For decades, we've been told that you have to count calories to lose weight, but scientists say the quality of the calories you consume is far more important than quantity when it comes to weight loss.
The longstanding CICO (calories in, calories out) dogma has failed miserably, say obesity experts, who underscore that weight loss advice has to go beyond the simplistic "eat less, exercise more" mantra people have been sold.
“We intuitively know that 'Eat less, exercise more' doesn’t work," Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote in a JAMA commentary.
"It’s such simple advice that if it worked, my colleagues and I would be out of a job. The uncomfortable fact is that an exceedingly small number of people can lose a substantial amount of weight and keep it off following that advice.”
High-Carb Diet Fuels Insulin Surges That Cause Weight Gain
Dr. Ludwig said excess fat storage is caused by insulin spikes, which are fueled by eating too many refined carbs, especially sugar and processed grains like white bread — a staple of the American diet that has made the United States the fattest country on Earth.
Ludwig and his study co-author, Dr. Mark Friedman, join a growing list of medical experts who are debunking the myth that eating fat makes you fat, and that restricting calories is the best way to fuel weight loss.
“We have to forget the low-fat paradigm,” said Dr. Ludwig, author of Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently? “Some high-fat foods like avocado, nuts and olive oil are among the healthiest foods we could possibly eat.”
The longstanding low-fat diet dogma and the concomitant calorie myth has caused many frustrated people to blame overeating and sloth for their inability to lose weight, and this is wrong, said Ludwig.
According to Ludwig, the obesity epidemic is largely driven by our high-carb diet, which causes blood-sugar surges and insulin spikes. "Insulin is the granddaddy of anabolic hormones," he said.
Eating refined carbs, such as a 100-calorie pack of Oreos, produces a huge surge of insulin that signals your fat cells to store calories. In contrast, eating 100 calories of avocado won't produce the same insulin charge. You'll also feel fuller, longer, after eating the avocado, while the Oreos will make your blood sugar spike and rapidly crash, causing you to feel ravenous in short order.
Ludwig's JAMA commentary comes on the heels of new scientific research suggesting that unprocessed saturated fat is not the cause of weight gain, diabetes or heart disease.
The true cause of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and diabetes is a high-carb diet, especially one high in sugar. That's what investigative writer Nina Teicholz posits in her book, The Big Fat Surprise.
"Fat generally — and saturated fat specifically — came to be blamed for causing heart disease, obesity and cancer," said Teicholz. "Eventually this unfounded belief became ingrained as our national dogma. Saturated fat is really not bad for health. The most rigorous diet trials clearly show that a high-fat, low-carb diet is better for fighting obesity, diabetes and heart disease."
Weight Loss Experts Debunk the Calorie Myth
More weight loss experts now say the best way to lose weight and keep it off isn't to obsessively count calories, but to eat real, whole foods that are nutritionally dense.
Fitness expert Jonathan Bailor has helped hundreds of morbidly obese people lose thousands of pounds by focusing on calorie quality over quantity. Jonathan, author of The Calorie Myth, told me eating real food promotes weight loss better than choking down edible "products," as the chemicals in fake foods damage metabolism, disrupt hormones and fuel weight gain.
"Stop thinking about calorie quantity and look at food quality," said Bailor. "A calorie is not a calorie. Using calories as a guide to what you should eat is like using height to measure intelligence."
Bill Lagakos, author of The poor, misunderstood calorie, agrees. "Counting calories is an ineffective means to determine energy balance or lose weight," wrote Dr. Lagakos, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and physiology.
"The calories in food are not the same as those expended by the body. Carb-rich foods are easily over-eaten, producing a positive energy balance. The accompanying elevations in insulin cause net fat storage. Maybe all calories are calories, but not all calories are equally obesogenic."