If you are interested in weight loss and enjoy a game of True/False, this one is for you. Quick! Cover up the answers to the following questions below so you are not tempted to cheat.
1. True or False: In terms of weight loss, a calorie is a calorie; it does not matter what type of foods we eat as long as we consume fewer calories than we expend.
2. True or False: Sleep is high on the priority list when attempting to lose weight.
3. True or False: Fiber has only two benefits for weight loss: regularity, and it helps keep us full for longer, so we eat less.
4. True or False. Eating probiotics can help with weight loss.
1. True and False (Sorry – trick question.) First, it is true that we need to expend more calories than we consume to lose weight, i.e. we need to create a calorie deficit. However, this does not mean that we need to focus on or even count calories in order to lose weight. Arguably, the focus on cutting calories (and fat) over the last several decades to lose weight has not worked; obesity rates remain at historic highs. While drastically decreasing calories will lead to weight loss, it most likely will not last. The body will pump out intense hunger signals and metabolisms will slow in the body’s intense and desperate desire to not starve to death. The weight often will creep back.
The truth is that the quality of the foods we eat are just as, if not more, important than the quantity of foods we eat. For example, the percentage of carbohydrate, fat, and protein that we eat can affect weight loss. Many studies show that lower carbohydrate diets lead to greater weight loss than do lower fat diets. The benefits of lower carbohydrate diets seems to extend far beyond weight loss to include improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as blood sugar control. Food quality has an enormous impact on weight. For example, carbohydrates from whole plants such as butternut squash or beets is a healthy choice, while processed, energy-dense carbohydrates such as potato chips or candy bars will negatively affect weight, for many reasons.
2. True. Sleep is absolutely a top priority for weight loss. We need good quality, deep sleep, and we need an average of eight hours per night. Inadequate sleep quality or quantity leads to increased hunger signals (a hormone called ghrelin) and decreased leptin (a satiety hormone that signals we are full and ready to move. Increased hunger and appetite lead to increased food intake and altered food choices. We gravitate towards food even when our bodies do not actually need it. And we will make poor choices, such as nutrient-poor, energy-dense processed foods. For example: a piece of chocolate cake or a plate of French fries will seem much more appetizing than an apple or a bowl of steamed broccoli. At the same time, poor sleep makes us feel tired, so we avoid physical activity. All of this leads to a perfect storm of unhealthy choices, sabotaging any weight loss plan, not to mention health in general.
3. False. While these two statements are true, they are not the only benefits when it comes to weight loss. It is true that fiber helps maintain regularity by adding bulk to stool and also attracting water. And fiber does increase fullness, which increases satiety and decreases hunger. But fiber has another important function: it is essential for feeding our gut microbiota (the microbes residing in our digestive tracts). Studies show that microbiota differ between people who are a healthy weight and those who are overweight or obese. These microbes can have a strong effect on our metabolism: they can control how many calories we extract from our food, they can lead to food cravings, and they can affect how much energy is converted to fat stores, for example. Interestingly, mice studies have shown just how drastically microbes can alter weight: germ-free (sterile) mice injected with microbes from obese mice led to an increase in body fat and insulin resistance in the previously healthy mice.
The best way to increase fiber is by eating whole plant foods such as vegetables. At least half your plate at every meal should contain a rotating array and wide variety of colorful vegetables. While there are plenty of fiber supplements available in a bottle, it is best not to rely on these lab-created products because they lack all the other nutrients that plants contain: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. We evolved eating real food, not food-like substances.
4. True. It is true that the predominant microbiota in the obese differ from those who are lean: obesity is associated with a reduction in abundance of the bacterial phyla Bacteroidetes, and the obese microbiota has lower bacterial diversity than lean microbiota. This lower genetic diversity is associated with more body fat, negative effects on cholesterol, more inflammation, and altered blood sugar levels. Studies in mice have shown that supplementation with a lactobacillus probiotic while on a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet lessened, at least partially, the weight gained on the diet. Another mouse study revealed that mice fed a probiotic on a high fat diet gained less weight than those not given the probiotic. Similar results have been seen with bifidobacterium supplements. While the sample sizes and number of human studies are fewer and of shorter duration, results are very promising regarding reduced fat tissue and weight. One 12-week study on Japanese men revealed significant reductions in visceral (abdominal) fat after consuming 200 grams of a fermented milk drink containing Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055. In short, the benefits of consuming both probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods shows great promise in decreasing body weight. Great sources of probiotics aside from supplements include any fermented vegetable, including sauerkraut and kimchi, yoghurt, as well as fermented beverages like kefir, water kefir, and dairy-free kefirs.
If you are interested in learning more, come to Recharge for the New Year: Intro to a No-Diet Approach to Weight Loss to hear a handful of helpful tips, including how to curb sugar cravings. At the Waldo County YMCA, Sunday, January 21, 2-3 p.m.
The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.