‘Eat less, move more,’ goes the traditional weight loss advice. How many times have we heard this and tried to implement it? Often even going to the extent of starving, only to give up and come up wanting! No doubt that there is some wisdom in this motto, but the devil lies in the details. A failure rate of 78 per cent for people trying traditional diet plans along with the accompanying demotivation tells a different story. Practically on the ground, blindly attempting to follow this motto can lead to mild health problems at best and severe malnutrition at worst.Also Read - Hair Care Tips: Struggling From Hair Fall? Try These Effective Ayurvedic Remedies Today | Watch

For a moment, let’s consider that we do end up achieving our target weight after following this advice. What then? Do we have to continue to stay in a calorie deficit for the rest of our lives? And what happens when we come out of starvation mode? Do we gain the weight back? Is this supposed to be a life-long cycle where we keep attempting and missing and re-trying? Also Read - What is Emotional Eating and How to Control it? All You Need to Know

Rahul Ranganathan, Co-Founder and CEO, NuGenomics put these thoughts to rest. He says, “This is not how weight-loss works!” Also Read - How to do Gomukhasana Video: Benefits, Steps, And Precautions - Watch

Why the calorie-deficit approach doesn’t work

Calories in vs calories out is a highly reductionist approach towards weight loss that stems from our affinity to numbers and a lack of understanding of human biology. While the issues with this approach are multifold, let’s start by shedding light on the two basic factors that this approach misses out on:

The first factor is how we consume and assimilate calories. We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘not all calories are the same.’ What this means is that the calories our body ends up using depends on several external factors. Since our bodies are not bomb-calorimeters, we don’t reduce food to ash. Hence, the bio-availability of calories in food is an important aspect to note and massively changes the ‘calories in’ value. For instance, raw and whole foods have much fewer bio-available calories and the more refined and processed a food item is, the higher is the bio-available calories. In a nut-shell, 500kcals from cake vs 500 kcals from apples react very differently with the body. ‘Calories out’ value depends on at least 6 different factors including our BMR i.e basal metabolic rate which accounts for 75 per cent to 80 per cent of calories used by the body, thermic effect of food – energy burned in metabolizing food, thermogenesis i.e heat produced in the body, non-exercise activity, exercise and post-exercise oxygen consumption.

The second factor is that the calories we consume and the calories we expend also depend on each other. While we might be attempting calorie deficit for the first time, our genetic structure is already adept at dealing with calorie deficits because it has historically been through it several times. Every time we’ve had to face food shortages owing to floods, droughts, or famines our DNA learned to adapt to the caloric deficit.

So, when we’re faced with a deficit, our bodies reduce the basal metabolic rate to compensate for the low intake. This in turn has two effects. Firstly, we don’t lose the weight we targeted because our bodies have now adapted to the deficit and therefore we have to consistently increase the severity of restriction if we want to reach our goal. And secondly, once we move out of the restrictive diet, our body, which has now adapted to a low-calorie diet, accumulates the extra energy provided as fat to better prepare for the future. The net result is that we end up gaining more weight in the long term than what we lose.

Considering both these factors, it is of paramount importance to understand how our bodies react to caloric restriction, how long it takes to adapt to it, and hence what is the ideal deficit we should be in.

So, this begs the question that if restricting calories is not the answer to weight loss, what is?

Here’s how you can approach weight loss in a healthy way

Since nearly 80 per cent of our calories are used in maintaining the BMR, it is important to target an increase in BMR for sustainable weight loss. Lean people are lean because they have a high metabolic rate, but each one of us on the wrong side of the weighing scale is there because of a reason unique to us. So when you’re approaching weight loss, here are the factors you need to consider:

  1. Macronutrient distribution: There are multiple metabolic pathways in the body for the breakdown of different macro-nutrients. It is important to understand the efficiency of these pathways within our bodies as it differs for each of us, thereby, understanding the ideal macronutrient distribution. A combination of our genetics, our current health status, and our medical history governs the ideal amount of fats, carbs, and proteins for each of us.
  2. Micronutrient deficiencies: Micro-nutrients including vitamins and minerals form the cornerstone of our metabolism because they’re involved in a range of enzymatic reactions in the body. Deficiencies can limit the rate of reactions for these processes and thereby impact metabolism severely. Hence, it is important to identify and plug these deficiencies to allow our metabolism to work at its optimal level.
  3. Intolerances: Metabolic intolerances such as lactose or gluten intolerance result in sub-clinical inflammation of the gut lining. Since the gut is not working at optimal efficiency, it is unable to completely absorb the nutrients provided. This leads to a nutrient-rich pool within the gut along with unwarranted microbial action on food causing bloating, gas, and flatulence.
  4. Hormones: In several cases, unnatural weight gain or weight loss occurs due to hormonal imbalances in the body, especially for women. Hence, it’s common to observe weight fluctuations around periods, post-partum, and post-menopause. So, to bring our weight back on track, it is important to keep a check on our hormones.
  5. Lifestyle factors: stress and sleep are probably the two most important factors within our lifestyle that govern our weight. Sleeping well alone can change your BMI by up to 10 per cent. Both lack of sleep and stress also results in the increase of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol in turn increases the amount of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and thereby weight gain.
  6. Calories are the last piece of the puzzle: If restricting calories is what you want to aim at, then ensure restriction only up to the level of TDEE i.e. energy expenditure considering activity and never breach the BMR, for doing so will reduce the metabolic rate leading to weight gain in the long term rather than weight loss.

Once you have your nutrition sorted, it’s important to understand when to eat. There lies sufficient confusion on whether you should have the traditional 3 meals or 6 small portion-controlled meals or go for intermittent fasting and consume only 1 to 2 large meals in a short duration. But, let’s hold this discussion for the next article.

(Authored by Rahul Ranganathan, Co-Founder and CEO, NuGenomics)