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Food is Not Your Friend!

Or your lover, psychologist, or the answer to whatever has your panties in a bunch. It is nourishment for your body, sustenance to keep you alive, and that is all it is. Unfortunately, very few of us eat as if this is true. We are conditioned from birth to view and approach food as anything but basic to survival. Constant bombardment from slick marketing ads, social events meticulously planned around eating (think barbeques, picnics, work/holiday/birthday celebrations, etc.), behavior rewarded with food-especially those in the 'Comfort' category-portion sizes that are beyond necessary, easy accessibility and dirt-cheap, and all sorts of additives to make food look more enticing and even addictive-do you see what you're up against when you decide to stop the insanity of unhealthy eating? Remember, I really don't like to use the word diet, just carries too many negative connotations.

Everyone eats more than they should at some point. Food tastes good! It may even feel impossible to engage in certain activities or go to particular places and not binge: watching movies/TV, going to sports events, the state fair, the mall, and of course restaurants/buffets. But you already know this. The thing is, here you are, at the threshold of yet another diet, full of hope and promise that THIS time you will succeed. Did you already answer this question: Why am I going to go on a diet? If you answered "To lose weight, duh!", I'm here to tell you that is the worst reason you could give. While losing body-fat is a good thing, this is an entirely different matter!

There is a reason diets don't work and it's very simple: we hear what we want to hear. Every diet is going to require that you do work-to change your eating behavior, portion sizes, and types of food. You may be able to stick with it for a while but there will come a challenge of some sort that will cause you to go off your plan.

Ever wonder why there are thousands of books on dieting? Authors know that you will read them. They know that you've tried and failed before but if they promise you this is the absolute breakthrough in science, you'll fall for it! So you think it's true because you haven't yet heard what you want to hear and maybe this time, you will: that it will be easy and that it can be done quickly. Consider: You want to lose 20 lbs. and the latest diet craze book claims you can do this in 30 days. Let's assume first that you really want to lose 20 lbs. of fat, not just 20 lbs. of weight. Yes, there's a difference. You do realize that the amount of energy in one pound of fat is supposed to equal 3,500 calories. If the author tells you that by following their plan, you can do this in one month (or even less!), please-I beg you-do not be duped into such foolishness. If it truly were as simple as the 3,500 calorie rule-which has been completely rebuked by mathematicians and nutritionists-then you would have to somehow use up 70,000 calories! That's around 2,500 calories/day over one month. How you gonna do that? Perhaps now you see why this is fool's logic, designed only to get your money but also comes with the added negative of setting you up to feel-once again-like a failure. Of course, this is a better deal for the author because it means repeat business for the next book! You are NOT a failure and you CAN reach your goals! You just haven't been given the right information. Keep in mind that just because someone authors a book on diet/fitness/weight loss-even if Ph.d or doctor accompanies their name-this DOES NOT mean the information is accurate or true. You are going to have to re-educate yourself and then exercise a whole lot of patience. Please take the time to consider the following research and this includes a couple of pretty cool links for finding more accurate numbers and realistic time frames to fit your needs, whether it's to lose a few pounds or 100 pounds or more. I have tried to condense the article for this blog (still lengthy but worth reading in its entirety) and I hope you will do further research so you truly understand weight-loss principles.

Farewell to the 3,500-Calorie Rule By Denise Webb, PhD, RD Today's Dietitian Vol. 26 No. 11 P. 36

Researchers have developed new mathematical formulas RDs can use to more accurately predict the rate of weight loss in patients. "...even the most diligent of dieters eventually will reach a weight-loss steady state, a plateau, a stumbling block that can be frustrating for them and dietitians alike. And, unfortunately, a large percentage of those who succeed at losing weight will gain it back over time. We all know the weight-loss rules: eat more calories than you burn and you'll gain weight; eat fewer calories than you burn and you'll lose weight. "...researchers say it's not that simple and have devised an ingenious way to more accurately predict the trajectory of weight loss for individuals via a mathematical formula. The hope is that using it will result in more realistic expectations for weight loss with fewer disappointments along the way, and help explain when and why weight-loss plateaus occur, even among seemingly dedicated dieters.

Conventional Weight-Loss Wisdom Ask any dietitian and he or she likely will say that cutting food intake by 3,500 calories results in a 1-lb loss. Cut 500 calories per day and that's 1 lb per week. Over the course of one year, that would equal 52 lbs. That's what RDs have been and continue to be taught, and it's promulgated by the US Surgeon General and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and it's repeated in several nutrition textbooks.

It's been estimated that the 3,500-calorie rule is cited in more than 35,000 educational weight-loss sites. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a patient handout titled Healthy Weight Loss, in which the first sentence states, "A total of 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of body fat. This means if you decrease (or increase) your intake by 500 calories daily, you will lose (or gain) 1 pound per week." The 3,500-calorie dogma is still being taught even though it's been shown that it simply doesn't work this way. So where did the 3,500-calorie weight-loss wisdom come from? It originated from researcher Max Wishnofsky, MD, in 1958, who calculated that 1 lb of fat stores approximately 3,500 kcal of energy. It was appealingly simple, and it stuck.

"I think this happens often when there is a simple rule of thumb," says Diana Thomas, PhD, director of the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University, and one of the researchers involved in developing the new approaches. "It's easy to propagate, and there's resistance to adopting something that's more complex."

The 3,500-calories-per-pound rule seemed to make sense at the time, but much has occurred in the area of human nutrition in the last 55 years, including the sharing of expertise among fields. The breakthrough in the understanding of how and why weight loss occurs and predicting the rate at which it does, is the result of experts in nutrition and mathematics putting their collective heads together, coming up with complex formulas and then simplifying them.

Elusive Weight-Loss Success The experts agree that while the 3,500-calories-per-pound rule does seem to work fairly well in the short term and for those who want to lose only a few pounds, the logic begins to fall apart over the long term, especially for those trying to lose a significant amount of weight. Dietitians know that as an individual loses weight, the body's energy requirements decrease, but the dynamic physiological adaptations that occur never have been quantified or figured into the 3,500-calorie rule. The most serious error of the 3,500-calorie rule is its failure to account for dynamic changes in energy balance that occur during a dieting intervention. Also not taken into account: gender, the fact that eating and exercise habits may change over time, and poor compliance, all of which can affect weight loss. Because of this, the 3,500-calorie-per-pound approach significantly overestimates how much weight people will lose over time, setting them up for disappointment when weight loss slows or stops altogether. The body adapts and lifestyles change in myriad ways that minimize or even eradicate the impact of reduced calorie intake and, until recently, there has been no way to predict how consuming fewer calories may affect the rate of weight loss among individuals trying to lose weight, especially when the goal is to lose more than just a few pounds.

The new complex weight-loss formulas factor in the drop in metabolic rate that occurs over time as body mass decreases. After applying the formulas to individuals, the main conclusion researchers have drawn isn't a popular one—that people generally plateau early in the weight-loss process, not because of a metabolic slowdown, although that does occur, but because they don't adhere to calorie-reduced diet plans consistently long term.

"If a plateau is reached within six months, then in all likelihood, the person is no longer strictly adhering to the diet," says Carson C. Chow, PhD, a senior investigator in the mathematical biology section of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Six to nine months is the typical timeline for dieters to reach the dreaded plateau, but "given that body weight changes so slowly, it could be stretched out to a year," Chow says. The new formulas allow clinicians to see what realistically can be expected based on the individual's weight, age, gender, and physical activity.

Where exactly does exercise fit in? The effect of physical activity on the rate of weight loss isn't clear. However, research suggests that the small amount of weight loss sometimes seen in exercise intervention studies isn't due to exercise's lack of effect on weight loss, but it's a result of not getting enough exercise prescribed, and that's compounded by an increase in calorie intake—in other words, not sticking to the prescribed reduced-calorie diet long term. The ratio of macronutrients in the diet, specifically the ratio of protein to carbohydrates and fat, has been endorsed as a way to promote weight loss. However, little effect has been demonstrated in the short term. Yet, according to Kevin Hall, PhD, a senior investigator in the mathematical biology section of the NIH, not enough is known about the long-term effects of varying macronutrient diet composition. As a result, the ratio of macronutrients in the diet isn't included in the new weight-loss prediction formulas.

New Weight-Loss Math To access the programs and apps for assessing the weight-loss trajectory of clients and patients, Hall and colleagues at the NIH have developed the Body Weight Simulator, available at At first glance, it may not look that different from other weight-loss predictors, but a tremendous amount of mathematical calculations have gone into its development. Plug in your information (weight, height, activity level, goal weight, length of time to reach goal) and it will provide a calorie level for weight loss and a calorie level for maintenance. Thomas and her colleagues at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also have developed a Single Subject Weight Change Predictor application for predicting weight loss, which can be found at: Using the Pennington online calculator, a 200-lb man aged 35 who cut 500 kcal/day from his diet would be expected to lose 23 lbs in one year vs 23 lbs in four months in accordance with the 3,500-calorie-per-pound rule. While there are several minor differences in these models, the predictions are similar. The NIH calculator allows for more detailed input about physical activity, and the Pennington model enables users to compare the newly calculated downward weight-loss trajectory, based on your input, with that of the 3,500-calorie-per-pound rule.

The new mathematical approaches have been validated repeatedly, researchers say. In fact, the 3,500-calorie guideline was refuted in a consensus statement issued jointly by the American Society for Nutrition and the International Life Sciences Institute in 2012.

If you prefer something less complex, Chow has broken it down to a simple rule of thumb. "While the 3,500-calorie rule has been challenged in the past, we were the first to replace it with an equally simple, but more accurate rule, and that is that 'every 10 calories per day decrease in calorie intake leads to an eventual one-pound loss,' but it can take three years to get there," Chow says. In other words, weight loss isn't a linear event over time, as the 3,500-calorie rule suggests. All of this new information shows that weight loss may be slow, even slower than we thought. That makes patience a major factor in weight-loss success. And because compliance wanes over time, consistency is the other major part of the equation that adds up to successful weight loss.

"Successful weight management is a long-term endeavor that requires diligence each and every day," says Corby Martin, PhD, director of the Ingestive Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "It's critical that you continuously monitor progress and adjust your strategy accordingly. If your current regimen isn't working, it's imperative to detect this as early as possible and employ more intensive strategies." Both Chow and Hall believe that taking active control of food consumption may be required to limit the long-term increase in energy intake that typically occurs, especially in the face of the dramatic rise in availability and marketing of highly palatable, convenient, inexpensive, and energy-dense foods.

Recommendations The 3,500-calorie-per-pound rule is dead, or it should be. In its place are new online tools to help better predict how much weight you realistically can expect to lose over time. In addition, Martin believes the new mathematical formulas can inform you when it's time to reevaluate your progress and then decide what realistic adjustments are needed. If weight-loss milestones haven't been reached, then it may be time to reassess what you are or aren't doing.

While the new online tools likely will predict much slower progress than anyone would like, you can use them to set more realistic goals and know that progress probably will be slow and unsteady. Furthermore, if you've been reading about weight loss online or in diet books, know that the thinking has changed dramatically and the 3,500 calories-per-pound rule no longer applies.

This should be cause for celebration! The outdated method for determining how quickly we should be able to lose weight just doesn't work. And the fact is, something inside you keeps causing you to fall off the diet wagon and that is what you must attend to for long-term success. Or, would you rather keep dieting, on-again, off-again, using food as a way to assuage what ails you?

For me, this meant starting simple and setting the time frame of one year to accomplish it. After so many failures (40 years worth), I just wanted to not buy a single binge-food item. I didn't expect that I would immediately be able to stop binge eating, and I didn't want it to just be about losing weight-neither of those approaches have ever worked for me! But I decided that when I needed (needed? That's totally WANTED) to binge, it was going to be on healthy things that I already have at home. I knew it would be extremely difficult for me to break with sugar (my binge weakness and BTW-way more addicting than cocaine) because I was going to have to do a lot of painful self-exploration, and that there would be times when I would resist it. The first 4 weeks were brutal, I won't lie. And as of 10/10/2015, I have purchased binge foods on 2 occasions, with a total of 6 cheat-eat days. I didn't expect that I would come out of the starting gate with a clear track. I knew I would face hurdles. I have also been mindful in what I have chosen as a binge food and how much I allowed myself to buy. I kept in mind the consequences and what would be required to get past that binge and move forward-on an emotional level. The fact that it has become easier to stay the course blows my mind and I've been tested so I know I can do this. The other thing I know: you can live without the binge food and ultimately not even miss it. It isn't a life-giving substance anyway, it is just the opposite. I don't feel deprived. It is so true that emotional eating will never fill the empty places inside but that when you do the necessary work, those places become filled-with life, with love, with compassion, with the things that were missing. I even came to see that there were many times I didn't go places or spend time with loved ones because I wanted to binge instead. I dreamed my death one night-it was so vivid, and the life that passed before my eyes in that instance was one of loneliness, where I had given the best of myself over to yo-yo dieting. What a wake-up call that was.

Please don't feel ashamed or like a failure if any of this resonates with you as you are not alone. My issues with food run deep and have included years spent in the pits of bulimia, with extended periods of starvation and intense workouts to counter-act multi-thousand calorie binges. I am lucky to be alive and as healthy as I am today. Please reach out and dialogue with me if you need a cheerleader. Remember: this is what is about-not me, me, me and my After photos-but building a community of support on the journey to become the best we can be!

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