I do not have a PHD in nutrition, but I am a Kinesiologist and fitness trainer who has been directly involved with the weight loss supervision of hundreds of people over the past 12 years. I have kept up with an endless stream of information about how humans respond to different foods, what variables influence fat loss, what studies offer the best solution to the obesity epidemic, and finally what nutrients and supplements have the most favorable effect on weight loss.
After all of my reading, education, and personal experience I would like to take one of the most complex issues in today's world and make it very simple. After the best efforts of the processed food and diet industries to convince you otherwise, maintaining a lean physique 365 days per year for most, if not all, of your life comes down to this fact:
There are two major types of people in this world when it comes to "feel good" brain chemistry. Those with a high or higher sensitivity to reward and those with a low or lower susceptibility to reward. The basic idea here is that higher the sensitivity to reward, the harder it is to maintain impulse control during certain situations. Also people who have a higher sensitivity to reward usually have less dopamine and will seek out more extreme impulse based behaviors to feel good. This can happen during childhood, which also could be why overweight kids have a harder time with weight management later in life.
This is how the trouble starts:
Step one: Person's mixture of genes alters brain chemistry and leads them towards displaying high sensitivity to reward behaviors possibly due to low dopamine levels. This is called Reward Deficiency Syndrome.
Step two: They decide to excessively use the natural pleasure of food to medicate their mood instead of illicit drugs
Step three: Over time there is a down regulation of the effect that food has, and the intake volume and / or insulin spiking effect of the food related choices increases.
Step four: Weight goes up and pleasure / life satisfaction goes down. The whole process is reinforced and the cycle continues.
Obviously this is on a continuum, and different people have different levels of sensitivity to Reward.
However, for the millions of people who struggle with weight, diets, and self loathing here is your test:
High Sensitivity to Reward Test:
When you decide to indulge, you can eat 1 double chocolate cookie or a small handful of chips and then walk away; Never give it another thought? Or are you the one who can not seem to stop once you get going? If you are the latter, then you likely have a high sensitivity to reward (HSR) when it comes to food.
This matters because there will be certain foods, ingredients, diet methods, and supplements that will act as triggers, and make sticking to a long-term, sensible eating plan nearly impossible for you. Here's my short list:
Refined White Sugar
From 0-100-0 in 1 week
The Micro vs Macro Scam
4 WEIGHT GAIN TRIGGERS YOU NEED TO REMOVE:
1. Refined White Sugar:
This is by far the most important and rewarding decision a high sensitivity to reward (HSR) PERSON can make in their lives. The 360 metric tons of refined sugar that are shipped to our continent each year can be found in almost every non-whole food item we consume today. It is in everything from the slices that make up your "healthy" six-inch veggie sub, to the "energy boosting" sports drinks that the pro's use to re-fuel.
If you are balanced and passed the cookie and chip test above, sugar eat might be ok for you in moderation. For the rest of the world who can not stop at a little, this makes life much harder. Why you might ask? Refined white sugar is also known as sucrose, and has been processed with the goal of removing any insulin regulating elements including fiber. This process provides sugar the ability to spike insulin levels and affect brain chemistry in the same way that drugs such as cocaine do. Refined sugar is highly addictive to those in constant need of a dopamine fix, and in fact its chemical structure is only one nitrogen molecule away from cocaine itself.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON SUGAR AND WEIGHT LOSS:
Refined white sugar is a drug; A drug that is highly addictive. If you are a person who completely failed the cookie test above, there is no way you can keep any sugar in your life and maintain the lean body you desire over the long term. Bodybuilder style diets that offer a cheat day will be the worst for you. As hard as it may be, if you can keep your refined intake under 8-10 grams per day, you will quickly drop substantial body fat and more easily avoid binging on food. You still need tricks or you will not be able to sustain your no sugar ways. If you are at a social function where desert is served, ask for low glycemic fruit like berries. In your daily routine find foods that are pleasurable to eat on occasion, but do not illicit cravings or induction a binge. These foods will need to be under a glycemic Index of 55 if alone and 70 when coupled with protein.
2. From 0-100-0 in 1 week:
Most people who will find this post are looking to be healthy through both nutrition and exercise. It has been my experience that for active HSR types there is a strong relationship between exercise and eating well. The issue is that there is also often a relationship between a lack of exercise and poor eating choices. The point here is that some of the most active people I know look like they work out the least. These are people who do hours of cardio per week, complete the hardest DVD workout systems, cycle to work, and ... carry an extra 20-50 pounds for most of the year. How is this possible? Simple. These people are HSR types that need a drug fix at all times. So for 30-40 days at a time they hop on a strict or "cleanse" type diet; Coupling it with an extreme workout plan that will act as a suitable replacement to the food fix. The problem is that with exercise they go from a stand still to a full sprint in the first week of training, and switch from calorie surplus eating to a deprivation diet not fit for an anhedonic bird.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR THE ALL OR NOTHING CROWD:
You have an addictive personality and it's ok. If it's not sugar it might as well be exercise ... BUT..for long term success the intensity of the commitment needs to be altered. You can not train long and hard all the time and eat like a reality show housewife or it will not last; And the chances of ending up face first in a tub of Hagen Daas will increase dramatically. Instead alternate high intensity workouts with lower intensity ones. Do something every day, but after three workouts in a row, take a day where the activity consist only of a brisk walk or some low intensity, structured cardiovascular exercise. Have a low glycemic treat after every high intensity workout (max 3 per week) instead of one big cheat day at the end of the week.
3. Artificial Sweeteners:
This is like using tantric intercourse to overcome a sex addiction; Pure torture. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda activate the reward pathway that HSR type people are seeking, but apparently do not reduce the craving for sugar. This complete mental tease could have negative implications for those trying to lose weight. In fact, "exposure to an artificial sweetener may limit the brain's ability to track calories and to determine when to stop eating."
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS AND WEIGHT LOSS:
They do more damage than good. Everyone is now afraid that an apple will make them fat, but a mountain of chemical sweetener is just what the doctor ordered. Eat the apple, get the natural sugar, feel full from the fiber, live a longer life, and perform better in the gym. This is a trigger for the brains of HSR people and should be avoided. Next time you hit the Starbucks, forgo the sweetener. Even if you are mildly lactose intolerant, put the splash of 5% cream into your coffee instead and enjoy it! (Btw, it's only 15 calories..5 more than skim..tastes way better).
4. The Micro-Macro Scam:
Have you ever met someone who has read all the books, learned all of the biochemistry, memorized the names of every supplement ever created, and is more concerned about getting enough white bean extract to block the absorption of carbohydrates than focusing on the huge plate of Pasta they consumed for lunch? Well I have, many times, and I know where it all starts. When it comes to the weight loss industry there is one aspect that has proven to be extremely profitable; Focus on the science and you'll keep em coming back. I'm not totally blaming the supplement companies. We can all be seduced by a quick fix, and for most people it is easier to put the littlest detail in front of the big picture when we believe it will take less effort to get what we want .. The fact remains that many people in North America will buy a shelf full of weight loss pills and powders before they will consistently hit the calorie targets necessary for real, sustainable weight loss. There is a never ending list of costly natural supplements that will yield a ton of money for health companies, and will do nothing for you without first eating less food than you need to maintain your body weight.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR THE WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT CROWD:
The only pill from a bottle that will allow a human being to lose weight without calorie restriction will have side-effects strong enough to put a herd of horses into identical cardiac arrest. Focus on the big picture. Sugar is out. Find out how many calories you need to lose 1-2 pounds of body weight per week and stick to it. Eat at least three meals per day; Mixing protein, low glycemic complex carbs, and tons of veggies. Eat real food first and avoid fake sweeteners. Use high fiber meals to make portion control easy. Do something every day, but remember this is a marathon not a sprint so mix up the intensity every day. Have at least three trips every week that are low to moderate glycemic and do not lead to cravings. Finally, get rid of all your triggers and start listening to your body again. Then, and only then, will you understand the real reason why people are overweight in North America. Good luck!