How I gained 20 pounds and lost them again

Hi everyone!
Today I would like to talk about a sensitive topic that might interest many people: Weight gain and weight loss. I want to say at first that this is not a typical diet post, where I will tell you to reduce carbs or follow any other diet trend. It is about the main mistakes that we make that let us gain weight or will keep us from losing weight. Beware, the post is long but you can always skip to the section that interests you ;)
As I already described in the post "How a break-up can change your life" I was in a relationship where I gained a lot of weight because I was very unhappy without realising it. I won’t start to gossip and say anything bad about a person that has been very close to me for a very long time. But we both were not happy in the relationship and it took us a while to realize that. I gained and gained and gained weight steadily. It was so frustrating because I did everything that I could, was on every diet and really starved myself every now and then. Still, the weight was not dropping. I now believe that the most important factor was that I was very unhappy. After the break-up it was quite easy for me to lose the weight again. But there are lots of other weight loss mistakes that I will discuss in this post. Just feel free to read the sections that interest you :)

Psychological factors:
You might not lose weight although you are convinced that you are doing everything right.  Everyone around you might even be eating much more than you are. When this is true you should ask yourself: Am I happy? Am I stressed? When we are stressed or unhappy, our body releases the hormone cortisol. This is an old mechanism that is actually used to safe fat as a resource for bad times. When we are stressed we often have trouble sleeping because we might be working a lot or think about our problems when we lie in bed. So, we probably sleep less which makes the body release the hormone ghrelin. It makes us crave sugar to be prepared for bad times as well. So my first advice that you really shouldn’t underestimate is:

Be kind to yourself and have time to relax.

You all have probably heard that already but I will say it again. Starving yourself will keep you from losing weight! If you are dieting too hard, your body will be expecting periods with very little food, so it will save all of its energy stocks (aka fat) and get into survival mood. Instead we should nourish our bodies and give them the feeling that there will be an eternal flow of good foods. This way our bodies will let go of the fats they have accumulated. Apart from that, don’t underestimate that power of cravings. We all plan to have a little more discipline on our next diet but still we end up overeating on cookies at some point. The reason is not that we lack willpower or discipline. Our brains are very clever and very powerful, so they will always find way to trick us into eating enough. When we start a diet I can almost guarantee that we will fall for sugar at some point. Then we feel terrible and beat ourselves up with all kinds of mean things that we wouldn’t dare to say others. Diets are terrible! For our body and our psyche! So, my second advice is:

Nourish your body with healthy foods instead of dieting

If you are really happy and not stressed at all and still not losing weight, chances are that there is something wrong with your metabolism. I for example have a hypothyrosis and I simply take pills against it every morning. Just go to the doctor because it is always better to get a professional opinion. My third advice is:

If you are not losing weight, have your metabolism checked by a doctor

Counting calories:
One huge mistake that I did for a really long time was counting calories; until I had physics lessons at the university and realised what the term “calorie” actually means. The word “calorie” describes the amount of energy that is needed to warm 1ml of water by 1K (or 1°C). I know, sound very complicated but imagine it like this: When one chocolate bar has about 500cal, it means that, if you put the chocolate bar on fire, it would be able to warm 500ml of water by 1°C. It simply describes the amount of energy that any substance holds. Our bodies need certain amounts of energy every day and spare energy from food is safe in the form of fat. So, calories are a good guideline to see, how much energy is inside of our food. The thing is that calories don’t give us any information of how the body can process the food. I imagine for example that wood has a huge amount of calories but you would probably starve to death, if you were only eating wood (Please, don’t try this as home!!!!). So my fourth advice is:

Only see calories as a guideline and not as the main thing to control for weight loss

Calories bring me to my next point: Fibre. You have probably heard that we should eat a lot of fibre but have you ever wondered why? Fibres are those parts in our food that the body can’t digest. Wood contains lots of fibre which is why we would probably starve to death. But smaller amount of fibre are definitely good for the body. Fibre will keep us full for a longer time, it will promote the “good” bacteria in our digestive system (more on that in my upcoming post about how to keep the gut happy) and it will increase our bowel movement which helps our body to detox (I might write a post about actively detoxing but I have not formed a definite opinion on the whole detox matter. Would you guys be interested in such a post?) You can find fibre in all vegetables or whole grain products. Nice examples for the importance of fibre are bananas and cheeseburgers (from the company with two golden arches). Bananas and cheeseburgers have about the same amount of calories still you should not replace every banana that you eat with a cheeseburger. Bananas are much higher in fibre and nutrients belong to this nourishing foods that are good for you  and you could eat much more bananas without gaining weight than you could eat cheeseburgers (but again, don’t overeat on bananas, it’s all about balance). My next advice is:

Try to include fibre into your meals by having lots of vegetables and whole grain products

I know, everyone thinks that carbs are terrible. But this is not true. First, we have to distinguish between refined sugars with a very simple structure on the one hand and complex branched carbs on the other hand. I agree, too much refined sugar is not good but at the same time, small amounts should be fine. When we talk about carbs (or sugars) we also have to talk about blood sugar levels and the hormones that control the blood sugar:
insulin and glucagon. When we eat carbs our blood sugar levels rise. As a result, insulin is released. If we let the blood sugar levels climb up too high, more insulin will be released, in order to lower the blood sugar levels. Evolution has not prepared our bodies for refined sugars with a very simple structure that can enter the blood almost immediately. They raise the blood sugar levels really high. A consequence of very high blood sugar levels is that the body works too ambitiously to get back to a normal blood sugar level. As a result we get a very low blood sugar levels afterwards. Then, the low blood sugar levels will alarm the body and we will start craving for sugars again. So, we will tend to refined sugars to raise the blood sugar quickly. This leads to an up and down that might ultimately result in the long weight gain or even diabetes in the long term. So, we should try to keep our blood sugar levels steady. The best way to do that is to give our bodies that material that they are used to work with since thousands of years: complex carbs. You can find them in vegetables and whole grain products. The nice thing about these carbs is that they are so complex that it takes our body a long time to process them. Only tiny amounts of sugar will be released into the blood over a long period of time, so our blood sugar levels as well as our insulin levels will be steady. With steady blood sugar levels we won’t have cravings! Now, there is the other trend of not having carbs in the evening. This actually makes sense to me (and to lots of other researchers). As I mentioned before, having carbs, complex or not, will lead to the release of insulin. After our bodies released insulin, they are in “energy-receiving-mode”. It means that our metabolism is prepared to let nutrients in but it is not prepared to let go of fats. So, when we constantly eat and always keep our insulin levels high, our bodies will never let go of the fat. The only time where we don’t eat is at night, so when we keep our insulin levels low in the evenings, our body will be able to let go of the fat more easily. We can even increase this effect by releasing the other blood sugar hormone: glucagon. Glucagon is usually released after we had lots of proteins from meat or eggs. It is able to unlock the fat cells, so that fat can be released. It makes sense to have a steak with vegetables in the evening, but we shouldn’t cut out carbs completely. So, the next advice is:

Try to have carbs from vegetables and whole grain products and be aware of the time when you eat them.

I know, as much as we fear carbs, we fear fats. But again, fat per se is not bad! Especially plant derived fats can be very good for us and we need them in our food. The cell membranes that surround each cell of our bodies are almost entirely made of fats! We only shouldn’t take it too far when we have fats. Everything in moderation! Some fats, for example from avocados or coconuts can actually speed up the metabolism so that we start losing weight. With fats it is the same story as with every other nutrient group; if we have too little, we will start craving it. And cravings might lead to binge eating. On the contrary, if we include some fats into our diet, our bodies will get used to burning fats and will not hesitate to burn its own fats as well. But what are healthy fats? Only as a guide line, they are usually plant derived and when you search for good oils, look for “native” and “cold-pressed”. Some oils you will always find in my home are olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil and sunflower oil. My last advice is:

Don’t be afraid to have healthy fats and look for good quality

I hope I could give you some proper background information about food and nutrition. And I follow one last rule: Have the food that the grandmothers of this world know. I don’t mean that you should stop having sushi only because your grandmother doesn’t know it or stop experimenting with food. I think, if the ingredients of a meal were already known 80 years ago, it is rather likely that these ingredients are on the healthy side.

All the best!


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