Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki, MPH
Calorie consumption depends on age, gender, and lifestyle. Normally a sedentary adult female needs about 1500 calories while male needs 1700 calories a day with additional 500 to 1000 calories if they are very physically active.
Unfortunately, we are told that if we want to lose weight, we need to consume 300 to 500 less calories every day and exercise more. Some more radical low calorie diets encourage overweight and obese people to reduce their daily calories intake to only less than 500!
It is true that most people living in rich western countries have to lower their calorie intake because they consume more than twice their daily allowance of calories. But if your diet contains normal amount of calories and you still gain weight you don’t have to reduce calories but instead you should improve the quality of food you eat. Apart from that, if you follow all principles included in this manual you can forget about counting calories, because even if you consume more calories than you need but with the plant-based unrefined food, you will not gain weight.
Most low calorie diets are successful but only for a short periods of time. And, unfortunately, those who practice them do not realize how these diets work. Low calorie diets usually cause a lot of needless suffering and stress mostly due to the fact that they are often based on low calorie but at the same time refined and low in nutrients foods. For this reason, although they result in rapid weight reduction they also lead to a quick weight gain as soon as the normal diet is back.
The explanation of this phenomenon is simple. Whenever you eat more food than you need the excess is stored in the form of glycogen in your liver and muscles. And, as soon as your glycogen stores are full the excess is always converted to fat and stored in your fat cells. But, when you consume less food than it is needed (especially when it is mostly unrefined and low in nutrients food), your body will first start using your glycogen as a source of energy. But in the process of breaking down glycogen a lot of water is used. This means that whenever you are on a strict diet or when you fast and reduce your body weight you mostly loose water and some glycogen but fat is still left intact. And this is the reason why you will gain weight quickly when you are back on your regular diet.
Apart from that, a low calorie diets (usually below 1000 calories a day) instead of improving your metabolism encourage your body to slow down the metabolic rate by almost 50 per cent! It is so because whenever you eat less than you need your body ‘thinks’ that you are starving so it does its best to preserve as much fat as possible so that you could survive!
Another problem we have to take into consideration while coping with obesity is the fact that most people who gain weight faster, suffer from slower metabolism rates. A healthy and wise overweight and obesity treatment, therefore, should not include a low calorie diet as this approach slows metabolism even farther. Instead you need a healthy and well-balanced diet which will supply your body with proper amount of nutrients and calories (1500 to 1800 a day). And apart from that, you need a lifestyle that will improve your metabolism and hormonal balance. Without this two fundamental elements you will never solve the problem effectively and permanently.
Serotonin which plays important role in controlling your mood, appetite, and metabolism is another reason to stay away from the calorie-restricted diets as one study with rats demonstrated that reducing calories in their diet decreased serotonin levels. Other numerous studies also have shown that although low-calorie diets can help to lose weight yet at the same time they significantly reduce tryptophan levels leading to reduced serotonin synthesis, increased hunger and reduced probability of maintaining weight loss. In one study 1 to 3 grams of tryptophan taken one hour before meal reduced calorie consumption.
We are brainwashed by the low calorie diets which promise us to lose up to even 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of body weight in a week. What they do not tell us is the fact that the true optimal fat loss is only up to about 3 pounds per week and all the rest is just water. That is why when you attempt to reduce your weight on a low calorie diet you will regain it quickly as soon as you start consuming the normal amount of calories again. Apart from that, you shouldn’t stay on a low calorie diet for a long time, especially when you are physically active, because your body still needs proper amount of calories in order to maintain health.
When your calorie intake is too high then any excessive amount of glucose which is your primary energy source (converted mainly from carbohydrates), must be stored, so it is converted to glycogen and stored in your liver and muscles. Unfortunately, as soon as your liver and muscles can’t store glycogen any more, because they are full, your body converts the excess of glycogen into fat and stores it in your fat cells. That is why you gain weight. However, as soon as you decide to reduce your body fat by going on a low calorie diet then your body will first start breaking down not fat but glycogen. And the problem is that in order to burn glycogen effectively your body uses proportionally almost ten times as much water! That is why when you are on a low calorie diet you mostly loose water along with some glucogen but not fat. And only when you are on this diet long enough and finally burn all your stored glucogen then your body will at last start working on your fat by converting it into to glycogen. However, because you don’t want and even shouldn’t stay on a low-calorie diet for a long time, as soon as you come back to your normal diet you quickly refill your body again with water and glycogen thus rapidly gaining weight.
In a very interesting experiment one participant was on a very low calorie food replacement Cambridge Diet with only 330 calories a day, while the second one was on a normal calorie plant-based and unrefined diet (1,500 calories a day) called The Fatburner Diet (popularized by Patrick Holford and the Institute for Optimum Nutrition). As far as the weight loss is concerned the short-term results in both cases were exactly the same in spite of the fact that the first volunteer consumed almost five times less calories! The both participants lost about 10 pounds in a 6 week period. After that they were allowed to go on holiday during which the participant who was previously on a low-calorie diet gained 5 pounds while the one who was on a normal-calorie but high in plant fibre diet gained only 2 pounds! Another important detail with regards to that experiment is that the 330 calories a day diet caused a lot of suffering, hunger, physical weakness, exhaustion, and inability to concentrate properly. On the other hand, the person who was on the plant-based unrefined and normal-calorie diet didn’t experience these negative feelings and after the experiment confessed: One of the hardest – but best – things about it was the insistence on giving up coffee and stimulants. I had caffeine withdrawal headaches for the first few days, but began to feel wonderful after that – alert and fit and thoroughly detoxified, with no more putty eyes. This experiment proves again that the quantity of food intake is less important than the quality of food you consume because healthy and high in fibre plant-based unrefined foods (vegetables and fruits, wholegrain products, pulses, seeds, and nuts) release their sugar content slowly, satisfy your nutrients needs, and can properly and successfully improve your metabolism.
Obesity epidemic is the result of a diet which is high in fat, refined and processed plant products (foods containing sugar, white flour, and refined grains), animal foods (meat products and dairy), and stimulants (alcohol, chocolate, cola drinks, etc.). Animal products are deprived of nutrients such as antioxidants, flavonoids, or phytochemicals which are supposed to stimulate our immune system to effectively cope with cancer and other diseases. Apart from that, eating animal and refined plant foods causes people to feel hungry again very quickly and force them to eat between meals. They can’t control their appetite because food they eat is deprived of nutrients so their organism stimulate appetite hoping that the next meal would be rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. Therefore, in order to reduce hunger between meals you need to feed your body with foods which are high in nutrients and when you do this you will gradually get less hungry. I myself have been on a plant-based (vegan) unrefined and high in nutrients diet, usually having only two meals a day and I don’t feel hungry between them because my diet consists of only unrefined and rich in nutrients plant foods.
A good and healthy diet, therefore, which will be effective in reducing body weight in case of overweight and obesity and which will maintain the normal body weight, is a diet which promotes health, never causes exhaustion or starvation, and is not very hard to follow. A good example of a physician who recommend obese people to follow such unrefined plant-based diet is Dr. John McDougall. One of his patients – Evelyn in the following way described her experience with Dr. McDougall’s 12 day low-fat vegan diet program consisting of a healthy variety of plant-based whole foods:
“We went from being a big meat and potatoes family to total vegan over night! Before the program my husband had headaches 3 times a week. He has not had a headache since he went on this new diet. And he has more energy now… It is a rare occasion that he goes from the dinner table to the recliner (and he used to do that quite often!). It was a major milestone for me to be able to purchase a suit and feel great about it. I had fun shopping this year! Becoming vegetarian has made my family happier and healthier than ever.”
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Dr. McDougall’s Health and Medical Center, Evelyn Johnson: Helping Others, by Example: