Other than animals that are raised and nurtured to feed us humans, when was the last time you saw any overweight or obese animal in the wild? In their natural habitat, it’s a case of catching food or being caught as another creature’s meal. To prove this point, I took my family to South Africa where we stayed at Ulusaba, in the Kruger National Park. During our adventure, we saw lots of lions, elephants, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, zebras, giraffes and much more – none of which were overweight or obese. Now, before you start to question me by saying what about whales and buffalo, let me counter that with a question – do you ever see skinny whales? The answer is no! The point is these species were designed by nature to carry excess fat to fight the cold when they migrate. Bears in the Arctic Circle are designed to store a huge amount of fat so they can draw on it during hibernation. Seeing as us humans don’t hibernate, we were not designed to carry the fat so many carry today.
Why Calories In/Calories Out Isn’t The Answer
‘Move more, eat less’. ‘Just ensure that the calories going in are less than we burn, and then we will lose weight’. You must have heard this before, and it’s an over-generalisation that’s very misleading. Firstly, the body utilises the calories it receives from CARBS, fat and protein in different ways. While it is true that, in a test tube known as a calorimeter, we can burn different types of food and measure the amount of heat they give off (remember that calories are measurements of heat/energy), it’s only loosely relevant to how the body utilises food calories.
By the gram, it’s true that CARBS have fewer calories than fat. Per gram CARBS contain four calories, protein sits in the middle at five and the previously vilified enemy, fat, possess a much larger nine calories per gram. Looking at the maths you can see how so many people have reached the wrong conclusion for so long, blaming fat for making us fat, and not CARBS. But the human body does different things with all three macronutrients. For example, it pretty much uses protein to grow our hair and replace blood, skin and nails, so these calories aren’t exactly going to make us fat. Likewise, it uses fat not just as energy, but to create vital hormones and acids that we need to survive. But with CARBS, unless we are burning more than we consume each day, the body just doesn’t use them for anything other than storing energy, i.e. they make us fat. If we’re not planning on getting marooned on a desert island, or going into hibernation for six months, we don’t actually need to consume a single CARB to survive.
Most importantly, insulin plays a vital role in our
What does the gut have to do with it? A lot! You see, calories are only relevant if we absorb them. If I told you a secret that, by balancing the bacteria in our gut, we were able to let a lot of our unwanted calories pass straight through our body and out in our faeces, then you might think it was a load of rubbish. However, it’s not just possible to reduce calorie absorption, it’s also fairly straightforward too.
Let me labour this point for a moment because it’s very important if we are looking to lose weight. As certain species of bacteria strip more energy from food than others, if we allow them to dominate the space in our gut, then losing weight becomes extremely difficult. It is for this reason that subscribing to the basic law of thermodynamics – energy in = energy out – is just plain wrong!
Medical research now suggests that by getting a better balance of microbes in our stomach, even consuming the same amount of energy, we can absorb 50 calories less each day. Over three years that equates to a stone in weight and over 10 years to more than three stone. That’s enough to turn someone who’s obese into a streamlined specimen!
One calorie = the amount of heat it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
Don’t Count Calories
It’s not just calories in/calories out that’s a waste of time. Counting calories consumed in isolation is pretty meaningless too. Let me tell you a short story. A few years back I was skiing with my uncle Dave. A really nice guy, but ridiculously accident-prone. His house once burnt down and when, a week later, he went back to evaluate the damage, in the process he disturbed a wasp nest and got multiple stings!
On the mountain we rounded a corner on the slope and 100m below us was a class of small children enjoying a skiing lesson. I turned to Dave and as we descended I kept repeating, “don’t-hit-the-kids-don’t- hit-the-kids-don’t-hit-the-kids-don’t-hit…” and you can guess what he did – he took out every single one of them. By the time he came to a stop there was not a single child left standing. After a number of apologies and 15 minutes helping them put their skis back on, luckily without injury, they were on their merry way.
Later that night I tossed and turned in bed wondering why Dave had ploughed into them and then it struck me. It’s like what happens when we get told not to think of a pink elephant. I kept yelling “don’t hit the kids!” and all Dave could focus on was the kids. If I had said “ski left, keep left,” then he most likely would have done it and avoided them
So here lies the problem with most diets: they focus on food, food, food. In reality, when we count calories we’re thinking more and more about food. What Primal Cure is about is stopping us from overthinking about what we eat. When we fast we are not thinking about it. When we are eating natural food, we’re not thinking about having to read food labels, we just enjoy our meals. It’s easy once we get into Primal Cure – we don’t have to read heaps of diet and fitness magazines every month, we don’t need to go to slimming clubs and instead of reading labels we just avoid them!
Plus, there is a gross misunderstanding with those who count calories in that no two calories are the same. On paper, the same number of calories from bread or meat should provide the same amount of fuel for the body. Wrong! Wrong for so many reasons. For example, protein is thermogenic, which means it produces heat as we digest it. When our body creates heat, we burn more calories. Therefore, for this reason alone (and there are many more) it is incorrect to assume that calories are an accurate measurement at all.
By the way, if you are counting calories, are you calculating kilocalories (kcals) or the international standard for energy kilojoules (kJ)? While kilojoules are more accurate, most people and food labels in the UK count kilocalories, which are the equivalent of 4.18 kilojoules. Confusing hey?
Okay, there is one other calorie number that we might want to take note of and that’s 2,000 calories. That is the approximate number of calories from CARBS and several other food types that our body can store in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. Any further intake of calories that aren’t immediately used to fuel activity just increases the waistline, love handles and several other fat stores.
My advice to Religious Calorie Counters: If you insist on counting calories, then you should take a helicopter view. One pound of body fat is 3,500 calories. Therefore if we want to lose a pound of body fat, we must burn 3,500 more calories than the combination of what our human body and the trillions of micro-organisms in our gut extract from what we consume.
When we start evaluating the nutritional value of food that we eat, we want as high a percentage as possible to be in the form of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (much more on these later), as well as plenty of fibre and oils such as Omega 3.