Diet and Diabesity: Why It’s Not About Calories
Whether you have obesity or diabetes or both (diabesity), you’ve probably been told to watch your diet. What does that mean, exactly?
Well…for the majority of people for the past 50 or 60 years, that means calorie restriction. Counting calories. Starvation dieting. Has that ever really worked for you? No? Don’t feel bad. It hasn’t worked for most other people, either.
What always happens when you go on a starvation diet is that you lose weight, maybe even 20-30 pounds. But as soon as you go off the diet, you gain it all back plus an additional few pounds. All those months of hard work, deprivation, and agony, were wasted. Your diet journey ultimately ends with depression, frustration, guilt, and even blame. Even if your friends and family don’t say it, you know some of them blame you for not being able to keep the weight off. Heck, you blame yourself. Where did you go wrong? What happened?
The same thing that has happened to untold millions of other people…you fell victim to the calorie myth. The calorie myth treats all calories the same no matter what foods they come from. It teaches all you need to do to lose weight is create a calorie deficit — starve yourself — and your body will gladly respond.
Except, you know it doesn’t work that way. Have you ever lost the amount of weight calculated by calorie-deficit math? Neither has anyone else. The calorie-deficit theory of weight loss as it is being practiced is not only wrong, but it is also harmful. Indeed, going on such a diet can even lead to diabesity.
Diet causes diabesity?
It may sound counter-intuitive and even controversial, the premise that a traditional, low-calorie diet can cause diabesity. But there is truth to this statement. Just look at the failure rates of such a diet:
- 45 million Americans go on a diet each year.
- The typical dieter in the U.S. makes 4 weight loss attempts per year.
- Diets fail an estimated 95.4% of the time.
- More than 95% of dieters regain all the weight they lost within 2 years.
Add these diet statistics in with the fact that Americans spend $33 billion per year on weight loss products. If these products and diet plans work, there would not be a diabesity epidemic. You see, obesity and type 2 diabetes are interrelated. This is because they share the same underlying cause; namely, insulin resistance.
It is not a surprise, then, that the rates of obesity and diabetes have exploded. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 93.3 million adults and 13.7 million children and adolescents are obese. Meanwhile, the CDC recently reported that 100 million American adults either have diabetes or prediabetes.
Given the vast numbers of people who are on a diet on any given day/week/year, if diets worked, there wouldn’t be a diabesity epidemic. But how can we say a starvation diet can lead to diabesity?
It’s because starvation dieting leads to yo-yo dieting, which almost always leads to not only regaining the weight you lost but also gaining additional pounds. And this is courtesy of the calorie-deficit theory of weight loss.
The calorie-deficit theory of weight loss
It is a fact that if you go on a starvation diet, you will lose weight. But if you consciously cut calories while also eating low-quality foods, your body fights back. Your cells need a certain amount of nourishment, and if they don’t get it, they send continual SOS signals to your brain. Through various feedback systems, the brain also receives signals from your hormones telling it you’re falling short of calories.
The hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for the stability of your body’s internal systems, responds by releasing hormones or ordering the release of more hormones to keep you from starving to death. These hormones increase hunger. They also make you feel weak, cold, and shaky. The hypothalamus also signals your body to send more calories to your fat cells — because having sufficient body fat is essential to your health and life — and it “tells” the body not to burn any fat. Instead, it directs the body to burn muscle. It also slows your metabolism. (Please check out the Diabesity Series for an in-depth explanation from Jonathan Bailor and Harvard Medical School Doctors of how the body fights against starvation dieting.)
Studies show when you go on a starvation diet, your hunger increases. Is it any wonder, then, that it is difficult or impossible for people to stay on such a diet long-term? Plus, as you probably know from your own experience, you not only gain the weight back after you go off the diet but you also even gain a few extra pounds. Why? This is because the body panics, giving you more fat in case another starvation period comes along. Do you know what this means? Yep. Every starvation diet you’ve been on actually raised your setpoint weight, the exact opposite of what you wanted to happen.
The setpoint weight and diet
Your body is a wonderful, amazing biological machine. It regulates and stabilizes your weight the same way it stabilizes your heartbeat, respiratory rate, and other functions. To stabilize your weight, your brain, digestive system, and hormones communicate through a continuous feedback loop to synchronize the activities to keep you at a specified level of body fat. This is your setpoint weight.
Your setpoint is the weight range your body hovers around. It is the weight your body will try to maintain no matter what sort of diet you try. The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to lower your setpoint.
Working with the setpoint instead of against it is an empowering way of eating and living that will unlock the naturally slim and healthy person inside you. Lowering your setpoint is the only real prescription to naturally fend off the effects of diabesity so that you can enjoy your ideal body, health, and life permanently.
Understanding your setpoint will reshape your body and the way you think about weight loss—no more cutting calories or torturing yourself with exercise you hate, and no more feeling tired, hungry, and defeated all the time.
But if the body regulates your weight, why are you carrying extra pounds? Well…the system is designed to prevent you from becoming too heavy or too thin. However, if the system becomes damaged or broken, hormones cannot send the proper messages to the brain. Your body doesn’t know how much fat you need, so it gives you more fat to be on the safe side!
Causes of an elevated setpoint
The three main causes of an elevated setpoint are poor-quality diet, stress, and sleep deprivation. Let’s take a look at each one.
Research shows that highly processed foods, fast foods, refined carbs, and sugars are the main types of foods that raise the setpoint and cause weight gain. A recent study showed more than 60% of the average American’s calories come from “ultra-processed” foods. These foods contain high levels of bad fats, salts, sugar, preservatives, bacteria lacking short-chain fatty acids, and chemicals. They lack nutrients and fiber. This same study also showed more than 90% of our added sugar intake comes from these foods. So, these ultra-processed foods provide a double-whammy of setpoint elevating factors.
Most people these days live under constant stress. There are bills to pay, children to get off to school, work deadlines to complete, and much more. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol triggers a release of insulin to get glucose into cells for the energy to deal with short-term stress.
If a tiger starts chasing you — the type of short-term stress humans faced for the majority of our pre-history — you need fuel fast. Once the crisis ends and the glucose is burned off, a relaxation response gradually returns the body’s systems to normal.
Stress is a normal and lifesaving response from your body to a critical situation. The problem is, your body responds to all stresses in the same way. If you are experiencing marital problems, financial worries, job stress, etc., your body responds the same as if a tiger was chasing you through the woods.
This is dangerous because chronic sources of stress cause your body to keep churning out cortisol. And because cortisol prompts the release of insulin, that fat storage hormone stays elevated, too. This, alone, can raise your setpoint and lead to diabesity. But there’s more. Unlike physical stress causing you to “run for your life,” psychological stress does not burn off any glucose.
So, now we’ve got a setpoint-elevating trifecta of constantly elevated cortisol, high levels of insulin, and a surge of glucose circulating in your bloodstream! This leads to cravings for starchy carbs. Intense cravings for sugars and starches make weight loss nearly impossible.
Americans may be even more sleep deprived than they are stressed. Sleep is something many people sacrifice for fun, work, or other commitments. But that’s a mistake because many studies show sleep deprivation causes weight gain leading to diabesity. Cortisol and other hormones seem to play a role, as they are disrupted when you do not obtain an adequate amount of sleep each night.
Diet to prevent or heal diabesity
Eating a high-quality diet is an excellent way to heal or prevent diabesity. High quality, in this context, has nothing to do with cost. A high-quality diet is one that provides plenty of nutrients — including vitamins, minerals, protein, good fats, etc. — per calorie.
Regularly consuming a high-quality diet has been proven to heal hormones, trigger fat-burning hormones, and lower setpoint, thereby preventing or healing diabesity. This is the basis of a SANE diet. The good news is it is not that difficult to eat a high-quality diet. Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, a SANE diet focuses on what you can eat, and it encourages you to eat more of those SANE foods.
The key to defending against diabesity
Here are some key SANE ways to defend against diabesity.
Try to select whole foods as close to their natural states as possible. Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are fine. Just make sure they don’t have preservatives, artificial flavorings, or other additives.
Because fibrous foods take longer to eat, your brain has a chance to receive the signal from your stomach that you’re full. This prevents overeating. Plus, your body cannot digest fiber. This means fiber stays in your digestive tract for a long time before being eliminated. The result? Fiber fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time, and because you can’t digest it, fiber has no effect on your blood sugar levels. The best way to obtain fiber is through non-starchy vegetables. SANE recommends you consume at least 10 servings of non-starchy veggies per day.
Nutrient-dense protein (NDP)
NDPs are protein sources in which more of their calories come from protein than from fat or carbohydrate. Examples include salmon, nonfat Greek yogurt, egg whites, and grass-fed beef. NDP triggers short- and long-term satiety hormones, meaning high-quality protein fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time. If you consume nearly 30 grams with every meal (recommended), it will trigger muscle protein synthesis. This causes new muscle to be built, a factor that increases metabolism. SANE recommends you consume 3-5 servings of NDPs per day, 30-55 grams per meal.
Your body needs a certain amount of dietary fat to survive and thrive. The body uses fat as an energy reserve. Dietary fat also aids cognitive function, insulates the body, and helps make hormones. The key to lowering setpoint and defending against diabesity is to eat “good” fats in “whole-food” form, rather than just their oils. Whole-food fats, such as almonds, coconut, olives, and flax seeds contain the water, fiber, and protein your body needs to lower setpoint. Like non-starchy veggies and nutrient-dense protein, whole-food fats keep you full for a long time. SANE recommends you consume 3-6 servings of whole-food fats per day.
- Highly processed foods
- Foods with added sugar
- Fast foods
- Refined Carbs
- Starchy Carbs
It’s the SANE way
That’s it. Of course, there is more to a SANE lifestyle. But all of it, especially the SANE eating plan, is easy to remember and implement into your lifestyle. Try it and see for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Next step: learn more about the diabesity diet with SANE
Ready to finally break free from the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster by balancing your hormones and lowering your body’s setpoint weight?
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