Always Hungry? The Truth About How To Lose Weight — Without Deprivation
It sounds so simple. If you want to lose weight, just eat less and move more. We’ve been taught that with just a few straight-forward changes –like skipping dessert and walking an extra 20 minutes a day — virtually anyone could become lean for life. It’s just a matter of “energy balance,” of burning more calories than you eat.
This way of thinking gave us the low-fat diet. Since the fat in food has more than twice the calories as the same amount of protein or carbohydrate, cutting back on dietary fat should lead to automatic weight loss.
This seems great in theory, but unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as expected.
Instead of losing weight, we’ve been gaining weight — and lots of it. Rates of obesity in the US skyrocketed as we diligently followed doctor’s orders and replaced fat with carbohydrates. In fact, recent scientific studies show that typical low-fat diets produce less weight loss than other comparison diets. Even more concerning, following a reduced fat diet may actually increase risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cognitive decline according to new findings from the PREDIMED — a major clinical trial that provided participants with high fat foods like olive oil and nuts.
Clearly, the low-fat paradigm has failed, but not for lack of trying. So where do we go from here? I’ve devoted the past two decades of my life’s work to answering that question.
Why We Really Overeat
When I began my career as an endocrinologist at Harvard in the early 1990s, the low-fat diet had become near universally accepted. The USDA had just published the original Food Guide Pyramid of 1992, which encourage us to fill up on grains (6 to 11 servings per day!) and consume fat sparingly. But I had little formal training in nutrition. Medical schools are notorious for neglecting diet in favor of drugs.
My ignorance turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Rather than thinking of obesity as a simple problem of energy balance, I instead became interested in why people overeat. What made some people feel persistently hungry, despite eating enough food to satisfy calorie requirements? And why were so few people able to lose weight over the long-term, even as they suffered physically and emotionally from being heavy and, more often than not, tried very hard to lose weight?
To explore these questions, I spent months in the Harvard medical library poring over neglected research studies, some dating back a century. Though the knowledge isn’t commonly appreciated in clinical practice, scientists have suspected for decades that biology, more so than will power, determines body weight over the long term.
When experimental animals are forced to eat more than normal, they of course gain weight. But the animals lose all interest in food and metabolism speeds up in an attempt to shed the extra weight. Human volunteers in force-feeding studies feel just as miserable as those in starvation studies. Afterwards, their weight naturally declines right back to where it started.
From this perspective, the conventional approach to weight loss –measuring calories in versus calories out and stressing self-control– seemed misguided.
Intrigued by these insights, I determined to dedicate my career to obesity research and patient care. This 20-year line of investigation led me to an entirely different way to think about diet — not as a delivery system for calories, but instead according to how food affects our hormones, our metabolism, and ultimately our fat cells. And I’ve come to a striking realization:
Overeating doesn’t make us fat; the process of becoming fat makes us overeat.
Our low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet (along with other unhealthy aspects of our lifestyle) has triggered our fat cells to hoard too many calories for themselves, leaving too few for the rest of the body. So we get hungry and metabolism slows. Cutting back calories only makes this situation worse, creating a battle between mind and metabolism we’re destined to lose.
The calorie balance model fails in real life for a simple reason — humans aren’t machines. Though we tend to think of obesity as a state of excess, it’s really a state of starvation to the body. The fundamental problem isn’t having too many calories in fat cells, but too few in the blood stream and available to fuel the brain and other organs.
The three-phase program in Always Hungry? aims to address weight loss at the very source — fat cells stuck in calorie storage overdrive. With a diet designed to lower insulin levels and calm chronic inflammation, fat cells can be retrained to release their excess calories back into the body. When that happens, cravings vanish and metabolism speeds up, leading to weight loss without the struggle. And because this approach works with rather than against biology, you get to eat until satisfied, snack when hungry, and never count calories again.
This is dieting without deprivation. You’ll eat nuts and nut butters, avocados, full-fat dairy, rich sauces and spreads, savory proteins (with vegetarian alternatives), and even real chocolate. But this isn’t an a very low-carbohydrate diet either. You can enjoy a range of natural carbohydrates. And in Phase 3, we mindfully reintroduce some of the more processed carbohydrates, based on your body’s ability to handle them, creating an individualized plan that’s right for you.
This diet is so luscious and satisfying, you won’t miss all those highly processed carbohydrates you might have overindulged during the holidays. Participants in our 16-week pilot test consistently reported less hunger, fewer cravings, improved energy levels and enhanced well being — often before they even shed the first pound. Donna A from Selah Washington, who lost 22 pounds and 5 inches off her waist, said that:
“My husband didn’t think I was on a diet — he said diets are full of deprivation and, since I wasn’t feeling deprived, I couldn’t call it a diet anymore. It does feel good not to be driven by my stomach! I feel so different in such a good way.”
So this year, don’t make another impossible-to-keep resolution that will leave you hungry, frustrated, and stuck on the scale. Instead, I invite you to forget calories, focus on food quality, and let your body do the rest.
Exported from Medium on July 6, 2016.