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"Millions of people the world over unnecessarily starve themselves to lose weight, and in the long term the only thing they gain is more weight." Stephanie Dalvit-McPhillips, Ph.D.
I frequently hear from people who want to achieve their fat-loss goals, by Friday. How fast can I lose? Is there a limit to how much fat I can burn in a workout? How many calories? They want answers. Theyíre determined. They want fast results, and theyíre willing to do just about anything -- but be patient. They donít understand that fat loss canít be rushed, that the body is hardwired to defend against rapid weight loss. The threat triggers alarm bells, which scream "eat." In her book The Right Bite (Fair Winds, 2001), Stephanie Dalvit-McPhillips describes 43 "triggers" that cause overeating and weight gain. The "T-Rex" of weight-gain triggers, says Dalvit-McPhillips, is "TOO FEW CALORIES Ė NOT TOO MANY."
Dalvit-McPhillips, a registered dietitian with a degree in nutritional biochemistry, is the first scientist to identify and test appetite-triggering agents that thwart weight-loss attempts. Her research has been cited in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and she has been published in Physiology and Behavior and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "Triggers fire off your appetites with a big bang, causing you to overeat, gorge yourself, or binge," she says. "They cause accelerated weight gain, even when you are not overeating."
The idea of fat triggers is not new. I wrote about it more than a decade ago in The Lean Advantage 2, where I explained to a 165-pound man, who was getting fatter eating only 800 calories, that "reducing caloric intake too low triggers the bodyís starvation mechanisms, causing the body to conserve energy and store fat." I suggested that he could become leaner by slowly increasing his calorie intake. Whatís new is the depth of the investigation and research done by Dalvit-McPhillips in the course of treating overweight people in her nutrition practice. Covert Bailey, author of The Ultimate Fit or Fat, says she "has all the answers!" Youíll get an indication of what Covert means when you see how thoroughly she explains how the body responds to insufficient calories.
Seven key factors are involved, according to Dr. McPhillips, each involving a different body function. The first response to insufficient calories is low blood sugar.
Weíve all experienced low blood sugar at one time or another. You feel tired and out-of-sorts, restless, anxious, irritable, sometimes dizzy and disoriented. Along with these symptoms, says McPhillips, "you will usually experience an intense craving for sweets and carbohydrates."
Your body is crying out for the glucose (blood sugar) it needs to supply itís vital functions, especially the brain and nervous system which use glucose exclusively. "Your brain is quite a glucose hog," says McPhillips. "When you are not exercising or doing any kind of physical labor, your brain, which weighs less than two pounds, uses two-thirds of your circulating glucose supply."
In short, your body demands that you eat. For all but the most determined dieter, itís "binge time!" When you chow-down on everything in sight, your blood sugar shoots up, causing insulin to go to work depositing glucose in your liver and muscles. Thatís fine, but it rarely stops there. Bingers, by definition, canít stop eating; they almost always overshoot their calories needs. The extra glucose, of course, is stored away in your fat cells for hard times that never come.
"Every dieter should learn to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar," says McPhillips, "[as] potent reminders that your diet is dangerously low in calories." The key, of course, is to eat regularly and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Serotonin, a derivative of tryptophan, acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and brain. As you may know, it produces a sense of well-being and affects our ability to sleep. Not so well known, however, is its affect on appetite. "Research has shown that as serotonin levels decline, itís depletion creates carbohydrate hunger," writes McPhillips. "You begin to crave sweets, the very foods you are trying to avoid!"
I made it a point to have a bedtime snack to help me sleep; I always include carbohydrates. Many dieters, however, do just the opposite; theyíve been told not to eat for several hours before bedtime. Denying yourself carbohydrates at bedtime or any other time is a mistake. "If you have ever found yourself binging maniacally after a couple of days on a low-calorie diet," says McPhillips, "blame it on the carbohydrate hunger and the depletion of serotonin in your system." Blame it on undereating.
As noted in connection with blood sugar, our bodies need glucose to function properly. When dieters cut back hard on calories, and the glucose in our blood and liver is depleted, the body turns to muscle to supply its vital needs. "To safeguard your brain from sugar shortage your body begins to cannibalize its own body protein for making new glucose," Mc Phillips writes. "So next time youíre on a diet, feeling out-of-sorts, and somebody asks whatís eating you, you can honestly tell them itís yourself!"
You may have read or been told that the body turns to "ketone bodies" derived from stored fat to fuel your brain when carbohydrates are severely restricted. Thatís true, but only partially. "Ketones can be used by some, but not all, brain cells," Dr. Phillips explains. "Many areas of the brain continue to rely exclusively on glucose, so your body protein continues to be sacrificed for that purpose."
Muscle cells, of course, are also important to proper functioning of the body. Your body tries to conserve muscle mass, even as it is destroyed to supply the brainís need for glucose. It does this by slowly your metabolism to reduce energy expenditure and conserve lean body mass as long as possible. "As your muscles waste away, they do less work and demand less energy," Mc Philips explains. Unfortunately, this compounds the problem.
"The more muscle tissue you lose, the fewer calories you burn, and the more calories you will store as fat," writes McPhillips. "Thatís when the pounds start accumulating Ė in spite of the fact that you are barely eating anything."
So, again, a very low-calorie diet is not the way to lose unwanted fat. It makes things worse, says McPhillips, because "your cravings will increase, and healthy, calorie-burning muscle tissue will be compromised or just plain destroyed."
This is an offshoot of the previous factor. When you start eating substantially less and your metabolism slows down to conserve muscle protein, Dr. McPhillips says, it creates "the perfect climate for weight gain...when you go back to eating normally."
Going into survival mode triggers "a vicious cycle" for the modern-day dieter. "Your body is still in starvation mode with a sluggish metabolism," explains McPhillips. "[It] interprets your more normal eating pattern as excessive." Your diminished muscle mass canít use the extra calories, so your body converts them to fat.
You can guess what happens next. "Good sense, the bathroom scale, and the fact that you canít get your jeans on, all tell you that you need to cut back on your food intake," Dr. McPhillips writes. "So you ease back into your diet again." Now youíve got real trouble, because "you get heavier and heavier even as you limit your caloric intake more and more." As we said, itís a vicious cycle.
But thereís more problems to come, says McPhillips. Your body begins to feel the effects of protein deficiency. The job of growth and repair normally performed by protein goes largely undone. "Even if you go on a high protein diet, your body will grab those protein molecules, convert them to glucose, and feed them to your brain cells first," McPhillips explains. The longer you stay on a very low-calorie diet, the more your body breaks down.
Your health begins to slowly deteriorate. "For example, you may notice that you are more prone to infection and that you have difficulty recovering even from minor illnesses," writes McPhillips. In the worst-case scenario, McPhillips says, the effects of protein deficiency can even be "life-threatening."
The good new, says McPhillips, is that the "symptoms go away within hours or days as you start eating in a more balanced way."
The bodyís ability to gain back "in just a few days" weight it took "weeks or even months to lose," says Dr. McPhillips, is a function of the fat-depositing enzyme lipoprotein lipase. Itís another survival mechanism developed during the course of evolutionary time to prepare us during good times for the next famine.
"Every time you drastically undereat, you are triggering the increased production of these enzymes," says Dr. McPhillips. "They can, in fact, becomes so bounteous that practically everything you eat turns to fat!"
So, when someone tells you they seem to get fat just looking at food, they may be guilty more of starving themselves than exaggeration.
"Malnutrition isnít limited to victims of drought and famine," says Dr. McPhillips. Borderline malnutrition also occurs in overzealous dieters. It may not show up on routine blood tests, says McPhillips, but itís "far more prevalent than you might imagine."
One of the symptoms is water retention. McPhillips says: "Water retention is particularly hazardous because it is easy to interpret as a weight gain, triggering a more ardent effort to lose weight, which only compounds the problem."
Iron deficiency and borderline anemia are also common problems, according to McPhillips. She says the symptoms include "irritability, fatigue, weakness, pallor, and heart palpitations."
According to McPhillips, taking a vitamin-mineral supplement may not solve the problem. "One reason for this is that your system will have difficulty assimilating what it needs to stay healthy," says McPhillips. "In addition, no supplement contains all the vitamins and minerals we need." The only real solution is eating ample nutrients. McPhillips suggests taking a supplement as well.
Whatís more, according to McPhillips, the combination of insufficient calories and insufficient nutrients triggers a "gargantuan" urge to binge. "Your bodyís cravings to satisfy nutritional needs your head canít always identify will promote appetites that will inevitably undo all youíve sacrificed to achieve," McPhillips writes.
Poststarvation hyperphagia, says Dr. McPhillips, is "the extreme sensation of hunger" that comes after being on a starvation diet "over a period of many days or weeks." According to Dr. McPhillips, if the hunger you feel after skipping breakfast and lunch is a 3, this is a 10. Itís a hunger thatís "virtually impossible to ignore." Itís all of the biochemical changes weíve been discussing rolled into one big cry for help. McPhillips says the message is unmistakable: "Eat! Eat! Eat!"
This hunger continues long after you stop dieting and resume normal eating. The more fat and lean tissue youíve lost, the longer the craving continues. "Even after your biochemistry normalizes, you donít end up with the same weight you were before you dieted," says McPhillips. "You weigh more." The hunger doesnít stop until youíve replaced all the fat you lost Ė and more. Sadly, the fat goes on more quickly and you also end up with less muscle than you had before.
"Severe calorie slashing" is a lose-lose situation. Writes Dr. McPhillips, "[It] will eventually carry you further and further down the path to being chronically overweight Ė ounce by agonizing ounce."
Never starve yourself. According to Dr. Stephanie Dalvit-McPhillips, thatís the first rule of weight control Ė Rule #1.
Only the Beginning
Insufficient calories is the Big Kahoona of weight-gain triggers, but itís only the beginning. Dr. Dalvit-McPhillips has isolated and studied 43 appetite triggers. Some of the others are salt, caffeine, sugary foods and lack of fiber. All of them are fully described in the 300-plus pages of her brilliant book, The Right Bite. Whatís more, she gives you the benefit of her many years of personal and professional experience in dealing with Ė and outsmarting Ė the scientifically proven fat triggers.
I highly recommend Dalvit-McPhillipsí book. Covert Bailey is correct when he says, "The Right Bite hits the nail on the head." Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or order it from Amazon.com. Do it today!
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