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Are we eating too much or not enough?

by Dusty Feldman, CPT

The key to weight loss is creating a calorie deficit. In other words, burn more calories then we eat. But to what degree is this deficit most beneficial? Twelve hundred calories must be better than sixteen hundred. Therefore, the less we put in our mouths, the more weight we will lose. Is this really how our bodies work? Our bodies are smarter than we think.

Diets in the media are everywhere giving us messages that if we eat less, we will lose weight. More importantly, do these and other similar diets promote long-term fat loss? In most cases, the answer is “NO.” When calorie restriction is too low, the body doesn’t necessarily know when its next meal is coming. The body will take the few calories it is receiving and store them as fat to be used later. This is counter-productive to building lean muscle mass and ultimately fat loss.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the difference between weight loss and fat loss. Weight loss is just that--weight loss. The loss may be fat or lean body mass. Studies have shown these low calorie diets can cause up to 45 percent loss of lean body mass. Fat loss, however, isfat loss. Losing muscle mass or lean body mass is not productive. Lean body mass is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. More lean body mass means greater caloric expenditure. So are we really looking for weight loss or fat loss?

Most low calorie diets look at fat intake as a way to increase fat mass. In reality, fat is needed to help burn or oxidize fat. Fat prevents an increase in the insulin hormone that helps release stored fat. Dietary fat also helps in building lean body mass by increasing testosterone and other androgens as well as reducing heart disease and cancer. Therefore, dietary fat is a very important macronutrient significant for the loss of fat and ultimately weight loss.

Protein is a very important component in a diet. Unfortunately, most low calorie diets don’t allow adequate protein intake. Protein has the greatest thermic effect of feeding so our body will burn more calories (upwards of 30%) assimilating and digesting protein than carbohydrates (6%) and fats (3%). Protein provides essential and non-essential amino acids that are the building blocks of precious lean muscle. In addition, protein takes longer to digest giving one a greater feeling of satiety and preventing hunger pangs.

Diets high in protein are not dangerous. Many claim that high protein diets will strain or damage the kidneys. There has never been one scientific study that has shown that diets high in protein harm the kidneys in any way in healthy individuals. Generally speaking, one gram per pound of body weight is ideal for healthy individuals.

Low calorie diets rarely take into account the effects on hormone levels. When fewer calories are consumed, the body compensates by reducing many of the hormones involved with thyroid function/metabolic rate. Thus, the increasing production of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase conserves food energy by storing calories as fat.

The thyroid maintains body temperature and produces hormones that usher oxygen into our cells. Raising the body temperature to appropriate levels is important in digesting foods and transporting oxygenated energy into cells.

Aresting metabolic rate accounts for the basic functions of the body, from liver function to maintenance of body temperature. Any decrease in these functions will obviously effect caloric expenditure.

Assume a caloric daily burn is 2,000 calories a day (fairly typical for the average woman). This is split as follows:

• 1,300 calories from assumed resting metabolic rate

• 150 calories from assumed thermal effect of food

• 650 calories from assumed non-exercise activity thermogenesis and thermal effect of activity

• Total: 2,000 calories expended

A typical example to lose fat is cutting daily caloric intake to around 1,200 calories. Initially, there is rapid weight loss, especially if dieting is new. However, the body adapts to the new eating pattern in three or four days. As soon as this happens, our thyroid production slows along with other compensating bodily functions. After just seven to ten days, calories expended become 1,805.

In just eight weeks, our body compensates by moving less than before. This movement is not having the same effect onenergy expenditure. Different hormonal signals occur--one intentional, voluntary effort, and the other unconscious, involuntary action. The current caloric expenditure has decreased to 1,605 calories.

The professional dieter can have a caloric expenditure as low as 1,330 calories over time. It is essential to keep the thyroid functioning at an optimal level for long-term fat loss.

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