Why is weight loss such a problem?
Many people think weight loss is really difficult, yet almost everyone is able to do it. The problem is, most people usually lose weight only to gain it back. Unfortunately, we often lose it again and gain it again, creating a cycle of “yo-yo” dieting”. On the other hand, some people are gifted with the ability to eat half a cookie, then put it down because that’s enough for them; or they can eat one chicken leg for dinner and some salad and they are full. Most of us are not that way, most of us have issues with the just wanting to eat more, just because it tastes good. This has been called the “Pleasure Trap” in a book by that name which explains our desire to eat more than we need, (please read the book of that title by Dr Alan Goldhammer and Dr Doug Lisle). We have one cookie and even if we aren’t hungry, we want more, either a few more or the rest of the package, depending on the hold the “pleasure trap” has on us. Are we just weak? Is there any hope?
Many people think there are tricks to weight loss, or there are only some diets that work, or once they lose weight they can go back to eating how they did when they were heavy, or those who are obese need to just push back from the table, or yo-yo dieting shows that a person is “bad”. All this is nonsense. People are judging themselves and others based on a lot of bad assumptions, and it isn’t helping anyone.
I don’t have a secret diet (as many diet “experts” claim to have), but I think if we just untangle some of the issues and misperceptions around this issue, you can better understand what approach you can take to drop some excess “baggage”.
Seeking food is natural
We are humans that have been created to seek food to survive. In order to survive, we needed to find food that could sustain us, and the more “calorie dense” (the more calories per pound) food we found, the more efficient we were at providing for ourselves and our families. Eating leaves would have taken us all day to get enough calories, we wouldn’t have time to gather wood for fires, etc. Eating the richest food in the environment is built into our brains, it doesn’t make us weak, it makes us survive. Obviously, in our modern culture we have taken that to an extreme, and have found ways to achieve abundance of calories and obtain it easily. Now, instead of having to set traps, go fishing, gather berries in season, and find ways to store food to get us through the winter, we just walk into a store and purchase items that are far beyond rich and calorie dense, and we can gather as much as we want. Entire grocery carts full! With very little effort! Isn’t that great? But it comes with a cost.
The “Pleasure Trap” is the brain and body telling us we need to store fat for the winter, even if we are already obese. It doesn’t know we can find food anytime, anywhere; it wasn’t designed to shut off when we reach obesity. The questions isn’t how can people get so overweight, it’s how come some folks just don’t seem to have an issue with it? It’s more natural to crave rich foods than it is to reject them.
I bring this up, because any weight loss philosophy needs to start with an understanding of why we struggle the way we do. I’m not saying we need to play psychological games with ourselves, but that we need to understand what drives us.
Why do we struggle?
Many people eventually succeed in losing weight, and honestly, all diets will work; the issue is maintaining the weight loss and living life without a constant struggle. This is the reason most people consider themselves yo-yo dieters; they lose weight only to gain it back, then give up. Then try again, succeed, only to gain it back again; on and on it goes. It’s not a matter of weakness, it’s a matter of misunderstanding.
I’m not going to tell you how to lose weight. I have ways that work for me, you may have ways that work for you. I only pray they are healthy ways, not the old fad diets of old, like eating only eggs for weeks on end, or grapefruit for a week, or taking stimulants or other chemicals that do actually work, as long as you are taking them. These are diet traps I’d like to help you avoid. What I want to do, is provide a perspective that may help you make better choices and understand how you can succeed with any method you choose.
Let’s talk about common diet philosophies and why they may work.
The Keto Diet
The most current one is called the Keto diet. Many people have lost weight with this method and love it. Great, but taken over the long run, how do they actually achieve and hopefully maintain that weight loss? I believe people are attracted to this diet because they love the richness of the fats. They love that it’s not only approved, but encouraged. However, in order to prevent excess calories (no matter how it’s phrased), they need to eat much less. If you love eating one or two small meals a day that to you are very satisfying, then this may be what works for you. Those that tend to be more successful spend a lot of time fasting. They talk about fasting windows. What this actually means is that they only eat one meal a day (OMAD), or maybe two. In fact, some people only eat three days a week, and are thrilled at the effects fasting has in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I think fasting is great in some circumstances, but I’m not sure it’s a great long term strategy; “fasting windows” on a daily basis is fine, though, because you are still eating on a daily basis. So if you decide to take the Keto approach, just keep these things in mind:
- You will be severely limiting your food intake.
- You need to eat a LOT of vegetables to make up for the complete lack of fiber in fat.
- Fats and oils are highly processed foods. (I usually say, instead of eating olive oil, eat the olives instead.) However, if you eat your fats from avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty whole foods, this could be a great approach.As long as you enjoy that philosophy, then this may work well for you. I will say that this approach seems to work better for men than for women. There is talk that this may make women’s hormones go “out of balance”; but I doubt there is good scientific evidence either way.
The Paleo Diet, or the Ancestral Health diet
I believe the Paleo Diet is an approach that tries to mimic humans in more of a natural environment. In fact, my favorite supporters of this approach attempt to provide all of their food themselves, hunting, fishing, gathering and all the work it takes to achieve these things. That is an amazing feat in this day and age. Otherwise, people just try to mimic it somehow, because honestly, who wants to live that way? They attempt to do this by omitting foods that they assume were never in our ancestral environment. I’m not sure I agree with their theories, but it’s their approach and it’s their choice. Basically they avoid grains and starchy vegetables and eat meat and non-starchy vegetables. They allow any combination of fats and meats and vegetables, as long as grain is avoided. Usually this approach helps people make better choices of food, because they avoid most processed foods, which is the major benefit of this philosophy. I personally believe many people achieve great results at first with this approach because they give up the processed foods they relied on so heavily. Creating their own desserts using coconut oil and cocoa powder is a hug improvement to the KitKat bar, but it’s still rich in calories. It creates more work, but it may create a false sense of how much can be eaten. I personally feel long term success is difficult because all it did was create better choices, but keeps the environment of abundance. So we end up back at restricting calories somehow, either by the fasting route, or strict adherence to calorie limitations. If you decide to take this approach, just keep these things in mind:
- You will need to count calories and measure your food to achieve or maintain weight loss.
- You will need to eat a LOT of vegetables to make up for the complete lack of fiber in meats and fats.
I don’t discourage this approach, because it helps people make better choices. I just hate to see the constant requirement of weighing and measuring food intake.
The Plant Based Approach
This is another elimination approach. It comes from the Vegan community, where any animal product is eliminated, even fish, milk and eggs and sometimes even honey (bees may have been harmed in the collection of the honey). It mostly eliminates processed foods and highly encourages the eating of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and nuts. Because of the healthy amount of fiber in this diet, this approach can help many people with digestive issues (although some people struggle with the fiber and need to address some digestive issues before they can really do well with this diet.) Again, the elimination of processed foods (“vegan junk foods” are discouraged) often helps people make better choices and lose weight because of the elimination of processed foods. These foods tend to be lower in calories, so a larger amount can be eaten and more meals can be eaten in a day; although some still follow a fasting window approach. If you decide to take this approach, just keep these things in mind:
- You will need to take vitamin B12.
- You will need to make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, and not just concentrate on the grains, starches and nuts.
- You can eat a LOT of food, so this is good if you are one of the folks that like a large of quantity of food.
The Caloric Density Approach
Also called the Volumetrics Diet, created by researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD; out of the Pennsylvania State University. Her theory is sort of a sneaky approach to calorie restriction. Instead of limiting categories of food, or weighing and measuring food, she finds that people who start their meals with lower calorie dense foods, then eat their higher calorically dense foods do the best at losing weight. She calculates food according to calories per pound (or Kilo) and has found that as long as the average caloric density of a persons food is under 600 calories per pound that they will lose weight and will be satisfied with what they have eaten. Mind you, that means that most of your foods need to be from the categories that are the most healthful: vegetables (starchy and non starchy), fruit, grains and beans. You can eat higher density foods, such as lean meats and low fat dairy, nuts and seeds; but they must be after the other foods have been eaten. Basically, this goes like this: start your meal with a salad or a vegetable based soup, then have cooked vegetables with your plain potato and perhaps a small amount of chicken. Or a small amount of low fat plain yogurt on your potato. However, you can eat as much as you want. You can even have fruit sorbet as a dessert. This is caloric restriction without limiting either quantity of food, or requiring weighing and measuring, or fasting or limiting eating windows. It doesn’t eliminate food categories (just makes you choose them very wisely), and provides sufficient fiber and nutrients. If you choose to take this approach, just keep these things in mind
- Fats and oils are the one category that is severely limited.
- This approach has had the most extensive research done on it, ( a lot of Penn State students have done a lot of eating) and has had the best results long term of any diet. It’s easier to stay on this way of eating, because it doesn’t limit any category or force constant weighing and measuring and monitoring.
Which diet is best?
I believe it’s true that any of these approaches will result in weight loss. There is not one TRUE way, or RIGHT way, or ETHICAL way; what works for you is what you should do. I believe the way to maintain weight loss is the way that you can sustain. But you need to be aware of what needs to be done in the long run. Full disclosure, I believe strongly in the caloric density approach, and that if it’s used in conjunction with any of the other approaches, it will be the most effective method available. Figure out the caloric density of foods, then eat those first. Fill up on the lowest calories, then you can enjoy the higher caloric dense foods in smaller amounts, and enjoy your life. The solution is to find the method of weight loss that you can live with for the rest of your life. Ignore all the ideas that you can ditch ten pounds then go back to eating the way you ate when you were ten pounds heavier. It doesn’t work. Find a way to make your method easy, make it the easiest choice to make, and make it a habit. If you focus on what you can’t eat, you will be miserable; focus on the delicious foods you can eat. Make your way of eating delicious and enjoyable, and healthy. Enjoy life, and quit making food your life.