While my books and lectures often focus on weight loss, I never tell my patients to lose weight. I simply help them restore health, and the magic of biology does the rest. Your goal might be to lose weight; my goal is to get you healthy. Either way, we both win.
The key becomes focusing on your food quality, not your calories. That well-worn notion—that as long as you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight— is simply dead wrong. It is antiquated and while some experts still espouse this viewpoint, it does not work.
Newton’s first law of thermodynamics states that the energy of an isolated system is constant. In other words, in a laboratory, or “isolated system,” 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of soda are, in fact, the same.
Here’s the thing. It’s true that when burned in a laboratory setting, 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of soda would indeed release the same amount of energy. But sorry, Mr. Newton; your law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply in living, breathing, digesting systems.
When you eat food, the “isolated system” part of the equation goes out the window. The food interacts with your biology, a complex adaptive system that instantly transforms every bite.
I’ve illustrated how this works elsewhere, following the same number of calories in soda versus broccoli once they enter your body. The next time you hear someone say “a calorie is a calorie,” please refer him or her to this article.
Most of us have learned that if we just cut our intake by 100 calories a day, or increase our exercise a little bit over the long haul, we will lose weight. We’re continually told that it’s all about the calories in, calories out. But as you learned in the broccoli versus soda comparison, biology and metabolism are far more complex than that.
Just going with the math, if you burned an extra 100 calories a day (walking one mile) or consumed 100 calories less per day over 35 days, you would lose a pound. (Remember, 3,500 calories equals one pound.) In theory, over five years you would lose 50 pounds.
Yet studies show that in reality you’re more likely to lose only 10 (not 50) pounds in five years. Why? Because of changes in your metabolism and caloric needs that occur as you lose weight.
You’ll need to consume even fewer calories, or burn even more of them, just to keep losing at the same rate. For most people, this pace of progress is totally demotivating, which is why they generally abandon their small-scale diet and exercise attempts early on.
10 Strategies to Lose Weight Without Reducing Calories
Instead of focusing on helping you lose weight, I prefer to simply provide some effective strategies that help you choose the right foods while eliminating the wrong ones. This has nothing to do with calories, counting, measuring, “points,” or otherwise scrutinizing what you eat.
Becoming a qualitarian might be the most important thing you do to reduce your risk for diabesity and lose weight. When you focus on the right foods, you automatically eliminate excess calories in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other added sugars, trans fat, and other undesirable ingredients.
Simply eat the right foods in the right quantities, and for almost everyone, weight loss will take care of itself. And, you will automatically eat a low-glycemic load diet.
Rather than focus on what you can’t have, I want you to focus on these 10 things to lose weight.
- Avoid sugar in all its many forms. Carbohydrates, especially those with a high glycemic load, turn to sugar very quickly. When you eat sugar, you unconsciously trigger a vicious cycle of sugar cravings, increased insulin production, increased appetite, more sugar intake, and more insulin production, until you are in a cycle of cravings, bingeing and crashing all day long. Eventually this leads to insulin resistance, which is a major contributor to weight gain and rapid aging.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber is the secret key to a low glycemic load. It’s like a sponge that soaks up sugar, thus making it burn more slowly in your digestive system. Eating fiber is advantageous for a lot of reasons. The higher the fiber content of a single food or a meal in total, the harder and longer your body has to work to digest it. You burn more calories, stay full longer and reduce your appetite.
- Choose real food. Avoid highly processed, factory-manufactured Frankenfoods. Choose fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and lean animal proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs.
- Eat breakfast. The easiest thing you can do to lose weight and increase longevity is to eat breakfast. Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy protein-containing breakfast helps people lose weight, reduce cravings, and burn calories. Good proteins are eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butters, or a protein shake.
- Slow down and be mindful. When we eat unconsciously, we eat more. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. The practice of slow, mindful eating is a powerful way to better enjoy your food, lose weight and improve your metabolism. Before meals, “Take Five”: Take five breaths in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Slowly count to five on each in-breath and again on each out-breath. Offer gratitude, and then bring your attention fully to the food.
- Sleep better. The research is clear: Lack of sleep or poor sleep damages your metabolism, causes cravings for sugar and carbs, makes you eat more, and drives up your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and early death. Getting enough sleep and sleeping well are essential for health and an easy way to maintain blood sugar balance and lose weight.
- Stay consistent. Eat early, starting with a big breakfast, and eat often. Keep the fire of your metabolism burning all day, rather than slowing it down during periods of “mini-starvation.” After breakfast, eat every three to four hours, and try to schedule meals at the same time every day. Your metabolism will work faster and more efficiently. You will lose weight, have more energy and feel better.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress makes your body pack on the pounds. If you want to lose weight, start by soothing your stressed-out body and mind. Find something that works for you and do it. That might be yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Find a calm, relaxing CD to help melt away stress, anxiety and tension.
- Drink up. Drink at least eight glasses of clean, pure water throughout the day to help with appetite control and flush out metabolic and environmental toxins through your kidneys. Try drinking two glasses of water before you eat; that alone has been proven to help you lose weight. In fact, researchers found that drinking water before meals increases weight loss by about 44 percent.
- Exercise regularly. People who consistently exercise are able to lose weight better and even more importantly, maintain that weight loss. Even 30 minutes’ vigorous walking can help, and if you want something more intense, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or weight resistance. As always, remember to check with your physician before beginning a new or drastically changing your current fitness routine.
I hope you’re able to see why calories are far from the whole picture for weight loss, and how eating more of the right foods can stoke your metabolic fire so you stay lean and healthy.