Changing the Calories-in/Calories-out Narrative

If you’ve spent any time trying to lose weight, you’ve probably heard these well-rehearsed phrases:

  • “To lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn.”
  • “If you’re overweight, you’re eating too much. Cut back on your calories & add exercise.”
  • “The 1st law of thermodynamics applies to food consumption & weight management. It’s calories in vs. calories burned.”

Sadly, this has been the narrative for the last 40+ years, and not coincidentally, since the late 1970’s, we have seen obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), chronic illness, and metabolic syndrome become an epidemic among our population. During this time we’ve seen the establishment of the American Dietary Guidelines, as well as major associations like the American Heart Association, the CDC and the American Diabetes Association trumpet the message of “low-fat, lots of fruits and grains, and limited saturated fats” as the key to a healthy metabolic state. We have seen a reduction in the amount of saturated fats consumed, a HUGE increase in the use of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and a food supply that is so driven by processed foods that 67% of the food consumed by children are processed. So, how has this all worked out? Horribly…

The Carbohydrate Insulin Model (CIM)

In this most recent article, research continues to reaffirm that our dietary choices are not only making us sick, but driving the obesity epidemic that has taken hold in the U.S. and is sweeping across other parts of the world. Without getting into heavy scientific details, there is a fundamental flaw in applying the 1st law of thermodynamics to the human diet: all calories are NOT created equal and macronutrients have different effects on hormones and physiological processes.

Have you ever wondered why we are being told to consume 55% – 60% of our calories from carbohydrates, when there is not one single carbohydrate that is essential? Remember, essential nutrients are those that the body cannot make on its own, so it must consume them from food (or the environment, as in the case of Vitamin D). We have essential amino acids & essential fatty acids, but no essential carbohydrates. And before you say “we have to eat carbs to survive”, keep in mind the human body has the ability to create glucose (which we need to survive) from non-carbohydrate sources using processes like lipolysis and gluconeogenesis. So, by eating all these carbohydrates and processed foods (which include sugars, fillers and highly inflammatory vegetable oils), could we be contributing to our own obesity? That’s the hypothesis of the carbohydrate insulin model (CIM). Resounding scientific data is becoming more and more apparent that macronutrient quality/type matters more than simply consumed calories because of the impact the macronutrients have on hormonal responses in the body. If, as has been proven, carbohydrates stimulate the hormone insulin significantly greater than protein, and especially fat, and insulin is considered the “energy storage” hormone, which seeks to pull sugar from the blood and store it into cells (as glycogen) while storing all the excess as fat, then excessive carbohydrate consumption will trigger an excessive insulin response (called insulin resistance), causing not only an accumulation of fat but other chronic issues such as T2D, cardiovascular disease, NAFLD and chronic inflammation.

Exercise to the Rescue?

But I exercise and burn calories, yet I still gain weight and am fat? How is that possible? Exercise has a plethora of wonderful benefits and is absolutely, in my opinion, a mandatory in leading a healthy life. If you want to learn more about the benefits of exercise, which exercises might be right for you, and how exercise can contribute to health and wellness, check out this link from diet

However, using exercise for significant weight reduction to counter a poor diet is a failed strategy. Food companies are taking the position, more and more, that exercise is the key…”eat whatever you want, just exercise more.” But that hasn’t worked, even according to our own CDC, as represented in the below graph through 2017 which showed obesity rising even as the percentage of Americans meeting the exercise guidelines was on the slight rise.

Science Behind the CIM

There is much evidence to support the CIM. Macronutrients matter, food quality matters, and you cannot out-exercise a bad diet. We have been following the American Dietary Guidelines behind a high carbohydrate diet for over 40 years, and obesity, T2D, chronic illness and inflammatory diseases are higher than ever. If you’ve ever wondered what research there is to challenge the idea that a high carbohydrate diet is the only way, and whether a low carbohydrate diet can be effective at weight loss, metabolic syndrome recovery, inflammation reduction and overall health improvement, here’s a resource page I’ve created to help you review the science.