Diet culture has had a hold on Americans for more than a century now. Calorie counting popped up around 1910 and we have seen a slew of… interesting dietary theories since then. One campaign by cigarette companies encouraged people to reach for a smoke instead of a sweet. Another diet- aptly named the “Sleeping Beauty Diet” used sedation as a way to eat less. We also saw the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Grapefruit Diet, and my favorite- the Hollywood Cookie Diet. These diets had very different approaches, but they all had the same underlying concept- limit your calories. They also might have worked for a short spell, but none of them were what I would call sustainable. You can’t eat cabbage soup for the rest of your life.
Fast forward to 2022 and we are in the middle of the worst obesity epidemic in history. How can this be possible if diet culture in the U.S. prevails? Recent studies suggest that it might be hormone related- specifically the hormone insulin. Insulin, which is made by our pancreas, takes sugar from our blood and puts it into our cells for energy. But when we consume too much sugar, our insulin levels remain high and therefore our cells stop responding to it. This is called insulin resistance. With nowhere to go, the insulin gets turned into a triglyceride and is stored as fat. This can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and a whole host of other chronic conditions.
So how has this become such a problem? The answer is simple- the standard American diet (also known as S.A.D.). We put sugar in everything, including salad dressing, which is supposed to be healthy, right? The average American consumes about 60 pounds of sugar per year. We also love our refined carbs which include bread, crackers, pasta, cereal- which are also, coincidentally considered “low-calorie” and “low fat” foods. While these foods might not contain any added sugar, the process of refining foods strips them of their nutrients, making them easy for our bodies to digest, therefore causing a spike in blood sugar.
If low calorie and low fat foods can potentially make you gain weight, then what, you ask, should you eat? I advise my clients to aim to include a high quality protein (wild fish, lean meat, grass fed beef, beans, legumes, eggs), a healthy fat (avocado, nuts, seeds) and fiber (think vibrant, colorful fruits and veggies, also whole grains) with each meal. Achieving this balance means that you will stay satiated longer, your blood sugar won’t spike, and you won’t reach for that quick sugar fix- starting the vicious cycle all over. And when you eat nutrient rich whole foods, your body will crave more of them. This is the cycle you want.
So, you see, counting calories is a bit of a thing of the past. As we say in the nutrition field “count colors, not calories.”