The Western World is fat.
There is no doubt about that.
Two out of every three Americans over the age of 20 are either overweight or obese according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. For children aged from 6 to 19 that figure is 1 in 5 just for obesity. So in a typical classroom of 6 year olds there would be 7 or 8 obese children. When I think back to my school days, obesity in children just wasn’t there.
So what’s gone wrong?
It’s probably a little easy to blame fast food, but it didn’t exist in my youth. A bag of chips on an occasional Friday night was about the fastest it ever got. Food was cooked at home by Mum from fresh ingredients. Yet most kids had a full meal in the school canteen at lunchtime and another in the evening when they got home.
I remember getting lots of exercise as a child. I walked everywhere. Very few families had cars and the only way to go anywhere was by bus or train; and that involved a walk to the stop or the station, and then, at the other end, to wherever you wanted to go.
So what has this got to do with losing weight?
I was doing some research on Calorie counting for a new weight loss book I’m in the process of writing and came across some interesting information. Some foods, like sugar, give up their Calories so much more easily than other foods like raw vegetables. When the body has to work harder to extract the energy from food, it burns more Calories. The end result of this is that you could have a doughnut and handful of walnuts, say, both with the same reported number of Calories, but the net gain of energy to your body would be much higher with the doughnut because the energy is more readily available as sugar and so is easy to release.
In other words, a doughnut makes you fatter than a pile of walnuts – even though the Calorie count is identical.
All Calories are not created equal.
This new piece of information also led me down some other avenues regarding sugar and how the body treats it.
Sugar is one of the two things in the title that you need to know about.
The First Thing
The first thing you need to know if you want to lose weight concerns a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure inducing chemical that the brain releases in response to certain things. Increased blood sugar is one of those things. Sugar causes a rapid release of dopamine and that creates a pleasure response in the body. This falls off quite quickly and leaves us with a craving for more sugar. This is highly problematic when you are eating less in order to lose weight because it triggers uncontrolled binge eating.
Just imagine, you have been following your diet plan all week, feel very pleased with yourself, and have managed to convince yourself that since it’s the weekend and you’ve been so good you deserve a small treat. A treat in these circumstances will always be something loaded with sugar – cake, chocolate, ice cream… This sugar hit causes a dopamine release that makes you feel good, which is what you wanted, but then as the dopamine dissipates you are left with an uncontrollable urge to eat more and you find yourself having not one small treat but several large ones until you start feeling bloated or nauseous and then wonder what happened. After all you were so good, and only intended to have a small treat and know you’ve undone all the good work of a whole week and you have no idea what just happened.
Your body chemistry took control of your mind that’s what happened.
In order to ensure this does not happen, just avoid eating overly sweet foods as a treat. Buy yourself a small gift instead if you need to reward yourself. Sugar, especially when you’ve abstained for a while, triggers binge eating and it is very difficult to gain control once the dopamine craving has you in its grip because this process interferes with rational thought. You are, for a short while, quite literally out of your mind.
The Second Thing
The other thing you need to know if you want to lose weight also relates to dieting in order to lose weight. And oddly enough also connects with dopamine again.
The way our brains are wired is such that they seek out novelty. New stuff stimulates us and makes us feel good and alive and interested. Stuff that’s been around for a while has little stimulating effect. When you eat something tasty that you haven’t eaten before, you may find yourself seeking it out again so that you can re-experience that pleasure. You will be surprised to discover that by the third time you eat that particular meal it is starting to become very ordinary and you wonder whether they are cooking it differently somehow because it’s just not as good as you remember that first time.
Diets can tend to be a bit repetitive in the meals you have available. After all how many low-fat, low-sugar things can you do to lettuce and tomatoes to make them interesting?
Each time you eat the same meal, the dopamine response gets lower and you enjoy it less. Because you stop enjoying something you previously enjoyed then mealtimes get boring and this also leads to the search for stimulating food and ends up with a sugar binge.
Variety is the key, you need to vary your meals as much as possible because that helps you to maintain the enjoyment of eating less that is so important to successful weight loss.