BY TRACY McCUBBIN, MD, ABOIM, ABEM
This topic is something that I hear about in my office every week. What is the best diet? How do I lose weight? What should I eat? Why do I have belly fat when I am thin overall?
This is an important discussion because, as a society, we are overweight. There are so many factors that play into this equation: lifestyle choices, inflammation levels and, of course, whole food vs. “fake food.”
The obesity epidemic
It is clear that our shapes are changing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) realized this was a problem and that it was likely causing an increase in chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They began tracking obesity in the U.S. in 1985.
By 1990, we had data on all states with an average rate of obesity at 10-12%. By 1999, the average was 20%. And by 2009, the average rate of obesity was up to 30% across the country. In just 20 short years, we had tripled our rates of obesity! Sadly, this is not just in adults but in our children as well.
Prior to 1990, the medical community had not seen Type 2 diabetes in children. It was a disease of aging. In my opinion, this constitutes a health crisis. I encourage parents to educate their children on nutrition. Teach them to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. I could be called a “cereal killer” as I do not believe it belongs in our food supply. Kids get pulled into the cute box designs and characters and it becomes a hard habit to break as they get older.
And the bad news is that obesity rates are still climbing. New codes have been added for super morbid obesity, a BMI over 50. Now, our genes have not changed for thousands of years so lifestyle has to be the culprit. Our lifestyle is inflammatory and is killing us!
What causes this inflammation?
Being overweight or obese causes inflammation. Fat cells put out all sorts of chemicals which promote inflammation. Systemic inflammation is a root cause of many chronic diseases.
Overeating at any time creates chemical reactions which are highly inflammatory, especially to our brains. Eliminate electronics at the dinner table, because overeating tends to happen when we are eating in front of a television, cell phone or computer. When we are distracted from our food, our brain doesn’t recognize that we are full. Chew your food thoroughly and take your time – rushing through your meal doesn’t give your brain enough time to check in either. Stress eating affects the digestion process.
Much of the food that we eat and the way we consume that food causes inflammation in our body. Processed food that contains salt, sugar, fat, preservatives and food additives cause inflammation. “Fake food” like soda contains chemicals and nothing from nature. A good rule of thumb is if your great-grandmother would not recognize the food then don’t eat it!
Even food that has been genetically modified can cause inflammation. In general, you want to consume food that the earth has made naturally. Many GMO foods create food allergies or sensitivities that inflame our gut lining and create inflammation.
And what about our environment. We are exposed to so many things that our bodies did not see 50-100 years ago. Think pollution, plastics, herbicides, fungicides and heavy metals to name a few. That, coupled with junk food and fast food, is causing our detox pathways to work overtime.
Why diets do not work
Diets do not address our detoxification burden. At Radiance Functional Medicine, we like to begin our weight loss programs with a detoxification regimen to cleanse the body.
We need to dispel the myth of simple calorie restriction. If we starve our body, we may lose weight, but it will be muscle and not fat. Your body will go into a catabolic state and burn your own muscle for fuel. Why is that a long-term problem? Muscle burns 6.5 calories/lb/hour while fat burns only 1.2 calories/lb/hour. The long-term solution is you want to be lean not light!
In addition, with a restricted diet, you lose out on the nutrients necessary for Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification. This will raise your overall toxic burden.
Many of the fad diets do not teach a balanced approach. You may get a shot, use an appetite suppressant or eat bars and drink shakes. However, that is not a sustainable way to live. At the end, you are likely to resume your old habits and wind up gaining back all the weight that you might have lost.
So how do I lose fat and not muscle?
It is time to start paying attention to the glycemic index of individual foods and the glycemic load of your meals. The calories we want to limit are those from processed carbohydrates (e.g. bad carbs). These are high glycemic foods which cause your blood sugar to spike. When your blood sugar goes too high, you pour out insulin. The body says “ALERT! We need to store some fat!” then your blood sugar will plummet and go too low. Again ALERT, you store fat. Maintaining a stable blood sugar throughout the day leads to fat burning not fat storage.
The paradigm has changed and we need to change, too. There is a whole generation that needs reeducation about how to maintain a healthy weight for life. Restricting calories is not healthy nor effective in the long run. The type of calorie matters! And healthy fats are good for you. What you put at the end of your fork is vital to your health.
We recognize this and utilize a Food as Medicine approach in our practice. Please visit our website radiancefunctionalmedicine.com for more information, and join us for the next webinar in our weight loss series.