I know what you’re thinking. What is Dr. Hill talking about?! Well, the truth is that weight loss is a topic that is in need of a major overhaul. The perspective that I’m going to bring to the table is one that has helped many, many of our patients achieve the type of weight loss that is sustainable and life changing. So let’s get to it!
There is a common trend in health care of late. It is one that pervades just about every type of doctor’s visit, treatment focus, and mainstream health-education opportunity:
Address the symptom. Not the cause.
What if I told you that we have weight loss backwards? That in order to find long-term, sustainable success in losing weight we need to shift our focus away from losing weight? What would you think?
Well, my desire is to do my best to give you solid, actionable advice. All I ask is that as you read, you do so with an open mind and a sense of excitement about what putting these concepts into action might do for you.
Step 1: forget about ‘conventional wisdom’ when it comes to losing weight.
Conventional wisdom is a slippery slope. For whatever reason, we as human beings tend to gravitate toward different ideas, concepts, and practices just because enough people have thought, created, and tried them. This is common practice in the field of weight loss, and here are a few of the most popular:
“Calories in vs. calories out is all that matters.”
Put in other terms: if the amount of calories that you eat is less than the amount of calories that you ‘burn,’ you will lose weight.
If we think about this theory simply from an energy standpoint (a calorie is actually a measure of energy), it makes logical sense. Our bodies use energy to function. The food that we eat can be converted into energy from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. So in any given time period if the ‘energy’ eaten is calculated to be less than the ‘energy’ used by the body (through physical activity, bodily processes, etc.) it should result in weight loss.
There is a difference between how this plays out ‘on paper’ and how it plays out in ‘real life.’ A few bold assumptions must be made for the theory to work:
- Assumption #1: We have to assume that energy usage is the only (or at the very least, the primary) variable that matters when considering weight loss and weight gain.
Problem with assumption #1: This oversimplifies the way our bodies function. It fails to address the role of hormone function/dysfunction, inflammatory state, the presence of diseases, the state of the individuals microbiome, etc. All of these things have been shown to affect overall weight gain and weight loss.
- Assumption #2: We have to assume that all calories are equal. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, no matter what kind of food it comes from.
Problem with assumption #2: A normal-size Snickers bar is 52.7 grams and contains 250 calories. In contrast, for a person to consume 250 calories-worth of cucumbers, they would need to eat a whopping 1,625 grams of cucumbers. That is 15.6 cups of cucumbers. I’ll let that soak in for a second. Not only do those two 250 calorie quantities of food look different, but the affect that they have on the human body when eaten are very different as well. One is full of sugar and unhealthy hydrogenated oils, and the other is full of water, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. One stimulates the secretion of hormones that promote hunger and weight gain, and the other makes you feel satiated and feeds your beneficial gut bacteria with the fiber it needs to thrive. Get the picture?
As you can see, this bit of conventional wisdom has some holes in it. Just for time and effort’s sake, we are going to stop there. Suffice it to say that calories in vs. calories out is NOT all that matters.
“I’m doomed to be overweight because of my genetics.”
While it is true that each of us has a unique genetic make-up that can dictate strengths and vulnerabilities health-wise, there is a wide (and growing) array of research that is teaching us more about the real relationship between our genes and our health.
The take-home lesson: contrary to popular belief, we are not victims of our DNA.
The field of epigenetics teaches us that, in fact, the environment that we live in can powerfully affect our DNA. This has been shown to play out in both negative and positive ways. Our behavior and surrounding can either degrade/damage our DNA (promoting disease) or heal/strengthen our DNA (promoting health).
What this means is that a strong case can be made for optimizing our environment to improve our health. A change in lifestyle can play an active role in improving the expression of our DNA and, in turn, our health (even if we have a ‘family history’ of certain problems). And in many cases, the action steps are very easy to implement.
But it starts with a conscious shift in focus. You can’t control the sequence of DNA that you were born with, but you can control the environment that you subject it to.
“Eating and drinking fat-free and ‘diet’ foods and drinks will help me lose weight.”
When you read the label of a food product and it has a big, bright, shiny seal on it with the words “Fat Free!”, “Zero Calorie”, “Guilt-Free”, “No Sugar Added”, “All Natural”…you get the idea…it subconsciously gives that product credibility as a healthy food. But is it?
Well, the marketing departments of food companies want you to believe it. But unfortunately, the intended outcome has been far from accomplished.
Quite the opposite, actually.
In fact, this is a perfect lead-in to our next step, so we’ll explain it there:
Step 2: don’t make food too complicated.
Humans have a tendency to complicate things.
Our track record with food follows this trend unfortunately. In fact, I would make the case that much of what we consume these days should not even be considered food.
Allow me to explain.
In many ways, the industrial revolution, food research and technology, and the introduction of public policy and government regulations have affected our relationship with food. From the source of our crops, to the way that they are processed and packaged, to the advertisements that we (willingly and unwillingly) take in daily, our perception of food is constantly changing.
Not always for the better.
The most prominent example dates back to the 1950’s, and centers around the research of a man named Ancel Keys. Many in the field of nutrition policy in the U.S. consider him to be the man who single-handedly sparked the obesity and diabetes epidemic. But how?
So. In 1958, he started a study named the Seven Countries Study, which aimed to examine the relationship between fat consumption and heart disease in different countries around the world. The conclusion that his study came to was that there is a significant relationship between a person’s (and a population’s) cholesterol levels and that person’s tendency to develop heart disease. And because cholesterol is involved with blood lipid (or ‘fat’ in your blood) transport, the emphasis was placed primarily on dietary fat and cholesterol intake.
Thus, the fat hypothesis was born: essentially saying that eating fat will make you fat and lead to heart disease. And to combat this trend, the recommendation was made to remove fat from our diets. So we did.
As was stated above, “low-fat”, “non-fat”, “fat-free”, and “reduced fat” products increased in popularity. Inherently, though, there was a problem right off the bat.
When food companies remove the fat from a food, the majority of the original flavor of that food goes with it. You’re left with a tasteless, oftentimes poorly-textured food byproduct that nobody wants to eat.
Pop Quiz time:
When food companies ran into this conundrum, what did they do in response?
a. Sell it anyways.
b. Add the fat back into the food without telling anyone.
c. Enhance the flavor by adding sugar and other synthetic ingredients.
d. Fold up shop and go home.
(If your first answer was b., you may be thinking about a certain Seinfeld episode…and I admire that, but you are wrong.)
The correct answer is…c!
In order to produce, and ultimately sell, fat-free products, the food industry made a momentous shift toward adding sugar and other synthetic ingredients (emulsifiers, artificial flavors, dyes, ultra-processed grains, etc.) to make them palatable.
This single study was one of the main catalysts for the food industry to begin altering the macromolecular (fat, carbohydrate, protein content) make-up of our foods in the name of ‘health.’
Public policy followed suit, and pretty soon the U.S. government made recommendations to strictly limit dietary fat and cholesterol consumption. People began filling their plates with a higher percentage of carbohydrate-rich foods and processed “diet” foods. And we have been trying to recover ever since.
The demonization of fat gave an entire population of people incentive to supplement their diets with added sugar, processed grains, and other refined carbohydrates. The result was an explosion in the rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. All the while being told we were doing the right thing.
But get this.
This whole conundrum could have been avoided if we had looked a little deeper.
Further analysis of the data that Ancel Keys collected during his Seven Countries Study began to shed light on the fact that he had essentially “cherry-picked” the data that supported the pre-determined desired outcome and matched his hypothesis.
- Keys only included data from 7 of the available 21 countries of study.
- He failed to include countries like the Netherlands and Norway where people eat a high fat content but have low heart disease rates.
- The opposite is also true: he also failed to include countries like Chile where people eat a low fat content but have high heart disease rates.
In fact, there is a plethora of scientific evidence that debunks the fat hypothesis. But decades of damage have already been done.
So now it is up to us to learn the truth and put it into action.
We are making food too complicated.
Step 3: get back to the basics.
The take-home lesson is this: don’t worry about losing weight.
The truth is, weight gain is most of the time a byproduct of having an internal environment that is less-than-ideal. The second that you understand this concept is the second that you can turn your focus from shedding pounds to improving your body’s ability to function optimally. When this happens, weight loss is oftentimes inevitable.
Address the cause, not the symptom.
There are definitely research-backed, across-the-board, beneficial-for-most-people recommendations that will get just about anyone started on the path to creating a healthier internal environment. Here are a few:
- Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. If there was ever a sequence of 8 words to eat by, these would be the 8 I would choose. Emphasis on the word REAL.
- Limit intake of refined sugar and ultra-processed carbohydrates. Once again, we can avoid most of these by sticking with real, unprocessed foods.
- Don’t be afraid of eating fats. In fact, they are more important than many realize. A healthy ratio of 1:1 omega-3 to omega-6 fats from good sources is optimal. Avoid hydrogenated oils like the plague.
- Get plenty of physical activity. Even if it is simply going on a walk each day, physical activity is important.
But. For many, these things will only take you so far.
Understanding what makes you unique is priority number one when we are working with someone to lose weight. We start with a comprehensive understanding of what makes each person unique physiologically – by testing. Then using that data to find your cause. Here are a few that we address, depending on the individual’s need:
- Inflammatory status. When your immune system is constantly active, it can affect MANY aspects of your health.
- Gut health. The gut contains a huge percentage of your immune system function, it produces a the majority of dopamine and serotonin produced in your body (which your brain uses to communicate and function), and is home to trillions of bacteria that play many roles in overall health (not just digestive health).
- Heavy metal toxicity. Heavy metals are many times sequestered or stored in your fat cells. When this is the case, your body may resist fat-loss.
- Systems function. Cardiovascular health, endocrine (hormone) system, liver and kidney function, just to name a few. Each plays a vital role, and must be on the radar.
Once you gain this understanding, you now hold the keys to knowing how to improve. Improve the environment and the weight will take care of itself.
Interested in learning more about our comprehensive weight loss program? Contact our office here in Tempe, Arizona by calling 480-897-1788, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or heading over to the Request An Appointment page. We would be honored with the ability to help you discover your truth.
Have a blessed day, until next time!