Other than the lie that fat makes you fat and causes heart disease (which has been thoroughly debunked by myself in Eat Fat Get Thin, in Harvard doctor David Ludwig’s book Always Hungry, and even in our new 2015 US Dietary Guidelines), the biggest lie that has caused endless suffering for tens of millions of people is that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more.
This lie goes something like this: All calories are the same. Weight loss is about math—calories in/calories out. If you eat more than you burn you will gain weight. If you eat less than you burn you will lose weight. This is called the Energy Balance Hypothesis. This seems logical, except it is scientifically wrong. It is the message that our government tells us, the message that almost every doctor, nutritionist, and weight loss program tell us. And, it’s even what our public health and professional organizations tell us, including the American Nutrition and Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association (which, by the way, all get huge amounts of funding from the food industry).
The food industry, of course, tells us the same thing. That fact alone should make us suspicious. Weight loss is an energy balance problem. Just eat less and exercise more. It’s just about moderation. Any food is fine as long as you don’t eat too much. The 100 calories snack packs of Oreos are the same at 100 calories of blueberries or nuts. Two hundred calories of soda are the same as 200 calories of an avocado. Nonsense.
In fact, on one major morning show I did a segment about why they weren’t the same and snuck it under the radar working closely with one producer. After that, they wouldn’t let me back on the show. Why? Because the food companies are a major source of advertising revenue. Our news is driven my money, not science or facts.
What is so bad about this message is that it blames the person who is overweight. The implication is that you are a lazy glutton who eats too much and won’t exercise. This is, in my view, harmful, cruel, and even criminal because it flies in the face of science and perpetuates a harmful myth that literally kills millions from chronic disease.
This implies that a diet of 1,800 calories of soda is the same as 1,800 calories of broccoli or almonds. Even a 5-year-old would understand that this just doesn’t make sense. Yet it is the foundation of almost every weight loss program.
This is not just my opinion, but from an increasingly growing body of literature that proves that all calories are not the same. That quality matters more than quantity. That food is not just energy but information or instructions or code that literally controls almost every function of your body—including your hormones, appetite, brain chemistry, immune system, gene expression, and even your microbiome with every single bite. And that the quality of the information matters more than the quantity. The composition of the food you eat is what matters.
The Science of Why Exercising More and Eating Less is the Worst Idea for Weight Loss
Let’s just look at a few studies (and if you want more you can read my books Eat Fat Get Thin and The 10 Day Detox Diet.
- A review of 53 randomized trials (the highest quality evidence possible) of low-fat vs. high-fat diets published in Lancet Obesity found that the high-fat diets won out every time and the bigger the difference—meaning the highest fat/lowest carb vs. the highest carb /lowest fat diets—the more the weight loss.
- A recent year long randomized controlled trial in the prestigious journal Nature found that an unrestricted high-fat diet (meaning low carb, high fat, eat as much as you want) compared to a calorie restricted (not so much fun), low fat diet did much better. In fact, the high-fat diet group lost more weight, had better control of blood sugar, and lower triglycerides and better HDL or good cholesterol). And the high fat group got off diabetic medications too!
- Even more research is pouring in about the extraordinary benefits of ketogenic diets (super high fat—70%—and very low-carb diets with no grains, beans, sugar, starch) for weight loss and reversing type 2 diabetes as was recently reviewed in this JAMA article.
- A new online company, Virta Health, uses a ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes with more success than any other approach. 87% of patients eliminated or reduced insulin, 56% of patients completely normalized their blood sugar and reversed type 2 diabetes, and the average weight loss at 6 months was 12% of their body weight. All without restricting calories. That is unheard of in traditional calorie restricted low-fat programs.
Food is Information and Quality Matters More than Quantity
I could go on and on, but the take home message is this: Food is information. Quality matters more than quantity. Weight loss and health depend far more on the type and quality of the food you eat than the calories or amount. In my new book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I go over exactly what food in each category is the best to eat. Which meat, what dairy, which veggies, what grains, etc. Taking the guesswork out of how to eat food that is good for you, good for the planet and environment, and even good for human rights!
Non-food or food like substances (which is about 60% of American’s diet) is out. This is where I agree with Nancy Reagan. Just say no! It will unhook your brain and palate from highly addictive, health destroying food. We are being inundated with ads and marketing for the worst possible food under the guise that it is healthy—low fat, high fiber, whole grains, low sugar, etc. It’s all bad.
The Corrupt and Dangerous Behavior of Big Food, Scientists, and Governments
Take, for example, the massive effort by Big Food to ply their junk across the globe through what I think are criminal activities. Nestlé’s developing world product, a drink called Milo, is a combination of flour and sugar and chocolate with the same glycemic index as Coca Cola. Pure junk promoted as a health food.
Milo is huge in Malaysia. Nestlé hired rock stars for a commercial to promote the drink for performance enhancement in school and sports, plus they made up this scientifically fabricated concept called an “energy gap”, which they claim affects 4 out of 5 kids. Which is why they need Milo. Watch this ad and cringe. It has as of this writing 18 million views! The New York Times published an investigative report about how Nestlé funds corrupt science, pays off nutritionists, and lobbies and funds government policies in Malaysia, making it the fattest country in Asia. If the International Criminal Court focused on Big Food, they would be in Big Trouble.
In my book out February 27, 2018, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? I uncover the truth about the food we actually eat—what is healthy and not, in each group of foods we eat—meat, poultry and eggs, dairy, beans, grains, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, beverages, and more, and guide to you to a science based, sensible way of eating for life that keeps you, our planet, and our society healthy. I also address the environmental and social impact of the food we eat.
I take the guesswork out of how to eat food that has the best information and the best quality, to make you feel good now, and prevent and even reverse illness.
If you have ever woken up wondering what the heck you should eat, this book is for you. Check out the trailer and order it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or get one at your local bookstore. And get a free video of the 4 biggest food lies out there!
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD