Tens years ago, I was about 60 pounds overweight. I was feeling pretty lousy, as you can probably imagine . . . so I decided that I was going to lose the excess weight once and for all.
I lost 10, then 15, then 20 pounds . . . But unfortunately, I gained it back. I wasn't willing to give up, so I tried again. The problem was, I'd lose it, then gain it back, lose it, gain it back.
Do you know what I'm talking about? Has this ever happened to you?
It's the yo-yo diet syndrome. I just couldn't get lean and fit. And I wasn't getting any healthier in my attempt.
I needed some serious help so I hired Ari Witten, one of the leading exercise and nutritionist energy experts in the world, to help me understand what was I doing wrong.
Ari busted a bunch of myths for me right off the bat. He recalibrated my thinking about weight-loss, diets, and dieters.
The default fat loss setting in my brain wasn't allowing me to release the excess fat on my body. But then I discovered a whole bunch of stuff around the neurology, the biology, and the psychology of losing weight . . . specifically, I learned was there's a huge difference between losing weight and losing fat.
Just about any diet you go on, you're going to lose weight at first . . . either because you're exercising more or you're able to eat smaller portions.
What a lot of people don't realize is when you "go on a diet," you lose water, fiber, muscle tissue, etc. So weight-loss isn't where you need to be focusing on; what you shouldn't be focusing on is fat loss.
That's one of the first things I discovered: Focus on fat loss.
Here's a before/after fat loss photo of me. (That's my wife with me in the after photo.) 😊
Before we dive into the best way to lose weight and keep it off, I want to share some common weight-loss myths with you.
If I go on a low-fat diet, I'll lose more fat than if I'm on a low carb diet.
New research shows that this is not true. Dozens of studies prove that when low fat and low-carb diets of equal calories are compared, they provide the same amount of fat loss.
There is one optimal fat loss program to lose weight – I just have to find it and my problems will be solved.
In studies, results show that fat loss differences between individual diets is small. The upshot? About equal amounts of fat loss occur with ANY low-carb or low-fat diet regardless of the type.
There isn’t only one type of diet that works for fat loss. The key is finding the fat loss diet that is going to be sustainable for you.
The keyword here is sustainable because whatever you choose to do to lose the fat, you have to keep doing it for life if you want to keep the fat off. So choosing an unsustainable diet is a recipe for weight regain.
Carbs are the reason people are getting fat and sick.
Eating carbs does not make you any fatter than eating equal amounts of calories from fat. While decades of diet gurus have tried to place the blame for the obesity epidemic on either fat or carbs, the science simply shows that there isn’t much to these claims.
Of course, eating refined carbohydrates and added sugars can cause you to consume more calories, but it has more to do with eating processed junk food than with any unique metabolic or hormonal effects of carbohydrates.
Eating processed junk rich in fat has the exact same fattening effect. Studies have shown diets rich in whole food carbohydrates (for example, blueberries, carrots, and beans) are just as effective for fat loss as low-carb diets.
Avoiding refined carbohydrates and added sugars is certainly a smart idea, but don’t expect any magic from avoiding whole food carbohydrates.
What's making us fat has much less to do with “carbs vs. fat” and much more to with whole foods vs. processed foods.
To make it simple, you don’t lower your risk of fat gain, diabetes, or heart disease by choosing butter and steak over blackberries and lentils. Numerous recent scientific studies that compare high-carb and low-carb diets of equal calories show exactly EQUAL rates of fat loss.
Fat loss is just a simple matter of calories in, calories out.
While calories DO matter, most studies indicate that consciously trying to starve the body of calories by forcing yourself to eat less has abysmal long-term success rates. A recent comprehensive analysis on the long-term diet studies was conducted at UCLA and found that diets fail 95% of the time to achieve long-term fat loss.
While calorie reduction does work very well at the beginning to achieve plenty of fat loss, after a while, your body initiates a whole set of hormonal and metabolic responses to being deprived that drives your biology to PILE ALL THE WEIGHT BACK ON AND MORE.
What we need to lose the weight and keep it off is more than simply starving the body of calories—we need to optimize our nutrition and lifestyle in specific ways that rewire our body’s metabolism and hormones to support lasting fat loss.
If I go on a juice cleanse, I will cleanse myself of toxins and reset my metabolism, and be able to eat whatever I want because toxins make people fat.
There's actually some evidence that suggests that certain specific toxins can contribute to fat gain. But the vast majority of detox therapies have no proven effect on ridding the body of these toxins.
It’s true that, in general, many people in the Western world consume nutrient-poor processed foods, breathe in smog, overuse medications, ingest foods that contain toxins like pesticide residues or heavy metals, and don’t sleep enough.
And it’s true that these factors can potentially lead to higher levels of toxins in the body, a weakened ability to eliminate those toxins, and higher risk for disease.
However, taking some detox pills, doing a colonic every few months, or doing a three-day detox diet isn’t going to do nearly as much for you as optimizing your body’s own ability to eliminate toxins every single day.
This means, you should focus less on what 3-day detox program to go on, and more on optimizing your nutrition and lifestyle the other 362 days of the year.
(Download the Guide to Fat Loss for Good for more weight-loss myths and fat loss tips.)
Many people find the path to lasting fat loss so confusing and give up, or going round in circles . . . thinking that lasting fat loss is too hard or not achievable for them.
Of course, there's a lot more information about the science behind these strategies that we don’t have room for here.
However, we've summarized some of the findings into 4 nuggets for you to digest, so you get the BIG PICTURE at a glance and know immediately what you should do . . . and what you should avoid doing to find a safe and effective diet that works for you long-term.
Let’s revisit this issue and dispel the myth of calorie reduction once and for all.
If there’s one thing that’s consistent in the medical literature, it’s that telling people to eat fewer calories isn’t a very effective fat loss strategy, despite the fact that it works if strictly adhered to. Many people who use this strategy see transient fat loss, followed by fat regain and a feeling of defeat.
Obesity researcher and neurobiologist, Stephan Guyenet, PhD
Dr. Guyenet is one of the world’s foremost obesity researchers, and he's saying that if there's one thing that is consistent in the scientific studies, it’s that simply trying to force yourself to eat fewer calories doesn’t work very well.
Let that sink in for a moment . . .
What's the biggest problem with this strategy?
Hunger and fatigue are the two BIGGEST causes of failure for people trying to lose weight.
Remember that. It’s critically important. Any time an approach to fat loss relies on you having to fight against hunger and fatigue constantly, it’s probably a recipe for failure.
When it comes to sticking to a healthy eating plan, conscious and forced calorie deprivation doesn't work in the long-term because your biology is set to initiate a series of hormonal and metabolic responses to being deprived of calories, which leads to putting the weight back on.
Unfortunately, merely trying to force yourself to eat less food (without fixing the quality of your diet) will almost certainly result in hunger and fatigue.
According to many leading fat loss studies, the single most important thing for lasting fat loss is to choose an approach to fat loss that is sustainable.
If you want not just to lose the fat, but keep it off for life, then you must always remember that whatever you choose to do to lose the fat, you have to keep doing it! Not just for 10 days or 60 days or 90 days. But for life!
So choosing some diet where you are miserable because of hunger and fatigue is just a recipe for weight regain.
For most people, forcibly restricting calorie intake causes hunger and fatigue, which makes the diet unsustainable. That means that you yo-yo right back to where you started.
In short, you need to make sure that your approach isn’t just doable for you for a few weeks or months, but for life!
This part is NOT rocket science: the body needs calories (protein, carbs and fats) to survive. So if we starve it of calories, the brain responds by increasing hunger and decreasing the body’s metabolic rate, so we start to eat more calories, burn fewer calories, and store fat.
This part IS rocket science: The way of the body and brain react doesn’t only apply with calories. If we stave the body of micronutrients like magnesium, vitamin A, selenium, copper, zinc, and phytonutrients, the brain reacts in virtually the same way as it does when we starve it of calories (or over-feed it highly rewarding foods).
It increases hunger, lowers our energy level, and decreases metabolic rate, so we FEEL as if we’re being starved of food. This drives us to eat more calories and gain fat.
Being micronutrient-deficient drives us to gain weight. Here's what happens in the brain and body:
The cool part is that this also works in the other direction.
Several studies have now shown that a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients can dramatically increase satiety (fullness), decrease hunger, increase energy levels, and increase the metabolism compared to diets less rich in micronutrients.
All this means that when you eat foods that are rich in micronutrients, you avoid the two biggest factors that sabotage fat loss (hunger and fatigue).
Protein and fiber both play vital roles in helping us to lose weight: they keep us feeling full for longer.
Eating a diet rich in protein and fiber causes a spontaneous, non-conscious reduction in total calorie intake—which means fat loss without having to force ourselves to eat less—and this is precisely the kind of fat loss we want!
Something else to consider: if you are restricting your calorie intake to lose weight, and if your diet is low in protein, this will drive the body to burn off more muscle and less fat. You’ll still lose weight on the scale, but it won’t be the right kind of weight. We want to lose fat, not muscle.
When you eat more protein and fiber in every meal to preserve muscle mass during weight-loss, you also to increase your satiety . . . so you consume fewer calories while still feeling “full.”
Another important point: Protein does not equal “meat.” There are many good sources of plant-based proteins, so for those of you who are vegan or vegetarian, the strategy would be to eat more protein-rich plant foods and/or supplement with plant-derived protein powders.
Your brain is the center of everything that you do, think, feel, and resist. Good news is, there’s increasing evidence that the brain can, in large part, rewire itself for new behavior patterns to emerge.
Neurobiology tells us so much about what’s going on in weight gain and weight loss. It takes a long time to develop new habits, rituals, routines. It may take months or years . . . but it can happen.
When you discover your hidden health identity, you discover the underlying beliefs you have about your body. With this awareness, you can rewrite your body image story and change your body image . . . so you an gain a more loving and positive perspective, which helps you make healthier choices.
This is huge part of winning the game of weight-loss!
While there may be some degree of “damage” to the brain, particularly in how hunger and satiety hormones function, it can correct itself to a large degree. The key is knowing that the process takes time and, like any other behavior change, is ultimately a practice.
So keep Innercising and attending my NeuroGym training sessions to reset your self-image, upgrade your health set-point, and release the weight for good. You've got this!
(WANT MORE STRATEGIES FOR FAT LOSS? Ari Whitten's guide has more bite-sized strategies. Download the PDF)
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Horton, TJ, et al. (1995). Fat and carbohydrate overfeeding in humans: different effects on energy storage. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Jul;62(1):19-29.
Kennedy ET et al. (2001). Popular diets: correlation to health, nutrition, and obesity. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001 Apr;101(4):411-20.
Brinkworth GD, et al. (2009). Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):23-32. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27326. Epub 2009 May 13.
Golay A, et al. (1996). Similar weight loss with low or high carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 63:174-8.
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Naude, C. et al. (2014). Low Carbohydrate versus Isoenergetic Balanced Diets for Reducing Weight and Cardiovascular Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100652
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John Assaraf is one of the leading mindset and behavioral experts in the world, with a unique ability to help people release mental and emotional blocks that keep them from achieving their life’s biggest goals and dreams. He's written 2 New York Times Bestselling books, appeared on Larry King, and was featured in 8 movies, including "Quest For Success" with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama. Now, he is the CEO of NeuroGym, a company dedicated to using the most advanced neuroscience-based training to help individuals and maximize their fullest potential.