Fat Power

Did you know that Sumo Wrestlers eat a low fat diet in order to gain weight?


Why do people think that eating fat makes them fat?

Here is a little information about your body.  It is about how your body’s hormonal response to the food you eat is what is making you fat or lean.

If you don’t want to read the whole article, I’ll give it to you in a nutshell:  The only way to eat a low fat, low calorie diet is to eat a lot of carbs.  This will make you very hungry, irritable, possibly depressed, and guess what…. FAT.  If you eat a low glycemic, high fat diet, you will “tell your body” to burn fat stores, feel great, sleep great, perform great, and look great.  Hint: It’s all about what you tell your body to do. ie. HORMONES.
The following is an excerpt of an  article written by Tony Leyland in 2008.

“Body composition is the result of being fit; it is not in itself a component of fitness.  Performance measures are better indicators of health and fitness. (Whether measured in terms of workout or competition times and results; blood lipid profiles; or ECG, liver function, and glucose tolerance tests; among others.) That being said, weight control is important to many, and the principles of proper eating and exercise that produce healthy body composition are at root the same ones that produce elite performance. Taken together, these are key factors that determine where you are on the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. In his book Good Calories, Bad Calories (which is, I believe, quite simply one of the most important books ever written in the field of nutrition and weight control), Taubes argues that common nutritional guidelines such as the USDA food pyramid and Canada’s Food Guide are inappropriate for optimal health and weight control. Many researchers have promoted numerous health benefits for low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets despite a disturbing lack of evidence to support their view. In 1960 the American Heart Association jumped on board and decided low-fat diets are a healthy option. Without studies and without evidence, they started to promote these diets. The result is that, four decades later, the majority of the North American public believe the purported benefits of this diet are absolute fact.

The energy balance equation

When it comes to weight control, many “authorities” in the field have used the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) and the energy balance equation (EBE) to promote low-fat diets.

The EBE is quite simple and states:

Change in Energy Stores = Energy Intake – Energy Expenditure


This equation must be correct in the simplest sense due to the laws of physics. However, despite the apparent simplicity of the equation, the interplay between these variables is complex. Nevertheless, most weight loss programs have simply (and wrongly) treated energy intake and energy expenditure as two independent variables. Therefore the simple, but incorrect, message for individuals who want to lose weight has been to focus on decreasing caloric intake, increasing energy expenditure, or a combination of the two. This might appear to be reasonable, and, since a gram of fat is nine calories, and protein and carbohydrate are approximately four calories per gram, this approach would seem to support the notion that a low-fat diet is best for weight loss. This notion persists despite a mountain of evidence that lowfat diets do not work very well, if at all, for most individuals.

Energy in

A further simple interpretation of the EBE is that the overweight and obese in our society must be eating too much and not exercising enough. While this may be true for some, a number of studies have shown that at least some overweight individuals eat the same number of calories, or fewer, than lean individuals. Understanding why this happens is not exactly rocket science, and it is not a violation of the laws of conservation of energy. The fact is that the food we eat elicits hormonal responses that determine how energy is stored in the body (i.e., in the form of body fat). Basically, energy intake is not independent of energy expenditure, and the type of calories you eat does affect your energy output. Energy intake and energy expenditure are dependent variables. Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and easily digestible carbohydrates drive an insulin response and insulin drives fat storage. Dietary fat—or even calorie quantity—is not the main culprit at all. That storage or release of fat from our adipose tissue (fat cells) is hormonally driven is quite obvious. A typically lean woman will start to gain fat if she becomes pregnant. Why? The hormonal response to being pregnant stimulates fat accumulation to try to ensure ample energy supplies for both mother and fetus. The fat storage will usually be in the buttocks, thighs and breasts and the stored fat will be mobilized (moved out of the cells) when energy is needed during the pregnancy and lactation. After she has given birth, assuming good nutrition, she will return to a normal amount of adipose tissue for her whether or not she eats more or less calories. So what is cause and what is effect in the energy balance equation? Do you necessarily store energy just because you ate more? The key point Taubes makes is that, for most, it is poor eating habits that cause the hormonal response that forces the body to store excess calories as fat. But these poor intake is not simply too many calories; it is high-glycemic and total carbohydrate intake. Numerous studies have shown that restricting overall carbohydrates and eating only low-glycemic index carbohydrates is the most effective diet for weight control and good health. Sumo wrestlers eat a lot of food to gain weight (body fat), and their diet is extremely low-fat (typically with only about 16 percent of total energy intake from fat). In the late 1970s, 30 percent of the U.S. population was classified as obese or overweight and the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet “cure” that has been prescribed since then has resulted in 65 percent of the U.S. population being classified as obese or overweight by the early 1990s. Studies have shown that individuals on low-calorie weight loss diets better tolerate high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Despite low overall calorie intake, they do not report feeling hungry all the time and their metabolism does not slow down in an attempt to maintain fat stores. These kinds of diets were commonly prescribed up until World War II, and diets such as Atkins would not have been considered “fad diets” in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. So the evidence is clear that you cannot simply state that “a calorie is a calorie” when looking at the energy intake variable in the EBE. All calories are not equal, and the quality of those calories (i.e., type of nutrient and overall nutrient balance) is much more important. Restricting calorie intake but continuing to eat much of it in the form of high-glycemic foods will make your body fight to maintain its fat stores and will lower your metabolism. There is simply no well-researched evidence that contradicts this information.”


Interesting, isn’t it?  What does it mean for me today?  Eat bacon, DO NOT eat oatmeal. Eat your meal with a fork, not between slices of bread.

More meat=good.  More grains/sugars=bad.


In the next few days I will post the rest of the article.  It discusses how to trigger a neuroendocrine (hormonal) response through exercise.  I’ll give you a clue:  Walking on a treadmill watching Oprah won’t do the trick.

If you are interested in learning more about proper nutrition, you can read Nutrition_Full_Issue-1.  Otherwise, just be patient.  I’ll be getting to that soon.


(Tony Leyland is Senior Lecturer in the School of Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia. He has taught at the university level for 25 years and has been heavily involved in competitive sports such as soccer, tennis, squash, and rugby as both an athlete and a coach for over 40 years. He is a professional member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a Canadian National B-licensed soccer coach, and a level-1 CrossFit trainer. He can be reached at leyland@sfu.ca.)


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