Today’s guest post comes from Doctor Joseph V. De Santi, a family practitioner in Pennsylvania as well as author of MD in Your Home. He is also a weight loss and fitness coach – practicing truly integrative medicine. Joseph saw our post on weight as a metric of health and offered his own opinion.
Energy, matter and space are the three key components of our universe. Of these three, energy seems to play the greatest role. Think of it this way, the more energy you store the greater your matter or mass and the more space you occupy. This is a simplistic way of stating the obvious, but it illustrates an important point. If you undertake any program designed to change the amount of matter or mass that you occupy in space without consideration of energy you are doomed to fail.
Consider the fact that everything you consume has an energy value, which we define as
caloric value. It’s no surprise that almost two thirds of Americans are overweight and that
one third are considered obese when you look at what we consume. Our food comes in
all shapes and sizes and we often judge our need based on portion size and not caloric
content. If we did we would realize that the candy bar with 250 calories has five times the
caloric value of a single cup of mixed vegetables and is not likely to satisfy our “volume”
requirements. We must therefore consider the energy content of food so that we
consume the correct quantity of the right quality.
Now, let’s use an example to clarify this concept further. Think of a securely attached
water balloon slowly being filled at the sink that has a fixed sized leak or hole in the
bottom. The water is the energy from your food. The hole is your total daily energy
expenditure and the balloon is you. Let us now consider a few scenarios, which I think will
make your understanding of energy input and output crystal-clear and why the caloric
value of food is so critical to your success at weight management.
What if we suddenly increase the flow of water (energy) into the balloon (you) without
changing the size of the leaking hole or adding holes (total energy expenditure)?
Obviously the balloon would stretch and grow in size. What if we then slowed the flow of
water into the balloon so it stopped growing but still did not change the size of the leaking
hole or add holes? The balloon would no doubt remain the same size. This is known as
homeostasis, which is essentially a point of perfect balance between input and output
(water in = water out). The only problem is we now have a larger balloon despite returning
to the initial flow of water (energy). So how do we get back to our original sized balloon?
We have to disturb the balance. One way to do this is to shut off the water until enough
water leaks through the hole to allow the balloon to shrink down to the initial size. Another
way is to enlarge the leaking hole so the water leaves faster than it flows into the balloon.
A final way is to add some more holes, again allowing the water to leave faster than it
flows into the balloon. Now let us parallel this analogy to what happens in our bodies.
If we consume more high caloric foods than we actually burn as energy for our daily body
processes and activity, our body will store this extra energy as fat. As we accumulate
more fat we grow in size (matter) and take up more space. Now once we’re at this larger
size, we seem to not be able to change despite eating less of our regular habit foods.Unless we upset the new balance our bodies have achieved at this larger size, we cannot
change our matter. Like the balloon our input is still matching our output. Humans cannot
successfully “turn off” the faucet because it is in our nature to eat. So starving ourselves
is not an option. We can however, lower the amount of energy taken in by changing the
source of that energy (i.e. lower calorie foods). We can also enlarge the leaking hole by
raising our metabolism, or increase the number of holes by performing more activity. In
essence, we have several tools at our disposal to effect a change in our matter. It’s just a
matter of wanting to change!
Successful weight loss therefore requires an understanding of your caloric needs (basal
metabolic rate), your homeostatic set point (goal weight) and what behaviors will support
your objective to achieve those parameters. Without this knowledge, you are doomed to
repeat the same actions hoping they achieve a different result, and that is truly a waste of