Eating For Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, you can choose from a long list of diets: the Paleo, South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, Vegan, Macrobiotic, et al. Unfortunately, all these diets have left the United States the fattest nation in the world, adrift in weight-loss marketing hype and stuck in lifestyles that keep so many of us overweight. But you can slim down with some simple strategies.

Fueling Up

On a basic level, food is fuel. It is part of the four life-sustaining elements we humans need to live (food, water, oxygen, sunlight). In terms of what the Chinese call qi or energy, food helps provide our bodies with life-force, or the energy for life. It nourishes the body, cells, organs, brain and every other tissue. Eating a better quality of food improves the quality of your life-force and produces a higher quality of life.

In the East, food is looked to for health, prevention of illness, and as medicine for relieving acute symptoms. Eating a healthful diet has been, until a recent invasion of Western fast food, a staple of Asian cuisine. In the United States, we think of food as a source of pleasure, social gathering and weight management. And that’s problematic: We eat when we celebrate and when we’re stressed, and we starve ourselves when we want to lose weight.

Unhealthy Attitude

Trying to lose weight when you think of food as the enemy is unhealthy. You can’t become thin and remain healthy when your diet restricts carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables or other natural whole food sources. For weight loss to be healthy, your diet must encompass all that nature offers, in as close to its natural state as possible, or at least in an unprocessed state. Trying to lose weight by focusing on reducing calories or avoiding entire categories of food is futile. Just look at the thousands of past dieters who have tried this type of method and failed. Perhaps you are one of them.

When trying to eat for weight loss:

1. Stop looking at each food in terms of its deconstructed parts, like its calorie, fat, protein and carbohydrate content. This tells only a very small part of the story and adds to confusion and stress.

2. Start looking at food in global terms of how an individual ingredient or product interacts with other food, and especially how your body handles it when eaten.

3. Remember that how much fat or carbohydrates a specific food contains on its own is not as relevant as what happens to it when it reaches your digestive tract. The important information is how quickly your body digests that food, how rapidly the food breaks down into sugar and how fast the food moves through the stomach and intestines. All of these depend on what else is consumed with it.

4. Forget about trying to lose weight with a diet and think instead of how to eat for optimal health, optimal energy and improved quality of life. Your weight will regress to the mean or reach an appropriate level based on your body and its needs.

5. Keep in mind that being skinny or thin has no relevance to being healthy. Skinny people also may have diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and other diseases related to diet. You should aim to be a healthy weight while fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods.

Healthful Eating

Along with these, there are a few things I’d like to share that are the basis of healthful eating. Some of this may be familiar, and some may seem surprisingly counterintuitive.

To begin, carbohydrates fuel your brain, so avoiding them decreases your brain power. And I can’t imagine anyone knowingly chooses decreased brain function as a matter of course to lose weight. It’s a bad trade-off. However, you can choose to eat only complex carbohydrates like those from whole grain, fruit and vegetable sources. Whole grains take longer to break down and turn to sugar, and, as a result, your body does not dump loads of insulin at one time, which causes you to crash later and crave more simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are not healthy: They break down too quickly in your body, causing spikes in blood sugar which causes weight gain from storing sugars and fats and indulging the consequent cravings.

Fats

Fats do not cause you to gain weight, unless you eat them in overabundance. Also, the content of a fatty food tells only part of the story.

For example, when you note the fat and cholesterol of bacon, you see numbers based on bacon in its raw state. Once the bacon is cooked, especially to crispy, a huge amount of its fat and cholesterol has been removed from the edible product.

And consider how we eat sour cream and butter. Yes, by themselves they are fat-filled and fattening. However, I don’t know a single person who eats them on their own. Even though these foods are high in fat, eating foods like these, along with simple carbohydrates, does not have a strong effect on weight gain.

A baked potato, for example, is a simple carbohydrate that your body breaks down quickly if eaten by itself. However, when topped with sour cream and/or butter, the potato takes longer to digest and does not spike your blood sugar and insulin response so quickly that it contributes to weight gain (the turning of sugars into stored fats). Fats take longer than carbs to break down, so adding more fats to a baked potato and other foods is actually better for you than eating a plain baked potato.

Eating Healthfully

What we are basically talking about here is twofold. First, we need to eat high-quality food to be healthy and stay at a healthy weight. You don’t want to be thin and yet have high cholesterol or a fatty liver because you opted for an unhealthy diet for weight loss.

Second, more important than individual calorie and fat content of food is its glycemic load, or how quickly or slowly the body breaks down food, converts it to sugar and either uses it for fuel or stores it as fat.

A Chart of Glycemic Loads lists each food based on its relative glycemic ratio of fiber to sugar content. The more a food is processed or has had sugar added, the higher its numerical index. In contrast, the higher its whole grain content, the lower its index number.

Many individuals who struggle with weight do so because of problems with blood sugar, insulin resistance and metabolic issues that can be controlled by maintaining a glycemic load of 50 points or lower per day. In this way you fill your meals with food that breaks down slowly into sugars in your body and, therefore, does not promote too much insulin release and storage of sugars as fats.

Ideally, you want to break down your food slowly and use it as fuel as you go. Weight gain happens when the body stores unused food as fat or when too much insulin is released as a reaction to eating a lot of simple carbohydrates.

Have a look at the glycemic load chart here and consider how your daily eating habits are directly responsible for your weight issues, in addition to associated health issues like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance syndrome. If you eat whole foods and look to food as fuel for life-force, and not for weight loss, you can level off at a healthy weight by eating healthfully and not triggering over-release of insulin from poor food choices.

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.