I've been saying for almost two decades that the key to weight loss is bringing the body into balance. And the key to balance is food quality.
Now, new research from Stanford Prevention Research Center and published in last week's edition of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that people who cut back on sugar, "refined grains" and "highly processed foods" and who didn't worry about calories or portion size, lost significant amounts of weight. The study was conducted on more than 600 people.
In other words, researchers concluded that quality, not quantity, is what counts for losing weight.
The study was a pretty blunt instrument for revealing the importance of food quality. They started with overweight subjects, then cut down on major kinds of low-quality foods -- for example, sugary soda type drinks, which are among the lowest quality foods you can consume.
For decades, the Diet Industrial Complex has erroneously equated calories with weight loss -- the idea is that if you eat more calories than you "burn," then you gain weight, and that being overweight is the result of eating too many calories (as if the spectacularly complex biochemistry of metabolism were comparable to filling up the car with gas).
In recent years, other research has contracted this assumption. We've found that compromised gut microbes affect body weight. The amount of sleep you get affects body weight. Stress causes weight gain. People who drink diet beverages gain more weight than those who drink the sugary kind. All these clues suggest that body weight is not a simple matter of calories-in, calories-burned.
Healthy newborn babies enter the world with a complete set of self-regulating systems designed to keep everything in balance. Our bodies brilliantly maintain balance in body temperature, blood water levels, blood pH, blood pressure, blood salt levels, sleep and the elimination of wastes. The human body is magnificent at simultaneously maintaining balance of hundreds of sub-systems throughout life.
Optimal weight is another thing the human body is great at balancing. Our taste and olfactory senses are programmed to enjoy foods that keep us healthy. The hunger-satiety cycle tells us when to eat and when to stop.
If we gain weight, it doesn't mean we're not effectively counting calories. It means our body's system for maintaining healthy weight has been broken.
So what broke it?
The short answer is that our food did. The longer answer is our industrial food system, environment and lifestyle conspired to knock our bodies out of balance.
Let's start with what's wrong with our food.
Far too much of the food we eat has been ultra-processed. Stripped of nutrients, modified beyond recognition, sterilized, and augmented with non-food chemicals, our food isn't fit for human consumption.
Most processed food is too soft. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour-baked goods, processed oils, fatty meats -- too much of our food is eaten and digested too quickly and easily. While most dietary advice focuses on the biochemistry of foods (fats, carbs, protein), researchers have demonstrated the importance of biophysics. You'll gain more weight with soft food than rougher food (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.) even if the calories are the same.
Processed industrial food is also unhealthy for our gut flora. While some of the food we eat goes straight into our bloodstreams, other foods and food components are eaten by the trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tracts, and our bodies are then nourished by the flora. Foods that our gut microbes eat are called prebiotics. The best sources of prebiotics include whole-grain wheat and barley, berries, specific raw fruits and vegetables, flax, garlic and other foods.
When we're born, our guts are sterile. We acquire the hundreds of species of microbes necessary for optimum health from our food and the environment. Simply eating organic strawberries, fresh salad, organic whole grain bread or eating raw-milk cheese supplies the kind of gut microbes we need for optimal health. But these aren't the kinds of foods that most people eat. Canned, bottled and most packaged food is sterile to keep it from decomposing. Our bodies were never designed to eat so much sterile food.
Even fermented foods, which were traditionally used to improve the nutritional quality and flavor of and preserve food, as well as supply our gut microbes with vital reinforcements, are now sold in a sterile form. For example, olives, sauerkraut, pickles and others are sterilized for mass production and distribution. Milk is usually sterilized through pasteurization before being sold for drinking, or being made into cheese or yogurt.
All that sterile food, plus the consumption of fatty, sugary junk food, is decimating the natural balance of healthy gut microbes, causing all kinds of havoc, including on our bodily systems for maintaining healthy weight. Researchers have recently discovered that junk food and processed food diets damage gut bacteria in a way that leads to unnatural weight gain. In other words, you'll gain more weight on a diet that harms gut bacteria than you will on a healthy diet, even if calories are the same.
Food-borne, environmental and household chemicals, a lack of sleep, drugs, inadequate sunshine and Vitamin D and not enough exercise all prime your body for weight gain beyond what mere calories in, calories burned would predict. And, in fact, the vast majority of people in industrialized countries are damaging their bodies not with some but all these factors.
The whole process of counting calories is an act of self-delusion. First, the difference between perfect weight and morbid obesity over a period of a few decades is less than 50 calories per day. Nobody can "count calories" with that level of precision. You can't know how many calories you really need. You can't know how many calories you're "burning." And you can't know how many calories are in the food you eat.
Counting calories is a futile guessing game that doesn't get at the root of the problem.
The problem is that people are trying to replace a functioning body weight balancing system with blind guesses about how many calories they're eating and burning.
The solution is to fix your broken body, and allow it to naturally maintain a healthy weight for you.
The way to fix your body is to fix your diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise outdoors every day and avoid all the toxic chemicals you can. And this is what the Spartan Diet shows you how to do.