Calorie counting has officially become history as Weight Watchers, the world’s largest diet company announces that “calorie counting has become unhelpful” (I’d change that to “has [BEEN] unhelpful”)! It appears that it has finally occurred to the president that there’s a difference between the 100 calories contained in an apple as opposed to that contained in a 100 calorie pack of cookies! But at what price?
If you have been one of the millions following the trend of weight-maintenance and weight-loss using calorie counting, it is very likely that it has not only hampered your efforts but has potentially made your goals all the more difficult. What happens when your diet is based on calories is that you can very easily end up eating empty calories from foods that have little or no nutritional value which in turn lead to further cravings and hunger.
Firstly, hunger because, a pack of cookies are digested, absorbed and if not immediately used by your body turned into fats in a matter of minutes leaving you feeling hungry not long after. Forget cookies, this same exact process also happens with a commonly believed ‘healthy’ whole multi-grain bread! You ask why?
Let’s first compare this to a whole fresh fruit. Fruits, although also packed with carbohydrates and sugars also contain fiber which slows down the digestive process, in turn slowing down the rate at which sugars are absorbed and used -rather than stored.
To understand why a whole grain bread is not much superior to a cookie, imagine this. Two sinks filled with water, one containing fruits, nuts, vegetables and cooked unprocessed grains (oats, barley, etc) and beans. The other contains whole wheat breads, crackers, cakes, and other flour products. Now coming back to these sinks in 20 minutes, you’ll notice that nothing has changed with the whole foods sink whereas the sink filled with breads and flour products have turned into mush! This is the same process that goes on in your stomach. The mush is no different to your body than a whole load of sugar. Your body will react to it in the same way with the same harmful side effects of insulin resistance and worsening sugar cravings.
Why Cravings? Well, that’s a whole different process. Basically, food intake is controlled by hunger and satiety signals and there are two systems regulating food intake. There is the normal regulatory signals of satiety that is dominant in healthy, non-craving individuals. And then there is the reward system that overtakes normal regulatory signals when it comes to sweets and/or fatty foods. What researchers have found is that foods rich in fat and sugar will increase food intake where the driving force is gratification (due to reward opioids, dopamine and serotonin) rather than eating for energy. This reward system has been likened to Cocain addiction. The human body’s reward system is a collection of brain structures which attempts to regulate and control behaviour by inducing pleasurable effects thus making it more likely for us to continue the rewarding behaviour.
In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tasting foods. The high stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, generates an abnormally high reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.
From an evolutionary point of view it makes sense that foods rich in fat and sugar is attractive, because such food can be rapidly converted into energy -and subsequently stored as fat if not used. In our society however where sweets are readily available, this process no longer works in our favor.
So what can be done? Firstly remember that the more sugars and processed foods you eat, the stronger your cravings -because of the reward system- and so to truly diminish your cravings you must replace processed foods with balanced* meals containing whole foods. First Line Therapy offers a wonderful solution to what I believe to be a common misunderstanding in today’s society of what comprises a health food. What you will find as you follow a healthy nutritional plan suited both to your caloric needs as well as to your nutritional needs is that overtime your sugar cravings will not only diminish but your taste buds regain their sweet sensitivity to the point where a previously enjoyed sweet product is almost too sweet and no longer appealing! Believe me, this is a well-known and established phenomena.**
Wishing you all the best as you begin to switch over from a mushy filled sink to one filled with colourful, nutritious, whole, filling and energizing foods!
*Balanced meals contain appropriate portions of healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates and fibers which lead to the normal process of satiety signals leaving you feeling full and satisfied with energy to go for hours.
**For those of you currently fasting (while also hopefully following a whole foods diet) you may have already observed this phenomena where sweets, although still appealing due to our learnt behavioural response (thanks to the reward system!), are however no longer as tasty as they used to be.