3. Nutrition: An approach for weight loss

Nothing impacts us more than the air that we breathe and the food that we consume” Dr Phil Maffetone.

I completed my nutrition-related masters degree in year 2015. During this time, I had been an avidly-practicing taekwondo athlete, representing the Maltese national team and even competing in the Taekwondo World Championships (which were held in Russia that year). Me being me, and my wife can attest to this, I used to have this idea of a ‘perfect nutrition regime’, following all the modern-day guidelines. This mean’t that I would consume what the laymen call ‘healthy carbohydrates’ in large quantities.

When I graduated, I was left with more questions than answers, after having my lecturers (all of which were brilliant) opening my eyes to the true science behind nutrition. In the couple of years that followed I began reading and researching. I got out of my comfort zone and tried new nutrition ideas on myself. You name it - I tried it. I had intelligent conversations with colleagues, trainers and nutritionists alike. Most importantly, however, I observed persons who went on nutritional plans and were unsuccessful after a considerable amount of time. I delved into what was an endless series of concepts and philosophies for two and a half years and by the end I realized - I was doing it all wrong since day 1.

Back to the Stone Age

The answer to all our problems is something we’ve actually had for thousands and thousands of years. You see, our cavemen ancestors did not have carrot cakes and chocolate chip cookies. Nor did they have pastas and bread. They hunted prey which mostly consisted of animals, which, in turn, provided our forefathers with the sustinence they needed to go about their lives healthily and happily. Not eating meant certain death. They also did not eat in structured timings (breakfast, lunch and dinner) but rather, in fact, when they were hungry (as well as when food was available). They might’ve consumed minimal quantities of naturally occurring fruit. But assuredly, this was never in large quantities. Why? Because fruit wasn’t farmed and distributed as widely as it is today. This suggested that carbohydrate-containing natural foods were perhaps consumed in passing when the opportunity presented itself. And not because they were mindful of the food pyramid and their anti-oxidant consumption.

In any case, I began to attempt living like this. As simply as possible. At home I would look around and not see top-marketed cereal brands, processed foods, TVs and PS4s. I would see the bare nutritional necessities in a hollow cave, as if I had killed my prey and brought it to my cave. I eliminated all foods which would have never been available thousands of years ago and ate the remainder - of which I consumed in large, large quantities. Moreover, I did not stick to the traditional meal times I used to advocate in favor of for years. I simply ate when I was hungry. That simple. Also important to note, I did not partake in any training. During this time my wife had contracted H1N1 and my time was spent with her as she was admitted in hospital. I did make the most of the unfortunate occasion by recording my daily weight over that 20 day period. This is shown below in Table 1.

Table 1: Self recorded daily weight (everyday at 08:00) using a low-carbohydrate approach but eating high quantities of food to the point of satiety. No training performed during this time.

Table 1: Self recorded daily weight (everyday at 08:00) using a low-carbohydrate approach but eating high quantities of food to the point of satiety. No training performed during this time.

Low-Carbohydrate vs Low-Fat diets

We get our calories from food. Each food type either has a greater component of carbohydrate (for instance - fruit) or a greater component of fat (for instance - butter). Protein sources seldom exist on their own (for example an egg has protein and fat, unless you remove the yolk in which case it’s mostly protein). Therefore, if you eliminate fats from your diet, you will be consuming a high-carbohydrate diet, and vice-versa.

Now that that was said, it is important to also note that our conventional ideology is centered around our total calorie intake. This was partly why high-carbohydrate diets were recommended (because 1 g of carbohydrate will cost you 3 - 4 kcal and 1 g of fats will cost you 9 kcal from your daily budget). This meant that I, as a (back then) 25 year old male who had an active job and frequent training sessions had been allowed 3000 kcal per day (again, by conventional practice). However, upon consuming 3000 kcal per day, I had gained weight and as a result became miserable. I thought increasing my training was the key. It wasn’t. This made me more miserable and hungry and grumpy. I used to feel so hungry that I stopped being my usual jolly self on most days and found myself biting people’s head off on many-an-occasion (those of which reading this - I’m sorry). I used to go to bed hungry on many nights, waking up ravenous for a slice of toast but still had to fit in my glycolytic workout prior. It was nothing short of crazy. The worst moments arose when I would crave something sweet, like a cake, which I would consume and then later skip my dinner out of guilt. No one should submit themselves to that.

This brings me to the concept of the high fat diet (or low carb diet). Let me tell you something neat. Did you know that your body is 100% capable of metabolizing fats alone? So much so, that when starved - your body will be consuming fats almost exclusively. Then what happens? You introduce glucose (i.e. any carb) and now the body has to stop this beautifully harmonious process of fat burning in order to effectively remove the glucose and store it. It does this via a hormone called insulin, which will allow the body to store the glucose in some appropriate places like muscle (as glycogen) but also in fat cells which are termed adipocytes (as triglycerides - which are responsible for LDL and VLDL cholesterol). That being said, maybe we can agree that carbohydrate intake for better or for worse, will inevitably stunt your fat loss. No Carbs = no insulin = ongoing weight loss. This philosophy also means that we can start discarding the outdated ‘total calories per day’ approach, which by this principle, in essence, is total B.S, because once I started this approach, I was consuming just over 4000 kcal per day and losing weight.

An issue which I get from clients, and one which I had personally experienced myself during my high-fat trial is that of fatigue, which I had experienced 4 days into the initiation of my trial. It lasted another 3-4 days but as has been documented by some studies (and sustained by many clients) it can last longer. Don’t be alarmed. This is your body adjusting to the new protocol. It is being thought that carbohydrates are now a scarce energy source and consequently is being made to oxidize fat in greater proportions. Maintaining this nutritional approach for about 4-5 weeks, unless grossly obese, can be enough to allow your body to become efficient at undertaking this metabolic approach more efficiently and will allow you to be happier, healthier and may also increase your athletic performance.

Essential Macronutrients

A Macronuteient is a nutrient which is required in large amounts by the body. Of which there are 3. Carbohydrate, Fat (both composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen), and protein (composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sometimes even sulfur). Now one needs to understand, the body is extremely complicated, but it is also extremely efficient. A deficieny of one macronutrient is able to be compensated for, more often than not, especially when you learn that out of those 3 macronutrients, one is completely unnecessary for human survival. The one that I’m talking about, of course, is carbohydrate. Absent carbohydrate, you can live normally. Absent fats or protein, you will meet certain death. Why? Because carbohydrate can actually be synthesized internally through a process called gluconeogenesis. Both proteins and fats can be used to create carbohydrate, but fats can synthesis glucose from triglycerides - the very substance responsible for the bad cholesterol in your body.

Essential macronutrients are ‘essential’ because they cannot be synthesized by he human body internally. For fats; this includes alpha linoleic acid (an omega 3 fat)and linoleic acid (an omega 6 fat). Proteins, which are made up of and later broken again down to amino acids are made up of essential and non essential amino acids. ‘Essential’, again in the sense that they cannot be synthesized internally. These essential amino acids are histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Make Yourself more Aware - Be Informed

When you go to the supermarket and buy low fat products, say… skimmed milk or low fat yoghurt (to lose weight). This is actually harming you. The process used to achieve the ‘low fat’ capacity of otherwise pure foods means that they are effectively stripping said food of all useful nutrients that you will need at the cost of fewer calories. So that’s a big no-no in my book. However, people buy the products. I see them. Learn how to make the connection by repeating after me: “LOW FAT DOES NOT MEAN IT WILL MAKE YOU LESS FAT”

Don’t get yourself absorbed into this media-marketing garbage relating to the low fat approach to life. Think about who is really gaining from the sales of these products. Certainly not you. Eat natural and you can’t go wrong. Think about how the incidence of disease changed throughout time when we stopped eating the foods we were born and evolved to eat and think about the incidence of disease nowadays. Cancer, for instance, is one of which has been with us for a considerable amount of time; first being documented in the Ancient Greek era (by a physician called Hippocrates - known as the father of medicine). Granted, he wasn’t able to diagnose cases of carcinoma through CT scans, blood tests and other invasive measures, but post-mortem investigations used to find the odd tumor. Those odd tumors became more frequent as we travelled forward through time. As in, as we started drinking more, smoking more and eating more. Though nowadays, the occurrence of all cancer via environmentally-induced free radical formation is estimated to be in 1 of every 3 persons. This makes me think of 3 causative factors:

  1. The food pyramid, promoting a high-Carb diet and all other carb-marketing strategies (5-a-day, etc)

  2. Chronic sedentary activity

  3. Unhealthy habits and exposures

These 3 points can be attributed to a basic lack of knowledge and moreover, a lack of discipline.

We’re now living in 2019. An age were we have the intelligence to know right from wrong but unfortunately - we lack the discipline to uphold the right. We were given one body. Why not take care of it? Don’t live in ignorance. Read the food label, seek professional guidance if you want results. Have the courage to say ‘No thank you in front of your 10 friends who are having the pizza”. Don’t give too much importance to the physical activity aspect of the weight loss program. They are feeding you lies. Start with the aspect of nutrition and you won’t be disappointed. At least not with my guidance you won’t. But you need to discard the “i’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach to ‘living the good life’ which you use to justify unhealthy habits. On your death bed, you will regret the moments you could have used to make the necessary changes in time. Everyone does.