Power largely consists in the ability to make others inhabit your story of their reality. ~ Philip Gourevitch.
Special thanks to my friend BC whose own efforts at losing some pounds served as the nucleation event for this blog while chatting over a carb-laden bowl of Asian noodle soup.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about diet and weight loss. I tend to view weight loss/gain from an energy balance perspective and contend that folks losing weight (associated with fat) on carbohydrate-restricted diets such as keto are likely just eating fewer calories than they were before. For the record, this is my view on any diet: if weight is being lost it’s all about the calories.
With all the focus on carbs these days (e.g., paleo, keto, Atkins™, Whole30Ⓡ) I think it’s fair to say my view of weight loss has likely fallen out of favor. Instead, the insulin resistance hypothesis* put forth by experts like Gary Taubes** has become the go-to explanation for fat loss/gain. Although I have (and I’m sure you have too) met countless people who swear by their low-carb plans, I continue to be dissuaded because research shows that when it comes to weight loss, macronutrients (e.g., carbohydrates) do not matter.
In their article “Similar Weight Loss with Low- or High-Carbohydrate Diets” Golay et. al. report there was “no significant difference in the amount of weight loss in response to diets containing either 15% or 45% carbohydrate.”
Weight change over 12 months was not significantly different whether someone was on a low-fat or a low-carb diet as Gardner et. al illustrated in their journal article “Effects of Low-Fat vs. Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion”
Want more evidence? In “Fat and Carbohydrate Overfeeding in Humans:Different Effects on Energy Storage” Horton et. al., report there is no significant difference in body composition with overfeeding on a diet high in carbs or fat.
Of course, with those on the other side of the argument claiming the opposite story to be true, if you want to lose some pounds it’s hard to know what to do.
As hinted at last week, regardless of which argument you believe, I think a great place to start before changing anything is to determine your baseline caloric intake via tracking. This used to be a difficult and tedious thing to do over any meaningful length of time, but now, apps such as Loosit (my recommendation) and MyFitnessPal make it much easier than ever to track the food you eat. Minimally, you’ll learn a lot about where your calories are coming from and if you are getting too many of them.
Having done this myself and analyzed the results over time, I learned some interesting things that helped me change habits I didn’t realize were sabotaging my efforts. For example, I noticed a few calorie-dense items like mixed salted nuts and wine were pushing me over the edge and that, when I drank wine, I would eat much more than I would have otherwise.
Furthermore, while I rarely had days when I exceeded my calculated caloric threshold by a bunch of calories, I was consistently going over the threshold by a small amount.
And, finally, in terms of my overall energy balance, exercise wasn’t helping me as much as I thought it was.
Another item to consider is that while there may be disagreement in the literature about what causes obesity, there seems to be agreement in both camps that the quality of the food you eat matters. In other words, instead of eating processed foods or eating fast food, we’d all do well to eat more home cooked meals.
A great place to start? How about taking lunch to work? Not only will it save you time and money, but it will likely keep you from eating a whole bunch of crappy food.
If, like myself, you find yourself scrambling every day trying to get yourself ready for work and the kids ready for school, a great food to have on hand is some cooked chicken breast to slice up and put in a salad or sandwich. I try and cook some up for the week ahead – it keeps me from purchasing the cooked chicken readily available in grocery stores which tends to be laden with salt (and sometimes sugar).
Here is a simple way to cook up chicken breast I learned a few years ago (Unfortunately I don’t remember the origin of this technique):
- Pound chicken between some plastic wrap. The goal here isn’t to flatten the chicken into a pancake, rather it’s to create a piece of chicken of constant thickness so it cooks evenly.
- Season chicken, oil a pan, and preheat
- Place seasoned chicken breast in the preheated pan on high for 1 minute.
burnerdown to low, flip breast, cover pan, and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
- Turn burner off and leave
chickenin coveredpan for an additional 10 minutes.
At this point, provided the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 degrees (which it should be if your chicken isn’t too thick – check to be sure) you’re done. Eat some for dinner and put the rest in the refrigerator for future meals.
On that note, a good place for me to check out for the week. For this week’s addition to our Manufacturing Peace of Mind™ Spotify playlist, I’m going to leave you with “Heaven Help Us All,” a song off of a Ray Charles tribute album by The Band of Heathens. I’m really digging the album and their version of “America the Beautiful” is definitely worth a listen.
Heaven help us all indeed.
A blessed Easter to you and yours.
*Insulin hypothesis to obesity: How fat we are, how hungry we are, and our metabolic rate are all controlled by the hormone insulin and insulin levels are set largely by the carbohydrate content of our diets (esp. sugar).
**See for example his seminal book Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. Gary is an excellent storyteller and, although I wasn’t convinced by his argument, his book is a great read that has brought welcome and needed attention to the obesity epidemic. The nonprofit that arose out of his writing (Nusi) aspires to improve the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research and hopefully reduce the impacts of obesity and diabetes on society. A worthwhile goal for sure!
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