Written by: Dr Tim Leeming - BChiro, BAppSc (Hons) - Sport and Exercise Nutritionist.
Weight loss is an ongoing and convoluted issue in the world of food and nutrition. Ironically, it has become a much larger problem since humans started “playing with food”. By this I mean heavily processing and refining foods, mass producing them, creating artificial replacements, combining them with synthetic additives and preservatives, genetically modifying, and spraying for higher yield and longevity.
Over the past century or so, a sudden spike in the requirement for food production to meet the demands of an exponential growth in the planet’s population has lead us to a rather interesting mix of politics, public health and food. When you really think about it, the fact that our governments are having to teach us something so natural as how to eat is actually quite a concerning notion. Perhaps one of the best examples of “playing with food” has been the government guidelines (a.k.a food pyramids) dished out to us in the past few decades.
I’d argue that a great deal of our current chronic health issues are a direct, or very closely linked, result of governmental dietary guidelines in the Western world. A few of these chronic health issues are things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and auto-immunity. In technical terms, we refer to these as chronic, non-communicable diseases. I think there’s an ignorant irony in calling them non-communicable, because it is the ongoing and unrelenting pervasive communication of faulty information on government websites and handouts, in newspapers and on billboards and along our supermarket aisles that has ultimately landed us here.
Sure, there are plenty of other factors in this complex issue that have contributed to an alarming prevalence of chronic disease, such as stress, lifestyle choices, hours of daily movement and sleep duration and quality. But we simply cannot deny the role that food – something we engage with many times per day – has to play in the big picture.
I digress – the point of this article is not to have a socio-political rant. The point is to share applicable advice about how to lose weight in the most natural way possible; in ways that agree with your natural physiology.
The science is becoming very clear now that nutritional guidelines telling populations to build their diets around a foundation of extensively processed and refined carbohydrates have literally lead to a heavier Western world. Over the past 30-40 years, we have been taught to eat using food pyramids that are built upon a foundation of bland and nutrient-void grains. Think wheat, flour, bread, muesli bars, white rice, cereals, etc, etc. We’ve been scared into avoiding dietary fat, and we’ve all but forgotten many of the nutrients beyond the big three: carbohydrate, fat and protein. There are actually hundreds of micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and elements – that are profoundly important in promoting not only weight loss but great health in general. To put it bluntly, the bottom line is that this advice – this dogma – has contributed to making us the fattest and unhealthiest society yet.
So then, how do you go about losing weight? Given the impressions I’ve pointed out above, the simple answer is: stop doing what the majority are doing! Stop basing your diet around this fallacy of colourless “foods” like breads, pastries, pasta and muesli bars. The next logical question then, “well if I shouldn't have so much bread or pasta, what can I eat?”
In the very wise and concise words of Michael Pollan, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Pretty straightforward, right? Sadly, many of us have lost the concept of what food really is, and what isn’t really food. Through abundant marketing and accessibility, we’ve found ourselves in a society where man-made food-like substances are what most of us eat most of the time. If something won’t eventually rot or go off, it’s not food, it’s a food-like substance. There is a place for all foods in a balanced diet, however, a balanced diet means that the majority of your food is nutrient dense, natural, and has come from a whole food.
It’s not a diet, it’s not a strict regime, it’s just eating real, natural foods in the amounts your body requires and asks for.
To reiterate, the point of calling out food items such as flour, bread, pasta and muesli bars is not to demonise any single food as the cause of all ills, nor to completely ban these from the diet. Rather, the issue is that we have become heavily reliant upon these products, to a point that they form the foundation, the basis, the majority of what we eat! We need to reverse engineer the entire system – build a dietary foundation of real, unprocessed foods, upon which we can still enjoy those foods from time to time.
Consider these guidelines:
1. Eat real food – things you’d find in nature
2. Eat foods that have had minimal human interference. Ask yourself “how
close is this to how I would find it in nature?”
3. If it’s in packaging, opt for the shortest ingredient list possible. The
longer the ingredient list and the more unpronounceable and unnatural
chemicals added, the less likely it is to be a real food.
In practically applying these points, filling your plate with varied portions of fat such as nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut-based foods, eggs, grass-fed meat and butter is a great place to start. Supplement the fats with protein (ironically you’ll find that many good fat sources also contain good protein, i.e. nuts, seeds, meat, eggs) and carbohydrates from unprocessed sources like root vegetables, fruit or whole grains. Be sure to include plenty of leafy greens to ensure high micronutrient quantity. Every physiological process in your body relies upon a micronutrient precursor, so if you want your metabolism to work well (so that you can burn unwanted fat, detoxify, eliminate waste and feel great) you need to focus on micronutrients, too! That is how the journey to good health begins.
By now the idea that dietary fat is bad for you and will make you fat has been challenged and conquered many times over. If you want to lose weight, much of the scientific evidence will now tell you that eating healthy fats (and that includes some sources of saturated fat), plenty of properly sourced protein (think pasture-raised eggs and meat, organic nuts and seeds, not protein bars or powders with all the additives) and moderate servings of whole food carbohydrates is a very effective way to go. Funnily enough, the only macronutrient the human body doesn’t actually NEED to survive is carbohydrate! While that is an interesting point, we’ll talk soon about how completely dropping all carbs isn’t necessarily the way to go.
Vitally important for weight loss, by means of improving nutrient absorption and waste excretion, is to look after your gut health. In my experience, easily the most direct method for dropping the first two to five kilograms for any individual has been to work hard on supporting the microbiota or bacteria living in your gut. Very briefly, there’s two things to consider when doing so; the first is to increase fermented and probiotic foods in your diet, and the second is to reduce gut-altering foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, in some cases dairy and in many cases gluten. To truly discover more about how to improve gut health, there is plenty of awesome gut-specific advice throughout The Nutrient Project
Finally, a recent study (1) published in the renowned Journal of the American Medical Association, investigated whether a low-fat versus low-carb diet was better for weight loss. After 12 months, the authors concluded that neither diet was better than the other. Both groups lost similarly significant amounts of weight. The explanation? This particular study spent in excess of 20 hours educating the study participants about the importance of eating real, natural foods. Armed with that education and knowledge, it didn’t really matter whether these individuals massively decreased fat or carbohydrate, they still lost weight because they were eating real food!
Personally, in working with individuals trying to lose weight and improve their health and performance in sport, at work or in day to day life, I’ve found that focusing first on increasing quality fats is most effective. Alongside working hard on gut health, this is the most direct method for helping an individual to better listen to and understand their body and what fuels it runs best on. While the above JAMA study does show that low-fat and low-carb diets were equally as effective, the reality is that we are a high-carb society. So, before you opt for low-fat or low-carb, you must first balance out a likely high-carb Western diet by increasing quality fats and minimising carbohydrates to only real food sources. Once you have set a foundation of stable gut health, steady blood sugar levels (through eating satiating quality fats and getting rid of processed carbs) and a diet based on real foods, it will become so much clearer to you how you’re truly supposed to eat. That’s when you’ll find the body weight and energy levels that you’ve been wishing and working for.
For some, the concepts covered in this article are enough to get you started on an effective and healthy weight loss journey. For others, you might still feel the need for some guidance, personalised advice and help in general. If that is the case, reach out to The Nutrient Project Team and take a big step towards a healthier you.
(1) Christopher D. Gardner, PhD1; John F. Trepanowski, PhD1; Liana C. Del Gobbo, PhD1; et al: Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2673150