What if I told you that eating a small dish of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is a better food choice than two hard pretzels — would you believe me?
What if I told you that eating a piece of fruit by itself may cause more metabolic dysfunction than eating an egg and Canadian bacon on an English muffin — would you believe that? No? Well, both may be true.
Losing weight is really hard for a lot of reasons. If food is your addiction, then learning what happens to your body when you eat may be the key to helping you control what you are willing to put in your mouth.
I spoke with Cheryl Marco, RD, LDN, CDE, director of education in Jefferson’s Division of Endocrinology’s Weight Management Program. She says that “as human beings, it may be virtually impossible to control what we eat unless we better understand and work with our individual metabolic function.”
What does that mean exactly? “In other words, if your breakfast is a bagel with cream cheese and coffee and orange juice, you have put about 80 or more grams of carbohydrates in your body and you will be hungry in an hour because your insulin levels will be through the roof and when that happens, we are hungrier. That has nothing to do with willpower – that’s just how our body works.”
So, unless you understand what causes the cravings or the hunger, then it becomes a contest between your body and your mind, Ms. Marco explains. That doesn’t bode well for weight loss success!
Why Breakfast REALLY Is Important
Here’s the skinny and it’s pretty fascinating. Back when our ancestors got up to feed the chickens and tend the farm, they didn’t have alarm clocks. What they had and what we still have is our liver. At around 3 a.m. our liver starts pumping sugar into our system to give us energy to wake up.
Simply put, if you get up and don’t eat anything, your liver just keeps pumping sugar into your system. As your blood sugar levels are rising, your pancreas is producing insulin (the hormone that signals our cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage). In the morning, the little doors to our cells are closed pretty tight so when all the sugar can’t get in there – guess what – it gets stored as belly fat!
Moreover, the more sugar we take in, the more unbalanced our blood glucose becomes and the more sugar our body craves in order to fix a perceived imbalance. Until you change the levels of glucose, the craving for sweets will remain.
The more carbohydrates we take in, the harder our pancreas needs to work to produce the insulin necessary to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Often the pancreas overproduces insulin in response to a quick rise in blood sugar or a large amount of consumed carbohydrate, which causes the sweet cravings that many of us experience. And you thought it was all in your head!
Fact vs. Advertising
Another problem with weight loss is how foods are marketed. We’ve been lied to, deceived and sucked into multimillion dollar advertising and lobbying campaigns that convince us certain foods or brands are healthier than others.
There is something called the “halo” effect on products: large labels on packaging that tell you the product is “all natural,” “low fat,” “no cholesterol” – all designed to help you think you are eating healthy.
You have to be smarter than that and read the label. A product that is low in fat may pack a wallop of carbohydrates and sodium. Take pretzels, for example. Better than a potato chip you might think. But one sourdough hard pretzel from a leading manufacturer contains 18 grams of carbohydrates and 470 milligrams of sodium in ONE pretzel – yep, that’s the serving size on the package. Have you ever eaten just one pretzel? If you ate five pretzels you would have exceeded the recommended daily amount of sodium and consumed 90 grams of carbs. Ouch.
The moral of the story? Learn to read labels and understand the serving size.
Are All Calories Created Equal?
Remember when everyone was eating rice cakes? Then protein-only diets became the rage and carbohydrates were perceived as very, very bad. A person can go crazy listening to the latest diet fad.
In order to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories and expend more energy – it’s the simple math of weight loss. Ahh, if only life were so simple.
If you went on a 1,500-calorie-a-day regimen and consumed 500 of those calories from a candy bar, do you think that’s the same thing as consuming 500 calories from a piece of grilled chicken? Yes, if you’re doing the math; no, if you want to feed your body properly, lose weight and feel full.
Here is what we know for sure: If you eat 500 calories of protein, you will feel fuller and more satisfied longer than if you eat 500 calories of carbohydrates. Why? Because your body is going to take those carbs, turn them into sugar for energy and unless you’re an athlete, it will turn it right into body fat.
If you eat 500 calories of a grilled chicken breast, your stomach breaks down the protein into amino acids, which are transported to your blood stream so they are available to all of your body tissue. Then a complex process occurs where your body’s cells are able to take those amino acids on an as-needed basis to repair themselves.
But here’s the kicker – your body still needs amino acids to repair itself, so if you’re not feeding it protein, guess where it comes from – your body consumes your muscles by breaking down the protein there because you’re not giving it what it needs. The body will get what it needs whether you treat it right or not!
Let’s recap what you need to know about weight loss:
- If you can’t pass up a piece of chocolate or need a lot of salt, find out why your body craves sugar and/or salt so much and fix it
- Always eat a well-balanced breakfast that has more protein than carbs
- Consume fewer calories and expend more energy
- Read food labels and check the serving size to make intelligent choices about the products you buy
This is just the beginning – we could write volumes about losing weight and we will continue to provide important information as the year progresses to help keep you on track.
But we also want to hear from you. Share your story and experiences and post questions on Jefferson University Hospitals’ Facebook Discussion Board. We will share your questions with our experts to get you the information you need.