Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Calorie denial; & Why There Is Only One Cause For Fat Gain

Climate change denial seems to be a newsy thing of late. I've got a new one; Calorie denial.

Have you heard that poor sleep causes weight gain?  It can't. Poor sleep can't magically make molecules of fat appear out of nowhere and be deposited in our fat rolls.

How about the idea that since people gain weight back after initial weight loss, that weight loss doesn't work?  Wrong again.  The weight loss worked, then the person returned to overeating and gain the weight (fat) back.

These ideas are from those who are in "calorie denial", people who claim that the standard "calories in, calories out" formula for controlling weight doesn't work.  Usually these are otherwise reasonable people, but for reasons I'll explain, can't deal with the reality that overeating is what causes fat gain.

I've heard obesity researchers, dieticians, and doctors say these ridiculous things.  What is wrong with these folks?

They're in denial. Denial that overeating is the singular and only possible cause of gaining extra body fat.

There are many things that drive people to overeat, but in the end, only excess consumed food that isn't used as energy will be deposited as fat in our fat cells.  If we don't eat too much, we don't (and can't) gain body fat.

Stay with me for a couple paragraphs as I give an example of how susceptible we are to ignoring facts, and instead accepting an alternate, muddled perception of reality..

Did you know that the sun has never "risen" or "set", or ever travelled across the sky; and that it never will?  Most of us know this, but shockingly about 25% of Americans believe the sun orbits the earth.

"Sunrise" is a traditional term.  It's left over from a time when we didn't know what we were looking at and named what we saw through our limited knowledge and ability to observe.

In reality the sun is stationary relative to us; we're the ones who are moving.  We're on the surface of a rotating planet and our position moves in and out of the path of light streaming from the star we orbit.

From our perspective it sure looks like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and for practical purposes, that's how we refer to the occurrence.

Who get's up in the morning and thinks, "Ahh.. another day of rotating through the suns light".    That's what's really happening, but we don't think about it that way.  We stick with our tradition, which is fine as long as we don't take it literally.  You can bet the folks at NASA depend on the factual understanding of our solar system when planning space exploration.  Just like we should depend on actual facts when making decisions about our diet and exercise.

It's easy for us to adopt urban myths and traditionalisms, but it's also easy for us to be curious and challenge those myths and find evidence supported facts.

 When we're talking about weight loss, we're talking about fat loss.  It isn't that we're talking about losing lean muscle mass, or organ mass, or fluids, or bones, when we're talking about "weight loss" in the popular vernacular.

Even the word "fat" seems to be too much for us to deal with.

It wouldn't matter if one billion people claimed caloric intake isn't that important.  All we would have is one billion people making the same mistake.  Just like all those folks out there who are convinced the earth is flat; they all make the same error and find comfort with supporting each others shared misunderstanding.

We understand fat loss and gain as logically as we understand how the earth is spinning.  There are explainable, measurable, and confirmable facts regarding fat loss and gain, but the current trend is to stick our heads in the sand and ignore what we know about it.

We don't want to deal with our overeating because facing that can feel awkward or just plain bad.

Studies show that most people overestimate how much energy they burn off by 40% to 50%, and underestimate how many calories they eat also by about 40% to 50%.  There are also studies that show than when we're overweight we often don't perceive that we are, or that we need to lose weight.

Being in denial of being overweight or of overeating allows us to continue overeating. Why?  What's so important about overeating?  It's rewarding, that's why.  Even if you don't look at it that way, your brain definitely does.

I've heard the reverence in the calorie deniers voices; those who are calorie deniers sound convinced,  and they're pretty quick to disregard decades of peer reviewed journal research in their sorted stories.

Many don't want to face the reality that overeating is the singular cause of fat gain.  Instead of paying attention to what is relevant and real, there are endless reincarnations of magic weight loss promises, and of our ability to deny we're overweight because we eat too much.  That's how gripping habitual overeating can become.. contrived rationalizations are used to continue justifying overeating, even by some of our most educated experts in health and fitness.

For those who aren't experts, but are suffering from the woes of chronic overeating issues, it's all too easy to lend an ear to the rhetoric of the calorie denial pushers, and join their cause.  Denial loves company because there is strength in numbers. In the end the suffering continues because the real issue is.. denied.

I'll cover a few of the more popular calorie denial idea's out there..

Poor sleep causes fat gain.

Poor sleep doesn't cause molecules of fat to magically appear in our fat cells. Fat in our fat cells comes from somewhere, it isn't magic, and it isn't unexplainable.  The fat comes from food that we didn't use as energy (we ate too much).  Nobody wakes up weighing more than when they went to bed after a night of poor sleep.

It's fairly common now for a person afflicted with calorie denial to suggest that since "research has shown that poor sleep can cause weight gain, that we need to move past looking at calories in and out and pay attention to more complex causes of fat gain".

In reality the research doesn't show poor sleep quality causes weight gain.  That's a misinterpretation. A convenient leaving out of the actual study conclusions that show how the effects of poor sleep can lead to overeating, which causes weight gain.

Re-wording study conclusions to agree with personal bias is an obvious act of calorie denial.

Poor sleep can alter appetite regulating hormones and also reduce cognition. The reduced cognition causes us to be more susceptible to impulsive decisions to choose crappy foods over healthy foods, and the upset appetite regulation causes us to feel more hungry.

If you had poor sleep, but didn't overeat, you would not gain fat.

They don't talk about how poor sleep can lead to overeating, because they don't want to acknowledge that overeating is the singular cause of fat gain.  They have something else to sell; denial.

The strategy here would be to acknowledge that poor sleep can influence us to overeat, and that overeating makes us fat.  It's a good idea to think of healthy sleep as an important part of overall healthy living.  It's not a good idea to believe that poor sleep causes weight gain and then ignore the reality of overeating.

Weight loss doesn't work because people gain the weight back.

Really?  Moron alert! If someone loses weight.. uh.. didn't they loose weight?

The typical malfeasance of "experts" who claim these nuggets of ignorance bury themselves under layers of loony-bin reasoning claiming that weight loss plans that include diet and exercise to lose weight are ultimately a red herring, because these plans "fail" 95% of the time with people gaining back all the fat they lost.

It's pretty irritating to hear experts pass on this misinformation to people who need help.

What do the 5% of people who don't gain the weight back do?  They don't return to overeating, that's why they don't regain the fat they lost.

Diet and exercise don't fail.  It's people that fail to continue with healthy diet and exercise.

Diet and exercise that results in a caloric deficit works 100% of the time.  It can't fail.  That's why people lose fat when they do it.

Claiming otherwise is incredulous.

People give up on maintaining healthy choices and return to how they ate before; which was overeating.

If you don't return to previous overeating habits, then weight gain won't occur.

We don't like the idea of personal failure though.  How about simply accepting this?  What's wrong with accepting failure?  "Ok, I get what happened here, I went back to overeating, that's why I'm gaining the fat back."  Accept the failure for what it is, minus the abhorrent negative self judgment, and return to making healthy choices cognizant of the reality that failure is a possible outcome that we have to be mindful of and avoid.

It can feel embarrassing to contend with the fact that we gave up on successful weight loss and returned to overeating.  People feel like failures.  This is emotionally painful.  This can add to the spiral back to overeating as food is often used to sooth hurting emotions.

Instead of going into denial, which allows for a continuance of overeating, it's better to be mindful of how it is natural to fail, and that one can recover from failure by returning to healthy habits again.

Think about how good it felt to lose weight and that those good feelings are good reasons to continue to make healthy choices.  "Healthy" isn't a bad word.

That's what the denial is about.   Denial is about avoiding an uncomfortable truth.  The uncomfortable truth that despite successful weight loss, most people will return to previous overeating habits and gain weight back.  We know why this happens.  Healthy habits are not perceived as rewarding enough.  Unhealthy habits are perceived as more rewarding.

When on the weight loss plan many will go through the actions of eating an apple instead of a donut, but don't go through the mental and emotional work to overcome why we really wish we could be eating the donut.

We can only take so much of this and eventually all the social, previous habits, and personal influences to overeat overcome the initial willpower to choose the apple, and back to the donut we go.

Yes, I've been there, I know what it's like.

Many people face a daily struggle with healthy choices because such choices feel like a restriction and the unhealthy choices feel more liberating.  In reality the opposite is true.  This article is all about recognizing how we can fail to accept fact and reason.

Denial is part of our human fallibility.

When fat is gained back after initial success it is because the person fails to continue with the healthy choices that caused healthy weight loss.

Calories in, calories out.

So why do people return to living in a way that causes fat gain, especially after being so successful with a way of living that provided successful and healthy fat loss?

There are many reasons.  Culturally we love to overeat.  Overeating is very near and dear to our hearts.  If we don't overeat often we feel like we're being denied one of the most important tenets of happiness.  We love to encourage our friends and family to overeat, and we feel good when we're encouraged to go back for seconds, or to eat a 500-1000 calorie dessert after eating a 2000 calorie meal.

We offer gifts of overeating.  Most of our holidays and special occasions are celebrated with eating too much, and we scoff at the idea of eating healthy during any of these occasions.   An all you can eat buffet is perceived as a "deal" that is willfully celebrated rather than seen for what it really is; gorging on a couple thousand calories that we don't need and furthering the misconception that overeating is somehow a sought after rewarding experience.. In reality behaving like this is at the crux of our obesity epidemic.

Most restaurants have more calorie bomb meals than light meals to choose from, and when most people go out to eat it is with the intention to eat a lot and get enjoyment from eating a lot. We've socially engineered ourselves into a culture that supports overeating from all angles, but we don't make the connection between our reverence for overeating and the fat gain it causes.. doing so would mean we would have to be happy with eating less, and we don't want to do that because we don't believe we can be happy with eating less.. and thus the calorie denial.

What about the "just one time" excuse?  Well, if someone did overeat just one time, and ate less afterwords to balance out the overeating, then they would not gain fat, but that's not what we're talking about, is it?  No, we're talking about chronic overeating that causes a chronic battle with weight gain.  Nobody who is struggling with chronic weight gain should try to convince themselves that they only overeat occasionally or that occasional big chow-downs are not part of why they experience fat gain - this would be denial.

We need to remain aware that food is often used to sooth our hurting emotional state, to cope with stress.

Eating too much also causes us to become conditioned to eating too much.  Chronic overeating has been shown to alter appetite regulation influencing us to need to eat more to feel satisfied and to feel more hungry more often.

Some calorie dense foods provoke a heightened reward stimulis in our brains that results in us wanting to revisit the reward often.

Each of these things are really various ways for us to eat more.  Eat, eat, eat.

Overeating is the singular cause of excess fat gain, but there are multiple things that influence us to continue to overeat or to return to overeating.

Fat has mass.  We can measure it.  Fat molecules in our "fat rolls" are simply excess molecules of food that we ate, but didn't use as energy.  To lose this excess storage we have to eat fewer calories than we burn off.  That's what stored fat is; food.  The only way to reduce fat stores is to place a demand on using the fat stores.  This is what happens when we eat fewer calories than expend, we tap into our fat reserves to make up for what we didn't eat.

To be permanently successful with fat loss and maintaing a healthy body composition, we need to permanently fall in love with making healthy choices, and break off the poisonous relationship we have with rewarding ourselves (which is actually insidiously harming ourselves) through overeating.

For those who aren't successful with a reduced calorie diet and exercise, bariatric surgery may be the only way to lose fat.

Bariatric surgery is all about eating less. That's what causes fat loss after the procedure. It's all about consuming fewer calories than expended; that is the primary purpose of bariatric surgery.

Following a surgical procedure that reduces the physical capacity to consume foods down to very small amounts, a patient will be placed on a medically supervised caloric deficit diet and exercise plan, as well as dietary supplements (the surgery can alter the guts ability to absorb nutrients so a specific supplement plan is prescribed).

In fact, before surgery is commenced successful bariatric surgery candidates will start a calorie reduced diet and exercise program to lose weight prior to surgery to reduce some of the risks of the surgery as well as begin the process of adapting to eating less.  

That's right, weight loss after bariatric surgery comes from consuming fewer calories than are expended.  The surgery does not cause fat loss.  The surgery alters the size of the stomach which reduces the amount of food a person can eat, which reduces the caloric intake.  Calories in, calories out. Sometimes some fat is surgically removed as well as having bariatric surgery, but further post surgery fat loss, and maintaining the reduced body fat, is accomplished through eating less because ones gut has been surgically made smaller, so not as much food can fit.  You have to eat smaller meals because larger meals no longer fit in your stomach after the surgery.

Bariatric surgery is a complex procedure with risks that not everyone is a candidate for.  Thorough medical consultation is required.

Sugar causes fat gain.

Not true.  If one were to eat only ice cream and donuts, but consume fewer calories than expended, fat loss would occur.  This would be a crappy diet devoid of essential vitamins and minerals as well as proper amounts of protein, carbs, and fat. Plus it would of course do nothing to help a person learn what healthy choices are all about, but it would cause fat loss, so long as calories in were fewer than calories out.  It would also be difficult to sustain a caloric deficit on such a diet as these foods light up reward centres in the brain like no other foods can, causing a person to really, really want to eat more.

Sugar can't cause fat gain.  Neither can fat, or protein.  However, sugar does taste really good and feels very rewarding to munch on.  That causes, you guessed it, consuming more calories.  More calories in than out equals fat gain.

Your brain needs 500 calories per day from carbohydrates (sugar).  Your muscles are efficient metabolic machines that are very good at using sugar as fuel.  One of the adaptations to exercise is the bodies increased efficiency at using sugar as a fuel source. From storing more sugar in the liver and muscles, and using sugar more efficiently in the muscles, it's in our DNA to use sugar as fuel, and to get better at using sugar as a fuel.

Our bodies are supposed to eat and use sugar.  Sugar (carbohydrates) are not a problem.  Over-consuming sugars is a problem.

It's factual to say that too much refined sugar in the diet is a bad idea.  It's factual to say that consuming foods with too much added sugar alters appetite causing a person eat more.

It isn't factual to say that sugar, and not overeating, causes weight gain.

In the end, no matter what path a person takes to arrive at putting more food in their mouths and swallowing it, overeating is the only way to gain body fat.   Fat loss only occurs with a calorie deficit.  Fat gain only occurs with a calorie surplus.  We have to move away from feeling offended when we are told or we recognize we eat too much; we need to accept it without judgment, then begin to change our behavior and our feelings about food.  Expressing feeling offended is just more denial.  We create a diversion of feeling offended in order to ignore our overeating.

This is an interesting irony.  We feel offended if it's suggested we eat too much, yet every day we love, love, love to overeat and encourage others to overeat, and accept invitations to overeat like it's some kind of glorious occasion.  Interesting how denial allows us to compartmentalize conflicting concepts in our heads.

What needs to be understood and addressed is that there are many influences that result in a person overeating, and that most often there are more than one of these influences present at the same time.

It's wrong to say that calories in, calories out is an oversimplification.  This moves people away from recognizing they eat too much, and results in people avoiding eating less, because they believe that calories are not really something to be concerned about.  This will only harm, and can't ever help.  It allows for the continued accommodations to overeating, the continued use of chronic overeating to celebrate pretty much anything.  Calorie denial is about maintaining uninterrupted access to the reward of overeating, and avoiding feeling ashamed about the weight we gained through eating too much.

There is no point in remaining or becoming aloof to, misguided in, and supporting the denial of overeating.

With fat gain, all roads lead to overeating; sleep, social, food composition, compulsiveness, habituation, and psychological variables congregate to result in chronic overeating.

To stop overeating, a person has to be able to overcome each of the influences that cause them to choose to overeat.  That's the hard part, but it can be done.

Calories in, calories out, is not an oversimplification, it's a reality check for how simple the ultimate cause of fat gain and loss really is.

Want to know where fat goes when you lose it?  Click here

1 comment:

  1. 'Tenets', not 'tenants'.
    'Desserts', not 'deserts'.

    This is a great article, very well put-together and definitely helpful.