Quality Over Quantity: Busting Weight-Loss Myths

I’m really excited for 2019. The conversations we’re having about health have never been, well, healthier. We’re excited about whole-food eating, not crash diets; we talk about how good we feel now, not how far we have yet to go. We’ve evolved away from a one-size-fits-all, “eat less, move more” mentality, and we’re now beginning to discuss how and why different food types impact our health and wellbeing. The conversation has turned to quality, not quantity.

So why, when the new year rolls around, do we still try to squeeze ourselves into old-fashioned resolutions? We’re flooded with advice about maintaining them, and not all of it is useful. We’re often told to be moderate in all that we attempt.

It’s a fact that moving to a whole-food, plant-based diet sheds unwanted pounds. More importantly, however, moving away from today’s standard diet — refined grains, added sugar and overconsumption of meat and dairy — toward one filled with real, unprocessed food improves our health. Along with weight loss comes a reduction in elevated LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad stuff), blood sugar and inflammation — all precursors to chronic disease. When someone starts a plant-based program like Euphebe, it’s the overall health benefits that drive typically dramatic weight loss in that first week — usually between three and eight pounds. It isn’t long before the metabolism ultimately settles at a new healthy norm. Moderation, it turns out, doesn’t always pay off!

When we lose eight pounds in a week through a healthy diet shift, is that “bad”? What exactly are we losing anyway? Is it all water? Muscle? Will our metabolism be negatively impacted forever? It all comes down to quality over quantity.

Debunking “Calories In = Calories Out”

Let’s talk for a moment about calorie counting as a means to losing weight. Theory tells you that one pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 kcals (calories). So, the “calories in = calories out,” theory suggests that to lose a pound of fat, one needs to restrict calorie intake by 3,500 calories.

Assume, for example, that a woman’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) — the calorie expenditure necessary to keep the body functioning at rest — is 1,350 kcals, and her daily caloric needs with a moderate level of activity are 1,850 kcals. Simply by eliminating one bagel and one glass of orange juice per day — 500 kcals daily over the course of the week — she should theoretically see a one-pound weight loss from the reduced calorie intake. A sensible, moderate way to steadily lose a little weight.

However, when we apply that same theory to explain the typical-yet-dramatic five-pound weight loss Euphebe clients see in the first 10 days, the numbers don’t add up. The theory says we’d need to cut out 1,750 calories each day. While that might be possible for people on a calorie-dense diet, for most of us, that kind of reduction would mean hardly eating at all — not sustainable and most certainly not pleasant. Therefore, the weight loss associated with a shift to a program like Euphebe can’t be attributed to calorie restriction alone. So, what’s at work?

Cutting Calories Now = Slow Metabolism Later

Drastically cutting back calories below our metabolic needs in order to trigger dramatic weight loss, despite being highly unpleasant, does work in the short term. You can lose weight fast. Without sufficient calories to sustain the body’s vital functions, the brain will consume energy from stored fat (that’s good), but also from muscle (that’s bad).

Converting muscle tissue into energy expenditure reduces the metabolism, because more energy is needed to sustain muscle. Furthermore, when the body is receiving insufficient calories to support its daily functions, the brain further suppresses the metabolism, because it thinks fewer calories is the new normal. We have a double-whammy that leads to such a reduced metabolism that any reasonable increase in calorie intake is immediately met with weight gain.

Welcome to the yo-yo diet. The only way to avoid the yo-yo is to build up that lost muscle mass, which is a very good idea in theory that’s hard to implement practically. Getting ourselves to the gym when the body is tired and under-nourished is really hard. To make it happen, we need real, high-quality nutrition.

Meet The Nutrient-Dense Diet

When we substitute refined grains for whole, reduce our consumption of added sugar and swap animal-based protein for more plants, we radically improve our health.

The addition of more plants into our diets naturally increases our intake of fiber, which both reduces our absorption of energy and slows down our digestion. Fiber has two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber acts as a sponge or gel, attaching itself to cholesterol and reducing it, while also dampening blood sugar spikes and limiting the storage of energy into fat.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, acts like a scrubber, reducing inflammation and helping us to feel full and satiated without the extra calorie load. A high-fiber diet leaves us feeling satiated, yet we lose weight without having to subject ourselves to calorie restriction and hunger.

By swapping simple carbohydrates — those that are highly refined and processed, such as sugar, white flour and rice — for complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes and whole fruit, we keep insulin levels low. The lower the insulin, the less fat storage.

When we adopt a predominantly plant-based, nutrient-dense diet, we naturally reverse the process of fat storage. Even so, we’re not lowering our metabolism as we would under severe calorie restriction, because we’re still eating sufficient calories to power the body. Our weight loss is instead driven by a natural unwinding of stored fat and water cells, without the body having to eat into our muscle reserves for added nutrition. The brain finally has what it needed all along, and it’s a fairly simple change to make.

The Proof Is in The Pudding

March 2019 will see the release of a new, uplifting documentary called The Game Changers, executive-produced by James Cameron. It profiles how ultra-athletes have turned to plant-based diets for enhanced performance. Many of us might seek out a plant-based diet to improve our health, lose weight, or even to help save the planet. At the elite level, there’s a new dawn of athletes turning to plants for power — to fuel the lean body for an ultramarathon or build mass for world-record-holding strongmen. Whereas an intensive calorie-restrictive diet depletes us of energy and eats into our muscle mass, a plant-based diet increases our energy while maintaining our muscle mass. And what are you going to do with all that extra energy? You may well find yourself wanting to pop into the gym!

Late last year, possibly driven by a desire to debunk the plant-based theory, the head personal trainer of a very prominent gym in New York City decided to put himself to the plant-based test. At the start, he weighed in at 195 pounds with an enviable 15.6% body fat and 95 pounds of skeletal muscle mass. He changed his diet from that of the “regular” active male — filled with animal protein, supplements and protein bars — to a plant-powered one. Much to his surprise, after just two weeks of Euphebe, he had dropped 9 pounds, while maintaining 94.8 pounds of skeletal muscle mass. His body fat fell to 10.8%. After a further few weeks, his weight settled at 184 pounds — his new normal, with an even leaner body. Needless to say, there was no looking back after that!

Quality, Not Quantity

So that’s why I’m excited. I’m excited that the conversation in 2019 will center on health, performance, power and the enjoyment of good-for-you food. It’s not about going hungry or about vilifying all carbohydrates or all sources of fat. It’s about making the right decisions and discerning the quality rather than restricting the quantity. That’s a message of freedom. And there’s no reason to go moderate on that!

Photo by Roman Davayposmotrim on Unsplash