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The Need for Food

Full course dinner

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One of the complaints I hear most from people who carry extra weight but who struggle to lose it is, “But I hardly eat anything. How come I never lose any weight?”.

These people skip breakfast – or just have coffee, will have a sandwich for lunch and steamed vegetables for dinner, or a bowl of breakfast cereal instead. They consume a tiny number of calories and yet still, no matter what they do, their bodies will shed no fat.

The answer is in the question. It’s also in our genes and there is nothing we can do to change it, because the cause is something that actually helps us to survive.

It’s all about the way the body reacts to hunger. In the dim and distant past, as stone humans were roaming the plains of Africa, they survived as hunter-gatherers. Hunting some food, collecting berries and fruits for other food. It was hard work, and sometimes there wasn’t enough food to go around. At other times, there was an outrageous abundance of food.

When there was plenty, humans would gorge themselves, growing fat. As the body registered that there was plenty of food available, the metabolism would speed up, providing them with plenty of energy – because there was plenty to be had.

But when there was famine, when there was little or no food to be had, the metabolism shifted down to where it burnt as little energy as possible. In this way, it burned off the stored fats very slowly until there was another time of feast and to ensure you stayed alive long enough to get there.

Hunger and the metabolism are nothing more than a survival mechanism for the body during times of feast and famine.

Of course, we’re not living in caves any more, and food, for those of us in the West at least, doesn’t necessarily require us to kill anything. But that doesn’t mean we won’t go through the feast and famine process. The classic diet/binge cycle will reproduce those effects exactly. And the problem with that is that after enough time, the metabolism slows right down and stays there.

This is why deprivation diets are so bad for you.

Worse still, once your metabolism has slowed down to the point where you no longer burn stored fats – even if you have them – any bingeing you do is stored immediately as fat. It is not burned up.

It’s not all bad news, of course. There are ways to get your metabolism moving again – but it requires you to do two things.

  • The first is to eat small/normal sized meals at least 3-5 times a day, even if you don’t necessarily feel hungry. Believe it or not, you need to eat first so that the hunger centre in your brain can start functioning properly again.
  • Secondly, you need to move – and the most effective way to get your metabolism to shift up a gear is to do weight-bearing exercise rather than cardio. That means lifting a few weights for about 20 minutes, 3 times a week. You don’t need to lift heavy weights and you don’t need to join a gym. Weights increase muscle-mass in your body – and muscles require more energy for the body to maintain than fat. The result is that the metabolism is forced to work harder just to maintain the muscle you’re creating.

The worst thing you can do is to severely restrict your caloric intake, even if you want to lose weight. Your body needs food – and your metabolism needs to know that you’re not in the middle of a famine. The best way to do that is to eat regularly and increase your output of energy. The human body will adapt – that’s one of the things it’s best at.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Allegra says:

    What an excellent (and completely true) point you make!

    When I do remember to do this (ie: have one of those smaller regular meals BEFORE I shove something ‘bad’ into my mouth without even thinking about it … until afterwards, when I experience regreat and remorse) I really do notice that I simply do not have room for those things I need to steer away from (ie: fatty stuff, thanks to hereditary high cholesterol).

    Must re-implement this philosophy immediately, thanks for the reminder!

    btw – am still proud (and in awe) of you for listening to your body and saying no to that Sticky-Date Pudding the other evening!

    1. Mackenzie says:

      Ah, the sticky date pudding – I hope I can replicate that moment many times more. But I’m happy that I actually had a moment to copy.