Saturday, September 22, 2012

Moderation, Reducing Fats, & Exercise

    This post is for those friends who think moderation, reducing fat, and exercise works in losing weight. This holy trinity has been preached by the medical community, government, and nutritionists for such a long time that no one dares question it's validity. The inspiration for this post came from a friend that I saw recently. He had just visited Macdonalds and consumed a quarter pounder and a medium soda. He proudly reported that his meal was only 1000 calories. He had made a great sacrifice of giving up the french fries and reduced the total calories of his meal. A commendable act on his part to eat less, but the question is.. for how long he can sustain that? Can he continue to deprive himself for a month? What would happen to him when he got hungry in the afternoon? Would he head for the vending machine and grab a snack? Suppose he exhibits extra will power and manages to go through the day with less food, then he probably would find himself getting irritated, losing concentration, and just being miserable all day. Once again the real question is how long can he maintain that lifestyle before reverting back to his old self and putting the weight back on? Despite governmental policies and countless numbers of awareness campaigns to reduce calories, fats, and more exercise has produced no positive results in our overall health. Michelle Obama has been on the news with several campaigns to reduce the junk food and fats in our school cafeterias. National Football League (NFL) has several positive advertisements geared towards the younger crowd to get out and be active. I think we are reasonably smart people and when told to reduce fat, moderate our caloric intake, and exercise we do our best to take this advice to heart, and we try. But the question is why do we fail? Why don't we follow this and make it a lifetime change? The recent government data is now indicating that by 2030 a whopping 60% of the US population will be obese. Obese person is defined as one having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above. So why moderation, reducing fats, and more exercise are not working for us? In this post I would like to tackle each pillar of this paradigm and hopefully demonstrate why these things do not work?

   Let's tackle moderation first. Another word for moderation is calorie counting. This is exactly what my friend was doing when he proudly reported consuming only 1000 calories. Let's define moderation first. What it means to eat in moderation? If I have a piece of bread in front of me, do I eat 2/3 and save 1/3 for a meal to come? Other words I should walk away slightly hungry from any of my meals presented to me from here until I die? The society frowns upon gluttonous behavior. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins in the Christian tradition. We find Prophets, sages, and wise men all over the world preaching some form of moderation. And I fully concur that moderation is essential for your health. The problem with this is that WE ARE HUMAN. As human beings we make mistakes and making mistakes is in our DNA. I don't have any statistical data but I can safely assume that a very high percentage of people living on this planet or people who have lived in the past are not able to lead a mistake free life. We tend to falter, fall down and then get up again. Some of us are able to pick up the pieces and regroup their lives..while some are not. This is the way life works and this is the way life has worked for a long time. Just imagine in your life how many times you over ate until your stomach literally hurt. I can attest to that from my own experience, I have over eaten many times in my life, simply because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. My stomach was full, but my brain and my eyes kept saying go ahead and eat more and I simply complied. Now if you are going to play the calorie game and eat a precise number of calories that your body requires and you are able to maintain that for a whole life span then I salute you. Other words, your body requires 2000 calories and you are able to eat exactly 2000 calories per day to sustain life, then in that case you would not gain a single pound over a course of your life. Can you be that precise all your life? Now take the scenario of eating less and leaving something behind every single meal. Once again, if you are able to do it, then great. But realistically, how long can you maintain that? Now suppose you consumed on the average 20 more calories per day than what your body required. Consuming 20 calories extra per day can go unnoticed for a long time. Heck, every office building around the country have candy jars in most cubicles. Popping a handful of M&M's or mini snicker bars is way more than 20 calories per day. A minscule 20 calories increase per day can amount to a gain of 2 pounds per year or 41 pounds in 20 years. If 20 calories increase can cause a gain of 41 pounds in 20 years then the inverse should be true as well. A decrease of 20 calories per day should cause you to lose 41 pounds in 20 years. We actually observe that most people tend to put on 30-40 pounds over a course of 20 years as they go from their youthful twenties to mid forties. I personally put on 30 pounds in my 18 years of marriage. This slow steady weight gain happened while I was leading an extra active lifestyle. I played sports and hiked but was still able to pack those pounds. I blamed the weight gain on my wife's good cooking...:-) I know many friends who blame their metabolism for their weight gains. But you see my point that a tiny fluctuation in daily caloric intake can cause you to gain weight. We are talking about 1% fluctuation on a normal 2000 calorie based diet. How many of us are realistically able to monitor that one percent or willing to monitor that one percent for the rest of their lives? Throw in the fact that we are humans and we make mistakes. Pretty tall order don't you think? And that is why we tend to get fat as we age regardless of how active of a lifestyle we may lead. Normally, we blame our metabolism or few other external factors and we move on. Oh yes by the way the calorie deprived diets initially work and the results are immediate. The simple fact that you are depriving your body of the calories it likes to receive, so it starts to burn stored fat and the pounds come of. But once again, managing it over a long period of time is a problem and people tend to fall back to their old habits and the weight simply comes back. That is why diets or programs like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers give immediate results but once the person decides to leave their portion controlled diet then the weight simply comes back. At my work, we have a Weight Watchers program and I have seen people get really skinny and few months later they are back to their old selves. We are talking about managing just few calories per day. Simply put, managing calories is not a long term solution for weight loss.

   In the past few decades fats have been demonized and have been systematically reduced in our diets. Now we are at a point where a mention of fats makes us cringe. The famous government food pyramid tells us that we must use fats and oils sparingly and use more breads and cereal grains. Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers all promote low fat healthy portion controlled meals. Many restaurants offer low fat menus. Thousands of grocery store products are labeled low fat. The low fat message is everywhere. The consumers spend more money buying low fat products because their doctors have told them to reduce their fat intake. Despite, a bombardment of low fat messages from every direction, the heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States and in many more countries around the world. Certain states have passed legislations to outlaw saturated fats from being served to public. Once again, low fat diets simply do not work and will never work, because the food manufacturers are adding sugars to fill the calorie void left by the reduced fat. Fats are an essential part of our diet. During the paleolithic era, humans evolved by eating calorie dense foods, other words fats. By eating fats, humans developed larger brains and developed smaller stomachs. Human body was designed to consume and process fat. A pound of fat is 3500 calories, which goes a long way, it burns slowly, efficiently and provides energy for a long time. So low fat diets simply do not work for the simple reason that they are loaded with carbs and simple sugars. The carbs and sugars give you quick energy and then the energy level drops leaving you desiring for more carbs. This process goes into a never ending loop, the dietary fats never gets used and is packed away and we end up getting fat. On the other hand a diet rich in saturated fats and proteins is preferred by the body. The body ends up using the fats for fuel and the proteins to rebuild muscles. In this scenario the dietary fat is consumed by the body as fuel and you never get fat.

   What about exercise? Here we are told by the government that we are becoming lazy. Sloth is another one of those seven deadly sins. We are told that it is a simple math problem, we are consuming more calories than what we are expending. There is an energy imbalance. Once again, there are flaws in the exercise paradigm. To burn 300 calories you must spend almost 30 minutes on a treadmill, yet couple of chocolate chip cookies contain more than 300 calories and can be consumed in less than two minutes. A 5 miles moderate level hike may burn a 1000 calories, but you might feel more hungry afterwards and consume more food than you normally would and gain 1000 calories in less than 10 minutes. You may even rationalize and reward yourself extra ice cream or a piece of cake for doing extra exercise. As a matter of fact many exercise books will tell you to treat your self occasionally to keep your self motivated. The point I am trying to make here is that by doing exercise the calorie demand is automatically increased and you end up eating more. Exercise has many other benefits besides weight loss. Exercise burns off the stress hormones and makes you feel better. Exercise also helps strengthen muscles and tones the body. I prefer outdoor exercise, so for me fresh air and just being outdoor helps. However, exercise is not the ultimate solution for weight loss. There are numerous studies that cast a doubt on exercise's ability to lose weight. It is estimated that there are 45 million Americans who belong to a gym. About 19 billion dollars a year is spent on gym memberships. Of course, there are several folks who will pay for a membership and then will never go. Usually, around January 1st, when the new year resolutions are made, the gym enrollments go up, and folks hit the gym feverishly to shed the pounds accumulated during the holidays. But comes March or April, the motivation is gone and many folks return to their sedentary life styles. Once again, we are humans and we do things like these all the time. Again, with high number of gym enrollments and government telling us to get active, the obesity is still on the rise.

   If moderation, reducing fats, and exercise do not work in weight loss then what works? The answer lies in the types of foods we eat that make us fat. If we can reduce our simple carbs and sugars and consume more proteins, fats, and carbs from vegetables then weight will come off quick and will stay off. So my paleo pitch is to read my earlier blogs posts, give paleo a chance and see what happens. From the above arguments, moderation, reducing fats, and exercise are not necessarily helpful in losing weight, but they might be making it hard for you to lose weight. Think about it...

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