Metabolic Resistance and why it is so hard to lose weight.
by Joseph Brady
The concept of metabolic set point is a crucial element in the battle against obesity and allows us to understand why it is so hard to lose weight. Our metabolic set point is the point at which our metabolism settles into a balance between energy going into the system and the energy being used by the system. It is defined as the weight at which you have maintained most of your life when you neither are overeating nor under eating. At this point of balance, the body will create great resistance to further weight loss as a defense against starvation.
When we lose weight at a rate greater than two pounds per week the genetic programs that have evolved over millions of years to help survival in times of famine, kick in. The body shifts into a high level of metabolic efficiency to conserve as much fat as possible. At this higher level of metabolic efficiency losing weight will be extremely difficult. Interestingly enough this higher level of efficiency has also been linked to longer life spans and dramatic improvements in health.
Weight Loss and Chinese Dietary Therapy
The goal of the ancient Taoist alchemists from which Traditional Chinese Medicine evolved, was the attainment of great longevity and even immortality. Regulating the diet became a crucial part of this quest. Nowhere is the balance between yin and yang more important than between the balance of diet and exercise. In the west we tend to think of diet and exercise as two separate issues, yet in TCM they are one and the same. “Spleen/stomach nourishes the muscles” is the old maxim in TCM and western scientific research bears this out. Numerous studies including the Surgeon General’s report have concluded that diet alone or exercise alone cannot maintain successful weight control. The only studies that show long term weight control are those that incorporate both. The energy going into the body must be balanced with the energy being used. Reducing calories alone in a weight loss program creates two problems. One factor is that most western diets are so low in nutrition that merely reducing calories will often lead to malnutrition. The other problem is the one discussed earlier where reducing calories so fast that the body increases it’s metabolic efficiency and resists further weight loss and even increases the weight.
Successful Strategies for Losing Weight
Both in TCM and western science two strategies have emerged for improving health, improving the nutrient density of the diet and balancing diet and exercise.
A nutrient dense diet is one where there is a lot of nutrition for fewer empty calories and this diet is the basis for all the dietary recommendations from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. The efficacy of a nutrient dense diet has been proven in hundreds of experiments including some evidence in humans. The Okinowan diet, the Mediterranean diet and the Ornish diet all lend evidence for the value of nutrient dense diets. Basically it’s what your grandmother told you ” eat your veggies”.
The Five Flavors and Nutrient Density
The TCM nutritional strategy of the five flavors and tastes comprise a simple yet effective approach to nutrient density.The nature of food eaten is of paramount importance in TCM diet therapy. Foods are classified according to their nature (hot, warm, cold, cool or neutral) and their taste (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent or salty). Although the subject of foods and their action in health and disease is a vast one we can summarize as follows. Foods must be varied to ensure nutrient density.
Cold foods: these are raw vegetables, salads, fruit, cold drinks and ice-cream. An excessive consumption of these foods will tend to create Cold in the Spleen and Stomach and ensuing epigastric pain.
Hot-spicy foods: these include curries, spices, lamb, beef and alcohol. An excessive consumption of these foods produces Stomach-Heat which may manifest with a burning epigastric pain, thirst and a yellow tongue coating.
Sugar and sweets: an excessive consumption of these may tend to produce both Dampness and Heat in the Stomach.
Greasy foods: fried foods and dairy foods: an excessive consumption of these leads to the formation of Phlegm or Dampness in the Stomach.
Metabolic resistance is primarily created by the over consumption of sweet and damp creating foods at the expense of the others, this creates an imbalance between the spleen and the other organs. This is why limiting the amount of carbs in the diet can produce the greatest effect on weight loss. By limiting the amount of sweets, breads, cakes, cookies and eating more of the other flavors we can balance out the overemphasis on sugars and carbs and ease the load on insulin production while providing lots of other nutrients the body needs. In general we don’t need the extra calories.
By increasing the amounts of the other flavors in the diet we can focus on improving long term enjoyment of the diet. The only way to truly lose weight and not gain it back is to focus upon making a healthier diet part of a long term strategy rather than a short term diet. The only way to really do this is to focus on increasing the variety of flavor and enjoyment of the diet.