In the end, Only Calories Count: Wrong

I’ve been seeing this headline a lot lately:

Diets That Reduce Calories Lead to Weight Loss, Regardless of Carbohydrate, Protein or Fat Content

Well yes that’s true. But quite frankly, it misses the point.

A person who is overweight does not have a weight problem. She has a weight symptom. Her problem is hunger.

There is no point trying to manage weight if you do not manage hunger. There is only so long you can fight your body’s desire to reach and maintain its target weight. And by target I don’t mean the one you have for yourself that makes you look good in a bathing suit. It’s the one your body feels is necessary given your diet composition, your level of activity and your genetic propensity for fat and sugar regulation.

Most people don’t know why they are overweight.

They think they know why but they don’t.

The standard answer from patient and doctor alike is “over-eating” which tells you absolutely nothing. I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as over-eating short of the kind that leaves you feeling unwell because you’ve surpassed the volume comfortable for your stomach.

Over-eating, in the most common sense, refers to any food consumption that precedes weight gain. It’s a tautology. All things being equal, if two people follow the exact same diet and one gains weight, he is said to have “over-eaten” while the other “ate in moderation.” It’s like saying the tree was green because it was green.

The goal of any weight-loss diet should not simply be to create a caloric deficit, but to adopt sustainable lifelong eating habits which make it easy to reach and maintain an ideal weight. That is not to suggest it will ever be easy to drop detrimental eating habits which have been acquired over a lifetime and are probably central to one’s eating culture. But the changes must be sustainable physiologically.

Skinny people may admonish fat ones for failing to show self control, but the fact is that a modern diet makes some people constantly hungry. Fighting that kind of psychological torture day-in day-out is not possible. Gross caloric deficits can be sustained for short periods of time but falling off the wagon is inevitable unless hunger is addressed.

So it is true that the macro-nutrient composition of a diet is irrelevant if you are simply trying to achieve a caloric deficit.

However it is completely relevant if you are trying to control hunger in order to achieve a sustained depletion of fat stores.


Brain Enzyme a Factor in Weight Loss

More research on our rodent friends who by now should have every mechanism worked out in order that they stay slim.

Blocking a particlar enzyme (CaMKK2) was shown to decreases appetite And promote weight loss.

I found this observation odd:

They also studied both normal mice and mice missing CaMKK2 to learn how these types responded to low-fat and high-fat diets. After nearly 30 weeks on the specific diets, the normal mice on the high-fat diet became diabetic — they were unable to respond to insulin and weren’t able to manage blood sugar levels well. In contrast, the normal mice on a low-fat diet stayed healthy.

In mice missing CaMKK2, the scientists found that they stayed healthy regardless of whether they were on a low-fat or high-fat diet. The CAMKK2-negative mice apparently were protected from changes that lead to diabetes in a high-fat diet.

I don’t understand how a high-fat and presumeably low-carb thus low insulin producing diet would lead to diabetes. I’m open to suggestions. I assume we don’t have all the facts.

I suppose if the carb-content of the two diets remained the same it could make sense…?

Duke Medical News

Recent Research on Metabolism

It’s been a busy week…

New genetic variants that influence fat mass



Half the UK population has the fat “gene”ie “sequence of genes”
…which I affectionately call the “I can’t eat this crap” gene

The sequence they discovered is not a gene, but it sits close to a gene called MC4R, which regulates energy levels in the body by influencing how much we eat and how much energy we expend or conserve. It is thought the sequence might play a role in controlling activity levels of the MC4R gene.


Dairy claims false: neither dairy nor calcium intake promotes weight loss

“Our findings demonstrate that increasing dairy product intake does not consistently result in weight or fat loss and may actually have the opposite effect,” the authors conclude.


Human metabolic phenotype diversity and its association with diet and blood pressure: Causes Of Disease Can Be Revealed By Metabolic Fingerprinting

Metabolic fingerprinting looks at the relative levels of many different metabolites, which are the products of metabolism, in a person’s blood or urine. Metabolites act as markers which can reveal a lot about how diet and lifestyle contribute to risks for certain diseases.


Aspirin-like compounds increase insulin secretion in otherwise healthy obese people

Aspirin-like compounds (salicylates) can claim another health benefit: increasing the amount of insulin produced by otherwise healthy obese people. Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, the first step toward type 2 diabetes.

How is that a benefit? Useful info but bad analysis. Good deconstruction here.


I missed this one earlier… Ha! I didn’t see it until it hit the BBC….
Vitamin A, E & Beta-carotene “seem to increase mortality”
I’d love to hear what the stats were on Vitamin D but it wasn’t covered

After various factors were taken into account and a further 20 studies excluded, the researchers linked vitamin A supplements to a 16% increased risk of dying, beta-carotene to a 7% increased risk and vitamin E to a 4% increased risk.


Fat cell number is set in childhood

There’s some fresh research out substantiating the theory that fat cell numbers are set by the end of adolescence and remain stable in adulthood, regardless of weight loss. Fat size can vary but cell numbers remain constant.

Fat Cells and Size

The research has also shown that each year, approximately 8% of fat cells die off and are replaced. As such, cell numbers are maintained.

So no news here.

But what I’d be interest to know, is whether liposuction would be successful in effecting a long term reduction in the number of fat cells or if, over time, cells removed are repopulated.

In other words, does the body
(a) work towards maintaining a certain number of fat cells that is set in adolescence, or
(b) simply have a tendency to replace a given number of cells each year and thus surgery is a viable long-term method to reduce fat cell numbers?

If surgery truly reduces fat cell numbers for good, then liposuction could effect a permanent change in a person’s fat distribution pattern. If it cannot, then the results will only be temporary and that pear shape will eventually return.

I suspect that (a) is true and that, suck up what cells you might, eventually they will be repopulated.

This suspicion is based on some research I vaguely recall in which obese mice had some fat removed from their bodies and then immediately increased their food consumption to compensate until the fat mass was restored.

Of course the increase could have been effected by the enlargement of the residual cells. But given that our genetics program us to deposit fat in specific places (varying slightly from individual to individual), it would seem that taking a vacuum to your big butt would have no impact on your general tendency to put fat in that area.

Saying that, I’m not familiar with the long term results of liposuction so I may just be talking out of my own big butt.

Maybe you got that backwards

Everyday Movement Keeps You Slim
Scientists studied the daily acitivity levels of both obese and normal weight people and found that those who were obese… wait for it… moved around less! Yes it’s true.

Those who were obese moved 2½ hours less than lean people – which equates to about 350 fewer calories a day. Ambulation movement seemed to be the difference maker – not so much pre-planned power walking, but just constantly taking opportunities to move.

Or maybe: Obesity results in a propensity to conserve energy.


Low Levels Of Physical Activity And High Levels Of Obesity Found In Cancer Survivors
Finding: Despite getting cancer, many obese people don’t do anything to reduce their weight.

A new study reveals that many cancer survivors are inactive and obese, which may negatively affect the control of their disease. The findings, which come from a study of cancer survivors in Canada, show that a cancer diagnosis does not appear to prompt significant behavior change and that interventions to increase physical activity and promote better eating habits among cancer survivors are warranted.

Or maybe: Going through treatment does not mean that the factors which lead to obesity have changed – in fact they may have been exacerbated.

Just Maybe

Chocolate Loaded with Sugar is Good for You

Chocolate Bar Shown To Lower Cholesterol
According to research funded by Mars.

But quite frankly, I’m not going for it until they feed it to bunnies.

It is interesting to learn, by the by, that there is a Mars Scientific Advisory Council.

Two types of CocoaVia bars were then introduced, one with plant sterols and one without. While remaining on the AHA diet, participants ate one CocoaVia formulation twice daily for four weeks, then switched to the other bar for an additional four weeks. Blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, and other cardiovascular measures were tracked throughout the eight-week study.

“After the participants started the AHA diet, a lot of them began to lose weight, so we had to keep fussing at them to eat more. We didn’t want a weight change because that also lowers cholesterol,” said Ellen Evans, a U. of I. professor of kinesiology and community health and co-author of the study.

“After starting the CocoaVia bars, we saw a marked differential effect on blood cholesterol, with the sterol-containing products doing better than those without sterols,” she said.

Wow. That’s amazing. Is this really peer reviewed?

They seem to have proven absolutely nothing other than the fact that Mars has a lot of money to throw at promoting sugar consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my chocolate indulgence and I’m very happy to treat myself with the 85% stuff from time to time. But I mean… please. Are they serious with this kind of research?



and the % cocoa solids would be….???

Welcome to the Party

It looks like more scientists are starting to see the light…

Belly Fat May Be Stimulating Appetite

The extra fat we carry around our middle could be making us hungrier, so we eat more, which in turn leads to even more belly fat. Dr. Kaiping Yang and his colleagues at the Lawson Health Research Institute affiliated with The University of Western Ontario found abdominal fat tissue can reproduce a hormone that stimulates fat cell production. The researchers hope this discovery will change in the way we think about and treat abdominal obesity.

Hopefully this is evidence of a gradually changing view of the causes of obesity.

I would like to think that in 10 years time, the medical establishment will have tossed out the old food pyramid and “you’re fat because you eat too much” way of thinking.

I’m optimistic that in the not too distance future, people will be receiving much better information about how to tackle their obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I don’t think this is too far fetched… could the tide be turning?

The Bunnies are at it Again

It looks like just another “One More Reason to Drink Coffee” article…

A coffee with your doughnut could protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Coffee & Doughnuts by SliceA daily dose of caffeine blocks the disruptive effects of high cholesterol that scientists have linked to Alzheimer’s disease. A study in the open access publication, Journal of Neuroinflammation revealed that caffeine equivalent to just one cup of coffee a day could protect the blood-brain barrier (BBB) from damage that occurred with a high-fat diet.

The symbiotic relationship between coffee and donuts is proven!

Oh wait. It seems they are saying that the major problem with eating a donut is that it is high fat – not that you’ve just consumed 50g of sugar. Further, we are told that a high-fat diet damages the BBB. So how was this worked out?

In this study, researchers gave rabbits 3 mg caffeine each day – the equivalent of a daily cup of coffee for an average-sized person. The rabbits were fed a cholesterol-enriched diet during this time. After 12 weeks a number of laboratory tests showed that the BBB was significantly more intact in rabbits receiving a daily dose of caffeine.

Oh NOW I see. This isn’t about high-fat. It’s about cholesterol.

Hey why is my pet bunny eating cholesterol when he’s a herbivore?!? Isn’t it possible this means the results are totally irrelevant as far as omnivorous humans are concerned?

And if cholesterol is the evil here… what does it have to do with my doughnut? Are they starting to make those with lard again? Last I checked doughnuts were full of vegetable oil and hence “cholesterol free.”

Maybe they mean THIS donut…
Lady’s Brunch Burger
The Lady’s Brunch Burger – yes it is really called that

OK my bad. Some donuts, do have cholesterol (must be the eggs). So, you may want to choose, say, a Boston Kreme as your healthy cholesterol-free choice.


But I digress…

If I’m not mistaken, it was feeding cholesterol to rabbits which started this whole scare about dietary cholesterol in the first place. I admit I’m surprised that they keep feeding cholesterol to these animals given that the relevance of the research will always be disputed.

Personally I’m waiting for the study where they feed bamboo to lions and conclude that a high-fibre diet is bad for you.

So what’s the conclusion of bunnies on coffee and donuts?

High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood-brain barrier. For the first time we have shown that chronic ingestion of caffeine protects the BBB from cholesterol-induced leakage.

A risk-factor or correlated?

This seems like one more dubious study hijacked to support the existing gospel on the evils of cholesterol and fat consumption. And the icing on the cake is sloppy presentation confusing high-fat with elevated dietary cholesterol.

Henceforth I propose that all such research should be presented to the killer rabbit before publication.

Killer Rabbit
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Vorpal Bunny lays waste to the unworthy.


More Reading

Questioning the Gospel on Breakfast

BreakfastWe’ve seen the headline splashed everywhere this week: Study shows eating breakfast helps teens lose weight.

So now everyone one has jumped on the bandwagon to reiterate mom’s advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I just don’t buy it.

I’m not convinced that just because the average teen diet is improved by eating breakfast, it means that we all need to get a meal in before 10 am.

Dr Biffa has put forward the case and I accept all his points. Namely:

  1. Caloric restriction can reduce the metabolic rate
  2. Skipping breakfast can make you ravenous later in the day
  3. Skipping breakfast can make you seek out carbs later in the day

All of this: definitely possible. But it strikes me that these are issues for people who are running on glucose and suffer from swings of blood sugar levels.

If you are a high carb consumer, then yes, getting regular small doses is better than the roller coaster ride. And given that the study was done on teens, it’s probably a fair bet to say that their diet was loaded with carbs.

But the analysis that says “if doing X is better than what you are usually doing, then X must be good” is flawed. X might be good but it also might suck as far as all the other viable options go.

Modern Forager takes this kind of thinking apart in his post: So What’s The Real Scoop On Whole Grains?

Yet we’re constantly told that whole grains prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and every other malady under the sun. I will accept that whole grains are better for you than refined grains. That doesn’t really boggle the mind. What does boggle the mind is why all of these studies refuse to pit a whole grains-rich diet against a grain-free, produce-rich hunter-gatherer diet.

Exactly. Better doesn’t mean best. It might not even mean good. And it certainly cannot mean “absolutely best for everyone.”

Which brings me around to breakfast.

There have been many people who have reported good results from intermittent fasting. This is in effect an extreme form of “skipping breakfast.”

For an excellent yes-I-know-this-is-an-anecdote-and-not-research datapoint, read this great account of how skipping breakfast helped Lee Shurie cure his diabetes without meds (he also lost a few pounds in the process):

Upon waking in the morning I tested my sugar levels and found they were typically in the 150 mg/dl range. I expected them to come down by noon, but was surprised that they stayed above normal for quite some time. As the day went on I became worried (and hungry!), but I held off eating until nearly 6 PM, when my blood sugar level was normal. At this point I wanted to eat a huge meal, but I ate a normal dinner instead. As the evening progressed I snacked on healthy, low glycemic foods.

After following this regimen for days, which stretched into weeks, I discovered it provided whole new level of physical energy and mental alertness. After the first few days I was already “un-training” my body of the expectation that food would be provided at set meal intervals. After a week or so I no longer felt hungry until about 4 PM. On some days, I do not get hungry until 7 or 8 PM, but if I do get hungry earlier, I wait until 6 PM to eat. The one exception to this schedule is if I am doing strenuous exercise; I might have a small mid-afternoon snack (an apple or a few nuts).

I suspect that once you have trained your body to work off slow burning ketones instead of fast burning glucose, you do not need to be teathered to the 3-5 meals a day routine. I also suspect that “back in the day” when we were foragers, that skipping breakfast was a regular occurance.

As such, without a bit more compelling evidence, I find the case for the biological imperative weak. Call me cynical.

What about breakfast being the most important meal of the day? This slogan is brough to you by the same system that has helped make 65 percent of Americans overweight; it has helped to sell a lot of breakfast cereal and toaster pastries. You can see for yourself whether you’re better off with breakfast or without it. Put it to the test. – The Fast-5 Diet, pg 28

Of course everyone is different and some people will do better with breakfast. No doubt the average carb junkie is better not skipping meals. But once you’ve got the sugar monkey off your back, there can be a lot of reasons why a diet without breakfast works for you.

Bariatric Surgery has Nothing on this Hack

If you thought stomach stapling was too extreme for the treatment of obesity, then this will really yank your chain.

Doctors in Toronto have experimented on a morbidly obese man by implanting electrodes into his brain to stimulate appetite suppression. One has to assume that you are quite desperate to hack your brain for results.

The interesting outcome, however, was that the doctors discovered that the electrical current to the hypothalamus resulted in “turning up the brain volume” such that memory and ability to learn was greatly enhanced. There was no mention of whether the patient’s appetite was affected. Research clearly took a happy turn and they didn’t look back.

New brain anyone?