Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS

 

Diet - Another Word For Starvation

People resolve to lose someweight and get in shape all the time. It’s no secret than most people fail. A big part of that failure is what most people do when they want to lose weight. They go on a diet.

For most people, going on a diet means making a drastic change in the way they eat. They eliminate whole categories of foods and cut way back on calories.

At first, the scale does show weight coming off. But soon the rate of loss slows. The diet becomes harder and harder to stay on. Before long the diet is history and the weight is back on. It’s back on a lot quicker than it went off.
Apparently, the weight was never lost at all.

Well first, consider the good news. We live in a culture and a time when having adequate calories available to eat really isn’t as issue. D’Sousa has a telling quote in one of his books. When he was growing up in India one of his classmates remarked “I want to go to America. I want to live in a country where even the poor people are fat.”

There's no doubt about it - calories are easy to come by in America today. They may not be nutritious calories, but there's no shortage of them.

For millennia, it wasn’t that way. Finding enough to eat required constant effort. The effort wasn’t always successful.

Our ancient ancestors had a word for a situation where calories eaten were less than those needed. We call it a diet. They called it starvation. Survival required than our ancestors develop ways to deal with periods of deprivation.

One way was to store energy from the “fatter” times. That’s what fat is – stored energy. We’re very good at storing it when there are extra calories around. It’s a survival mechanism.

Our bodies have another excellent way to survive lean times. It’s also a big part of why almost all diets fail.

If there aren’t enough calories coming in, our bodies use fewer calories. The number of calories our bodies use at rest is called our resting metabolic rate. It’s the number of calories we use just to live, without doing any added work.

If we aren’t eating enough calories to meet our metabolic needs, our bodies adapt by lowering our metabolic rate – we use fewer calories to live.

This is why restricted calorie diets become gradually less effective over time. People on those diets are actually training their bodies to burn fewer calories. To continue to lose weight they would need to eat progressively less food. That doesn't work for long, and it certainly isn't healthy.

It is true that to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you use. However if you try to do this drastically, you’re working against your body’s metabolism. You won’t win.

You’re designed to survive periods of starvation. A prolonged period of drastically reduced calories triggers survival mechanisms that make healthy weigh loss almost impossible.

Fortunately, there are ways to work with your body to obtain optimum vitality and a healthy weight.

First realize that you’re not looking for a short term change. If you’ve been gaining weight slowly but surely with your current choices of food and approach to eating, that clearly isn’t working for you. You need to change it. You need to find a way of eating that maintains your vitality and that you enjoy.

It makes no sense to make a temporary change and then go back to a lifestyle you’ve already proven doesn’t work. Instead, realize that you need a long term change in your approach to eating. Then, take your time gradually changing to an improved relationship with food and activity.

The right approach for you will be your own. I’ll be making a lot of suggestions for you to try as time goes by. Right now I’ll tell you how to reduce calories without triggering the survival response that prevents weight loss. You can apply this tip right away. You’ll findthe concept simple.

The key idea is to vary your caloric intake from day to day. One day you eat a little less than you need and the next a little more. Doing this convinces your body that times are good and there’s no need to go into survival mode.

Your aim is to have the total number of calories you take in over a period of time, say a week, be less than what you need.

It’s important to avoid prolonged periods of fasting. Eat regularly – at least three meals and a snack every day. By doing this and cycling your calories up and down, you keep your metabolic rate high.

Cycling your caloric intake has the advantage of letting you eat food that normally isn’t “diet” food.

You probably already have a pretty good idea of what types of foods constitute a healthy diet. You probably alsoenjoy some foods that aren’t on the healthy list. Caloric cycling lets you indulge in less healthy foods, in moderation, on your higher calorie days.

Remember that calories do count and that the higher calorie day is not a binge day. If you need 2400 calories a day, it’s very possible to eat 5,900 in one day – a couple of super-sized fast food meals would do it. That extra 3500 calories are about what it takes to put on a pound of fat. It won’t come off in a day.

On your low calories days you shouldn’t cut back more than a few hundred calories, so it's very possible to overwhelm that on your higher calorie days.

Obviously there’s a lot more to healthy eating. But for now, plan to eat a healthy diet for just one day. You can do anything for a day, right?

The next day eat how you normally do.

Now repeat. Your year’s off to a great start.

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 JFM-MD

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