I talk to people all the time who are so confused as to why they’re gaining weight. They tell me they don’t eat much and when they do it’s low fat, or they pay so much attention to calories and carbs that this should be thinner. They’ve tried so many ways of slimming down to no avail, all of which ended in frustration and usually a carb-fest. Why is it so hard for us to be thin?
Let’s look at the broad picture…
Americans are fatter than ever before and we’re getting larger by the generation. From the outside this would seem unlikely: everywhere we go we see new ways to lose weight, fat free foods, and gyms on every corner. We have access to the highest quality food and information about nutrition, but we continue to get heavier and sicker every single year. Of our $2 trillion healthcare budget $1.5 trillion is spent treating preventable diseases. If we are supposedly more educated, more active and more aware than ever before, why are we still gaining weight?
As food has become more of a hot topic it’s become much more complicated. The healthiest foods for us have one ingredient, are grown in the ground and have an expiration date. These foods are making up smaller fractions of our diets as they’re being replaced with complex, more elaborate versions of food.
What’s making things even more difficult are the multitudes of diets that are out there now: gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, Paleo, non-fat, low-fat, low-carb, GMO-free, blah blah blah. How are we supposed to eat anything when everything is bad for us??!
These diets lead people to eat all kinds of things that really aren’t good for them, and on top of that, dieting, as it turns out, is the biggest pre-cursor for weight gain.
Many things affect the way we do (or don’t) gain weight- genetics, environmental factors, our inner ecology, and our body types. The nice thing to know is that there are healthy ways to control our weight and give our bodies what they need, while still enjoying what we eat. For many people it’s the beliefs around food that lead to the development of sickness and weight gain in certain people. Here are some beliefs we hold as a society that lead us to unsuspectingly gain weight, and why it’s so important to change these beliefs.
1. All calories are created equal
A lot of people seem to believe that it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you watch your calories. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. What’s much more powerful than how many calories we consume is what certain foods cause our hormones to do.
Our hormones govern everything in our bodies. Hormones such as insulin, thyroid hormone, cortisol and estrogen regulate our weight, energy levels, concentration, immune response and more. The food we eat has an enormous influence on our hormones and has the power to disrupt their delicate balance, which can lead to lots of problems, one of which is weight gain. If your hormone balance is off this can increase cravings for sugar and carbs, encourage you to eat more in a sitting and more often, feel less satiated after a meal, and cause your body to store more food as fat. This imbalance will do much more harm to your waistline than an extra 100 calories from an avocado or olive oil will
For instance, something may be very low in calories, but still contain high-fructose corn syrup. What you’re eating may be low fat, but when it enters your body and you digest it, high fructose corn syrup causes a huge spike in insulin levels, which instructs your body to store fat. This accelerates insulin resistance and obesity, and causes resistance to leptin, the hormone that signals to your brain that you are full. The same effects happen from foods with artificial sweeteners, pesticides, hydrogenated oils, and refined flours and sugars.
Ingesting less calories will not prevent you gaining weight, especially if the foods you are eating are loaded with ingredients made in a lab. When the body detects a toxin it extracts it from the blood stream and puts it in a fat cell to protect the organs from the toxin. People who have very toxic systems tend to gain weight quickly because their body is doing it’s best to protect the vital organs from the toxins.
There needs to be a shift in thinking that values quality of calories over quantity.
Although there is no perfect combination for the right hormone balance, the right foods, consistent exercise, good sleep, and stress management will certainly help. High fiber, whole foods (leafy greens, mushrooms, ginger, flax, quinoa, and water, to name a few) help stabilize your metabolism, improve the efficacy of your kidneys and liver, strengthen your digestion, and reduce inflammation. These are the things your body needs to be thin and energetic, not fewer calories.
2. Fat free foods will help us lose weight
With so many items out there to choose from, food companies have devised clever ways to market their products. Unfortunately these labeling tactics can be deceptive and misleading. Because of our country’s obsession with dieting and being thin, a lot of foods are marked as low fat or fat free. What we fail to consider is how something with supposedly zero calories can still taste good. The way the food industry makes things taste good while having no calories or fat is to artificially enhance the flavor through processed additives such as high fructose corn syrup or aspartame. Things like yogurt, cereal, bagels, lean cuisines and sodas usually have these chemical additives in them.
Artificial sweeteners not only fail to satisfy your hunger the way real sugar would and leads to overeating, but they have an extremely high glycemic load resulting in insulin production and increased fat storage. They also inhibit the hormone leptin that increases your metabolic rate and signals to your brain that you’re full.
There are numerous other risks associated with consuming artificial sweeteners such as depression, anxiety, headaches and brain tumors, but for those most concerned with vanity they will most definitely lead to weight gain.
If you are eating something that comes in a package, flip it over and read the ingredients. If there are artificial sweeteners and chemical additives, there is a 99% chance that those ingredients will encourage your body to put on weight.
The lowest calorie foods are not advertised as such because they come naked, as they are, in the fruit and vegetable section. If fruit and vegetables are organic they are our best bet to reduce our chances of unsuspectingly consuming chemicals and additives that contribute to weight gain.
3. Dairy is good for us
I’m sorry to say this, but dairy has the nutritional content of cardboard.
There is a school of thought that full fat, whole milk and cheese provides enzymes and probiotics important for a healthy system. This may have been true when people raised their own cows but with commercial dairy this is typically not the case. There are many reasons not to eat dairy, so I’ll just make it straightforward:
· Dairy products are so highly pasteurized and processed that any nutritional value the might hold is completely gone by the time it hits grocery shelves.
· Dairy cows are injected with a genetically engineered hormone called rbGH to produce dairy year round instead of only when they are pregnant. This can lead to extreme weight gain in humans and also can be a precursor to diabetes and lead to heart disease or cancer.
· Milk from cows is perfectly suited to turn a 65-pound calf into a 400-pound cow within a year because of its high protein and mineral content. Unless you’re seriously trying to bulk up, you don’t need milk.
· If you are eating dairy from a cow that has been fed grain for some or most of it’s life, chances are that cow has spent its life very ill. Evolutionarily speaking, a cow’s stomach is designed to digest grass, not grain, so the grain creates an acidic environment in the stomach and cannot be properly digested. In order to prevent cows from becoming sick they are fed a steady flow of antibiotics. This is not a nutritious source of food.
Everything noted above will lead you to gain weight. If you are concerned about getting enough calcium, make sure to eat lots of leafy greens and you will be fine. If you can’t give up dairy entirely, as I know many people can’t, treat it as an indulgence, not a nutritious part of your diet, and enjoy it in moderation.
4. Eating well is too expensive
Yes, eating whole organic foods does cost more and take more time than packaged low-fat foods and diet drinks. However, what’s far more expensive is being sick. There are no excuses for this one. Cheap food high in calories and low in nutrition will cause you to gain weight, and often leads to many more serious health problems. Much of your health is in your own hands, and you have the power to protect yourself from sickness and disease with high quality, whole foods.
5. Portions should be large, we must eat quickly
Thousands of years ago when we were cavemen food was sparse. When it was available it was eaten in abundance, and the excess was stored as fat because it was unclear when the next full meal would be.
For some reason we still eat this way.
Eating should be a slow, luxurious experience, but most people act as though someone is going to rip the fork out of their hands any minute so it’s best to eat as much and as quickly as possible. When we eat at such a pace we fail to recognize when we’re full and eat much more than we need.
Portion size has grown drastically over the last hundred years. One Canadian study found that people overestimate the size of an appropriate portion and underestimate the amount they actually eat. The result is huge portions that lead people to overeat.
Another issue is that people don’t eat regularly enough. Skipping meals or substituting coffee for food means that when we actually sit down to a meal we eat way more than we need. Prepare for the day with some healthy snacks like nuts, fruit and chopped veggies so that when you feel hungry you’re prepared. This will prevent you from eating way too much later on.
Avoid overeating by using smaller plates, actually measure things when you cook, and share meals with a friend when out at a restaurant.
There are many reasons why we as a country are over-fed and under-nourished. A large part of this is due to the fact that we’re consuming more things created in a lab than ever before. These come as additives in our packaged foods, pesticides on our fruits and vegetables, and hormones in our animal products. Protect yourself by being mindful, reading labels and considering the source of your food before you buy it. When it comes to nutrition keep it simple, buy things with less than five ingredients, and make the majority of what you eat fresh vegetables.