March 12, 2013

We often hear the terms “fatty foods” and “fattening” and these generally refer to deep fried fast foods and pizzas.

Actually these foods are high-calorie combinations of protein, carbohydrate and fats. They’re typically made worse by being deep-fried in oil. This post does not address oil quality.

So how could the foods in this picture be “fattening”?

Many people take a simplistic view that weight control (getting fat or losing fat) is all about ‘calories consumed versus calories burned,’ or stated another way ‘eating less and exercising more’.

Then, because fats are more calorie-dense (fat 9 cal/g, versus protein and carbohydrate at 4 cal/g) people naturally assume that avoiding or minimising fat intake, will keep calories down and weight down.

This all seems to be intuitive and make good sense. It’s also been reinforced with messages from health authorities and food manufacturers.

Now let’s explore the problem with this low-fat reasoning.

Some overweight people eat very little and exercise a lot. Some slim people eat a lot and don’t exercise at all.  We all have different genes and different gene expression under the same circumstances.  Our biochemistries are different in subtle but powerful ways. For instance, some people are lucky to be insulin-sensitive and some are insulin-insensitive.

The hormone insulin has many roles but its key role is fat storage. For those whose cells are insulin-insensitive, any diet that stimulates excess insulin will ensure their fat cells stay in fat-storage mode. The fat cells will want to be fed (possibly driving hunger and cravings) and they will resist releasing fat for fuel (pre-disposing the person to tiredness and lethargy).

And so, for some, the carbohydrate content of a reasonably healthy-looking low-fat lunch like the lunch in the picture may stimulate fat storage. Not even the 60-90 minutes of exercise 7 days a week, as recommended by the health department for weight control, is going to help that person slim down. For the fortunate, this lunch would be perfectly healthy and sustainable.

Now, I’m not an endocrinologist. They would be correct and quick to point out that there are other hormones at play as well (like leptin and grehlin) that can have different impacts on this equation for different people. But most will agree that insulin is the ‘master fat-control hormone’.

Is there a blood test that you can have your doctor organise, to tell if you are insulin-resistant? Sure, but there’s an easier and cheaper way to predict it. Just measure your waist. If you’re a woman and your waist is over 80 cm, it’s a possibility and if it’s over 88 cm, the chances are even higher, especially if you’re also carrying extra kilos.

You’re going to need an eating plan (use the word “diet” if you like or don’t use it if you don’t) that keeps your blood sugar on the low but steady side and especially one that keeps your insulin levels low and steady.

We’ve learnt that it simply doesn’t work to hand out one dietary prescription for everybody. Further, we actually don’t know what is the ideal eating plan for each individual. That’s why we have a systemised personalised process that leads to the ideal dietary plan for each person.

Not only is this the key to a ‘diet’ that works for each person, but more importantly one that makes them feel well and is sustainable.

If you’d like to learn more I recommend you contact the nearest Healthy Inspirations centre. If there’s not one near you, most centres offer remote online coaching.

Best wishes


PS: I make no apologies for using the term “calories” instead of the current measure “kilojoules”. I just want you to understand the key concepts.