"I am going to lose weight" I posted on Facebook. Almost immediately, I had gotten several responses on Calorie Reduction. Here we go again, 'Calorie Reduction', burning more than you take in. But does that really burn unwanted fat and leave a lean, sculpted physique in its place? When a person says, "I want to lose weight," and they often do nowadays, what does that really mean...physiologically....biologically.....socially...? To me, "losing weight" it is ubiquitous with losing only body fat, and then leaving toned muscles behind. But then, in a conversation with a friend of mine, the fat is not so much the problem as the body shape itself, thus her ideal 'weight loss' is losing inches around the mid-section. In other similar conversations with another friend of mine, his goal is to actually gain weight, and by this I took to mean muscle mass since jiggly fat is not desirable in our vein culture. Still, for some, I tend to find that they truly mean 'weight loss', as in dropping pounds, leaving alone the body composition conundrum most of the American population tend to ignore anyways. Then, there lies the question if starvation really leads to the weight loss goals most of us wish for (whatever the meaning is subjectively), regardless of what type of weight is actually lost. Ergo, what does "Calorie Reduction" actually do for the body?
Let us look at the typical diet, not what the CDC recommends because I find it quite silly, but what the average American actually consumes daily. I am just going off of what I have observed from my vast array of eclectic kin folk, however, I strongly recommend you observe your kith and kin too since cultural and societal differences may change cuisine preferences. I have one friend who consumes about four carbonated sodas per day, stops mostly for fast food, and may consume anywhere from 2700 calories to 3400 calories per day (yet remains slim and gorgeous if you were curious). I have several friends who tend to consume only junk food with limited nutrients, two are very slim, one is not. Most of my friends who eat fast food more than once per day are substantially bigger than they should be. A couple of my friends who consume pre-made frozen meals twice a day are quite thin, but frail. I have another friend who primarily consumes her mom's home cooking, but indulges in sweet treats afterwards and is quite big because of it. A friend of mine has two sons with the same exact diet, yet one is morbidly obese and the other could become a kite in a slight breeze. Confused? I am. Reality defies theory.
To make it easier on myself, I compiled a short list of what all of my friends may eat typically. Fast food: burgers, fries, tacos, burritos, nachos, breaded meats, and fried foods. Italian food: lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli, other various pastas. Mexican food: enchiladas, burritos, tacos, chili rellenos, chicken quasadillas, and other authentic dishes. BBQ food: need we say more? Junk food: cupcakes, doughnuts, chips, and various other packaged convenient foods. Movies: Popcorn w/butter, candy, soda pop. Beverages: soda pop (Coke & Pepsi), fake teas (Brisk, etc.), fruit punch, sports drinks, shakes, malts, and convenient store slushies.
The high amount of calories consumed daily should, in theory, increase body fat. However, some of my friends are extremely overweight, some of my friends are slightly overweight, some of my friends are normal, and some of my friends are borderline underweight, despite the consistency of the average diet. Many of my friends who have kids feed them typical processed kid food, hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza, meals in a can, candy, etc. The kids, however, vary in size and body composition. Not surprisingly, weight issues of the parents are often reflected in the weight issues of their children.
Interestingly though, it was found that in fat rats (lab induced obese rats, of course, not your lazy boss), when their weight gain is purposely reduced, their food intake is comparable to that of their thin counterparts. What does this mean? Well, a fat rat can eat the same amount as a skinny rat and still be fat, even if it is less than what they ate to become fat. This also suggests that caloric consumption is not the primary cause of obesity in all cases; more importantly, weight change itself is not dependent on energy exchange but on types of foods consumed (e.g. fats and sugars). When fed a combination of fats and sugars, rats gained more body fat and increased plasma insulin levels than if they were fed either fats or sugars alone. In humans, consumption of fats and sugars together is very common in processed foods. Often baked goods and prepackaged meals have a high content of both fats and sugars together. It is also common for people to drink a large sugary beverage with a high-fat meal, such as buttered popcorn and soda pop at the movies.
Going back to the normal diet, different people consume different foods in conjunction with other types of foods. At a movie theater, one may get a large soda pop with popcorn, another may decide on nachos and a water, yet another may get non-fat candy with soda pop. Moreover, a person drinking two, three, or four sugary beverages per day may or may not have a lot of body fat, depending on their primary consumption of fats. A link has been shown in obese people consuming a large amount of fat alone (more women than men in fact) in their normal diet, but no such definitive conclusions to large amounts of sugar intake. Sugar is processed very differently than fats, and serve different as functions in the body. Even more perplexing is the correlation between excess fat intake and the great amount of weight gain (overall) compared to excess carbohydrate intake and weight gain (which was considerably less) even though the calories remained the same in both groups. And, since many of the meals we eat contain high amounts of addictive fats, carbohydrates, and sugars (regardless of calories), many of us have become considerably bigger than our ancestors only four decades ago.
Speaking of which, for decades, farmers have used these techniques to raise their livestock. In farm animals, a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and protein by-products are added to their feed in order to fatten them up quickly. To speed up the process, injections of hormones increase their ability to gain more weight (often high fat to muscle ratio). To keep them fat, farmers keep their livestock from moving around which promotes high amounts of adipose storage and loose muscle fibers. Many culinary chefs prefer this marbling of meats over range-free (grass fed only meats) because of the product's tenderness. When livestock are unable to exercise, the metabolism becomes ineffective and the oxidation of fats (fat burning) is halted. This combined with the surplus of hormones (the argument to whether the hormones we consume via this meat is healthy or not remains unresolved), the sedentary animal is forced to become obese very quickly. Most animals raised for slaughter are fattened up for market in less than a year. Cattle, swine, and poultry all are rotated quickly (yes even the sick and lame are slaughtered for consumption) to ensure the largest profit margin possible. Fish, lamb, and the 'other' farm meats are often less industrialized, however can still exhibit signs of synthetic fattening.
Wrapping this all up can be tricky and I will try to make things simple to understand. There is a lot of research I did not include for time's sake, but here is the jist of things: A)'losing weight' in and of itself is not as important as burning fat; B) decreasing caloric intake is not as important as reducing fat intake; C) avoiding meals with sugar and fat together is more effective than avoiding high-caloric foods; D) exercise after a high-fat meal increases the body's ability to burn the fat instead of storing it. I always say, for best results, eat as naturally as possible. Organic, whole, and fresh foods will also help you to lose weight; not so much losing pounds or inches, but body fat, which is what you really want in the end anyways.
Brownell, K, & Fairburn, C. (1995) Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook. The Guilford Press, New York, New York.
Schlosser, E. (2002) Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York.