I hear it all the time, “Lose weight, and get healthy!”. Hell, I’ve said it myself multiple times…but, weight loss doesn’t always equal healthy, even though the mainstream would have us believe that it does.
Today, I’m quoting from an article by an unlikely candidate for use on a Paleo based website, because the author recently published an eBook called “12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than a Caveman”, where he does his best to point out some of the shortcomings of the Paleo way of life. That person is none other than Matt Stone from 180 Degree Health.
In an article from March 19th 2012, called “Lose Weight and Get Healthy!” Matt covers this topic, and makes a lot of sense while doing so.
“Seen the phrases “lose weight” and “get healthy” paired together before? Me too. At least a “Jillian” times. Our entire society has come to equate losing weight with an improvement in health. Funny thing that weight loss stuff though. Not everybody gets healthier when they lose weight. In fact, by percentages, most people get more UNhealthy when they lose weight. A more appropriate phrase pairing might be…. “Lose weight and Lose health!”
“Weight loss causes a lot of temporary improvements in the biomarkers for things like heart disease and diabetes. Emphasis on the word TEMPORARY.
With weight loss, you will typically see a drop in LDL, a drop in triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reductions in blood glucose, and several other changes that appear to be beneficial.
The problem is that these are just transient changes. The weight is almost always regained due to powerful biological forces seeking to maintain a set bodyweight. And when the weight returns, there actually tends to be more abdominal and visceral body fat than there was before – a biomarker in and of itself for heart disease and diabetes (but don’t get too scared here, the gain in abdominal fat is a result of having done something unhealthy, like subject yourself to the stress of dieting, and the fat itself doesn’t appear to be harmful”
Matt makes some good points here. In order to lose weight, a body has to be in a calorie deficit, which means taking in less energy (food) than the body actually needs, so it is forced to pull energy from fat stores. Before it can pull energy from fat stores however, it needs to use up the fuel that is floating around in the blood. If someone is overweight, and practices eating more energy everyday than their body needs, it stands to reason that there will be a lot of excess “fuel” floating around in their blood. This will show up as higher triglycerides, higher cholesterol….mostly higher everything on a blood test panel, because there is an overall excess of energy. When someone is actively losing weight, all of this “excess” will be utilized properly, as the body looks for energy wherever it can find it. This is what causes an almost immediate “improvement” in a persons blood-work numbers when they begin losing weight. The problem is that after weight loss stops, all of these numbers can quickly return to where they were, if any inherent metabolic problems are not addressed in the process, or if the dieter goes back to their original way of eating.
“But even when the weight doesn’t return, and hell actually does freeze over, there is a lot of indications that these changes are still not maintained…
“On a short-term basis, weight loss is very effective at improving control of blood glucose. However, this doesn’t mean that the diabetes is being cured; even skipping one meal will similarly lower blood glucose. A 1995 review of all the controlled weight loss studies for type 2 diabetics showed that the initial improvements were followed by a deterioration back to starting values six to eighteen months after treatment, even when the weight loss was maintained.”
~Linda Bacon; Health at Every Size
Another reason doctors think weight loss is healthy is because people who are naturally leaner do tend to be ever-so-slightly healthier on a statistical basis. Of course, on an individual basis, there are tons of really healthy obese people and tons of extremely ill people with the physiques of underwear models. But as you age, the protective effects of being lean get smaller and smaller until, in the United States for example, you hit age 65 and stage 1 obesity (BMI of 30-35) actually becomes protective against degenerative disease and positively associated with longevity – more so than any other BMI range.
But we know that formerly fat people who have lost a ton of weight are much more often than not metabolically deranged as a result – not sharing the same health characteristics of a lean person who has never had a weight problem at all. Paul Campos summed this up more simply than any author I’ve read, in his book The Obesity Myth…
“The case against fat proceeds on the assumption that if a fat person becomes thin, that person will acquire the health characteristics of people who were thin in the first place. It also assumes that there is some reasonably safe and reliable method for producing this result.”
There are some more good points in the preceding quotes. I think that it IS generally accepted by just about everyone that losing weight will return their health and metabolism to the point it was at, before any significant weight gain was experienced, and the related metabolic damage that often goes along with it. I think that it’s reasonably safe to assume that someone who has been lean all of their life, has never suffered any kind of metabolic derangement, but someone who has become obese at any point during their life….even once, for a short period of time….has potentially damaged their metabolism. Even when the weight is later lost, metabolic damage can still be present.
“And of course, as anyone who has followed my work can attest, I could go berserk, filling volumes on the details of the negative metabolic consequences of dieting – much of it attributable to the drop in leptin. When leptin levels plummet, you see a large fall in metabolic rate, and the onset of any number of changes that take place when the basic metabolic energy production of the body falls (destroyed immune system, decreased sex drive and function, anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue, increased estrogen dominance, yada yada). We also know that dieting raises cortisol, no doubt a big factor in the diseases losing weight is supposed to prevent. No wonder weight loss typically results – not in health and body composition improvement, but an actual long-term worsening in both for most who experience it…
“There is no good evidence that significant long-term weight loss is beneficial to health, and a great deal of evidence that short-term weight loss followed by weight regain (the pattern followed by almost all dieters) is medically harmful. Indeed, frequent dieting is perhaps the single best predictor of future weight gain.”
“…there is a great deal of evidence that weight LOSS increases the risk for cardiovascular disease among ‘overweight’ individuals, and some studies suggest that obesity actually protects against vascular disease.”
And so, in closing, (as mentioned in 12 Paleo Myths) based on what we know about weight, one should assume, unless proven otherwise, that any weight lost by any means is…
3) Destined to trigger health problems attributable to a reduced metabolic rate
While there are certainly success stories, typically as a result of improving metabolism through healthier eating, stress reduction, better sleep, exercise, and any number of other factors – you can hopefully let a couple of things go after reading this.”
Most of this speaks for itself, but one point needs to be addressed. The part about cardiovascular risk increasing during weight loss sounds far fetched, but it could definitely be founded in the truth. I actually don’t know the specific reasons for this assertion, but if I had to guess, I would say that it is probably because our fat stores are kind enough to lock away lots of toxins, and keep them out of circulation so they can’t hurt us. Then, when we lose weight, our fat cells release those toxins in large quantities into our blood stream.The faster the weight is lost, the larger the potential amount of toxins released would be. That’s just a theory, but it sounds logical to me. 😉
“You can let go of the idea that if you are overweight, you MUST lose weight to be healthy. Not true. You can also let go of the idea that weight loss is a sign of improved health. It rarely is, even when ALL biomarkers of metabolic syndrome improve! Because when those changes are brought about by weight loss, they are likely to reverse themselves over time, with or without weight regain. 1 step forward, 2 steps back (unfortunately most health writers, practitioners, bloggers, gurus, etc. use short-term changes in such biomarkers shown by various studies as support for their theories, not knowing that these changes can often be looked at in reverse).
For now, think of weight loss (unless it is a spontaneous result of an improvement in your metabolism/hormones somehow) as something that, instead of getting you healthy…
- Slows the rate at which your body burns calories.
- Increases your body’s efficiency at wringing every possible calorie out of the food you do eat so you digest food faster and get hungrier quicker.
- Causes you to crave high-fat foods.
- Increases your appetite.
- Reduces your energy levels (so even if you could burn more calories through physical activity you don’t want to).
- Lowers your body temperature so you’re using less energy (and are always cold).
- Reduces your ability to feel ‘hungry’ and ‘full,’ making it easier to confuse hungers with emotional needs.
- Reduces your total amount of muscle tissue.
- Increases fat-storage enzymes and decreases fat-release enzymes.
The message here? Don’t blame yourself when you ‘break’ your diet. It’s not about gluttony or a failure of willpower. In fact, most dieters show extraordinary self-restraint, persistence, determination, and willpower. You didn’t fail; the diet did.”
~Linda Bacon; Health at Every Size
Ok, so weight loss doesn’t always equal healthy, I get that….but is that any reason for anyone to say, “well, my diet isn’t working, so I’m just going to give up! I don’t need to lose weight to be healthy anyway!”? I don’t believe so. I don’t think anyone needs to be totally ripped and lean, if they’re not an athlete, but I do think that it’s detrimental in several ways to be morbidly obese. Joints suffer under excessive weight, it’s hard to find clothes that fit, breathing problems can occur along with other issues such as GERD and indigestion….to name but a few possible problems associated with overweight. A little extra weight isn’t a problem, and no-one should kill themselves trying to get down into the lower levels of body fat, if it doesn’t come easily.
The real lesson here as far as I’m concerned is that weight loss shouldn’t be the only goal. Truly sustainable health should be the primary goal. I know this is largely the exact opposite of what Matt is trying to say here, but the idea is to maintain a decent level of weight that is good for your body type etc, and eat in a way that will enable you to maintain your health too.
Regardless of the risks associated with losing weight, I’ve seen a lot of people drastically improve their health by losing weight, and fixing their diet. They certainly weren’t getting any better by staying as they were. Sometimes, people just have to make a change for the better and stick with it!
Now, obviously I’m not talking about crash diets, or calorie restricting the fun out of life…..I’m talking about making sustainable dietary changes that facilitate effortless fat loss, while improving health, and eating yummy real food. The kind of changes that people find occurring when they switch to a lifestyle based upon the Paleo Template. Just eat real food, but don’t eat too much. Avoid the modern agents of disease such as Gluten containing grains, and Polyunsaturated fats etc, and the rest will happen naturally.
Let’s not throw the Baby out with the Bathwater Matt! 🙂
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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