Weight Loss Without Calorie Counting

 In Blog

I Don’t Count Calories

While it is commonly accepted that a person needs to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, this does not need to be your focus. The two things that matter for weight loss are:

  • What you eat
  • When you eat

The Weight Gain Problem

Jason Fung, MD, author of “The Obesity Code – Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss”, explains the key role of the hormone insulin. If a person becomes insulin resistant, the body will continue to pump out more insulin. High insulin levels are associated with a relatively high body “set weight”. Even when a person loses weight through calorie restriction, the body lowers its metabolism to gain the weight back! The body wants to maintain its set weight. Fung’s key finding is this: Lower insulin levels contribute to lasting weight loss.

The role of insulin is to lower blood sugar levels after we eat. The pancreas secretes insulin which helps take the sugar out of the blood and into the cells. If insulin levels are chronically high because of excessive or frequent sugar intake, the body develops a resistance to the effects of insulin. The body’s response is to pump out more insulin. It is a vicious cycle.

The Weight Loss Solution

The insulin system works well when we eat well. Certain foods trigger higher insulin levels. Insulin levels rise to deal with blood sugar and the body converts excess glucose to fat storage. Insulin levels fall between meals and the body converts the stored fat back to the glucose it needs to function. We are designed to function well with times of eating and times of not eating. Chronic or persistent high levels of insulin, on the other hand, imply two problems: Being both “high” and “constant”. The solution is to look at what we eat and when we eat.

weight loss

What to Eat

Fung lists 5 simple points to address what we eat.

  1. Reduce consumption of added sugars.
  2. Reduce consumption of refined grains.
  3. Moderate protein intake. (Have lean protein at each meal)
  4. Increase consumption of natural (healthy) fats.
  5. Increase consumption of protective foods such as fiber and vinegar.

Added sugars and sweeteners cause insulin levels to rise. Refined grains also cause insulin levels to rise. Protein somewhat causes insulin to rise, but protein has an important satiety component to it. Protein causes you to feel full for longer which is key for weight loss. Healthy fats are the least likely to stimulate insulin. Lower insulin levels helps weight loss. Fiber, found naturally in fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, is the protective factor that can reduce the insulin-stimulating effects of these carbohydrates.

My personal takeaway from this is to eat unprocessed, one-ingredient foods: Vegetables, fruits, lean protein (eggs, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, fish), lentils, chickpeas, beans, healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and salmon, and less-processed grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal in small quantities. All of these are one-ingredient, whole, nutrient-dense foods. Our bodies produce less insulin when we eat these foods.  We don’t need to count calories when we eat these foods because our bodies will signal when we are hungry and when we are full. When we eat sugar and refined carbohydrates, not only does insulin increase, but the body does not feel full or satisfied and the result is overconsumption: A double whammy.

When to Eat

Fung suggests these points for when to eat:

  1. No snacks. Just eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. The body needs a certain amount of time with no food to allow the insulin levels to naturally fall. It is during the times of low insulin where the body dips into its fat stores to turn the fat back into the glucose it needs. If you constantly refill your glycogen stores via eating, you will never need to use your fat stores for energy.
  2. Intermittent Fasting (IF). There are many variations of IF. The most common is 12:12. Eat your three meals within a 12 hour window. For most people this means not eating from after dinner until breakfast. Eliminating the evening snacking may be enough to see results. For others, more strict time frames may be more effective, such as:
    • 16:8 (16 hours fasting, 8 hour eating window)
    • 24 hour fasting once or twice a week (from dinner one day to dinner the next day; only skip breakfast and lunch)
    • alternate day fasting.

Consume lots of water, tea, or black coffee to help you make it through fasting days. The next meal after a fast should be a normal amount of food (do not overeat).

But won’t I lose muscle?

We have been told that we have to eat to avoid muscle breakdown. I have always wondered, why would the body choose to breakdown muscle instead of burning fat? According to Fung, it doesn’t. The body will burn fat. Muscle breakdown occurs when your body fat percentage lowers to approximately 4 percent, which is not a concern for most of us.

Will skipping meals lower my metabolism?

We have also been told that we have to eat to keep our metabolism from dropping and going into “starvation” mode which can lead to weight gain when we do eat. Fung explains that decreased metabolism occurs with prolonged daily caloric restriction (i.e. calorie-reduced diets). However studies have shown that alternate daily fasting did not result in decreased metabolism. Fat oxidation increased, while carbohydrate oxidation decreased. The body had switched over from burning sugar to burning fat, with no overall drop in energy. Adrenalin levels increased to maintain energy, and insulin levels decreased. Humans were designed to survive, and thrive, through times of fasting.

Other Causes of Weight Gain

Fung also points out that there are other causes of weight gain:

  • Stress 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Inactivity 

If weight gain was caused by stress, lack of sleep or inactivity, then these factors must be addressed through stress management, sleep habits or activity levels. Weight loss may require a multifaceted approach.

In summary, reduce sugar, reduce processed foods, eat protein, eat healthy fats, and eat fibrous fruits and vegetables to allow your insulin levels to rise and fall naturally. You will be able to listen to your body’s signals of hunger and satiety without counting calories.

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