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Health Gain - Weight Loss - Part 3 - "Eat Real Food"

     Last month we learned that dropping pounds need not entail counting calories, going hungry or perpetual dieting. Not only that, but eating too few calories sets off a chain reaction of responses in the body that actually adds on pounds. Although excess calories certainly contribute to weight gain, it is more the type of calories rather than the amount of calories that makes the biggest difference when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.

     Calories are a measurement of units of energy that result from the breakdown of food by chemical processes controlled by our metabolism. They function just like the fuel we put in our cars to make them run. Most conventional weight loss plans operate under the premise that “a calorie is a calorie.”  The theory is that if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight, and, if you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight.  In real life, this turns out not to be the case.

     Only in a laboratory do calories release the same amount of energy when they are burned. However, when they are metabolized in the body, it is another story. This is due to the fact that calories have differing amounts of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients, which translate into distinct metabolic signals that impact weight once they are consumed. 

     As an example, sugar from a high glycemic carbohydrate (such as a soda or dessert) enters the bloodstream rapidly whereas the same amount of sugar from a fiber rich food like kidney beans is absorbed over time.  Because the body cannot, at one time, handle processing all of the calories from foods mostly comprised of refined sugar, any excess will be stored as fat.  However, a food containing more fiber breaks down slower, meaning more of its calories can be burned for energy and less will be stored as fat.

Food Communicate with Genes

     It has been discovered that calories contain hidden information that instruct genes how to direct metabolic functions, i.e. whether to burn calories or store them. Nutrigenomics, a new discipline in the field of nutritional research, studies how nutrients in our diet interact with and control the response of our genes. The latest scientific findings from this field clearly indicate that the right types of foods do indeed “talk” with and positively influence the way in which genes direct our metabolic processes.

     Dr. Mark Hyman, a practicing medical doctor and leader in the emerging field of functional medicine, explains in his book Ultrametabolism how this new science can work to turn up the body’s metabolism so an individual maintains a healthy weight based on their unique genetic needs. Through 20 years of practice, in which he has successfully helped thousands of overweight people with a multitude of serious health problems, Dr. Hyman has found that the best way to communicate the right messages to our genes is to eat real, whole natural foods, the kind on which our bodies were designed to function. 

 How Altered Food Creates Hormonal Havoc

     Since it takes a diet of unaltered and unrefined whole foods to convey the right messages to our genes in a language they understand, it is easy to understand why the body has no clue what to do with much of the food prevalent in the typical modern diet. When foods are highly processed, refined, genetically modified, and irradiated in addition to containing unnatural elements such as chemical additives, preservatives, trans fats, HFCS, antibiotics and growth hormones, they simply cannot be recognized by our bodies in the same way as the pure, natural foods God created for our nourishment.

     Not only do these altered, processed foods go unrecognized by the body but they also act as “endocrine disruptors,” according to Jillian Michaels, author of Master Your Metabolism. The endocrine system is a series of glands that release hormones to activate and balance the processes of the body. Hormones are messenger molecules that transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another in order to accomplish this purpose. Any substance or influence (usually stemming from toxins in our food and environment) that sends distorted signals to the body, causing these hormones to either be overproduced or under-produced, is considered an endocrine disruptor. Disrupted hormone levels throw the entire body system out of balance, specifically affecting weight control functions (the important subject of balancing hormones involved in regulating weight will be covered more thoroughly in a future article).

     It is not just an altered food supply that creates havoc with hormones and interferes with the normal function of metabolism and weight regulation in our bodies.  Another crucial factor is the toxic effects on our endocrine system from the synthetic chemicals in our environment, currently numbering in excess of 100,000 (and growing). Whether it’s pesticides in our soil, BPA in plastics, mercury in fish, chlorine, PCB’s, synthetic estrogens and pharmaceutical residue in water supplies – they all build up in our bodies to create a synergistic effect that not only adversely affects hormones involved with metabolism but also damages overall health. Excess stress, smoking, lack of sleep and exercise along with “starvation” or “yo-yo” dieting (see Health Gain-Weight Loss, Part Two), are other examples of common endocrine disruptors.

The Problem of Processed Foods

     Any food that is canned, boxed, frozen, dehydrated or packaged in any way using chemical preservatives and additives qualifies as processed food. There are roughly 320,000 such processed foods and beverages, 116,000 of which have been introduced just since 1990. Processed foods are designed to create the maximum profit for the manufacturers that produce them. Let’s face it – there is far more profit in selling items such as cookies, candy bars and chips than fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds. Besides taste appeal, processed foods are also designed to provide the consumer with long shelf life and ease of preparation. But what they most definitely are not designed to provide is good health. 

     It is amazing how many processed foods consist of some combination of corn, wheat or soy. Because these crops are often government subsidized, they are widely used by processed food manufacturers due to their low cost. If you check out labels on many processed foods, you will undoubtedly notice how frequently ingredients such as “refined wheat flour,” “hydrolyzed soy protein,” “partially hydrogenated corn oil,” and “high fructose corn syrup” are listed.  In addition, processed foods typically contain low quality starch and sugar, bad fats, salt (another cheap ingredient) as well as a myriad of chemical addictives numbering in the thousands with more added each year.

     If you consider that processed foods containing refined grains, vegetable oils and added sugar make up approximately 60% of the average American diet, it is no wonder so many people struggle with health and weight issues. Besides the harmful altered and non-food ingredients in processed foods, they woefully lack vitamins, minerals, enzymes, essential fatty acids and vital phytonutrients compared to the original whole food. Moreover, foods comprised of empty calories tend to be overeaten, whereas the consumption of more nutrient dense foods - vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts – results in a lower calorie intake overall. Cravings that lead to overeating typically do not occur when the body is receiving the nutrients it needs.

     While the ill effects from toxins and chemicals in our environment may be difficult to control, we can make choices regarding our personal food supply. If you want to send the right messages to your genes to optimize your metabolism and keep your hormones balanced, you must eliminate devitalized, processed foods from your diet as much as possible. Refuse to eat these fake foods created in what amounts to a chemical lab, since they end up as foreign matter to your body and alter your biochemistry. As Jillian Michaels says in her book Master Your Metabolism, “if it didn’t have a mother and it didn’t grow from the ground, don’t eat it”.  Instead, eat simple, naturally occurring foods that your body can make sense out of and use to your benefit.

Specific Anti-Nutrients to Avoid

     Not only do processed foods lack vital nutrients found in fresh whole foods, they also contain substances known as “anti-nutrients” which can be destructive to health AND weight loss efforts. These substances send mixed signals to hormones and disturb the normal biochemistry of the body, causing the calories in the foods containing them to be multiplied. They adversely affect health and weaken the immune system by interfering with the supply or absorption of vital nutrients and enzymes in the body. Listed below are common “anti-nutrients” found in our modern food supply that should be avoided at all costs:

Refined Sugar

     Sugar, in all its many forms, is the number one anti-nutrient to avoid. In the refining process of sugar, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are stripped away, leaving a non-food extract proven destructive to health.  How sugar contributes to weight gain, undermines good nutrition and adversely affects health is covered extensively in my series “Sugar Bondage – Why You Need to be Free”.  

Hydrogenated Fats

      According to the New England Journal of Medicine’s review of 80 different studies, trans fats were shown to be more dangerous than any other food contaminant. These altered, man-made fats are detrimental to health even at amounts less than three percent of total calorie intake. They are found in approximately 40 percent of foods found in the average grocery store, including nearly all commercially produced baked goods and snacks, in spite of the fact there is no safe level of consumption for them. Avoid any food that lists hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil on its label, regardless of whether it claims to be “trans fat free” (it still can have up to 500 milligrams per serving) as it only takes 20 to 30 grams a day to begin to damage health. To understand more fully the dangers of trans fats, please read the last two sections of my article “Understanding Fats – the Good, the Bad and the Best – Part I

 Refined Grains

     As I pointed out in my article “Sugar Bondage – Why You Need to be Free – Part II,” refined wheat flour, white rice, pasta and other types of refined grains have a similar effect as sugar once metabolized. With the fiber removed, they digest so quickly that blood sugar skyrockets. This increases insulin levels, which leads to weight-gain and related health conditions. It has been found that people who eat refined grains have a 30 percent higher risk of diabetes and 40 percent higher levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of the level of inflammation in the body) than those who regularly eat whole grains. Also, with the removal of the bran and the germ in the refining process, these grains are void of many nutrients as well as fiber needed for a healthy body and metabolism.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

     The use of HFCS, a manmade sweetener hidden in hundreds of processed foods and beverages, is thought to be more closely associated with the obesity epidemic than any other source of calories. More destructive to health than even refined white sugar, it now represents 40 percent of calorie sweeteners added to foods and beverages today, having increased in popularity by 350% since 1980.

     The biggest problem with HFCS is that fructose bypasses normal mechanisms involving hormones that help to regulate food intake.  Instead of tripping the switches that signal our body we have eaten enough, HFCS goes right to the liver where it is metabolized as fat, and contributes to increased food consumption and weight gain. Unlike regular sugar, it causes people to continue consuming excess calories even up to 24 hours after it is ingested since it fails to suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin. For further information regarding HFCS, I would refer you to the section on HFCS in my article “Sugar Bondage – Why You Need to be Free – Part I”.

Artificial Sweeteners

     Artificial sweeteners do more to upset normal metabolism than sugar or HFCS. These sweeteners cause the body to lose association between calories and sweetness, which often results in overconsumption of sweetened foods. The body produces insulin when these sweeteners are ingested, as it thinks sugar is on the way. The extra insulin creates hunger for sugar to balance it out, which generally results in additional sugar being consumed. In studies with laboratory animals, the ones fed artificial sweeteners consumed more calories, gained more weight and put on more body fat than the animals given the same amount of glucose. In addition, some artificial sweeteners contain excitotoxins thought to cause permanent damage to the brain’s appetite center.

     The health implications from regular use of artificial sweeteners are enormous. Studies have shown that drinking just one diet soda a day increased risk of metabolic syndrome by 34% over those who drank none.  I would recommend that you read my article “The Not So Sweet Truth about Artificial Sweeteners” (Healthy Sweeteners – Part I) if you have any doubt as to how harmful these artificial sweeteners are to the health of your body and metabolism.

Artificial Preservatives and Colors

     According to research, these chemical agents, commonly used in foods and beverages, hinder the normal function of metabolism, and consequently interfere with the ability to lose weight. A prime example is BHA, a chemical anti-oxidant commonly used in hundreds of foods to prevent spoilage as well as an ingredient in make-up and other personal care products. Regarded as a known carcinogenic, it is now considered an endocrine disruptor as well. Benzene is another known carcinogen that is also linked to serious thyroid damage.  Benzoate salts, which form high levels of benzene, are routinely added to soda drinks.  One of the most commonly consumed preservative is sodium nitrate and nitrite, found in bacon, ham, lunchmeat and hot dogs. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, the risk of colon cancer rises by 42% for every 3.5 ounces of processed meat eaten each day.  Just two slices of smoked turkey breast and one hot dog would meet that criterion. The greatest likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome is also associated with eating these types of processed meats.


     Glutamates are flavor enhancers produced by hydrolyzing proteins, the most common of which is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. These excitotoxins have proved devastating to the nervous system, especially the hypothalamus. Research indicates the hypothalamus of animals fed MSG suffered damage that led to obesity and endocrine problems later in life. Glutamates are also believed to damage leptin receptors, creating leptin resistance in the brain (leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that lets your brain know you are full). Some foods (such as Doritos) have up to five different kinds of glutamates, making the combined synergistic effect disastrous.

The Less, the Better

     Besides these anti-nutrients, which are particularly detrimental to health and effective weight management, Jillian Michaels identifies other elements in our food supply that she characterizes as “less than stellar” options. These options are not completely harmful but do tend to create conditions that throw hormones out of balance. Although the body can handle them in small quantities, they are best avoided if you want to lose weight. These “less than stellar” options are:

  • Starchy root vegetables – contain more calories with less nutrition
  • Tropical, dried and canned fruits – high in sugar
  • Excess soy – concentrated isoflavones are endocrine disruptors which can create too much estrogen
  • Excess alcohol – releases estrogen into bloodstream which promotes fat storage and decreases muscle growth, thereby reducing the body’s fat burning ability
  • Full-fat dairy and fatty meats – pesticides, toxic hormones and industrial pollutants collect in the animals fat tissue and become endocrine disruptors
  • Canned foods – these foods lose most nutrients in the canning process and contain excess sodium.  In addition, the plastic lining of the cans contain BPA (linked to insulin resistance and other hormone-related illnesses)
  • Caffeine – excess amounts can damage metabolism and hormone balance. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, causing adrenal glands to release stress hormones, which then leads to the liver releasing blood sugar for quick energy. The pancreas then responds by releasing insulin to lower the sugar levels, which results in food cravings as the body senses the drop in blood sugar. Long-term overstimulation from caffeine eventually wears down the adrenals, raising cortisol levels that increases appetite and promotes abdominal obesity (belly fat).

 Could Food Allergies be the Problem?

      Certain foods need to be avoided by some people though they do not cause problems for others. Most people are unaware of the relationship between weight problems and food allergies or sensitivities.  Hidden food allergens, however, are primary among dietary causes of inflammation associated with obesity. Gluten, in particular, is one of the most common causes of the type of inflammation that leads to swelling and fluid retention, which promotes weight gain. Unless root causes of inflammation are addressed, effectual permanent weight loss will not take place.

     Food sensitivities can cause people to crave the very foods to which they are allergic. Addictions to allergic foods upset body chemistry and foster weight gain in addition to provoking the development of a number of physical ailments ranging from migraines to irritable bowel syndrome.  Because some types of food allergies or sensitivities elicit a delayed response, people typically do not associate their symptoms with the food that has become an inflammation-producing irritant to their body.  If you are a person who has cravings for particular types of foods and difficulty losing weight or if you have any chronic symptoms in your body of unknown origin, I would encourage you to learn more about how to detect and eliminate food allergies in my article located in this issue entitled “Food Allergies:  Could They Be Your Problem?”


     I hope this article has given you “food for thought” regarding the extent to which our modern food supply contributes to the weight and health problems people experience today. Granted, it may seem too challenging to eat whole natural foods in the form God created them in a society where processed and convenience foods, along with popular fast foods, are everywhere you turn. However, the more you choose nutrient-dense whole, natural foods over refined and altered ones laced with chemicals and “anti-nutrients,” the more easily your metabolism will return to balance and function effectively. When that happens, you naturally will reach and maintain a healthy weight and burn calories for energy rather than store them as fat. At the same time, you will “gain health” and avoid many of the “diet and lifestyle” related degenerative ailments and diseases so common today.

Next month’s focus

      In the same way certain types of foods trigger fat storing hormones, other types of nutrients and foods work powerfully to restore hormone balance and repair a “mangled” metabolism. Instead of focusing on what not to eat, next month we will look at the kinds of whole, natural foods God put on this earth for a healthy, balanced (and lean) body. Specifically we will dispel the myth concerning the need to avoid carbohydrates in order to lose weight, and learn why they are actually the single most important category of food when it comes to health and a healthy weight.

In Summary:

  • The types of calories we consume “speak” to our genes and impact how our metabolism functions
  • Altered and refined processed foods send our body confusing messages which disrupt hormone balance, alter body chemistry and interfere with normal metabolic function
  • Whole, natural foods in their original form communicate the right messages to our bodies, enabling metabolism to work efficiently as designed
  • Our modern food supply is loaded with manmade “anti-nutrients” that sabotage weight loss efforts and cause health to deteriorate
  • “Less than stellar” food options are best avoided for those who want to lose weight as they adversely affect hormones systems related to metabolism
  •  Difficulty losing weight and food cravings can be attributed to food allergies or sensitivities that often go undetected


  • Ultrametabolism by Dr. Mark Hyman
  • Mastering Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels

Copyright © 2008-2015 Lucinda Bedogne, CNHP, CNC

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