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Get Over This Misleading Notion About Dieting

By Edited Jun 11, 2015 1 2
Credit: Easel

It is not your fault that you want to eat when you are dieting and hungry. It is a natural response.

It was only after reading the thick tome by Gary Taubes - Good Calories, Bad Calories, that I fully appreciated taking Biology for four years in high school.

The book isn't a particularly easy read for the layperson. It is a comprehensive review of research done by dietitians and biochemists; as such, you can't avoid Biology jargons and lengthy explanations of biochemistry mechanisms buried here and there. 

Furthermore, it is more than 600 pages long, and really could qualify as a thesis of sorts (the author did take 5 years gathering and organizing his materials, which is about the time it takes to do a PhD).


However, it is precisely because it is so thoughtfully researched that it appealed to the Biology student in me and I found it so beneficial. Keen to incorporate healthy eating habits in my life, I have read other books that were decidedly easy reading; however, the simple terms they used sometimes made me feel like they were oversimplifying things.

To their credit, it is all done with good intentions and will probably bring good results if followed: "Stay away from sugar", "RUN away when you read MSG on the package", "Cereals are really mini cookies in disguise", etc.


In contrast, the tone in Good Calories, Bad Calories was more of the type you would associate with a scientific journal. If you are not an academic type of person, or you don't have time to consume 640 pages on the topic, here's a quick introduction to the first of two debunked notions that took my breath away and made me go: "This make so much sense, now why did I have those misconceptions in the past?"


Energy Balance: Calories In = Calories Out?

Now, you probably have had instances where you overate in a meal and told yourself, "Oops, I overate this time. Now I'm going to diet for the next two days to make it up". If we exercise and expend more energy than we eat, then we are going to lose weight, right?


How about considering this: If we exercise and expend more energy than we eat, our body will prompt us to look for food (we get hungry), and take in nutrients (we eat) in order to maintain the nutritional content that our body cells need for their functioning.


In Biological terms, this maintenance of a vital body state is called homeostasis. And it isn't really that unusual once you start thinking about it.

Many of the important processes in our body take place without our conscious efforts - heart beating, breathing, maintenance of blood sugar levels, of blood pressure, sweating in order to dissipate heat, shivering to generate heat, etc.


However, in the arena of dieting, many of us seem to have this notion that our hour-to-hour self-control over whether to eat, or to be "disciplined" and not eat, is going to ultimately decide our fate on the weighing scales at the end of the day.

Well, you may be quite right and be 2-3 pounds lighter simply because you have lost weight in water. However, it is time to realize that our weight, just like our blood sugar levels, our core temperature, the amount of water we retain in our body (the excess is removed by excretion, or urination), are all intricately controlled by processes in our body.


Majority of the credit (or discredit) for our current weight is not due to our conscious "working it off" or our lack of wills when gorging on food, but the work of the homeostatic process in our body. This is orchestrated by hormones in our body, the key of which is insulin.

Do you find it hard to lose or gain weight about an equilibrium weight? Do you notice that even fat people maintain their heavy weights, just like how skinny people maintain theirs?


So then, does it not matter what we eat?

It does matter. But what we should place our focus on is the effects of different types of food on our body at a hormonal level, rather than a simple calorie in = calorie out equation.

The key message here is that not all calories are created equal; hence there are good calories and bad ones. It would be worthwhile to stay away from food that trigger the release of insulin in our bodies, and in my next article, I will explain why sugar is our foe, and  a greater evil than fat.



Jun 12, 2014 3:01am
Really informative, thanks for posting
Jul 2, 2014 12:26pm
Useful information. It is time that people start to focus on the quality and not just the quantity of what they eat. In particular, many people seem to focus on the idea of willpower as the major factor in determining success in dieting. Unfortunately, many do not realize the importance of hormonal factors, such as a carbohydrate meal triggering an insulin dump and subsequent low blood sugars stimulating food cravings.

Thanks for sharing and look forward to the next part!
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