95% of Dieters Fail in 2016. Time for a new approach?

Can everyone just be honest for a few minutes? Does anyone think it is reasonable that 195 million people failed diets in the United States last year? Out of 205 million tries?? That’s a 95% failure rate. Ninety. Five. Percent.

The first point we should take home from this is that – if you are among the chronic diet failers – you are not alone. In fact, it is WAY more common to fail diets than succeed.

The second point is – it is not your fault. Clearly it is not your personal shortcoming when 95% of folks that try the same thing fail as well. You are not alone, and it is not your fault.

The third point – which may be the most important – is that the lean folks do not feel what you feel on the same program of diet and exercise. Your hunger hormone system ramps up and fights you every step of the way. Every day that goes by on a diet, this system tightens its grip on you – almost like being under water. The longer you stay under water without air, the more alarmed your body becomes until you burst to the surface and gasp for air. The longer you restrict your calories (with or without new exercise) the more alarmed your body becomes until you burst into a McDonald’s for relief.

Explaining the feeling of being trapped under water to someone who has never felt that response on a diet is impossible. As a result, no one believes you – and those on the lean side conclude that those who cannot lose weight on a diet must lack willpower (even though they themselves have never actually done it!) and a huge expanse is created between lean and overweight patients.

So, are we doomed to fail forever? Thankfully, no. Science has defined this point of failure during the last ten years. Maneuvers to work around it are finally here, and overweight folks are finding their way to the other side. It is a beautiful thing to watch people, after years and years of failed attempts – finally dodge the bullet and succeed.

It can only be done by dropping the 100-year-old negative calorie balance mentality, and shifting our focus to managing that response which has stopped so many people until know. We can accomplish our weight loss goals, but we must take a different road – and address what has blocked so many of us so far.

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Maybe you just don’t have the Willpower Gene?

Willpower?

At any given time in America, there are more than 200 million people on a diet. Each one of these people averages 4-5 formal attempts to lose weight each year, and more than 95% of them fail. (1-4) The explanations for this phenomenon? Laziness. Weakness. Lack of Willpower.

 

Science has shown us, though, that these perpetuated myths are not the cause of diet failures. Weight loss programs are abandoned in a predictable fashion because of known changes that occur in response to calorie restriction and new exercise, including hunger hormone reactions, basal metabolism alterations, and brain signaling modifications. (5-13)

 

So why does anyone think that “willpower” is the culprit? Because the lean folks do not feel what the overweight dieter feels when faced with the same stressors. As a result, a powerful misconception has been created and sustained over time: Overweight and obese individuals cannot change their positions in life because they are unable to endure exercise and calorie restriction due to the absence of willpower. Conversely, the lean population (including most authors of mainstream diet and exercise programs) have been blessed with strength, perseverance, and excellence – which is why they can follow these same schedules without quitting. False!

 

The physical cascade responsible for the exhaustion, discomfort, and hopelessness that overweight people feel during the early days of every new diet has been defined, and it has been clearly shown that the idea of making a change is a completely different project than maintaining one’s physique.

 

So no, your struggles with diet have absolutely nothing to do with “willpower,” or mental fortitude, or perseverance, or inner strength. It has to do with hormone changes, metabolism stubbornness, gut microbiota, and stress rebound – and it is all based in survival. No amount of willpower or mental fortitude can overcome these systems, which is why the failure rate remains at 95%. Your struggle is real, and those with normal or near normal body composition don’t feel it, so they paste you with negative labels.

 

Don’t lose hope though, the obesity medicine research community has identified ways to mitigate the response you feel. We’ll get you there. And God loves you. So in the meantime please just smile, relax, and know that the help is on the way.

 

Happy New Year!

 

References

  1. Staff AN. 100 Million dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight Loss Industry by the Numbers ABC News2012 [Available from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197.
  2. Ard JD, Miller G, Kahan S. Nutrition Interventions for Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1341-56.
  3. Dulloo AG, Montani JP. Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to the metabolic syndrome: an overview. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. 2015;16 Suppl 1:1-6.
  4. Dulloo AG, Jacquet J, Montani JP, Schutz Y. How dieting makes the lean fatter: from a perspective of body composition autoregulation through adipostats and proteinstats awaiting discovery. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. 2015;16 Suppl 1:25-35.
  5. Weiss CR, Gunn AJ, Kim CY, Paxton BE, Kraitchman DL, Arepally A. Bariatric Embolization of the Gastric Arteries for the Treatment of Obesity. Journal of vascular and interventional radiology : JVIR. 2015.
  6. Karra E, Yousseif A, Batterham RL. Mechanisms facilitating weight loss and resolution of type 2 diabetes following bariatric surgery. Trends in endocrinology and metabolism: TEM. 2010;21(6):337-44.
  7. Chandarana K, Batterham RL. Shedding pounds after going under the knife: metabolic insights from cutting the gut. Nature medicine. 2012;18(5):668-9.
  8. Beckman LM, Beckman TR, Sibley SD, Thomas W, Ikramuddin S, Kellogg TA, et al. Changes in gastrointestinal hormones and leptin after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. JPEN Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition. 2011;35(2):169-80.
  9. Neff LM. Sleep Deprivation, Hunger and Satiety Hormones, and Obesity. Nutr Clin Care. 2005;8(1):2-5.
  10. Feinle-Bisset C. Modulation of hunger and satiety: hormones and diet. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2014;17(5):458-64.
  11. Yamamoto H, Kaida S, Yamaguchi T, Murata S, Tani M, Tani T. Potential mechanisms mediating improved glycemic control after bariatric/metabolic surgery. Surg Today. 2016;46(3):268-74.
  12. Galanakis CG, Daskalakis M, Manios A, Xyda A, Karantanas AH, Melissas J. Computed tomography-based assessment of abdominal adiposity changes and their impact on metabolic alterations following bariatric surgery. World J Surg. 2015;39(2):417-23.
  13. Ganguly S, Tan HC, Lee PC, Tham KW. Metabolic bariatric surgery and type 2 diabetes mellitus: an endocrinologist’s perspective. J Biomed Res. 2015;29(2):105-11.

 

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Magic Coins that Keep You on Your Diet

If I had a bucket of magic coins, and each time you felt liking quitting your diet all you had to do was reach in and grab one to get rid of those feelings, would you be interested? Couldn’t you then stay on your diet? Of course you good. Here is the good news, you can do it without the magic. The “coins” that keep you on your diet in real life are called recovery.

When you exercise, it’s like swallowing a stick of dynamite. Wastes build up, muscles are weakened, your nervous system is shocked, you get dehydrated, and stress hormones are produced. (1-8)  The traditional teaching then, is to push through this feeling and swallow some more dynamite on day 2. And 3, and 4, and so on (until you quit). In the 21st century though, science has shown us that this bullheaded approach is neither necessary nor effective.  The road to success is paved with changes harnessed through peaceful, individual recovery from exercise.

Golden background with natural bokeh defocused sparkling lights

These changes occur with a real time feedback loop that lets you know where you are, just like a bar in a video game that tells you how much life your character has left. That is, in many video games the main character runs around trying to beat levels but slowly runs out of energy, or ammo, or whatever. You have to find something to replenish them before you move on. If you just start the game and run your guy forward without paying attention to refuel options, you will pretty quickly die and go back to the beginning. Similarly, most folks mistakenly think that because you miss a workout, eat some cake, or feel like crap, that you should bail and start over some other time – when in fact you just need to find a mushroom or a magic coin to charge up.  These energy sources are available in life by delaying and modifying the next workout and supplementing your diet.  Likewise, if you ignore your recovery signals and hit the gym before these changes occur, you are sealing your own short term fate, and may end up worse off than when you started.

What is this timeline for recovery then? It varies. We know that muscles burn calories and synthesize protein for at least 48 hours after your workout, changes occur in your heart and blood vessels for 48-72 hours, stress hormones are up for 18-24 hours, and that inflammatory changes persist for 24-72 hours.  (6, 7, 9-12) All of these processes give you feelings of soreness, fatigue, motivational drops, or even depression. The key is to recognize this feedback, and time your workouts appropriately. Stop focusing on the undoable – and build a program around recovery.

 

 

 

References

  1. Morton JP, Kayani AC, McArdle A, Drust B. The exercise-induced stress response of skeletal muscle, with specific emphasis on humans. Sports medicine. 2009;39(8):643-62.
  2. Svendsen IS, Killer SC, Gleeson M. Influence of Hydration Status on Changes in Plasma Cortisol, Leukocytes, and Antigen-Stimulated Cytokine Production by Whole Blood Culture following Prolonged Exercise. ISRN nutrition. 2014;2014:561401.
  3. Coyle EF. Physical activity as a metabolic stressor. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2000;72(2 Suppl):512S-20S.
  4. Godin R, Ascah A, Daussin FN. Intensity-dependent activation of intracellular signalling pathways in skeletal muscle: role of fibre type recruitment during exercise. The Journal of physiology. 2010;588(Pt 21):4073-4.
  5. Xing JQ, Zhou Y, Fang W, Huang AQ, Li SB, Li SH, et al. The effect of pre-competition training on biochemical indices and immune function of volleyball players. International journal of clinical and experimental medicine. 2013;6(8):712-5.
  6. Margaritelis NV, Kyparos A, Paschalis V, Theodorou AA, Panayiotou G, Zafeiridis A, et al. Reductive stress after exercise: The issue of redox individuality. Redox biology. 2014;2:520-8.
  7. Astorino TA, Schubert MM. Individual responses to completion of short-term and chronic interval training: a retrospective study. PloS one. 2014;9(5):e97638.
  8. Nascimento Dda C, Durigan Rde C, Tibana RA, Durigan JL, Navalta JW, Prestes J. The response of matrix metalloproteinase-9 and -2 to exercise. Sports medicine. 2015;45(2):269-78.
  9. Phillips SM. A brief review of critical processes in exercise-induced muscular hypertrophy. Sports medicine. 2014;44 Suppl 1:S71-7.
  10. Drygas W, Rebowska E, Stepien E, Golanski J, Kwasniewska M. Biochemical and hematological changes following the 120-km open-water marathon swim. Journal of sports science & medicine. 2014;13(3):632-7.
  11. Buchheit M, Laursen PB. High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports medicine. 2013;43(5):313-38.
  12. Neubauer O, Konig D, Wagner KH. Recovery after an Ironman triathlon: sustained inflammatory responses and muscular stress. European journal of applied physiology. 2008;104(3):417-26.

 

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Dear Obese Woman, it is not your fault.

Middle class Caucasian housewife holding a help sign looking at the camera

How many years have we been listening to the diet gurus and fitness experts tell us, “you really gotta want it,” and “it’s all about willpower.” Too many.

Listen, each morning I wake up early before my cases begin, and I work on this blog. My friend Jon presses snooze 4-5 times every morning and can barely get to work within 30 minutes of his start time.  Jon and I are structured differently. I don’t feel like I can’t wake up. In fact, I wake up automatically before any alarm goes off because of the way I am built. I literally have no idea what Jon feels like in the morning because my brain and organs aren’t structured like his so I don’t feel what he feels. As a result, I may be tempted to say, “I wake up early because God has made me a supreme human being with will power, determination, and guts to succeed. I choose to work hard and resist the urge to sleep because I am strong.” Sure that would make me feel good, but really – I just wake up.

The same applies to all the smiley, beautiful, in-shape people that love to tell themselves (and everyone else who will listen) that they have been successful because they possess will power, endure pain, embody strength, focus, and so on. But the truth is that they don’t resist the urge to eat or be lazy any more than I resist the urge to sleep in. Honestly, are we to believe that these people who go to the gym 6 times/week, drink smoothies, tan, and carry those yoga mats everywhere are experiencing pain? They are not, because at some point in their lives they got over the hump, and now it’s fun.

The idea that an average Joe (or Jane) cannot follow “Ninja Abs in 90 Days,” and be successful, is not new. In fact, the cycle of ramping up for a new diet, buying books and DVDs and notebooks, starting said new diet, and failing shortly thereafter – only to restart this cycle a few weeks later – has been well described. (1-5) From a business standpoint there is no real motivation to interrupt this cycle because each time it starts over consumers are back online looking for new products. As a result, savvy companies rewrite the same undoable plans and “feed the machine” that way in a predictable, forward fashion. As long as the market internalizes these failures (which, we are happy to do so often because of our low self-esteem), they will continue to consume the products and blame themselves for the lack of results. Can you imagine? It’s like selling a car that doesn’t run when you turn the key, but you’ve convinced the buyer that it’s because they lack sufficient willpower and worth to turn the key correctly.

Just as in reality there is a nuts and bolts explanation for why the key in our example above does not turn, so is there a real explanation for why obese patients are unable to turn the corner so far toward healthy living. Signals sent out by the brain to regular people when they stop eating are harsh, powerful, irresistible messages to stop the madness. (6-11) Traditional diet changes and calorie cuts send an alarming message to the brain: we’re starving! The brain then, following thousands of years of evolutionary learning, rains hell down on us until we stop it (this is the source of all the misery felt on day 7 or 8 or 9 of your new diet).

These signals are real, survival based, and impossible to overcome.[1] When I say there are connections between the body and the brain that won’t allow us to restrict our calories – I mean there are known molecules that have been well described which are accountable for people quitting their diets. (11-14) They have names. Leptin, ghrelin, GLP-1, PYY, and CCK, amongst others. (8, 11, 15, 16)

So the age of “no pain, no gain” has come to a close, and it is clear that the feelings of horrible hunger pangs, desperation, anxiety, and depression are unique to those trying to make a change (vs. those who are already lean). It is further clear that these feelings are mediated by a defined set of hunger hormones that can be changed through surgery, some medicines, or through behaviorally induced retrograde neuroplasticity – changing the brain from the outside in.

 

[1] To be fair, you probably know someone who white knuckled it through a diet and lost weight. We are talking about the majority of people here, though – not the outliers.

 

 

 

 

References

 

 

  1. Staff AN. 100 Million dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight Loss Industry by the Numbers ABC News2012. Available from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197.
  2. Tsai AG, Wadden TA. Systematic review: an evaluation of major commercial weight loss programs in the United States. Annals of internal medicine. 2005;142(1):56-66. PubMed PMID: 15630109.
  3. Gudzune KA, Doshi RS, Mehta AK, Chaudhry ZW, Jacobs DK, Vakil RM, et al. Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: an updated systematic review. Annals of internal medicine. 2015;162(7):501-12. doi: 10.7326/M14-2238. PubMed PMID: 25844997; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4446719.
  4. Walter R. Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2016. American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal. 2015;19(6):9-18.
  5. Greene GW, Rossi SR, Rossi JS, Velicer WF, Fava JL, Prochaska JO. Dietary applications of the stages of change model. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1999;99(6):673-8. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00164-9. PubMed PMID: 10361528.
  6. Berthoud HR. Homeostatic and non-homeostatic pathways involved in the control of food intake and energy balance. Obesity. 2006;14 Suppl 5:197S-200S. doi: 10.1038/oby.2006.308. PubMed PMID: 17021366.
  7. Berthoud HR. Neural control of appetite: cross-talk between homeostatic and non-homeostatic systems. Appetite. 2004;43(3):315-7. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2004.04.009. PubMed PMID: 15527935.
  8. Chandarana K, Batterham RL. Shedding pounds after going under the knife: metabolic insights from cutting the gut. Nature medicine. 2012;18(5):668-9. doi: 10.1038/nm.2748. PubMed PMID: 22561824.
  9. Howe SM, Hand TM, Manore MM. Exercise-trained men and women: role of exercise and diet on appetite and energy intake. Nutrients. 2014;6(11):4935-60. doi: 10.3390/nu6114935. PubMed PMID: 25389897; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4245573.
  10. Gardiner JV, Jayasena CN, Bloom SR. Gut hormones: a weight off your mind. Journal of neuroendocrinology. 2008;20(6):834-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01729.x. PubMed PMID: 18601707.
  11. Weiss CR, Gunn AJ, Kim CY, Paxton BE, Kraitchman DL, Arepally A. Bariatric Embolization of the Gastric Arteries for the Treatment of Obesity. Journal of vascular and interventional radiology : JVIR. 2015. doi: 10.1016/j.jvir.2015.01.017. PubMed PMID: 25777177.
  12. Minett GM, Duffield R. Is recovery driven by central or peripheral factors? A role for the brain in recovery following intermittent-sprint exercise. Frontiers in physiology. 2014;5:24. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00024. PubMed PMID: 24550837; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3909945.
  13. Peinado AB, Rojo JJ, Calderon FJ, Maffulli N. Responses to increasing exercise upon reaching the anaerobic threshold, and their control by the central nervous system. BMC sports science, medicine and rehabilitation. 2014;6:17. doi: 10.1186/2052-1847-6-17. PubMed PMID: 24818009; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4016642.
  14. Kjaer M, Secher NH. Neural influence on cardiovascular and endocrine responses to static exercise in humans. Sports medicine. 1992;13(5):303-19. PubMed PMID: 1565926.
  15. Karra E, Yousseif A, Batterham RL. Mechanisms facilitating weight loss and resolution of type 2 diabetes following bariatric surgery. Trends in endocrinology and metabolism: TEM. 2010;21(6):337-44. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2010.01.006. PubMed PMID: 20133150.
  16. Beckman LM, Beckman TR, Sibley SD, Thomas W, Ikramuddin S, Kellogg TA, et al. Changes in gastrointestinal hormones and leptin after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. JPEN Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition. 2011;35(2):169-80. doi: 10.1177/0148607110381403. PubMed PMID: 21378246; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4284080.

 

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Mainstream Diets Often Similiar to Quitting Heroin

 

The sentinel change we seek to actually succeed and lose weight is a change to our body’s response to diet and exercise. To make a few comparisons, consider 1) the withdrawal of a heroin addict or 2) the power of the human sex drive. Both occur because of brain signaling disruption just like the one we feel when we start the diet and exercise duo of doom.

Heroin addicts cannot just quit heroin on Monday. Again, it’s not because they lack discipline or will power, it’s because their brains have restructured themselves to require the heroin molecule. This restructuring is a real thing, a real change in molecules in the brain that can be documented.  The syndrome that heroin addicts go through when withdrawing from the drug is predictable and reproducible, and it happens every time until the body restructures its molecules to survive on less (or no) heroin. Same with food.

 

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Likewise, imagine what would happen if I instituted a program to control the population, and the rules were that no one from 20-40 years old could have sex ever – starting Monday. What do you think the success rate would be? Do you think many humans could just shut that drive off, and forget about it? Could be happy and enjoy life the same way those do that have voluntarily shut it off? Like nuns or monks? Of course not.

These urges are biological and can only be contained for limited periods of time, against the current. The same is true with calorie restriction. No matter how many books come out about this diet and that diet, humans can’t just shut off the food consumption urge that is wired in for our survival and expect to be successful. However, just like the nuns or monks (or whomever) that have voluntarily deferred sexual relations, or recovered heroin addicts, the brain can be adapted to diminish those signals. Importantly, life without sex or without 4000 calories/day, in those that are successful, is not a struggle. On the other side of the catching point people no longer receive those signals, and as a result don’t feel that same urge to consume or reproduce – to survive – as the general population does on day 1 of a diet. So for them, it is easy!

This is how the beautiful people feel, which is why they are smiling all the time. Also this is why they have no idea how anyone could struggle with their programs because they don’t experience these same feelings. As a result, they conclude that we must be “weak, “or “lack will power,” and so on. But these negative labels are without meaning because we face a different challenge with which they are not familiar. Of course we don’t know how any of these folks would fare if they faced the same powerful signals to quit, but we aren’t looking to prove that they would struggle. We are looking to reverse and extinguish our own signals – and join them.

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Dynamic fitness scheduling opens new doors for chronic “diet quitters.” – J. David Prologo, MD

Consider Jane. Jane was my coworker for many years. Jane is a bit overweight and sedentary. She has never really exercised for any significant length of time in her life, which is to say that she has limited knowledge of exercise physiology.  I’ve watched her over the years come in on Monday after Monday declaring that, “this is day 1 of my diet!” I’d watch her unpack a salad with no dressing as a snack and describe her exercise program to the girls in the break room who listened intently. She’d say how she wasn’t going to eat after 6pm, how she planned to walk around the hospital with her pedometer at lunch, how her family would be “on their own,” with regard to dinner during her diet, how her aunt’s friend lost 80 lbs on this diet, and on and on.

One Monday it was someone’s birthday and a cookie basket was delivered in their honor. Jane was stricken. The girls were giggling and eating cookies and celebrating a birthday together in the afternoon and Jane looked like her dog had just died. I asked, “Why don’t you have one? It’s a special day” She didn’t want to have one, because it meant the end of her program. If she ate that cookie, and joined in that party, she would officially be “off her diet.” It meant giving up. It meant failure. It meant restarting.

Jane’s focus was restriction. She believed that the she could change her body by reducing calorie counts. I am here to announce to all of the Janes (and Dicks) in the world, that that way of thinking is absolutely, categorically, and unquestionably, FALSE. You have not reached the end of diet programs because that is not the way. I submit to every trainer, every nutritionist, every fitness expert in the world, that the changes people are looking for can only occur during rest, and that a different way of thinking (a way that allows for that variable intensity and an occasional cookie) is warranted to finally overcome this widespread history of repeated failures.

Three overreaching themes will prevail in any new way that leads to success: No dietary restrictions, no going backwards, and no perfection goals. Long term transformation hinges on dynamic scheduling, and piecemeal progress, not perfection.

 

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Hunger Hormone Management

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How many people do you know that have really lost weight? I know of a few: mostly people who have just gotten divorced or dumped, or some of those people on The Biggest Loser. But everyday people like us? Not many.

You already know this. You’ve known for years that you can’t lose weight or follow mainstream diet and exercise programs. It’s your thyroid, right? Or genetics. Stress? The devil?

It’s probably none of those things, but medical science has recently shown us (thanks to the gastric bypass era) that hunger hormones increase during the first few weeks of traditional diet and exercise programs. The old-fashioned combination of abrupt food restriction and exercise assault on the body flips us into survival mode and results in hellfire signals from our brain to quit it all.

No one ever failed a fitness schedule or diet because they ran out of workout options or low calorie recipes. People succumb to the body’s strategic, orchestrated response to what the brain thinks is a life threatening external stressor. Hormones called ghrelin, leptin, GLP-1, and others break your spirit during that first week or two – usually while you’re shopping for rice cakes on the way to fitness boot camp.

Expert trainers and fitness gurus also know this. They drone on about “no pain, no gain” and their superhero powers of discipline, dedication, and endurance. They profess how they overcome obstacles that crush the weak and are rewarded with beauty, slim bodies, and nice teeth. Really? Do those yoga pants women you see walking and laughing all the time look like they are in pain? Of course not. At some point they got over the hump, and now it’s fun.

Here is the good news. There is a point beyond which the brain gets on board, and stops sending out hormone mediated signals to eat everything in sight and quit exercising 3 days into a diet (these are the smiley, beautiful people that make you want to scream). What’s more, the concept of neuroplasticity allows us to navigate around that barrier that has been stopping us from really losing weight or getting in shape all these years – and join the folks on the other side.

So yes, it is possible to really lose weight. But not by trying to bull rush through with our heads down. You can overcome this motivation sap one of three ways: 1) gastric bypass surgery, 2) bariatric artery embolization, 3) or intentional transformation.

 

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References
1. Chandarana, K. and R.L. Batterham, Shedding pounds after going under the knife: metabolic insights from cutting the gut. Nat Med, 2012. 18(5): p. 668-9.
2. Weiss, C.R., et al., Bariatric Embolization of the Gastric Arteries for the Treatment of Obesity. J Vasc Interv Radiol, 2015.
3. de Araujo, I.E., et al., The gut-brain dopamine axis: a regulatory system for caloric intake. Physiol Behav, 2012. 106(3): p. 394-9.
4. Aristizabal, J.C., et al., Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2015. 69(7): p. 831-6.
5. Barrett, L.F. and W.K. Simmons, Interoceptive predictions in the brain. Nat Rev Neurosci, 2015. 16(7): p. 419-29.

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“Just burn more calories than you take in, right?” Not quite. . .

For years I have been a fan of the Cleveland based talk-radio show called Rover’s Morning Glory. The host, Rover, and I share many of the same opinions (which, I am sure, is why I like the show so much), from politics to relationships to work. However – I’ve argued with the radio on more than one occasion as he launches into his “A calorie is just a calorie’ speech. So I’ve decided to use this opportunity to finally set him straight. A Calorie is NOT a Calorie, and here’s why, Rover.

 
First, the response to the lost calorie.

A calorie foregone by Joe Fitness is not the same as a calorie foregone by Obese Andy – and this is why sedentary (out of shape) people cannot successfully follow the diet schedules of the beautiful people. I’m not saying the people are different (which of course they are), I am saying the calorie is different.

When Joe cuts 100 calories his body responds by efficiently burning fuel and reorganizing fat stores, so his abs get more chiseled. When Andy does the same, his body reacts by storing more fat and signaling him to eat. Why? Because Joe’s brain has lived under these conditions for a long time – conditions that aren’t a change from his baseline life so his body “is used to it” and doesn’t panic. Andy’s brain, on the other hand – interprets the calorie cut as a major, life threatening change to be dealt with by storing fat for survival and finding food.

But it’s worse than that. Joe’s body will further react by burning the food he does eat efficiently, while Andy’s body will slow down its metabolism. Andy’s brain will convert his body to a slower burning factory in an effort to conserve energy for survival – the sum result being 1) more fat stored, 2) more hunger hormone signals to eat, and 3) slower metabolism, at the end of which Andy end’s up eating cheeseburgers anyway!
This triple threat is why it is impossible for seriously overweight people to drop their calorie intake enough to lose weight. And what’s more, these foregone calories from diets serve to end people’s efforts toward losing weight, such that in the long run 100 calories missed by Andy means the end of a healthy program and/or lifestyle – sadness, sickness, and maybe even death.

 
Second, the effort to burn a calorie.

Overweight individuals cannot burn calories like in-shape people. Joe Fitness has 100 times the capacity to burn calories than the average person – which makes it different. A burned calorie to Joe is not the same as a burned calorie for Andy when trying to lose weight.

Calories are little amounts of energy. Energy we either use to live, or store as fat if we take in more than we need. A calorie burned by an “in-shape” person is worth more energy in the universe than a calorie foregone by an obese person – because the “in-shape” people can do more with less. Their bodies are much more efficient. As a result, sedentary, overweight person needs to abstain from many, many more calories than Joe Fitness to lose the same amount of weight, and this difference is even more pronounced the more obese the person.

 
Third, the value of a recovery calorie.

One hundred protein calories taken in by Joe Fitness equals maintenance. One hundred intentional, carefully selected protein/anti-oxidant/glycogen forming calories taken in by Andy after exercise equals transformation. On day one, Andy can burn 50 calories – maybe. But eat the right foods after exercise, and avoid the trap of food restriction, and he will transform over time to a calorie burning machine with efficient metabolism.

I’m sure you would agree that one dollar invested in Yahoo during the 1980’s isn’t the same as one dollar put in a shoebox during the same time. The first dollar is intentional and directed; the second useless and fairly random. In the same way, a calorie is not a calorie because complex human weight loss cannot be distilled to a mathematical equation translated as, “just burn more than you take in.”

Transformation is possible through hunger hormone management, intentional exercise, and selected foods. Gastric bypass surgery has taught us new things about the body’s response to diet and exercise, things we now know can be used to change the way we lose weight through fitness.

 

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Start a new diet – fail. Start a new diet – fail. Two new rules for getting over the hump next time.

 

No one who succeeds with any diet and exercise program does so through will power, discipline, and plain old fashioned grit. That just isn’t reality. People succeed because it’s easy for them. Their bodies are structured to succeed, to easily proceed with diet and exercise programs. They succeed because they start at a catching point, instead of in no man’s land, where most of you live (no offense). All you have to do to reverse your trend with diet and exercise, is get to the catching point first.

Listen, each morning I wake up early before my cases begin, and I work on this blog. My friend Jon presses snooze 4-5 times every morning and can barely get to work within 30 minutes of his start time. Jon and I are structured differently. I don’t feel like I can’t wake up. In fact, I wake up automatically before any alarm goes off because of the way I am built. I literally have no idea what Jon feels like in the morning because my brain and organs aren’t structured like his so I don’t feel what he feels. As a result, I may be tempted to say, “I wake up early because God has made me a supreme human being with will power, determination, and guts to succeed. I choose to work hard and resist the urge to sleep because I am strong.” Sure that would make me feel good, but really – I just wake up.

So the same applies to dieting and fitness. I know the smiley in shape people love to tell themselves (and everyone else who will listen) that they have been successful because they possess will power, strength, focus, and so on and on, but the truth is that they don’t resist the urge to eat or be lazy any more than I resist the urge to sleep in. Honestly, are we to believe that these people who go to the gym 6 times/week, drink smoothies, tan, surf, and smile feel miserable? They do not, because at some point in their lives they got over the hump, and now it’s fun. The point of The Catching Point Transformation program, actually, is to show you how to adjust your body so that diet and exercise will be as effortless for you as waking up early is for me. Here are a two tips to help you get to that trans-formative point.

 

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Don’t start over

Imagine that you are a collector of rare coins, and you hope to one day have a collection of all of a certain series of coins. They are hard to come by so you can’t just walk into a store and buy the whole set. What you would do, then, is always keep the idea of your collection in the back of your mind – and collect coins “in chunks” as the opportunities presented themselves. For example, if you had a vacation you might take a day to travel to a certain location that is known to have coins of your type and buy a few. Conversely, if you had two busy days at work you wouldn’t worry about the coins. BUT, you would keep the coins you have collected in a safe place, and continue to add to them. You would not say, “Well, I had two busy days at work and I couldn’t add to my coin collection, so I’m going to throw all my coins out and start over.” You would add to your collection in chunks, as your life allowed. Same thing here.

Invoke the “do nothing” clause

People who succeed at anything take a few lumps, have a few down days, take a few days off, and then they keep going. To be clear, though – I’m not saying push through it. I’m saying come back where you left off. This is where the “do nothing” clause comes in to play. Each time you start to feel that darkness creep in, vow to do nothing for 24 hours. Don’t make any decisions one way or the other, don’t workout, don’t recover, and don’t even think about your fitness program. Just literally stop in your tracks and do nothing. After 24 hours return to the program and decide what you want to do.
Remember, we are all human beings with the same anatomy and physiology. We are all capable of accomplishing our fitness goals. As has been so famously said, “Pursue progress, not perfection.”

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