I am a firm believer, generally speaking, that calories don’t count. Read Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and you will get a professionally written journalistic approach explaining the myriad reasons this is true. If you are buying that calories count, robotically backing up your view with the statement, “It’s the First Law of Thermodynamics,” you are thinking like a child, or at least one-dimensionally, and I really probably can’t help you, nor will I ever convince you otherwise.
However, I will try and throw a few concepts your way and see if they stick. If we make some headway, then perhaps you’ll allow me to talk about some articles that cover the approaches people take to get changes in their body that are more desirable, whether it be through a metabolic, hormonal, or toxin-related approach.
Why “Nutrition Facts” Don’t Matter
I love to summarize and introduce by just blurting out what I’m getting at. Screw the Nutrition Facts box. All you need is the ingredients list (assuming the ingredients are accurately reported). In fact, if you’re eating something with a Nutrition Facts box, usually it’s processed anyway, and that’s just a bad idea.
Okay, okay, my Kerrygold has one of those boxes. I only read it because I get excited about the awesome amount of calories and saturated fat that comes in such a little package! I could get my daily caloric requirements (if you’re one to think along these lines) just from a stick and a half of that stuff! Of course, that would be just as unwise, because a pure-fat diet wouldn’t get you very far. It would be fun to try, though… Just kidding. I do get 70% of my calories from fat, though—that is, I think so. I’ve never actually counted calories for a whole day of food. Ever—in my whole life.
Hearing that Dave Asprey got a six-pack without working out by eating a 4500-calorie diet was enough for me to believe that food quality trumped food quantity. However, I did do some actual research on it. I didn’t have to go too far. In my travels, I saw a couple of talks by Gary Taubes on YouTube, including one called “Why We Get Fat.” He has researched extensively on the subject and written a couple of books about it.
Gary’s best points from the things I’ve heard him say and read in his books:
- The first word for “dieting” was “banting.” It was a reference to an English undertaker named William Banting from the 1700’s who stopped eating carbs and ate only leafy greens and meat/fat to try and lose weight. Needless to say, it was very effective, and he became the namesake of this “practice” of limiting carbs.
- People are always talking about “overeating” as a reason for gaining weight (back to the First Law), yet no one would consider a child who has “gained weight,” in other words grown up, as someone who has “overeaten.” This is a hormonal issue.
- Essentially, obesity is a disease caused by insulin resistance, where the presence of insulin from the consumption of too many carbohydrates and sugars confuses and blunts your cells’ reaction to it. The final product of carbohydrate digestion, glucose, fills up glycogen stores in muscle and liver cells until there’s no more room for the glucose. At this point, insulin production gets increased, your cells get less and less receptor sites for it, and eventually the glucose gets put into fat cells because they must be removed from the bloodstream. It’s a vicious cycle to say the least.
So, in summary, there’s a lot more going on when it comes to what you eat than just calories. If you’re counting calories, and you lower calories, you’ll definitely lose weight. However, it only works for awhile. Your body’s response to an extended caloric deficit is to lower your metabolism. Usually you get cold first, then you start to get fatigued, weak, did I mention hungry(?), and then—frankly well—frail. There has to be a better way.
The Metabolic Approach
So, as you can tell, I’m not afraid to use this cliché/buzzword as a starting point for helping you to lose weight. However, a lot of people use it incorrectly. If you’re trying to lose weight by increasing you’re metabolism, you’re on the right track! But how does one accomplish this?
This article has the right heart, but it’s off on a few points in my opinion, as well as based on the best diet gurus:
So, some of the points are pretty good. Point #2 about caffeine is backed up very well by this Mercola article.
“Always eat breakfast” plays into hormone balance for women and is good advice for them, but since the discovery of intermittent fasting as a thing that really works for men, it doesn’t make sense. In the same category of frequency of meals, we have point #4, which suggests eating every 3 to 4 hours. I do think you should eat when you’re hungry, but I’m not too concerned about eating constantly throughout the day since I found out about this study that showed there was no effect on metabolism based on frequency of meals (having tested between 1 and 17 meals in a day). It does allow me to defer to the practice and understanding of allowing the gut to “rest between meals.” I have personally had great success eating less frequently (2-3 times/day depending on whether I’m doing Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting), and I would recommend anyone with a digestive disorder give it a try. Full-on intermittent fasting is also amazing for weight loss.
I like the generic “increase your activity” recommendation actually, because it says something interesting about how fidgeting increases your metabolism. I can definitely get down with this. I never sit in a chair if I can help it, because sitting on the ground I find myself more comfortable but also moving around a lot. I think that’s easier on your bone and makes you have to develop your muscles in your struggle against gravity more often. Gravity is your friend, because it makes you stronger. That’s why lifting weights is so good! It simulates a heavier gravity. This is great, because we have learned from astronauts that weightlessness leads to loss of bone mass and accelerated aging.
“Cut the Trans Fat” is a big duh (though one of the best fats, CLA, is a trans fat found only in red meat, and it’s very good for you). However, I’m happy about this one. I wish we could automatically put seed oils like vegetable and canola oil in this category, but it doesn’t necessarily fit. A lot of them have been able to dodge the creation of trans fat in their manufacture, yet the problem mainly lies in their high amount of omega 6’s, which get easily denatured in high heat. Denatured Omega 6’s like HNE can severely mess up your system.
Big props to the reference to resistance training, the encouragement of spending time in the sun, going for the H20, and getting enough sleep. These are all tried and true practices that some people might not realize can sabotage your metabolism if not adhered to.
A very surprising recommendation they made was to go organic. Most people can’t see how this pertains, but this actually crosses over into the toxin-oriented approach to losing weight. In the article they say it affects your metabolism because your thyroid, a huge part of your metabolism, is very sensitive to toxins! Very awesome job, Mommy Edition! If everyone went organic, the world would be a healthier, happier place.
Back to the bad, I don’t recommend green tea as they do, because it has way too much fluoride (something like 100-200 mg per serving, I found out one time). Do white tea or coffee instead, if you ask me. Also, I’m not too fond of spices because of what I’ve learned about from Bulletproof. They have some serious mold issues. However, if you can find a clean source or you know some spices that have less mold in general, go for those. Definitely makes your life more enjoyable.
The Right Way to Do the Metabolic Approach
When in doubt, think like a hunter-gatherer. I was just discussing with my wife today how you don’t need to freak out if you miss meals. If you’re a tribesmen, your day might have some sort of routine that involves eating what food you have from the last kill, or it might not. Sometimes you wake up and you’re just plum hungry, with no expectation of any kind of meal until you track down the prey and make the kill. Sure you could have some starchy tubers or palm starch that the women dig up, but they take a good 3 hours to dig those things up anyway, so maybe have them for dessert? So, breakfast might be what you already killed and have left over, but if not, you could eat some larvae on the way. So, the point is, the timing of when you eat isn’t that crucial. Breakfast is definitely not that important for sure, but it’s okay to eat.
Paleo articles have the metabolism thing figured out so much better, because they start with the right perspective: How do tribal hunter-gatherers, a group with no known heart disease, chronic disease, or history of the metabolic syndrome, approach food? For an awesome scientific perspective of the problem on the metabolic syndrome, look no further than this explanation of how to overcome it. Simply put, you can make huge strides by lowering your fructose intake and increasing your DHA and Omega-3 intake. This is thought to be the major problem with a Western diet, and the Paleo diet will correct these issues for you.
Really, though, according to this article by Paleo Leap about myths of metabolism, it’s a lot more complicated and less fun than all of these articles about boosting metabolism want you to think. They debunk almost every metabolism “hack” you can think of, but I am glad to report that they affirm that an extended caloric deficit will slow your metabolism to a crawl. That is the major takeaway I want you to have from my article.
In my own experience, regaining balance and control of my weight through metabolism has really involved this anti-inflammatory diet, in addition to the timing of my carbs. I just cut down on carbs a whole lot in general and time them right, because it avoids the ride of low-to-high-to-low blood sugar you experience from their consumption if you start out the day with them. Some days I only eat green veggies and no starchy veggies at all to get ketosis going. But don’t be in ketosis all the time. This is the trick of the Bulletproof diet at its essence, because Dave Asprey had a lot of problems when he was completely zero carb. They were things that I actually had as well, and I think they came from the lack of food you’re providing for your gut. That diet can be extremely healing, however, for a lot of conditions, but I still think it’s better if epileptics employing ketogenic diets will come out of ketosis every to balance the microbiome.
Anyway, one Bulletproof approach I also recommend employing is carb refeed days where you totally gorge on carbs and fast on protein. This resets your leptin and gets some autophagy going, and it really just mixes things up in a pleasant way for morale. Oops, this is the hormonal approach talking again. I hope you’re starting to catch the drift that the hormonal approach to your diet is way more effective than the metabolic approach.
Also, to keep my metabolism rolling in a proper and natural hunter-gatherer way, I always work out with intense resistance training (and preferably HIT if you can stand it), not with long-distance running/jogging. This is a creepy video about HIT, but very informative, so you should check it out. Following this principle that Cardio is a Conspiracy, and avoiding long-distance jogging/aerobic exercise, is one of the most novel and effective tricks for maintaining health. Intense workouts, metabolically, affect the EPOC (calorie-burning period after a workout) in a metabolic way that resembles a long, slow burn, but it honestly results in overall thermogenesis very close to an aerobic workout (though one study showed a 700-calorie increase but has never been replicated—fooey!). However, the hormonal effect is what is more important, and again, we’ll get into that more in the next article.
So for now, the moral of the story is to promote a good metabolism by not restricting calories, being active, and eating anti-inflammatory foods, but don’t think of metabolism as the end-all, be-all of health and weight. Almost anyone can fix obesity or metabolic disorders with a hormonal and toxin-oriented approach. There’s a lot more to learn, people, so stay tuned!
Click for Part 2: The hormonal approach!