Tag Archives: Diet

I can’t avoid late dinners. Will eating after 7 pm make me gain weight?

It was one of those days early in my self-guided study of what makes us fat that I ran into a senior colleague after several weeks of being at different offices. I couldn’t help but notice that the large-built middle-aged lady had trimmed some inches off her generous posterior. Knowing she would be pleased with an acknowledging compliment, I proceeded to congratulate her on the loss. Preening, she let me in on the secret. “I’ve stopped eating anything after 5 pm,” she said.

Wait, you mean to say that eating an early dinner (5 pm was like mid-day for my 18-hour consulting work schedules those days) can put away so much fat? And I, on the other hand, had been snacking and even binging late into the evening in the name of much-required sustenance on intense projects! It was a Eureka moment for me.

“I’ve stopped eating anything after 5 pm.”

Have you ever fallen into the temptation of resolving to have an early dinner all in the name of weight loss/ fat loss? Or rued the fact that a late night supper might have ruined your entire day’s hard work in following healthy practices?

I’d like to address this concern, a rather thoughtful one I daresay, in three parts.

First, what leads to weight gain, or more technically, fat storage, is a calorie surplus that is not being set off by additional physical activity or a special condition (for example, pregnancy, lactation, recovery from a surgery, etc.). As long as you stay within your calorie requirement based on your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), there should be no cause for fat storage no matter what time you have your dinner. Again, it is important, that the quality of calories is controlled. More specifically, that the macros are honoured. Mindless stuffing of junk food just because it is within your calories quota will lead to other health issues if not weight gain.

What leads to fat storage is a calorie surplus.

Second, although is no specific curfew time for dinner that applies equally to everybody, it is advisable to finish dinner at least an hour, ideally two, before bedtime. The reason is that the digestive process could get adversely affected with meals timed too close to bedtime. At the same time, sleep can be disrupted due to heartburn, bloating and indigestion, leaving you under-rested the next day.

Finally, there is in fact a scientifically proven method to trigger fat loss that involves eating only within a certain time period. It is popularly known as intermittent fasting (IF) but also goes by the name of alternative day eating/ fasting (ADE or ADF), one-meal-a-day (OMAD) and time restricted feeding (TRF) depending on the format of fasting one follows.

Intermittent fasting is a great tool for fat loss.

The basic idea behind IF is that you time your meals/ feeds such that there is a large enough gap before the next meal to allow your body to tap into its fat stores. The technique is actually a clever trick relying on millions of years of evolutionary processes that allow humans to store fat for lean times and use it when food is scarce. When the body is in a fasting state for at least 14-16 hours, the metabolic pathways shift from burning glucose for energy, the most commonly used mechanism on a standard/ high-carbohydrate diet, to burning fat for energy. This is, perhaps, what caused the inch-loss in my colleague.

Done carefully and systematically, IF is a great tool for fat loss. A big advantage is also that during the feeding intervals, one can eat almost anything – no licence for junk, still. Of course, it has several other advantages too in terms of convenience and saving of time (less planning, less cooking, less packing, less, cleaning up…). Do bear in mind, that this kind of fasting bears no resemblance to the kind of religious fasts that most people in India undertake, what with an elaborate menu of ‘fasting foods’ at the ready.

So, what time will you have dinner?

 

 

PC: lifealth.com

Advertisements

Counting calories vs counting macros – which is better for fat loss?

I recently came across an infographic in this blogpost, which outlines the principles behind weight loss, in a bid to oversimplify the process. Basically, it conveys that for weight loss to happen, you basically need to be in a calorie deficit. I agree completely. Cutting calories will lead you to that result – weight loss. But is that the correct goal?

I can think of weightlifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders and participants in physique competitions aiming for weight loss to make the appropriate weight class that they want to compete in. But for the majority of the population, the ultimate goal is to achieve an ideal body composition, which means, the optimal body fat levels and, perhaps, a reasonable amount of muscle. That, in turn, means fat loss, not simply weight loss.

Cutting calories will lead you to that result – weight loss. But is that the correct goal?

Eating less may help you lose weight, but it cannot guarantee fat loss. In fact, eating too few calories could have several adverse results:

  • With a consistent calorie deficit, the rate of weight loss tends to slow down, as the body adjusts to a new normal, thus, lowering BMR, which slows fat loss.
  • Cutting calories too low, below the minimum required for sustenance, can threaten the normal functioning of the body.
  • Severe calorie restriction signals the body that it is in semi-starvation mode, causing it to conserve energy, making any weight loss even more difficult.

 

Does that mean that one must not be counting calories for fat loss? Yes and no.

Yes, because your calorie needs depend on your BMR, total daily calorie/ energy expenditure (aka TDEE or TEE) depending on activity levels, and any special conditions such as competition prep (I’m not including ‘pregnancy’ and ‘lactation’ because that is not the right time to aim for fat loss anyway), etc. For a gain in weight, your calorie consumption has to be above the TDEE level. For a loss, it must be below the TDEE level. For maintenance, it should be at the TDEE level. But all this is only related to the number on the scale, your bodyweight.

Does that mean that one must not be counting calories for fat loss? Yes and no.

No, because the quality of the calorie intake is more important for fat loss to occur. The ratio of protein and fat to carbohydrates is what will determine the rate of fat loss.

For several decades, we have deluded ourselves that a diet high in carbs and low in fats is the best for avoiding obesity, thanks to the extremely biased propaganda that Western medical journalism and food processing industry, especially the American variety, dished out in the 1970s. We have now been forced to embrace what our forefathers knew centuries ago – that saturated foods are some of the best sources of energy (think ghee) and whole foods are far more nourishing than any processed or refined ones (for example, whole vegetables vs juices, meat cooked in its own fat vs lean meat, etc.).

A diet rich in good fats – saturated, mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated, in that order, moderate in proteins, and low in carbs, tends to serve best when seeking fat loss. Hence, it is critical to track the ratio of these macronutrients, or macros, rather than simply counting calories, when the goal is to lose fat.

Our ancestors knew that fasting was meant to be just that – fasting.

A common proxy that advocates of a carb-rich diet proffer is the Glycemic Index (GI) of foods when comparing which carbs should be allowed on a diet for fat-loss. The lower the GI of a food, they claim, the more suitable it is for weight-loss or fat loss. They also put forward the Glycemic Load (GL) concept as a basis for choosing the ‘right type of carbs’. However, if you take the example of ice cream as a food, which has a GI of 39, middle of the Low range, and a GL of 3, low of the Low range, these numbers would suggest a green light for ice cream on a weight-loss/ fat-loss diet.

The problem is that the only reason ice cream has a low GI and GL is because of the high fat content, which contributes zero GI and GL. Almost all ‘fasting’ foods in India fall in the category of low GI – low GL foods because of the fat-carbs combination. Yet, they are probably the worst category of foods for fat loss since the carbs trigger an insulin response, which, in turn, triggers storage of any carbs that are unutilized for energy in our fat cells as adipose tissue. The result – more body fat! Our ancestors knew that fasting was meant to be just that – fasting – and not a licence for ingesting foods with a poor macro balance.

When seeking fat loss, what will you choose? Low-calorie foods? Low GI/ GL foods? Low-carb foods? Fasts?!

 

PC: medium.com

Will eating less help me lose weight?

I caught on to the calorie counting game long before the advent and proliferation of fancy calorie tracking apps. As far back as 2008, I figured I could use my skills at Microsoft Excel to do more than creating financial models and business plans. I created my own calorie counter, following up with several updated versions (I think I even passed it on to some keen friends and relatives). The idea was to have a neat food log to track the calorie intake on a daily basis and ensure it remained at or near my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). I arrived at my ideal calorie requirement based on conventional wisdom of the time, and the vision I had of myself six months down the line.

That’s it, I thought. Calorie counting and control is all I need to do to crack the weight loss game.

As my food log got populated, I could see patterns emerging. I utilised the knowledge to tweak my dietary habits. Barring a few social incidents, I managed to remain fairly consistent in sticking to my ever more aggressive calorie goals. Needless to say, at the end of three months, the number on the scale had moved south significantly, despite little support in the form of exercise. I was feeling rather proud of the achievement not only because of the weight loss but also because of this fantastic tool I’d developed. That’s it, I thought. Calorie counting and control is all I need to do to crack the weight loss game.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 12.54.56 pm

Not so fast! Despite the shouts of success from the weighing scale, I wasn’t receiving the expected looks, compliments or appreciation from people around me. Why couldn’t they see what I could?

Have you ever had this experience? Or know someone who did? Why was your/ their ‘loss’ not apparent or as significant as what the scale suggested?

The answer, as I discussed in my last post, lies in the type of weight that was lost – water, muscle or fat. Weight loss is easily apparent to the eye of a beholder when there is fat loss. Hence, what an overweight person with a disproportionate body composition must seek is fat loss, not simply weight loss.

Coming back to the original question, eating less does indeed help you lose weight. But, and this is a BIG ‘but’, it will not necessarily help you lose fat if you are eating the wrong type of calories since all calories are not equal.

Weight loss is easily apparent to the eye of a beholder when there is fat loss.

Another phenomenon that you might notice is that the rate of weight loss tends to slow down despite maintaining a calorie deficit, i.e. eating fewer calories than one spends in a day. This is because the BMR of a lighter person is lower, in absolute terms, than that of a heavier person (not to be confused with slow or fast metabolism).

Also, remaining on a calorie-lowering spree could prove dangerous if you reach calorie intake levels so low that they threaten the normal functioning of the body, usually around 1,000 calories, for the average adult.

A collateral fallout of such low calorie intake levels is that the body senses that it is in a semi-starvation mode and holds on to its stores of energy even more closely, potentially stagnating or even reversing weight loss.

So, take the ‘eat less’ formula of weight loss, or rather, fat loss, with a pinch of salt. There are other ways to create a calorie deficit than simply through eating less.

More myths to be flushed out. Soon.

 

PC: https://getrawenergy.co

The ‘fat-free’ revolution that made us fat – the biggest con in the food industry

In my last post, I recounted my initiation into calorie research. Like many rational and reasonably intelligent people, I arrived at the same conclusions that others do: fat eats into the calorie quota quickly, and it takes up too much space in the body, and, thus, would make me gain body fat. So, I should eat as little fat as possible, which will result in two benefits – I get to eat more, and I don’t get fat!

I soon became a pro at figuring out which foods contained fat and which didn’t, reading food labels for their fat content, looking for skimmed and low-fat options on supermarket shelves, and even cooking fat-free meals. Despite all this diligence, I could avoid neither the hunger pangs nor the weight gain. The way my requirement for larger clothes was going, I knew the weight gain was from fat, not muscle. It was definitely not dietary fat that was making me gain fat thanks to my thoughtfully crafted low-fat diet. Then what was making me fat?

Ever been through this before or know someone who has?

The answer lies in the inequality of calories. A calorie from fat will always remain a calorie from fat, and be stored as triglycerides, until it is required for providing energy. Calories from carbs and protein, however, are talented – they can change form. Carbs that are unutilised by the body are converted to fat and stored for later use. Any protein that is excess, after completing the job of growth, repair and maintenance, also converts to fat.

OK. That explained the metabolism issue, or the lack thereof. But surely the body should have been able to tolerate some amount of fat, especially if it was not getting any from my diet! ‘Some’, yes, but what about the body fat that was already sitting there and not getting used?

The human body has evolved over a couple of thousand millennia to use its resources in the most efficient way possible. For our ancestors of the Stone Age, starvation was a real situation that presented itself every so often. The store of fat in the body was what kept them going during those periods, which could very well last a couple of days or a few weeks. The reason being that the body has unlimited potential to store fat. Our ancestors, however, were different from us in that their bodies knew how to metabolise fat since they needed to do it frequently. On days that they got enough to eat, their bodies used the quick-energy providing foods, i.e. carbs, for immediate uses, and stored dietary fat as, well, fat. Obesity, hence, was a rare occurrence, if at all, since the body was adapted to burning fat.

With the advent of agriculture, about ten millennia ago, a dramatic shift occurred in the eating habits of human beings, since vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes, largely carbohydrates, became far more easily accessible to wide proportions of the population. With a rise in their consumption, the body started adapting to a sugar-burning mechanism (all carbs essentially being a form of sugar, once the fibre is removed). Now, the human body can store only about 2,000 calories worth of carbs at any given time, basically enough to last a day or at most two, versus an average of 30,000 calories from fat.

The food processing industry amplified this change by an order of magnitude. And guess what types of food were processed the most? Carbs! From raw vegetables and fruits to fibre-less juices and sugar-laden smoothies, from dehusked grains to polished ones, flours and breads, from steamed, whole tubers to dried and fried snacks.

With human bodies having essentially switched over to becoming sugar-burning factories from the highly optimised fat-burning, muscle-sparing ones, requiring feeding at small intervals (mostly carbs again) is it any wonder that rates for obesity, not to mention diabetes, have broken all records in the past hundred years?

What we actually needed to do was not cut out the fat from our food but to reduce the proportion of carbs, especially the processed ones.

So, how does one switch back to the fat-burning metabolism without subjecting oneself to starvation? That story begins with understanding ‘metabolism’. And I’ll get to it soon.

For those who like to do their own research, look up The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff S Volek and Stephen D Phinney.

A calorie is NOT just a calorie! The first diet-related myth

I still recall the first time I became cognisant of food calories. I had just polished off several courses of a lavish breakfast spread at the five star hotel where my consulting team was put up during an international project. My colleague, a fitness junkie, then in the pursuit of the elusive six-pack abs, had been observing the careful consideration I had put into picking up an eclectic mix of breakfast items. He waited patiently for me to wipe off the foam from the coffee, which served as the finale of my meal, before remarking casually, “You know you’ve exhausted more than 60% of your calorie quota for the day already, right?”

“You know you’ve exhausted more than 60% of your calorie quota for the day already, right?” 

“What!” That couldn’t be right. I had understandably eaten a big meal, but surely those dainty Danish pastries, choco-chip muffins, baked beans, cold cuts, and the egg-white omelette could not add up to that many calories! I consoled myself that since I was going to have ‘just a salad’ for lunch anyway, perhaps the big splurge was justified. I vaguely recall that the lunch did not end up being ‘just a salad’.

But I clearly recall that I spent a good part of my morning looking up the calories in various foods. That was over twelve years ago. And that’s how the initiation into my self-guided study of nutrition happened. The fascination has not stopped but now I’m well guided in this matter.

I’ve heard the refrain ‘A calorie is a calorie…is a calorie’ several times. The import of that statement is that what is important in a diet, regardless of the health goal, is the number of calories. At the most basic level (we’re talking survival here), this is correct. But if one has certain goals in mind, then it is critical to understand WHERE the calories come from, i.e. the three energy-providing macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and dietary fat. Water, termed the fourth macronutrient at times and an essential nutrient at others, does not contribute any calories.

If one has certain health goals in mind, then it is critical to understand WHERE the calories come from. 

While each gram of carbs and protein provides 4 calories, a gram of fat provides 9 calories, more than double the energy of carbs or protein. So we would need fewer grams of fat than carbs or protein to provide the same number of calories. As a corollary, one should be able to eat more grams of carbs and/ or proteins vs fat to fulfil their calorie requirements, isn’t it?

Now, consider this. Fat takes up more than three times the space of the same quantity of protein in weight. Hence, 1 kg of fat will occupy at least three times the space of 1 kg of protein. This is the reason why two people with the same height and weight can look slim or obese depending on the proportion of body fat. More reason to consume fewer grams of fat, because who in their right mind wants to be fat, right?

Wrong!

The reason that we have had this upside down for so long is because of the understanding that all calories are equal. In reality, one must ask what type of calories we are talking about. This is because each macronutrient has a different role to play in our body. Carbs provide quick energy – their calories can potentially be burned almost as soon as they are ingested. Protein grows, repairs and maintains the body – muscles, organ tissue, blood vessels, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, hair, skin, nails, etc. Fat provides a long-term store of energy, regulates body temperature, enables brain functioning, and allows vitamin absorption.

Just as the role of each macronutrient in our body is different, so is the manner in which each is used by the body. Carbs are used for providing energy instantly and for aiding digestion if they are fibre-rich. Protein, although used primarily for growth and repair, can be used for providing energy in times of distress, when adequate energy from other sources is not available, but at the cost of muscle tissue. Body fat, stored as adipose tissue in the body, is used for providing energy only when other sources of energy are not available or when the body is in starvation mode.

Here’s the kicker – any calories from carbs and protein that are not used by the body are converted to fat in the form of adipose tissue! So much for avoiding dietary fat, huh!

So, which calories should one consume? I’ll talk about this in the following posts.

P. S. The self-guided ones might like to pick up Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, which puts to bed several arguments on calories. Will provide my own review of the tome soon.