Fun With Nutrition Insanity

The reason is that you eat too many foods that are high in “calories,” which are little units that measure how good a particular food tastes. Fudge, for example, has a great many calories, whereas celery, which is not really a food at all but a member of the plywood family, provided by Mother Nature so that mankind would have a way to get onion dip into his mouth at parties, has none.

― Dave Barry

How are we all feeling today? In the Christmas spirit?

Well, never fear. A number of helpful news agencies have published some gobblitigook that will pull you out of that mood as fast as you can say Kris Kringle.

To put you back in the mood in a few days we’ll talk about what to eat for Christmas. That always makes everyone happy. But for now, let’s have some Fun With Nutrition Insanity, shall we? This will take more than one post, too, starting with an article from, republished by every news agency on the planet. In this case, Fox.

The article is entitled “6 Secrets to a Faster Metabolism” and it is based on the notion that all of us want to have faster metabolisms because faster metabolisms burn more calories and burning more calories means you can eat Twinkies more without having to exercise, and yet not get fat and everyone is happy.

Our first logical problem comes, not surprisingly, in the very first paragraph:

We found out what real people with high metabolism do right. Adopt their ways to shrink your waist and get in peak shape.

Remember a few weeks ago when we discussed swimmers? We mentioned that people who advise you to swim in order to get a swimmer’s body have it all backwards–professional swimmers swim because they have bodies that are genetically built to be especially good at swimming. Yes, everyone in the swim meets at the Olympics has the same exact body type–but go to the tryouts years before and you’ll see people of many different body types, all of whom train very hard.

As the meets go on, the people with non-swimmer body types are gradually weeded out, till by the finals only the people predisposed to be good at swimming are left. And yes, it is possible that, occasionally, someone without that “swimmer’s build” may, through hard work and training, become better at swimming than lots of people with a swimmer’s build; just as it is occasionally possible for a woman, through hard work and training, to have stronger arms then many men.

That doesn’t change the truth that men in general have more upper body muscle potential than women in general, nor the fact that while Olga da’Brute may be able to lift a weight that no ordinary man could ever lift, she’ll never be able to match men’s world record dead lifts. The same is true for the swimmer. Someone with the wrong body design for swimming may manage to become a better swimmer than most people, even those with swimmer’s builds: but he’ll never be racing Michael Phelps.

This writer is assuming that people who are thin did things to give themselves a high metabolism, and that any pear-shaped office worker who does those same things can get just as thin. The reality is that these thin people do certain things because they are thin and have high metabolisms.

Lets go on to see what Courtney recommends:

Eat the correct number of calories

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories per day your body naturally burns at rest…Knowing your number is key because it means you’ll be aware of exactly how many calories to consume…[F]actor in how active you are by using this calculator… Want to lose? Shave 500 extra calories a day by eating less, working out more or, ideally, doing a combo. You’ll drop 1 to 2 pounds per week.

I’ll start by repeating what I said a few weeks ago to this same advice: if it was this easy, everyone would be doing it, Courtney.

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows it doesn’t work like this. Not only that, but this explanation also fails to give us any satisfactory explanation for why almost 70% of Americans are overweight. The only Americans who haven’t heard the advice to shave a few hundred calories a week and go out for a brisk walk to lose weight are living under bridges and talking to their imaginary 6-foot platypus friend, Rolf.

It’s illogical to believe that for a full 70% of the population there is no motive strong enough to make them try this simple method that guarantees steady weight loss. Eating 500 calories less over the course of a day–or 250 as she suggests, combined with a walk–is not that hard. That’s just switching from the 20oz bottle to a 100 calorie can of soda, or just foregoing it altogether.

Going for a walk twice a week is nothing–nearly everyone does it, or has tried it, or can try it. You really want us to think no one is doing this, Courtney? No one’s tired of shopping in the EnormousManFattyBoy Store? No one is embarrassed when they have to ask for a seat belt extension? No one is worried about their kids following them into obesity? No one is sick of their knees hurting so much they can’t climb a flight of stairs? The fact that so many people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for bariatric surgery, that the web is stuffed to overflowing with nutrition and calorie count websites, that snack manufacturers from Coca-Cola to Nabisco have come out with all kinds of products packaged in amounts at a particular calorie count, that the number of gyms nationwide has risen astronomically since the 1980s, that your worthless article has been re-posted 500 times by websites and news agencies nationwide–all this indicates that people are obsessed with losing weight.

People willing to undergo painful and expensive surgery have tried drinking that 100 calorie can of Sprite instead of drinking a whole bottle and have taken a few walks in their time, too.

Make workouts a regular thing

“Doing cardio exercise three to five times a week is associated with a higher metabolic rate at rest,” says Wayne Westcott, professor of exercise science at Quincy College, in Quincy, Mass….

I have no idea what Wayne is smoking, because actual in-clinic measurements in tightly controlled situations have shown that exercise causes the metabolisms of fat patients to drop by 5-15% when at rest. Immediately after exercising, for an hour or two, your metabolism may run higher. But your body will compensate. It isn’t stupid. It tries to avoid letting you use any more calories today than you did yesterday. Yet another reason to ditch the useless cardio. If you’re feeling in a science mood, there are some interesting studies to read here, here, here, and here.

Not only that, but the body responds to perceived starvation (which is what happens when you diet in the traditional way) by lowering your metabolism by another 10-15%. This is so that when you’re stuck on the deserted island waiting for rescue you can live about 60 days (if you’re a man) and 80 days (if you’re a woman) without any food. The take away here is very clear:

Men, don’t get stuck on a desert island with a woman. She’ll be the one who ends up eating you.

Oh and by the way Courtney, I’ve lost 145 pounds eating over 2,200 calories a day. I’m basically sedentary: I have an a job that entails a lot of sitting and my exercise consists of only 10-15 minutes of intense weights one time every 7-10 days, with the occasional walk. Your helpful calculator says I need 2,048 calories to maintain my weight. By eating nearly 200 calories more per day than I “need,” I should be steadily putting on 1 or 2 pounds a week. Instead, I’m losing it.

Now I had to spend a few minutes looking up what I eat to get the calorie numbers since I never pay any attention to them; but for you, Courtney, I was willing to make the effort. I know how it important it is to you that we all “know our numbers.” I mean, I remember Great-Grandmom sitting in her wing-back chair carefully counting out the calories in everything she ate. That’s how she stayed so thin! My dogs, who are also naturally thin, are always trying to recalculate their basal metabolic rate after they see a cat on their morning walk, since cat sightings result in a sudden increase in aerobic exercise.

Ok, all sarcasm aside, what is going on? I don’t like people to complain and not provide a solution. If you’ve been with me for a while on this blog you know what my answers are going to be and you can stop reading now. If you just stumbled across it, here’s the cliff notes.

Why doesn’t eating a bit less and exercising a bit more work? Because it doesn’t take into account the complexity of the human system–most importantly that eating a lot of carbohydrates in any form is a sure way to release tons of insulin into your blood stream, lock your fat up in your fat cells and starve you on the cellular level no matter how many seat belt extensions you require. Unless you are genetically predisposed to burn those carbs through being jumpy and active–but either way you’re not burning your own fat for fuel, and you can’t so long as you remain a high carb eater. Another complexity of the human system is that exercise invariably makes us disproportionately hungry. Before the 1980s this was common knowledge. Everyone knew that exercise only made you hungry and was not recommended for weight loss, but for fitness. I know this is true from personal experience, too–once a week I lift weights for about 12 minutes. According to calculators I burn about 92 calories during those 12 minutes. But afterward I can, and do, easily power down 300 calories worth of fat and protein.

Why am I losing weight on a diet that supposedly should be causing me to gain it?
Well, I can think of several explanations.

For one thing, those basal metabolic calculators are worthless. They don’t know whether my weight is fat or muscle, and since I’ve been packing on muscle like a draft horse over the last year, I’m burning more calories just sitting around doing nothing. Muscle is a metabolically expensive tissue; fat is very cheap.

For another thing, I’m eating mostly fat. Fat doesn’t easily store as fat. It’s usually either used as fuel or eliminated. All this guy did overeating thousands and thousands of calories of fat was exchange some of his fat for muscle. When he overate a similar amount of carbohydrates, he packed on 15 pounds of pure pudgy. Only glucose and fructose are easily stored as fat.

I don’t eat enough carbohydrates to cause insulin to flood my system, either, so I have access to my own fat stores and my hunger is genuine desire for cellular fuel. This allows me to eat what I want, when I want, without reference to calories. I eat till I’m full.

When I first started eating this way, I was easily satisfied with what I figured out at one point was 800 calories a day. That’s because I’d finally unlocked my body’s ability to burn it’s own fat for fuel. Whole grain pasta, skim milk, and fruit and yogurt smoothies had stolen the key, you see.

Back then, I had lots of fat to burn, so I wasn’t ever hungry. I had to make myself eat 1200 calories because I was afraid my body would think we’d entered a starvation period. As I lost fat that my body could burn, my appetite–particularly for fat–increased in proportion. And no, I didn’t lose weight because I ate so little. I ate so little because I was losing weight. There were plenty of occasions when I ate well over 2,000 calories of fat and meat for several days in a row, but it made no difference to my weight loss. And I now daily eat well over what I’m supposed to need just to maintain–which should result in weight gain–and yet continue to lose. I eat what I’m hungry for, which is more than enough of the right foods to assure my body that we’re not going to be starving any time soon (lots of fat around!). My body responds the way it was made to and continues to slowly offload what it doesn’t need.

Are there issues that can keep this from happening for you? Sure.
If you’ve got thyroid or adrenal issues, you might have trouble.

If you’re taking certain medications, that might be the issue.

If you’re exercising too much, which is really only possible with aerobic or “cardio” exercise of some kind, you’ll have trouble: and you might also get hung up if you’re never getting any exercise at all. You may be someone who needs to empty your muscles of their glycogen stores once in a while by exercising them till they are exhausted. That doesn’t take long–all you need is a heavy weight or two and ten minutes once every seven to ten days.

If you’re eating something that particularly bothers you
–like dairy products or nuts–that can affect the issue. Ditto if you’re eating a lot of processed foods. Ditch the Atkins bars and eat some butter.

If you’re totally stressed out and not dealing with it well, that can hang you up as well. Your body doesn’t know it’s just work that’s stressing you out. As far as it knows, a tiger has moved into your office and might shred you at any time–which is not the time to offload your potentially life-saving fat stores.

If you’re loading up on artificial sweeteners, you might not have any success at all. Always remember that your body wasn’t designed by a fool. It is designed beautifully, and you can’t trick it with fake sugar. It knows that sweet tastes should make insulin run.

If you’re eating too little for too long
, that can stop all weight loss. You don’t want your body to think you’re trying to survive a famine. Gorge yourself once in a while. Not every day. Maybe not even every week, but maybe once every ten days have a day when you eat everything in sight. Now I don’t mean you should eat junk. Don’t chow down on pizza and cake. But eat some fruit and sweet potatoes, or even some french fries if that’s what you love! Have that extra slice of roast beef. After a good meal of sensible fat and protein, indulge in some full fat ice cream or cheesecake–especially if you either make it without a dwarf wheat crust or just eat it out of the crust. Some chocolate covered raisins or nuts. Something you like that is rich and delicious and signals to your body that all is A-OK.


Plato says he’s hungry

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