The current and most prevalent model for weight management is:
(calories in) – (calories out) = (weight gain or loss)
It’s the method most commonly used to understand eating habits and, ultimately, nutrition. And it’s fatally flawed.
This Calories In/Calories Out (CICO) paradigm is based in physics. It supposes that eating more calories (calories in) than you actually burn (calories out) results in weight gain, because the calories have nowhere to go but into fat cells.
This equation is ridiculously straightforward. Too much so. Applying the CICO equation to humans assumes we are clear-cut variables, which could not be further from reality. We are far more complicated and fascinating than that.
A New Standard Equation for Truly Optimal Health
Consuming less than 50-100 grams of carbohydrates (which are ultimately broken down to sugar) each day, and consuming the majority of your caloric intake for the day in the form of healthy fats, protein, and fiber equates to a nutritionally optimized human.
In equation form, that looks something like:
<50-100g carbs per day + 80% or more healthy fats, protein, fiber = whole metabolic management
It’s a bit more complicated than the above equation. But that’s because we as humans are complicated; we aren’t a basic physics equation, nor should we be compared to one.
For many people, this updated equation is missing the key (vital) ingredient in the food pyramid. The carbohydrates. That equation resulted in this.
Or, the equation for chronic illness and disease: a diet of mostly carbohydrates, in which more than 10% of the calories come from easily recognizable sugars (table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc) or easily digested carbohydrates (cereal, pasta, rice, pastries, cookies, orange juice, etc), which then become sugars once broken down.
This way of eating results in quiet, but chronic, inflammation, which can lead to one or multiple metabolic dysfunction pathways.
The body doesn’t process carbohydrates in the same way it processes fats and proteins. To process carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into sugar molecules that are picked up by the bloodstream. So, all carbohydrates turn into sugar, which then goes directly into the blood.
There is a big difference, though, between carbohydrate type. Vegetables are carbohydrates. So is white bread. But vegetables are whole, natural, massively fibrous carbs, whereas a loaf of bread is manufactured, man-made, and not nearly as fibrous (even if it’s whole wheat).
The difference here is crucial. The carbohydrates found in vegetables are rich, nutritious, and very difficult for the body to break down. So once they do get broken down into sugar (yes, vegetables ultimately turn to sugar), the sugar molecules are scarce, meaning there’s minimal sugar that’s actually absorbed by the bloodstream.
That bread, on the other hand, is easily digested; it’s been processed to the inth degree. Once it hits your system, there’s nothing left to break down -- the bloodstream is infiltrated by a tsunami of sugar molecules all at once, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels.
Back to Basics
Refined sugars and carbohydrates have only been available to humans in the last few centuries. Previously, we consumed plants (with extremely dense and nutritious carbs), nuts, seeds, and animal fats and protein. And in fruit and berry season (which was not year-round), our ancestors most likely enjoyed the natural sugars as they found them, and probably stored up a bit more fat than usual, since the only way to store energy from the sugars found in fruits and berries is in fat cells.
Today, though, we have an endless array of unnatural, unhealthy foods that pervade our everyday. It can be very challenging to opt for optimal nutrition not just because of the addictive qualities of these man-made foods, but also because wholesome foods literally aren’t physically available nearby.
But there are a few, simple and straightforward steps you can take to get back to the basics of nutrition.
- Eat whole fruit, not its juice form. Fruit juices are notoriously “healthy,” and yet, they’re not at all. The notion that fruit juice is part of a healthy and balanced breakfast dates back to a marketing ploy from the 1920s. Fruit juice has just as much sugar as Coke. Eat your fruit (that still has all its natural fiber and nutrients), don’t drink it.
- Consume more anti-inflammatory foods. Things like fatty fish, seeds like chia, flax, or hemp, turmeric, tomatoes, olive oil, strawberries, and raspberries, along with broccoli and avocados. Adding anti-inflammatory foods into your eating patterns and reducing intake of inflammatory foods (refined carbohydrates and sugars) can alleviate chronic inflammation altogether.
- Get SMART about your nutrition goals. Get specific about your goals. Measure your blood sugar often so you can learn in real-time what impacts your body. Find an accountability partner to help you stay on track. Be realistic with your expectations and give yourself grace. Follow the 66-day timeframe to build your new, healthy nutrition habit.
The standard CICO equation mimics starvation; a person’s brain and body response to starvation is usually a bad one, resulting in elevated and sustained cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Rather than sticking to this faulty method which so often encourages carbohydrate consumption, why not try out a new equation for nutrition, one that dates back to our prehistoric ancestors.
We have the basic abilities to heal ourselves. By choosing foods that our bodies were meant to eat, everything within can work at its highest level of capacity. Getting back to our basic, most intrinsic ways of eating can not only reduce chronic inflammation, it can help to heal what we’ve damaged.