe so the U.S. could be of help. He gathered together 36 men who were conscientious objectors to the war for a study that was called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

For the first twelve weeks these 36 men were very well fed and happy. The next 12 weeks were the exact opposite – the men were fed only 1,560 calories a day (technically called a “semi-starvation diet”). This food was mostly macaroni, potatoes, bread — basically a high-carb, grain diet.

The result? Most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression. One man actually cut off three of the fingers of one hand with an axe. The group’s sex drive was drastically reduced and the volunteers also showed signs of social withdrawal. They had trouble concentrating and making sound judgments. And they were extremely preoccupied with food, not surprisingly.

After the men were once again well fed, they regained the weight they lost and then some. Their body composition also included more fat. They took normal weight and even under weight young men and made them fatter by putting them on a diet.

A Better Idea

Across the ocean, in the 1960’s Dr. John Yudkin was a British professor who ran an obesity clinic in England. His advice was simple– eat meat, eggs and green vegetables. Don’t drink beer or ingest sugar or bread products. Eat as much as you like.

This diet proved very successful for most of the people he treated. Since there was no limit on their caloric intake, he decided to track their caloric intake because he was curious. Voluntarily, spontaneously, and with no sense of deprivation, he found they were eating 10 calories less a day than the Keys group’s semi-starvation diet! They felt better, had more energy and were not hungry.

Why Did Yudkin’s Group Eat Leas?

Yao Ming is a 7-foot, 6-inch, 310-pound professional basketball player. To get that big, Yao definitely had to overeat, and overeat some more. Here is the important question: Did he grow that much because he overate, or did he overeat because he was growing that much?

Ask any obesity researcher or nutritionist, “could you become Yao’s size if you just ate as much as he did?”

They will answer, “No, it was the growth hormone in his body that made him grow that big.”

Ask that same obesity researcher what happened to a 310-pound man who was 1 foot shorter (morbidly obese), and you will get a very different response, “He ate too much, moved too little and he kept it up for a very long time.”

Yao is 310 pounds and he definitely overate. The shorter, fat man who is 310 pounds definitely overate.

But we blame Yao’s overeating on his growth hormone (he ate to fuel the appetite that was a result of becoming a giant), and we blame the morbidly obese man’s overeating on his willpower. Vertical growth is a result of hormones, and horizontal growth is the result of greed and sloth.

The explanation that will fit in this article is: There are good calories and bad calories.

-Bad calories make you hungry and tired.

-Good calories heal your metabolism and in the process give you more energy and adjust your appetite back to where nature intended it to be.

Just like your body has an internal thermostat for how hot or cold you should be, it also has a thermostat for how much fat you should be lugging around. Your fat cells are not passive trashcans. Instead they are just like every other cell in existent and are tightly regulated – appetitive should go down and energy (urge to do stuff) should go up when your fat cells are too full; and vice versa.

We get fat in a three-step process:

First, we eat.

Second, we store. Storage is healthy and natural – in the entirety of your blood you only have one teaspoon of sugar in it. Too much is diabetes, too little is a coma. So, when you eat, most of the carbs need to be stored somewhere. It is the same with fat, your triglyceride levels can’t just go up indefinitely. That fat must go into storage. Food storage in your body is supposed to be temporary – like a debit card linked to a checking account that is constantly in flux, not like a savings account.

Third, we fail to access our stored food. There are hormones that fail to act properly and our body does not perceive the stored energy it has, so appetite goes up inappropriately and/or energy expenditure (body temperature, muscle mass, urge to do things, etc) goes down.

What I think screws up this regulation is low quality food (grains, sugar, things that come in boxes), lack of sleep, lack of vitamin-D, and lack of physical activity.

The first example – the starvation experiment – demonstrates what happens on traditional diets where we just focus on calories consumed. It works to some extent, but people are hungry, and hunger is not a lifestyle. Very few people can stay hungry.

The second example is a quality of food based diet. Focus on the kind of food you eat, and your appetite usually drops automatically and you lose more fat and less muscle, and you are not hungry, tired and miserable. There is actually a chance of maintenance. Both require work, but only one seems to be compatible with long-term success.


Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 11 years of experience. In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training fitness program, which specializes in weight loss and body transformations for busy people. Read more about The Body You Want at www.josefbrandenburg.com


@2012, Josef Brandenburg. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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