In last week’s column we began our five-week investigation into Naturopathic treatments for healthy weight loss. We learned that there can be a significant difference between weight loss and changes in body composition. In fact, we discovered that it is much more important to focus on changes in body composition than just on losing weight. This is because of the long-term health benefits of increasing lean muscle mass, decreasing fat mass, and maintaining these positive changes. We also learned about seven major factors that make losing weight difficult for most people. In this week’s column we will discuss the most important nutritional changes you can make and strategies you can employ to encourage healthy weight loss and improved body composition.
SUGAR MAKES US STORE FAT!
By far, the most important piece of nutritional information I can pass along is that excess sugar and carbohydrates leads to an increase of fat mass. We have been told for many years that fat leads to fat mass gain. However, sugar is the bigger culprit. As the consumption of fat has decreased over the past 20-30 years we as North Americans have become larger and larger. A major reason for this is because we are on average eating more sugar and carbohydrates than previous generations.
So, why does sugar lead to fat gain? Sugar is the major source of energy we use to run our body’s operating systems. Fat is the storage form of energy we have on hand for use when sugar is deficient. When we eat too much sugar/carbohydrates for our body to use immediately the excess sugar will be converted into fat and stored in our fat cells. The only way that the fat in our fat cells will get used is if we don’t have enough sugar at our disposal for energy. This is when our body breaks down the fat in our fat cells for energy.
This information may lead one to think that avoiding all sugar/carbohydrates or skipping meals will lead to weight loss. As you will read in the next section you will see that this is not true. As for fat, it is very important to consume adequate amounts of not just the essential fatty acids but the other healthy fatty acids as well from sources like olive oil, coconut oil, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and organic meats (if you eat meat). There are many different schools of thought on how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates to consume in a day. In general, I recommend eating about 20-30% of your calories from protein, 20-30% from healthy fats, 40-50% from complex carbohydrates, and less than 10% of calories from refined carbohydrates/sugars.
TIMING, TIMING, TIMING
The timing of our food consumption is extremely important when it comes to losing fat mass and improving body composition. When we go more than about four hours without a balanced meal or snack our body shifts into a fat storage mode. We may think that eating less frequently will lead to weight loss but this is for the most part not true. The longer we go without food the more likely it is that we are burning fat for energy. However, when we do have that next meal our body stores a much higher percentage of the calories as fat. This is because the body has been put through a “feast and famine” cycle where during feasts the body decides to hold on to as much energy as possible in order to make it through the future famines.
How much you eat may be as important as what you eat. I have met a number of patients who eat very healthy foods and for the most part avoid the unhealthy foods. However, their most significant problem has been with portion control. Remember the old saying that too much of a good thing is not a good thing. In the case of nutrition this is true. Excessive portions often lead to blood sugar spikes, elevated insulin levels, and indigestion. Large portions also encourage people to eat less frequently, which as we’ve seen leads to increased fat storage.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Start your day with a good breakfast with a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Eat 4-6 small-to-medium-sized meals or snacks roughly every 2-4 hours. Avoid large portions, don’t skip meals, avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed, and make sure every meal or snack contains adequate protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
In next week’s column we will investigate the most important lifestyle modifications we can make to encourage healthy weight loss and improved body composition.