• George Elder

Just reduce calories

Updated: Jan 24

Have you heard that before, “Just reduce calories and do more exercise”.



If you asked most people including many doctors how to lose weight, they might have told you this. It seems so easy and we have seen pictures of skinny people who have been starved or who have survived famines. Some people can do it but very few sustain it, even if it seems simple.


Your body is very smart. Different parts of you body have different needs. So this means that if you reduce your calories, your body will choose which processes in your body will get the reduced available nutrients from your food and which parts will not.


Your brain and your heart are likely to be given priority, because these organs are critical to your survival. Your hair, skin and nails can probably function without the best nutrition for a while and you won’t die. You may find that these parts of your body and others deemed less important, gradually become less healthy than they should be. This is a decline in your basal metabolic rate. At the same time the alarm bells will be going off in your body with a strong message to upload more nutrients. This will make you really hungry.


There is strong proof of this problem. Towards the end of World War II, the US Government commissioned a starvation study, called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. 36 male volunteers were subjected to a 6 month period of only about 1600 calories per day. They were fed mainly potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, bread and macaroni. This was a high carbohydrate diet and the participants got sick.


This from Wikipedia: “The prolonged semi-starvation produced significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis. Most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression. Participants exhibited a preoccupation with food, both during the starvation period and the rehabilitation phase. Sexual interest was drastically reduced, and the volunteers showed signs of social withdrawal and isolation. The participants reported a decline in concentration, comprehension and judgment capabilities. There were marked declines in physiological processes indicative of decreases in each subject's basal metabolic rate (the energy required by the body in a state of rest), reflected in reduced body temperature, respiration and heart rate.”


The reduction in metabolic rate means that their bodies were operating with a lower required level of calories and when this happens, it usually stops further weight loss. To continue weight loss in this situation requires even further calorie reduction.


It doesn’t have to be like this. In the 1970’s, 2 researchers George Blackburn and Bruce Bistrian at Harvard Medical School developed what they called a “protein-sparing modified fast” to treat patients with obesity: 650 to 800 calories a day of nothing but lean fish, meat, and fowl. It had effectively no carbohydrates, making it a ketogenic diet, albeit a very low-calorie version. In one 1985 publication reporting on almost seven hundred patients, the average weight loss was nearly fifty pounds in four months. The patients felt little hunger while on the diet. “They loved it,” Bistrian said. “It was an extraordinarily safe way to get large amounts of weight loss.”


Bistrian and Blackburn did not continue it, because in those days they mistakenly thought that having such a low level of carbohydrates in the diet was unhealthy. Now we know better.


The difference between these 2 diets is the level of carbohydrates. Unfortunately continuous high carbohydrate levels with low calories, force starvation mode because the resulting high level of insulin prevents the body from accessing fat reserves. When a person becomes fat adapted and fuels their body with high fats and very low carbohydrates, the body does not go into starvation mode because it uses stored body fat reserves to provide the missing calories and nutrients.


One of the most successful ways to get your body into fat burning mode is to switch to a ketogenic diet. My book “Take back your health” available on Amazon in e-book and paperback gives a very easy to follow guide to making this change.


I have been eating this way now for nearly 3 years and it is almost effortless. No weighing food or counting calories is necessary. I very seldom feel hungry. Do I need carbs for exercise and energy, no way. I go running, use the gym, go swimming and kayaking anytime with no shortage of energy. In fact most people who make this switch claim to have increased energy.


Am I worried that eating meat will impact climate change? Of course. But animals grown using regenerative agriculture actually sequester carbon into the earth, so I’m am doing the right thing. Grains growing in large mono-crop areas and fertilized by man-made petrochemical fertilizers are killing our soils and reducing nutrients available from our food, not to mention the thousands of small animals killed by this farming approach. So reducing my carbohydrate intake is supporting climate change objectives.


As I have explained, reducing calories does reduce weight, but unless you do it right, it is unsustainable and you will fail. Apparently almost all of “The biggest losers” put their weight back on, over the following years.


For more information on health, nutrition and weight loss, read my blog at “www.takebackyrhealth.com” where you will find a link to my book.


As always, good health, regards George Elder.

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