Obesity is probably my least favorite subject to talk about, not because it’s so contentious but because, in my opinion, it’s misunderstood. Before I talk about the mechanisms by which a carnivore diet can help people to lose weight, let me explain why I think that we misunderstand obesity.
In my view, the core problem of obesity is malnutrition. We all can point to starving children who are woefully thin and agree that they’re malnourished, but when we look at a morbidly obese person, malnourishment doesn’t immediately spring to mind. If we look past the myriad metabolic enzymes and hormonal interactions that are constantly shifting and the issues of calorie balance and brain chemistry, we can focus on the simple fact that if the body doesn’t receive proper nourishment, problems will ensue with all bodily systems.
The obese are often calorie replete but nutrient starved. If you feed yourself low-quality carbohydrates that are rich in energy but low in nutrients (micronutrients, essential fats, and amino acids), you won’t be satisfied. Your hunger won’t be appeased, and you’ll eventually fall prey to cravings for more and more food. If you continue consuming low-quality food, which is about 90 percent of what is currently available, you’ll eat more and more calories and continue to suffer from what become irresistible cravings. Over time, you end up with a metabolism that doesn’t work very well, a hormonal system that’s suboptimal, and a severe case of carbohydrate addiction.
Many people don’t believe that food is addictive, but we have ample evidence to show that certain foods stimulate the brain in ways very similar to other known addictive recreational or prescription drugs. People often mask that addiction by claiming they are “foodies” or by becoming prolific exercisers to offset the food addiction. The common platitude of “all things in moderation” is often just an excuse to get a little bit of addictive food down the gullet.
Do people lose weight because they cut calories on the carnivore diet? Yes, for some people that certainly is what occurs. Meat tends to be pretty darn satisfying and satiating to most people. Many people struggle to eat much meat, particularly when they first start the carnivore diet, and they definitely lose weight. Often, early weight loss is due to water weight coming off, particularly if a person is switching from a high-carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates stimulate insulin to the greatest degree, which leads the kidneys to hang on to fluid that is often stored with glycogen.
Some people swear that on a carnivore diet, they eat far more than they did before, but they still lost weight. Perhaps dramatically increasing protein plays a role because protein is extremely difficult to turn into body fat, and numerous protein overfeeding studies confirm this. Is it possible that a shift in hormones due to a different food substrate plays a role either in impacting satiety or upregulating metabolic rate? Certainly, this is a hotly debated topic, and I don’t pretend to know conclusively what the answer is. I know that my body handles energy expenditure in ways I have no voluntary control over. How much heat I produce is dependent upon the environment I’m in, the activity I’m engaged in, and perhaps the fuel I’m using.
Many people report feeling more energized on the carnivore diet as aches and pains go away, and often they feel the desire to move a bit more often. Ultimately, I don’t think the exact mechanism much matters in the grand scheme of things. When we get our bodies the correct nourishment, our health starts to thrive, and that is where the prize lies.
Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
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