Can this really happen? And if so, how can it possibly be explained? Let's see if we can make sense of this scenario using some of the principles discussed earlier.
If we haven't eaten in a while, hunger intensifies because the brain senses an impending food shortage. When insulin levels remain high, preventing us from accessing the fat stored in our bellies, this can also increase appetite. One occurs because of a shortage of “external” calories (food) and the other from a shortage of “internal” calories (stored fat).
If such conditions persist, the brain reacts by slowing down the rate at which calories are burned. This is what happens when people describe having a slow metabolism. It is how the body goes into “starvation mode,” which allows it to survive longer using its fat stores. It was this process that allowed Helen Klaben and Ralph Flores to successfully endure their harrowing plan crash discussed in chapter 1. However, while a slower metabolism allows us to survive for a longer time when we are starving, it also means that it takes longer to burn fat and lose weight while dieting.
We are all familiar with people who ostensibly eat very few calories, are hungry all the time, and, in spite of this, gain weight. Whenever I was confronted with this scenario in the past, I found it difficult to believe. As a matter of fact, my initial reaction was that they were eating much more than they thought and that was the logical explanation for their weight gain.
We now have the tools to postulate another mechanism to explain how it might happen. Imagine someone eating a reduced calorie diet to lose weight. At first the pounds come off. Then a weight-loss plateau frequently occurs. One explanation for this is that the metabolic rate has slowed down and the number of calories being consumed just matches the number being burned - now a smaller number per day because of the slower metabolism.
To start the weight-loss process again, even fewer calories must be consumed. After a while the metabolism slows further and weight loss again sputters. The cycle must be repeated with even fewer calories. This is frequently how birdlike diets are initiated.
Now consider being on this type of diet and, in addition, mostly consume foods that repeatedly spike insulin levels. These are bread, cookies, soda pop, and other other comfort-type foods that will cause the calories being consumed to go directly to fat cells where they are stored rather than burned (because of the insulin spikes). In this example, if the number of calories being consumed is about 1,600 and 200 of them end up being locked in fat cells, it is really equivalent to eating only 1,400 calories since that is what the body has available to use.
That is truly eating like a bird – a starving bird. Under these circumstances, metabolism slows drastically, possibly to the point where the body is burning only 1,400 calories in a twenty-four-hour period. This would mean that 200 calories are being stored each day, a situation in which weight is being gained while eating like a bird!
Hence, by restricting calories and making wrong food choices, two things happen: metabolism slows, and we starve internally (meaning we store calories in fat cells where they are locked up and become inaccessible). Together, these conspire to enable us to store fat, gain weight, feel constantly hungry, and do so while on a starvation diet!
How is this situation to be avoided? First, don't start out by cutting calories. This merely serves as a signal for your metabolism to slow. Second, prevent the body from sending what you eat to fat cells for storage. The way to achieve this is by choosing foods that keep insulin levels low – slow-release carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. When you do this, your body makes the transition from burning external calories to burning internal calories – your fat stores. The result is that metabolism doesn't slow down, hunger doesn't develop, and fat cells shrink. This is what must be accomplished if weight loss is to be achieved.
If you know someone in this situation, do them a favor and tell them what to do about it.
Taken from Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly by Larry McLeary, MD, renowned neurosurgeon