Humanistic Weight-Loss
Rees Chapman, Ph.D.
June 2012

When I work with clients who want to lose weight, I often begin by exploring with them their assumptions about bodily processes involving nutrition and activity.  In nearly all cases, they quickly reveal their belief that eating too much makes them fat.   Early on, I challenge that assumption as not only mistaken, but also as misleading: in many ways, such a belief contributes to the problem of obesity.

I begin by inviting them to think of fat not as a disorder, but as an organismic adaptation.  Fat, I tell them, is really only stored fuel for our bodies, which can be drawn upon at times when food is not available.  I explain that food we have eaten only provides our bodies fuel for a few hours, until it is mostly digested, after which our bodies must find some other source of fuel; body fat is the next best source.  When we go too long between meals, our metabolisms store a greater proportion of what we eat as fat.  So, in a very real sense, we gain weight when our bodies are being deprived of nurture - when we are starving ourselves.  If we are feeding ourselves regularly and well, our bodies need very little stored fuel, and we are likely to maintain an ideal weight.

There are some interesting truths that support this idea.  One is the capacity for many teenagers to consume huge quantities of food (and nutritionless junk) all day long, and to stay slim.  Often, those that subsequently put on excess weight start doing so when they join the workforce, and begin skipping breakfast, inhaling carbohydrate-laden fast food for lunch, then have a big meal at dinner time.  Body fat is all that fuels them for most of each day, and they need more and more of it to function, so they begin putting on pounds.

Along the same lines, consider how bariatric surgeries work.  The holding capacity of the stomach is reduced, so only smaller meals can be comfortably consumed.  Surgeons and their patients believe this compels them to eat less, which is generally true, but those who eat only one smaller meal per day often have unfavorable surgical outcomes.  Those that are successful are likely to eat smaller quantities more often, and this may be an even more important factor.

So, I advise clients who want to lose weight to first take note of how they organize their lives around food, and to be aware of periods of time in which they eat nothing (or nothing with any nutritional value).  Nearly all have no breakfast, or only a high-carbohydrate snack, so I encourage them to eat a big breakfast (reminding them of the old wives' adage that it is "the most important meal of the day").  Then I suggest that they take whatever they eat in an average day and spread it out over several meals and snacks, usually five or more per day.  Nutritional balance is emphasized, and I typically suggest a diet such as The Zone by Barry Sears, which implements certain proportions of carbohydrate, protein and fat in three meals and two or three snacks.  In fact, carbohydrate reduction is generally an important factor, in that we tend to eat far more sweets and starches than our metabolisms are designed to process, and carbohydrate-rich diets lead to a metabolic feedback cycle which increases fat storage.

The main idea is to nurture ourselves regularly and frequently with healthy food, avoiding depriving ourselves; this will allow is to maintain metabolic balance and an appropriate body weight.
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