Have you been counting calories ever since you can remember and still struggle with your weight? Overweight and even obesity has much less to do with calories than it has to do with food choices. Let me explain. When you look at money, $1 is one dollar, no matter how many ways it is constructed. It may be four quarters, twenty nickels, one hundred pennies or one paper bill. Whichever way you have it, it still adds up to $1.
Calories are different. Calories do not sit on a kitchen counter. They go onto your body to be metabolized. The way they are metabolized is completely dependent on what they are made of, and you will either burn them efficiently or store them as fat. For years, the conventional thinking was that if you count your calories and you stay within a certain parameter, you will maintain your weight. Scientists knew that food made of fat had more calories than food made of simple sugars, so they steered us away from fat. In the eighties, all fat was considered unhealthy for the heart. That knowledge suggested that you should eat more simple sugars than fat and you would maintain your weight and prevent heart disease. Many foods that formerly contained fat were reconstructed and processed, with the fat pulled from them and sugar added to them to make them tasty. The calorie count was reduced but the results have been disastrous to the waistline.
Today there are 66% more overweight adults in the US than there were in 1980, and 33% of those adults fall into the obese category. Despite the fact that fat has about twice the amount of calories as simple carbohydrates, low-fat diets of simple carbohydrates are the least effective of weight loss interventions as analyzed, including one presented at a meeting of the American heart Association this year. This information is noted in an article Fat and Hungry in the New York Times May 18th edition.
You may be wondering why this is the case. The reason is that simple sugars digest quickly in the body. Fats do not. Fats metabolize slowly and give your body a sense of feeling full. Sugar based foods do not. You get hungry quickly when you eat simple sugars and that uncomfortable feeling sends you back to the kitchen, the restaurant, the coffee shop or the vending machine. This is not a lack of will power. This is simple biology and metabolism. When you get hungry you eat. Eat more sugar based foods and you repeat the cycle. Over and over.
And that’s exactly what happened to me. I ate a lot of sugar, and I was hungry a lot. And tired. But worst of all, I had very high triglycerides, a precursor for heart disease, and I was only in my forties. That all changed when I replaced refined sugar foods with fruit and sweet vegetables. And it changed quickly, convincing me that our bodies can heal when we give them the right nutrients.
Here are some facts that help explain our challenges with weight, hunger and health:
- Americans ate 40 pounds of sugar in 1980; today we eat 152 pounds per year
- Americans eat about 500 more calories per day than we ate in 1970
- One can of soda equals 15 teaspoons of sugar Sugar lights up the same part of the brain as opiates; it is addictive Expecting moderation is a fantasy in the face of food addiction
Those extra 500 calories per day are the cause of excess weight. The excess weight converts into fat cells, making weight loss even more difficult, because fat cells call for sugar and will generate cravings. They activate insulin and create a vicious cycle of fluctuating blood sugar, cravings, hunger and low energy.
The NYT article estimates that the economic burden caused by Type II diabetes will reach half a trillion dollars by 2020. Type II diabetes is only one of many weight related diseases. Others are chronic inflammation, joint strain and cardiovascular disease. Economically we cannot afford to continue to eat this way; morally it is a social justice issue. We must hold the food industry accountable for producing low quality addictive foods that harm our health. We can do this most effectively with our wallets. Shift from Hunger to Health With a deeper understanding that food choice, not calorie count, is at the heart of a healthy diet and weight management, you can begin to make changes that will improve your health.
If you know now that all calories are not equal, what can you change? You change your food choices. Become educated about the content of sugar in the foods you are eating. If you buy packaged foods, read the label. Know that 4 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of sugar. You are not getting sugar from your sugar bowl; you are getting it from packaged foods. Throw away your low fat and lite products and eat small amounts of fat mixed with protein. Combine that with copious amounts of the complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, You will feel full and your body will metabolize these foods effectively.
Obesity treatment should focus more on food choices, not calorie content. Excessive amounts of sugar must be identified and removed from the daily diet. This can only be accomplished comfortably by an infusion of healthy real foods that do not come in packages.