What started out as a quick Facebook post about a NYT’s oped, which offered an interesting theory on why we overeat, turned into a long-winded comment. So, I figured I’d expand on it a little here. The authors David Ludwig, Director, New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Mark Friedman, Vice President of Research, Nutrition Science Initiative, hypothesize that by consuming all of those concentrated sugars and carbs that easily turn into sugar we are overloading our digestive system, which in turn leaks out the sugar we need into our body, triggering our brain to request more of the stuff, because its not getting to the places it needs it. It’s kind of a complicated theory, but it seems to makes sense. All that said, I doubt their recommendation to cut back on refined grains, concentrated sugar and potato products is the magic answer to our obesity epidemic. We’re hungry for many other reasons, and we need a realistic way to cut back on our sugar-centric diets.
Yes, cutting most carbs out your diet is a good way to shed a few pounds. The weight loss diet that helped me lose 200 lbs. not only cut out carbs and added sugars it eliminated almost all fat as well. Our bodies like to burn sugar before burning fat and protein. I like to think of foods that easily convert into sugar quickly like bread, cereals, or pasta as instant fuel. If I’m planning on working out or just starting the day eating carbs is a good thing. When I am paying attention to my diet (Yes, I fall off the wagon often.), I cut back on all sugary foods like sweets and even juices and do my best to eat very little carbs at night. I stick to veggies, some fruits, and high protein foods and skip the breads or pastas. Since I rarely exercise after dinner I always fear much of the carbs or “instant fuel” I eat are more likely to get stored as fat. This has long been a game that I play with myself in an attempt to control my weight. But that’s just it. It’s a game or trick. Is it really the answer? It is always a good idea to be cognizant of the foods you are eating and knowing which contain more sugar or can turn into sugar quickly. However, I believe in moderation. Cutting carbs completely out of your diet forever is not realistic, especially for people living in communities where processed foods are the most accessible and often most affordable choices.
There really is no magic pill or perfect weight loss diet. At the end of the day it is still calories in, calories out. It’s basic thermodynamics. There’s no getting around the laws of nature. All of these diet tricks or fads are not tricking your body, they are tricking your mind by altering your eating and exercise behaviors.
The most critical lesson I learned about maintaining or losing weight is being aware of what I’m eating at every moment. Mindless eating is a huge problem. Realizing that my desire or compulsion to eat was rarely connected to true hunger was a watershed moment for me. It allowed me to ask myself whether a craving to eat was based on habit, boredom, sadness, happiness etc. If am aware of why I want to eat something and it is based on something other than true hunger I purposefully distract myself by doing something as simple as walking outside or calling a friend. 9 times out of 10, by the time I get back I’m not hungry. Another trick I use to slow down while I’m eating is to tighten my belt one notch. It’s amazing how quickly you feel full when you do this. Drinking a large glass of water before a meal is a good way to help you feel fuller faster. Steering clear of processed foods and sticking to only whole foods will help you feel fuller faster too.
We can’t get mad at ourselves and listen to people who believe we don’t have willpower for feeling hungry all the time. I believe it’s just human (animal) nature, and if Ludwig and Friedman’s theory is correct, a biological reaction to an overabundance of sugar in our modern diet. When there is edible tasty food in front of us, our instincts are to eat it. Additionally, you can’t ignore the strong “nurture” influence on our desires to eat. Culturally we are conditioned to associate food (often calorie-rich) with happiness, pleasure, and comfort. Once high-calorie food became plentiful and companies figured out how to manipulate our eating instincts and behaviors into consuming the cheap processed foods that are most profitable to them, it’s no wonder many of us are obese.
In the end, the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories. I believe the best way to maintain a healthy weight and not restrict yourself from eating specific foods is to eat moderately and be active. That’s not to place blame on anyone who is overweight – I still am – or to say it’s ok to get most of your calories from sugar. I try to stay away from sugary foods because they do act as “hunger” triggers for me, making it more difficult to eat moderately. It’s all so complicated, and like I said, there is no one magic answer. My weight is always going to fluctuate, but I do feel comforted in knowing that I have broken the behavior code and learned how to overcome my caveman and conditioned urges and at least won’t eat myself into oblivion.