Current fat loss approaches fail
Current advice for weight loss focuses on “eating less and exercising more”. If adhered too, such calorie deficit approaches have similar results at 6 months. In the short term weight can be reduced. The approach for you will be the one you can stick to – overall this should be the deciding factor for an individual. Different people will have different drop-out rates.
Interestingly, exercise/physical activity on its own is not an efficient way to lose weight, though should be a part of everyone’s lives for the physical and psychological benefits alone. Exercise also helps to maintain lean tissue during calorie deficit weight loss approaches. Nutrition is the key element to losing fat – as the saying goes; you can’t train yourself out of bad nutrition.
But long term maintenance of the weight lost is a problem. 8-9/10 people fail to maintain a clinically significant weight loss over 1-2 years. The calorie deficit approach fails over the long term, and worse, many end up larger. There are strong physiological and psychological reasons why. For a calorie deficit approach, for the vast majority of people, results are transient at best.
Behaviours that correlate with the successful few who have long term weight loss are increased levels of exercise/physical activity, weighing themselves every day, and peer support.
Calorie in v calorie out fails long term.
(For those concerned, this does not violate the Laws of Thermodynamics.)
I believe we should operate in evidence based practice. Currently the evidence shows that the calorie deficit approach fails nearly every time. So why are we being advised to follow methods that don’t work?
Time for a change
I believe, and I’m not alone, that we need to change our way of thinking in respect to nutrition, and particularly in respect to fat loss. This will require changes in beliefs, removal of common held misconceptions and perpetuated myths, and a look to the evidence and base science. It will even require a change in the language and phrases we use.
We need to think fresh, and to move towards accurate science.
When we think fresh our behaviours and actions change. It can open up new directions, new methodologies, and hopefully better results. In this blog I’m just going to touch on a few key areas.
Our bodies have exquisite feedback loops to maintain a healthy body. We should stop working against our bodies and instead work with them. We should eat only when hungry, and stop eating when no longer hungry. We should not eat for emotional needs. We should drink only when thirsty.
The above can be derailed by the wanting and liking, addictive like behaviours from the reward and mood centres in our brain. We need to recognise that psychological interventions are often required to satisfy the reward and mood centres in our brains, in ways that satisfy them in ways which are more beneficial. Other psychological interventions may be appropriate such as motivation and emotional control, and to help drive the right behavioural changes. Teaching people that it is OK to not have three square meals a day, it is OK to leave food on your plate, it is OK to listen to your bodies and not follow the social norms may require such psychological input.
We should eat food that evolution has prepared us for. I believe that we should eat natural whole food, properly prepared. As a generalisation eating natural food is a lot more beneficial than eating man-made food. Natural food generally comes in the right proportions with the right components together, enabling our bodies to absorb and utilise the food correctly.
We should stop thinking about calories and instead thinking about molecules.
Calories are a measure of heat energy. When we think of the mass of a human body, energy is not a consideration. In practice our mass is in the mass of our molecules, not the energy contained within. We eat molecules and we breathe in molecules. We excrete and lose molecules. This balance of molecules, the conservation of mass, dictates our weight. It is perhaps more appropriate to think of molecules in v molecules out (MIMO) rather than calories in v calories out (CICO).
When we utilise fat for energy the fat is broken down into the molecules H20 and CO2 – water and carbon dioxide. The same is true for carbohydrates. The water leaves through sweat and other excretions, the carbon dioxide leaves through our breath. We use terms such as ‘burn fat’, yet this is misdirection. The chemical structure of fat is broken down into water and carbon dioxide and some energy is released. Very little of this energy is in the form of heat. Most of the energy goes to providing kinetic and potential energy to produce movement. A better term might be ‘utilise’ rather than ‘burn’.
(‘Burning’ in chemical terms refers to explosive oxidisation of substrate, usually with heat sustaining the reaction. Fat is oxidised, yet heat does not sustain the chemical reaction in respect to fat, there is no explosive reaction, and instead it is enzymes that act as catalysts and sustain the reaction. Think of our use of fuel for energy as oxidisation of iron – the process of rust forming – rather than a burning furnace.)
Does energy count? Of course! Yet, the energy is stored in the bonds between atoms forming the molecules. Different molecules are treated differently by the body. A calorie is definitely a calorie in terms of energy, it is just a measurement, but the molecules containing that energy are treated completely differently by our bodies. Glucose molecules have different metabolic pathways to those of amino acids, different again to fat.
Those thinking in calorie terms tend to overlook that the body treats molecules differently. By thinking of molecule metabolism we can look more effectively at how our body utilises the food and oxygen we take in. Instead of looking to 'burn calories' we can look to 'utilise our fat stores as fuel' which enables us to focus our exercise/physical activity more directly on the source of the fuel rather than just the energy itself.
Dropping focus from calories and changing to molecules is far reaching for nutrition. It can lead to new approaches and assist in new thoughts. Talking in molecular terms allows us to talk in respect to amino acids rather than protein, the differing molecular types of fat and carbohydrate, all of which being processed and used by the body in completely different ways. I believe calories are the misdirection, moving our focus from where it should be placed.
We need to look at the environment in which we move. Fresh thinking is coming from Ray Cronise with his ‘Metabolic Winter Hypothesis’, looking at how environmental exposure to temperature fuels obesity and offers a solution. Our look at the environment can be taken further as the unconscious cues are all around us from the media and marketing, everywhere we go, keeping us in the old ways of thinking. Recognising that even the layout of a supermarket is designed to help you buy and eat more is just a small start. Everything from the layout, the positioning, the lighting, the sounds, the smells, the packaging – everything is telling your mind to buy. What would happen if we recognised the impact of the environment around us?
These are just some thoughts that I am putting out there. They are not a complete list of the changes required or a prescription for how to reduce fat. They are not the complete picture for solving the obesity epidemic. I haven’t gone into detail of any of the points, instead just this blog is putting a few ideas out there for discussion.
If we continue doing the same things we will get the same results. Obesity will continue to flourish. Time for some fresh thinking…