Sunday, June 27, 2021

the big dietary battle

There's a battle raging between two dietary doctrines in the weight-loss community. On one side, you have the classic, old-school adherents to the calories-in, calories-out paradigm (a.k.a. CICO): build up a caloric deficit, and you'll inevitably lose weight. But this doesn't seem to work for everybody (remember when I wasn't losing weight despite being on 1200 calories a day?), and another theory arose: a hormone-based one called the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM), which assumes that weight loss and gain have more to do with the hormonal balance in your body than with the number of calories you take in. According to this theory, your body will adjust your basal metabolic rate if you start restricting calories, so the weight you're trying to lose simply won't come off. Instead, concentrate on eating foods that are low in carbohydrates (meat, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, nuts, avocados, etc), and you'll have no need to count calories because your body won't be producing hormones like ghrelin (a food-craving hormone) and insulin (a fat-storage hormone that also lowers blood sugar), which means you'll inevitably start to lose fat. Do this intensely enough, and you'll enter ketosis, i.e., you'll switch from burning carbs (which your body finds easy to burn) to burning fat.

So here's my take after two weeks on a severe, calorie-restrictive diet: calorie restriction is a thing, but CIM isn't wrong, either. I think there's room for both doctrines to coexist. Here's a thought experiment I've done before on this blog: imagine eating nothing. What'll happen? In about two or three weeks, depending on the amount of body fat you start out with, you'll starve to death. That seems to be conclusive proof, to me, that CICO is a thing. Take in zero calories, and your body will continue to burn calories until you die. More personally, I finally broke the 118-kilogram barrier once I started the Newcastle Diet, which focuses on severe calorie restriction (also CICO). At the same time, I'm trying to keep my diet keto-adjacent so that I'm not spiking my blood sugar or doing anything to throw off my hormonal balance. I'm also—more by accident than by design—engaging in intermittent fasting, which for me means drinking breakfast around 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. every morning, and eating lunch before 1 p.m., then eating nothing thereafter. All of this together is having an effect. So CIM is a thing, too.

Will Tennyson is a Canadian weightlifter whose videos I watch on YouTube. He does various challenges, including engaging in keto for a week and having 10,000-calorie cheat days (lots of doughnuts; he loves doughnuts). For him, his default mentality is CICO, and you can see it works: he burns so many calories during a workout that he remains, at age 26, ripped as hell. When he's eating normally (well, normal for him), he usually has healthy fare, but not always things that nutritionists and dietitians would normally recommend. For example, he eats protein bars, which many dietitians these days do not recommend because of their sugar content. But on CICO, this doesn't matter: Tennyson does a workout and burns all the calories he takes in. So again, CICO is a thing, not a "failed theory," as nutritionist Autumn Bates would say. At the same time, I watch Dr. Ken Berry, who beats the drum for keto and the carnivore diet, both based on CIM. He claims to have seen the positive effects of these diets in hundreds of his patients, and I've seen some benefits myself from living keto-adjacently.

Conclusion: both CIM and CICO have a place for people trying to lose weight. You don't want to create hormone imbalances or spike your blood sugar, but at the same time, you don't want to be stuffing yourself with food, however good (and good for you) it might be. I suspect that, after this austerity is over, some form of it is going to continue (except for my beloved cheat days), representing a lifestyle change that incorporates both CIM and CICO into my new life.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

I've always hated trying to calculate calories. Takes the joy out of eating. When I lost weight I used a low-carb diet method. The hardest thing for me was giving up the sweets--especially ice cream. What I like about the low-carb diet is you don't have to ever feel hungry--I'd just munch on something like celery when my stomach begged for food.