When I was 13 my Mother challenged my doctor to get a swollen gland biopsied from me, that he said was probably just puberty playing with my hormones. After the biopsy it turned out that it was a cancer called Hodgkins disease, but thankfully to my Mother’s persistent nature we caught it early and after 4 and a half months of chemotherapy I was clear. This experience taught me that it doesn’t matter how many letters are written after your name, what matters are the words that come out of your mouth and the actions that you take. A philosophy that has kept me sceptical of even the most qualified expert and a man of action in order to find the truth. I’m starting off with this story because I have a few disclaimers before I start to discuss the results of my 21 day 5,000 calorie experiment:
1) I received a U at A-Level maths or for my American friends, I totally flunked High School math.
2) I am not a professional scientist or doctor and the way that I do things is to engage more people in the discussion of food.
3) I’m not trying to disprove the laws of physics, I’m merely trying to understand how our biochemistry works. (I have a brother who has a mechanical engineering degree from Cambridge University who would disown me if I tried to refute physics)
Right…now we can continue with why I didn’t get fat eating over 5,000 calories a day of a high fat low carb diet of natural foods for 21 days! If you would like an audio MP3 version of this article right click and save as here.
The aged old question asked by nutrition scientists and dieters alike is, is a calorie a calorie? If you asked this question to a physicist the undoubted and correct answer would be a resounding YES without hesitation along with quoting part of the first law of thermodynamics “in an isolated system energy can be neither created nor destroyed” and that would be the end of the discussion. The laws of thermodynamics are 100% true and never need to be discussed again.
However, when it comes to nutrition there seems to be debate on this topic. Although a calorie is a calorie as the food sits on your plate, when it enters your body it is introduced to a highly complex organism that has many biochemical processes that will use, store and “dump” the calories in your food in different ways. The notion that we are just a simple calorie formula, adding and subtracting calories from a predetermined daily energy expenditure by nature is a fundamental flaw in how we perceive food and go about weight management. In a clear and concise statement, a calorie is a calorie but the nutrients of the food and your individual biochemistry dictate how your body expresses those calories.
I have always been a sceptic of the efficacy of calories use in how we interact with food, as I have always thought that I eat more than I burn yet remain the same weight and waist measurement. With this in mind I decided to take action on this challenging question by conducting a 21 day experiment where I ate 5,794 calories of a high fat low carb diet of natural foods to see if I put on as much weight as the calorie formula says I should. If you’d like to see my daily diet and energy expenditure please see my halfway report by clicking here.
If a calorie is just a calorie when it comes to eating food, over the 21 days I should have put on 7.3kg ending up at 92.9kg from my starting weight of 85.6kg. However, after a 56,654 calorie surplus over the 21 days I ended up putting on 1.3kg ending up at 86.9kg, a relatively large discrepancy to say the least to the tune of 6kg. I also measured my waist which started off at 79.5cm and I ended up at 3cm less at 76.5cm. Not exactly congruent with the linear weight gain and waist increase the calorie formula shows in my results graph and photos below.
You may be asking yourself, why did you choose a high fat diet and why didn’t you get fat? Well the simple answer is dietary fat doesn’t really make you fat and in fact is the least likely macro-nutrient to make you fat from overconsumption. If you ask any body builder what macronutrient they manipulate in order to gain or lose weight, they’ll tell you carbohydrates. During a “bulking” phase a body builder will have a higher percentage of carbohydrate in their diet and during a “cutting” phase they will have a smaller percentage of carbohydrate in their diet. The reason for this is that when we store carbohydrates we can store approximately 2,000 calories or 500g worth on the average person before it spills over into your fat stores. This biochemical trick of being able to store carbohydrates in the muscle and liver can be useful when we need quick intense energy, along with being able to create fat from carbohydrate for the multitude of biochemical processes that we need fat for. This might be news to some low fat advocates but a lot of the high carbohydrate diet you’re eating actually becomes fat in your body, just like how a cow creates fatty milk from grass. The rest of the time when we don’t need quick intense energy and we’re just walking and sitting at our desk we use our body fat stores for energy, along with a ton of other biochemical processes to keep us alive, but on the whole we can mainly run our day to day lives on our body fat…or at least we used to.
In the diagram below you can see that a person who weighs 80kg and is 15% body fat, nearly what I am, stores approximately 108,000 calories of body fat. Again this is a great biochemical trick, and much larger storage capability for energy compared to carbohydrates, so that in hard times we can call upon this large energy store and survive for around 21 days until food is available again. This is where the problem lies in terms of overweight or obese people. In their current biochemical status they have either limited ability or can’t use the body fat they have stored for energy because of biochemical imbalances in their body. Simply put the energy in their body fat stores is trapped and accumulating, similar to a tumour that is growing. Unless their biochemical imbalances are rebalanced they will remain overweight or obese, even in a calorie deficit in a lot of cases, and will most likely develop either type 2 diabetes, chronic heart disease, cancer, alzheimer’s or even a combination of these called metabolic syndrome.
To explain how our body actually interacts with food I’m going to use a rather abstract metaphor but one we can all relate to and if you agree with it even demonstrate it at a dinner party. Imagine you’re doing the washing up and you’re left with a drinking glass at a kitchen sink full of water with two taps or fossetts and a small plug hole. The sink full of water is your fat stores with the plug hole as your energy out from fat stores and the drinking glass is your carb stores which you can drink from for energy. From one tap pours fat that you eat and from the other tap pours carbs that you eat. You place the drinking glass under the carbs tap that catches and store the carbs flowing out of the tap, with the overflowing carb water being stored in your fat stores. As with any regular taps they can accumulate ‘limescale’ which flows from the taps in to the sink and drinking glass if treated badly blocking up the plug hole. In this case the ‘limescale’ coming from the taps represents biochemical damage through eating highly processed or fake foods, whether that be refined and sugary carbs or hydrogenated fat. Which causes insulin resistance, leptin resistance, liver damage and a multitude of other biochemical problems that contribute to peoples body’s not working properly and developing the aforementioned diseases.
What happens when someone is biochemically balanced their fat stores stay steady with their body either using or “dumping” the calories coming in from food. In this metaphor the fat water is able to flow down the small plug hole with no problems as energy out. The fat stores are either kept topped up through the fat tap or by the carbs tap from the overflowing mechanism and as long as they aren’t refined, surgary or unnatural carbs this can and does work for some but not all people. We have copious amounts of data showing traditional diets that are high in fat and high in carbs with both populations living happy healthy lives.
This is how the body is meant to work to consume energy but when someone starts eating fake foods then the water that pours out of the taps, or energy coming in, contains that dreaded biochemical ‘limescale’. The ‘limescale’ from both taps starts to block the plug hole, or in reality inhibits energy out from fat stores. As a consequence the person must start to rely on the carb glass for energy more and more. Over time, this now biochemically unbalanced person’s energy out plug hole for their fat stores becomes completely blocked from the ‘limescale’ and they now solely rely on drinking from the carb glass for energy. Having to fill it up at every given moment with refined, sugary and unnatural carbs to survive, which drives cravings, as their ability to use body fat for energy diminishes and their fat stores grow exponentially.
Sooooo…to answer your original question of why did you choose a high fat diet and why didn’t you get fat? Using this metaphor as a basis for how our body interacts with food, I did not accumulate any biochemical ‘limescale’. The energy out from my body fat stores was not inhibited, so my body either used or “dumped” the calories coming in to keep me about the same size despite being in a 56,645 calorie surplus.
The only way to to stop accumulating biochemical ‘limescale’ is to not eat fake foods, whether that be refined and sugary carbs or hydrogenated fat. Plus the only way to get rid of the biochemical ‘limescale’ that’s stopping your body from using your body fat stores for energy is to EAT REAL FOOD, and the ‘limescale’ will wash away.
It is completely possible to reverse these biochemical imbalances with a high carb natural foods diet as well as with a high fat natural foods diet, as this has been demonstrated with doctors from both sides of the carbs vs fat wars. However for most people because the majority of their biochemical ‘limescale’ has come from eating too many refined and sugary carbs the best solution for them is to eat a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet of natural foods. This is because even with natural carbohydrates, such as potatoes, rice, pulses and high sugar fruit, in a biochemically unbalanced person who is insulin resistant the natural carbs will cause an unwanted insulin spike which will trigger the biochemical ‘limescale’ preventing them from using body fat for energy and stop them from getting well again.
If you have eaten real food from when you were a child you will probably, not definitely though, have no problem eating natural carbohydrates and still be able to use your body fat stores for energy as you haven’t been biochemically damaged. However, if you have eaten quite a lot of sugary and refined carbohydrates such as candy, sweets, poor quality bread and pasta, crisps, doughnuts, pastries etc. then you may have damaged your biochemistry to such an extent that you can’t access your body fat stores for energy. Even if you are slim but eat these fake foods you can still accumulate biochemical ‘limescale’ that can cause the aforementioned diseases, and just not have the symptom of being overweight or obese. These type of people are called TOFI’s or thin outside fat inside. If you are one of these people I highly recommend you go for a check up with your doctor as soon as possible.
To give you a quick idea of the type of food you should be eating to help yourself get back to biochemical balance as quickly as possible here is what my daily diet looked like for the past 21 days which kept me biochemically balanced and prevented me from putting on weight…
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with salmon and green beans
Snack – Walnuts
Lunch – Mackerel with green beans
Snack – Pecans
Dinner – Topside beef steak with green beans
Snack – Almonds
I recommend to do this for 21 days to help obtain your fat metabolism, biochemical balance and health back. The best part of this type of diet is that you don’t have to worry about calories, you just stop when your full and your body will do the rest. Simply eat as much fatty fish, meat, eggs, nuts and green leafy vegetables as you like…I know I know, pretty much Atkins. For up to the first week you might feel slightly lethargic and not able to do as much exercise as you’re used to if you are active but that’s because you are switching your body from being a carb burner to a fat burner. Once you become a fat burner you are still able to use carbohydrates for energy but if you become just a carb burner then you aren’t able to or have limited ability to burn fat.
Once you have completed 21 days of this obtain health plan then you can move on to what I call the maintain health forever plan. This includes all the foods in the obtain plan as well as full fat dairy such as cream and butter, low GI fruit such as berries and citrus fruit and some low GI starches such as sweet potato and pulses. When bringing back these foods it’s important to see how your body reacts to them as some people will be fine with them but for some people that have been biochemically imbalanced for too long even low GI fruits can be detrimental. This is where measuring your weight, waist and taking photos of yourself comes in to track your progress. I recommend doing this once a month and if you are making positive progress then keep doing what you’re doing but if you’re not then you must remove the foods that you’ve added to re-asses which food is creating the biochemical imbalance. The most important measurement are your front and side profile photos. Your body can remain the same weight but completely change in shape and you will only be able to tell that from a photo from yourself and slightly from your waist measurement.
Our current weight management advice is to eat less and exercise more, which in my opinion is negligent, moronic and utterly useless advice. The reason people are putting on weight and getting sick is not because they are eating too much but because they are eating too much FAKE foods. From this experience my message to health professionals around the world is to advise your clients or patients to eat less fake food and exercise the choice to eat real food more. Although I think personal responsibility is very powerful and is part of reversing this obesity epidemic it is not solely down to us. Governments around the world must start improving policies to make real food more widely available, removing fake foods from schools and stop $%*&ing subsidising sugar companies! Apologies for my swearing there I get rather passionate about this topic. I own a business that is trying to improve peoples health and reduce the cost to the NHS yet I don’t get any subsidise from the government…QED???
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned exercise as part of this solution and the reason for that is because the main part of anyone obtaining and maintaining their health is eating correctly. Exercise can help move things along quicker and re-balance your biochemical health, but it is important to know that you can’t out exercise a bad diet. The best exercises for re-balancing your biochemical health is strength training, which helps maintain muscle mass for a better immune system, and walking in nature, which is important for cognitive function and stress management.
For me the journey of proving a calorie is not just a calorie when it comes to eating food is not over. In September I will be doing another 21 day 5,000 calorie challenge with refined and sugary carbohydrates and in January 2014 I will be doing it with just natural carbohydrates, where I will go into more detail about how our body interacts with food. My hypothesis at the moment is that with the refined and sugary carbohydrates challenge I’ll put on a ton of weight and with the natural carbohydrate challenge I’ll put on a little more weight than this high fat challenge, as natural carbohydrates can cause more biochemical ‘limescale’ than natural fats.
If you’d like to stay up to date with all these experiments, as well as expert interviews, full fat food recipes, workouts and inspirational videos either follow me on Twitter @SamFeltham, subscribe to our YouTube channel or finally you can join our weekly eNewsletter list for tips, hints and updates on Smash The Fat LIVE which is a 100% free forever health and fitness website created by myself
If you have any questions, objections or comments please feel free to comment below or tweet me on www.twitter.com/SamFeltham