Are Hyper-Palatable Foods Wreaking Havoc on Your Health & Making You Gain Weight? Part 2
Photo by Bruna Branco on Unsplash
I have struggled with a tendency towards holding on to extra weight and the excruciating pain of stubborn fat loss for as long as I can remember, going back to at least four years of age. I have lost and gained the same 20–30 pounds about 15 times over several decades. (for more on those stories see Part 1 here.)
I have followed a whole foods diet for several decades, since I was a teenager, in varied iterations. I have also done a lot of emotional work on my compulsive overeating, only to discover slowly, painfully and over time, that any amount of sugar including processed carbs, is the real culprit, not my emotional state as I had dogmatically believed.
Once I got it together to finally lose the weight, I would be filled with anxiety about gaining it back. And then I would, indeed, gain it back, and more.
Hyper-palatable foods are a huge problem for any person who cares about their health. For those of us who struggle with hormonal and metabolic regulation and weight gain, they are our downfall. They set up an unrealistic food reward cycle where the brain lights up, much like it does with excessive alcohol and drugs, needing and craving more and more.
We become caught up in this cycle of addictive, chronic overeating, fabricated by the food industry’s profit motives. It's not our fault. But it is our responsibility to address. Here are ten things to know and to do to get out of this hyper-palatable viscous trap, summarized from Ari Whitten’s newest Energy Blueprint work (https://www.theenergyblueprint.com).
Make friends with your body’s regulators
Your body has systems of regulation that are always giving you critical feedback. For instance, when you are deprived of oxygen, your body hyperventilates to get your oxygen levels back up fast. Or if you are very sleep-deprived, your body lets you know with fatigue, low energy, and poor concentration.
Likewise, if you chronically consume excess calories and your weight goes up, your body will regulate itself by slowing its metabolism and increasing its hunger signals.
But wait a moment. What is hunger? How do you experience hunger? What does it feel like? Is it a clear rumbling in your belly? Or is a desire for food felt in the mouth?
Do you get a headache and feel weak or cold when you need food? The desire to eat might be hunger or it may be the body trying to get back into homeostasis. For the purpose of this story, we consider all of the above hunger.
The Queen Regulator of the body is the hypothalamus gland. It regulates many internal systems including the levels of hormones in circulation, body temperature, hunger, feelings of being full up after eating, and the number and size of fat cells.
You need a well functioning hypothalamus regulating your body correctly. Read on please...
2. Homeostatic Eating, Not Hedonic Eating
The hypothalamus is always looking to find the body’s homeostasis; it wants homeostatic or stable, consistent, baseline eating. We evolved through times of famine and it is set to make sure we have enough food and don’t starve.
Think about animals. In the wild, they eat what they need to exist and not one ounce more. They have no obesity (like some human pets do!). They are natural homeostatic eaters, eating enough but not too much to sustain their bodies.
In modern times, where highly processed food is hyper accessible, the body does not suffer from the threat of lack of food but rather too much, nutrient weak food.
However, evolution is lagging a bit because the body still regulates for famine even though the norm has become overconsumption of low nutrient food.
Hedonic eating is when we eat not for basic sustenance but for high food reward, with food that is hyper-palatable, hyper-varietal, very accessible, and very large in portion size.
This type of non-homeostatic eating, while good for corporations’ profits, deeply disrupts the body’s regulatory systems, including the hormones that control hunger, and also the body’s circadian rhythm where it repairs and resets its regulatory systems.
These systems are further dis-regulated by chronic stress caused by chronic maladaptive lifestyle habits such as too much sitting, chronic toxin absorption, lack of exercise, lack of phytonutrients, and more.
3. Losing weight without causing harm
We want to create the conditions for sustainable fat loss without causing harm to the body. We do not want to follow harsh diets that cause the body to lose muscle and water only, without any metabolic change.
Each body is unique and finding your homeostasis is a game of trial and error. I believe that we need to get off anything processed: white flour and white sugar of course. However, even gluten-free bread can stimulate the hyper-palatable vicious cycle, due to the processing of different grains and alternative sugars, which are still turned into sugar. All processed foods, even healthy seeming ones, are not natural to ingest.
Highly rewarding foods, hyper-palatable foods are sweet and salty, lighting up the brain’s pleasure centers. The brain is not wired for that level of pleasure because it is still on the alert for starvation. Thus these processed foods are addictive substances akin to drugs. Studies put white sugar at seven times as addicting as cocaine. Like all addictive substances, as the pleasure center adapts, it needs more to get the same pleasure.
So no more sugar pops, pop tarts, yogurt with mixed in fruit, granola, breads, cakes, candies, sauces, and condiments. Read every food label for added sugars. Stick with whole foods, mostly vegetables, and healthy proteins like organic chicken and eggs, wild fish and grass-fed meats. Have some berries or maybe an apple a day for something sweet. Eat like an animal, not a human who is being experimented on with highly processed foods, pesticides, glycosphates, plastics, etc.
4. Reclaim your body’s natural set point
Our bodies have a fat setpoint whereupon if that set point is habitually exceeded, the body gains weight.
Your body’s set point, or personal fat threshold, is determined by: · Diet · Genes · Environment · Lifestyle · Circadian rhythms · Stress load · Physical activity
Once you reach your own individual personal fat threshold, your body can’t safely store fat in your fat cells anymore. So you gain weight. Some people can technically be obese although they enjoy a metabolically healthy weight because they have a high personal fat threshold.
Each of us has to find our own set point. In order to achieve long term fat loss, we must down-regulate our body’s fat setpoint to the level that is normal for each of us. Resetting it to normal is part of the process of finding a healthy homeostasis.
During the temporary phase of active weight loss efforts, most people find success when they go very low carb consuming meat, poultry, eggs and fish as well as above the ground vegetables and no more than a fruit a day, and avoid soy, dairy, root vegetables and grains. In the stable, maintenance phase, adding in small amount of nuts or legumes or root vegetables or dairy may work.
Here is the bottom line: Consume not hedonic but homeostatic pleasure from nutrient-dense food and get to a good set point for your body.
5. Extra fat cells mean inflammation and insulin resistance
We now have sufficient science that shows obesity, which varies from person to person since many of us can be metabolically healthy at a higher weight, weakens our immune systems. Obesity puts our bodies in a chronic state of low-grade inflammation, activating our immune systems to be on the defense constantly.
Chronically inflamed fat cells secrete inflammatory signaling molecules into the bloodstream so that they reach every other part of the body. Fat cells become inflammatory and insulin-resistant, affecting the whole body.
Too much sugar causes the body to secrete insulin. Insulin resistance results from storing too much fat and causes diabetes. Insulin resistance also increases weight gain.
In a body that is working well, insulin pumps nutrients into cells and tissues. Insulin resistance means the cells and tissues are resistant to the insulin signal. They are not receiving the signal to and from insulin to store and better metabolize incoming nutrients.
Fat-overloaded cells become inflammatory and resist insulin. It’s not the inflammation that causes insulin resistance, it’s that the cells contain too much fat. It is that simple.
So the fat cells are both inflamed and insulin resistant. They secrete inflammatory molecules and fatty acids into circulation because insulin is no longer able to tell it to keep those fats stored.
By bringing the body’s weight down below its personal fat threshold, it uses its own fat as an energy source and depletes the fat stored in the liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, and throughout the body.
The accumulation of excess body fat through high caloric intake drives insulin resistance. The hyper-palatable, hyper-rewarding processed food environment often lead to excess body fat, and to diabetes and blood sugar dis-regulation. To stop or get rid of diabetes, you need to get rid of insulin resistance.
6. Hyper palatable foods are addictive and lead to overconsumption
Factoid: obesity increases the risk of being admitted to intensive care by 2–4 fold. Since evolution is designed to ward off starvation and not over-feeding, the body’s internal regulatory systems are overwhelmed. Nowadays as body size has increased and fat set points have been overridden, normal body weight is no longer the norm.
Visceral fat accumulates in the liver, pancreas, and around the heart and lungs. Infectious outcomes are typically worse for people with obesity because their lungs and muscles responsible for breathing can’t function as well because of the mass of fat.
Every time you feel that desire for that candy bar or cookie or chips or whatever your trigger food is, remember this!
7. Let go of disproven, antiquated calories in calories out model
The old rule ‘calories in, calories out’ absolutely is not true or accurate unless you eat the same foods every day, day in and day out, for years. Your body can up-regulate and down-regulate its metabolism on a whim, in response to under- or over-eating.
How efficiently your body uses energy and burns calories when you exercise affects your energy. If your muscles are highly efficient, and you eat protein, you will burn off more of the energy from that protein as heat than when you eat carbs or fat. The foods that you eat affect how much energy you expend.
If you essentially starve yourself, you will lose weight. But just restricting calories does not result in lasting fat loss; 700 calories from chicken breast and broccoli vs pizza and ice cream will create wildly different amounts of satiety in an individual. Not every calorie you eat will be absorbed into your body and available for your metabolism to use.
Hyper palatable foods make you eat more because they are not satiating. A processed food calorie is not equal to a whole food calorie in terms of satiety. They light up the brain and know your internal systems into a frenzied state.
8. Let your taste buds change
There is no quick fix, but there is a fix. That fix involves changing your taste buds and your mindset so that not an ounce of processed, adulterated, hyper palatable food crosses your lips, forever.
Okay, maybe not forever but 95% of the time. It is just not worth it. It will light up your brain and set you onto the downward spiral. You know what I mean. Your body is sensitive. You can’t get away with cheating on sugar. One bite of it sends you into the frenzied state- literally.
Think of your body as a finely tuned filter. It can’t take the stress.It's not your emotions; it's your body chemistry. It's not your fault but it is your responsibility.
Yes, it is true that not everyone responds to processed food the same way. But you and I cannot handle it. We know that. We have tried over and over again to handle it, always with the same disastrous results.
The brain can be retrained to like healthy food as well as exercise. Our taste buds can reject the hyper sweet, hyper saltiness of processed food, of the Standard American (SAD) Diet, and refuse it. The fix must be long term and sustainable. We have to like our food and exercise enough to keep doing it and make the change permanent.
9. Eat A LOT of protein during the active losing period
The standard required daily amount, the RDA, is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of current body weight. This RDA is the minimal amount required to prevent muscle wasting. You may have noted that the RDA is based on body weight. That is because the more body mass you have, the more protein you need. When you are losing weight, you always go by your actual weight, not your goal weight, to determine protein needs.
Scientific studies have determined that the average person needs 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, to avoid metabolic down regulations. With inadequate amounts of protein, your body doesn’t want to use that protein to grow new muscles or activate your immune system to fight off infections. Thus, metabolic down-regulation, a result of low protein, conserves your energy. Then you start to get low in dopamine and motivation, as well as serotonin and happiness. That makes weight loss hard to sustain and your determination wears down and before you know it, your best efforts to eat less are old news.
High amounts of protein are very satiating, making caloric restriction bearable and sometimes not noticeable. There is some concern that high amounts of protein can be harmful to the kidneys. The research shows that high protein is not adverse for kidneys in an otherwise healthy adult or even overweight or obese adult. (However, if you have kidney dysfunction or diabetes, then high protein can harm kidneys.)
Although research shows that people eat all the way up to 4.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, it seems that 1.5 to 2.0 grams per pound is a good amount, depending on how much weight you need to lose.
I eat about 10 servings of non-root, grown-above-ground vegetables a day. I can be very content with eating a lot of vegetables, prepared simply. It wasn’t always that way. Truly I crave vegetables. I can feel them work as fuel inside me. They translate as less or no sugar cravings. It’s crazy sounding, I know, but happily true.
10. Circadian Rhythms
One weight loss tip that is priceless: the longer you sleep, the less time spent eating or thinking of eating! Plus, your body will rest. Stress puts the body into fight or flight mode, producing cortisol and adrenaline, making your body stressed.
Your brain reads this as danger mode, whereupon it holds tightly on to its weight because the brain is programmed to sense danger as famine. It does not yet know to sense danger as processed food! But one day, it just might.
Getting your blood sugar stable is one necessary step to lose weight. Blood sugar dis-regulation is one result of circadian rhythm and sleep disruption, increases insulin resistance, abnormal levels of cortisol, insulin resistance, and disrupts autophagy or cellular cleanup.
Sleep is the single most critical compound for protecting your mitochondria. With insufficient sleep, your melatonin levels are disrupted, producing higher leptin and ghrelin levels, resulting in overeating.
Here is something that is going to gain more and more traction now that it is commonly recognized that Americans are sleep deprived. The circadian rhythm’s clock in the brain are affected by light. Electricity confuses the body. Computers even more so. 5G even more so. We are going to have to make some real changes; more than blue light blocking glasses. It’s unavoidable.
Weight Loss Nuggets
Those are my ten customized points. I hope they are helpful and all praise goes to Ari Whitten and his Energy Blueprint.
And here are a few helpful, concluding hints:
Things to do more of: •Improve metabolic health by consuming food during hours of light •Have a short feeding window, 10 hours or less, not the norm of 16 hours •Sleep when it is dark •Keep restaurant food to a minimum and be very selective as to what you eat there •Eat more in morning and afternoon for optimal metabolic health and body composition •Cook! A key predictor of leanness is unprocessed whole foods cooked at home •Consume daily 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of current body weight. Divide over however many meals you want. You will see improvements over time. •Remember that this work is all about being healthy and healthy aging. You need protein for your muscles. You need healthy carbs and fat. You need no processed food, no sugar. •Allow your taste buds to change over time. You will be amazed what a difference a year makes. •Be kind to yourself. It is not your fault you’re carrying around extra fat. Once you know your genetic disposition, sleep issues, nutritional intake, exercise, emotional triggers, and how to heal your gut, it will all come together. Acknowledge what needs to change to facilitate the future you want.
Things to avoid: •Avoid sleeping during the day unless for under 15 minutes •No long feeding windows •No fast foods •Avoid restaurants •Chronic hunger and fatigue are predictors for regaining •No food when it's dark •Eliminate processed foods. Remember that they make you overeat whereas whole foods do not, as they are aligned with your body regulator. Fat gain is driven by over access and hyper palatability. This is the biggest key to weight loss, and is much more important factor than for example, the carb to fat ratio of the diet.
WRITTEN BY Rhyena Halpern Health Coach & End of Life Doula who loves to write on Wellness, Third Act of Life, Death & Dying, Autoimmunity, Trauma, Food & Weight. firstname.lastname@example.org