Caught in the "Fat Trap"

By Lea Wetzell, MS, CNS, LN
May 8, 2017

article_weight-metabolism_fattrap.jpgCalorie counting; adding up points; weighing, measuring and journaling every ounce of food; countless hours at the gym; stepping on the scale day in and day out; and still fat? Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. As a nation we have become obsessed with dieting and exercise, but all of these efforts have not put the slightest dent in our obesity epidemic. Currently in the U.S., over a third of the population is considered obese and two thirds overweight. Why are we caught in this fat trap? Maybe losing weight is more complex than just counting "calories in" and exercising "calories out."

What we've learned so far from research

A highly publicized study conducted by the University of Melbourne and published in The New England Journal of Medicine tracked 50 obese men and women on an extremely low-calorie diet (500-550 calories a day) for 10 weeks. The average weight loss for participants was 30 pounds. After the 10 weeks, the remaining 34 patients (16 had dropped out) were encouraged to maintain their weight loss for one year with the help of nutrition counselors, regular exercise and encouragement to follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet. The remaining participants struggled to follow the plan and all of them regained weight. They also reported feeling a lot hungrier and having stronger cravings for food than before the weight loss.

What was going on biochemically?

That feeling of hunger and cravings that the study participants felt after ending their low-calorie, low-fat diet was the result of their bodies' altered biological state relating to the sense of starvation. The researchers discovered the study participant's bodies were reacting as if they were starving, even a year after the extreme low-calorie diet was concluded. What the experts found was the participant's "hunger" hormone (ghrelin) was significantly higher, and the "hunger suppressing" hormone (peptide YY) was much lower in most participants after the year-long study.

To me, and my colleagues at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, this makes perfect sense! This is the result of the low-calorie, low-fat dieting. Healthy fat in your diet is what suppresses the hormone ghrelin and activates the hormone peptide YY. In other words, eating healthy fat makes you feel full and satisfied! This is a biochemical fact. The human body is meant to eat healthy fat and here is the kicker...healthy dietary fat (like avocados, butter, olive oil, and coconut oil) does not make body fat! Sugar and processed carbohydrates (like breads, pasta, cookies and crackers) are what cause excess fat on the body. The belief that healthy fats make body fat is one of the biggest myths about food.

Upcoming Research

Researchers are starting to look at the biological difference and sustainability of crash diets versus losing weight slowly. Many researchers believe that similar weight loss results can be achieved either way, but I bet they will be pleasantly surprised to learn that slow weight loss is not only healthier, but long-lasting. As we teach in our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss program, the slow and steady pace wins the weight loss race.

Free yourself from the fat trap

Eating a balanced diet of healthy fats, quality animal protein and low glycemic carbohydrates (like vegetables) is the permanent solution to losing weight. Eating this way revs up your metabolism and keeps you feeling full and satisfied. Balanced eating also makes your cravings disappear (you will forget about the cakes, cookies, crackers and pasta that contribute to weight gain).

Keep in mind that balanced eating is not the fast track to weight loss like crash dieting. Most people following a balanced meal plan lose about a half a pound to one pound a week, but the long-term payoff is worth the effort—permanent weight loss! Think about this: if you were to lose half a pound per week for the next year, that would equal 26 pounds! Let's say you keep eating a balanced diet and a keep losing a half pound each week for two years. That would add up to 52 pounds! Not only will you lose the weight, but you'll feel good and look great throughout the process.

For more information on this topic, listen to Dishing Up Nutrition with special guest Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat and What to do About it and Good Calories, Bad Calories.

About the author

Lea has her own life-changing nutrition story—a story that ignited her passion for nutrition. Her journey to health and wellness started in 2003 when she lost 50 pounds and healed her chronic asthma with real food and exercise. She received her M.S. in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and is a licensed nutritionist through the Minnesota Board of Dietetics and Nutrition. She is also nationally recognized as a certified nutrition specialist through the American College of Nutrition, an association composed of medical and research scientists to further nutrition research.

View all posts by Lea Wetzell, MS, CNS, LN

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