The journey to Rome
There is an old saying that goes: “There are many ways to Rome”. It simply means that you can reach your goals in many different ways. This saying is especially true for diets. There are so many different systems and every few years there are new trends on the market. Weight watchers, Vegan, Keto, Paleo etc. Also with our diet, there are many different ways to reach our goal. That said, there are some open questions in everybody’s head:
- What is the shortest way?
- What is the easiest way?
- And some of you might ask: On which way are the nicest hotels and restaurants?
Good questions. Let’s go into detail.
Why we are overweight & the problems with our diet:
There are several issues with our Western diet that cause problems regarding body weight and personal health. Ca. 37% of all American adults are obese. In Europe this figure comes down to ca. 20%, still high if you consider that obesity can cause serious health issues on the long run. But why is it that we eat too much and get overweight?
Well … it needs to be something with our diet. In fact, there are several issues with our typical Western Diet.
On the one hand we have a life expectancy of more than 80 years, which is significantly higher than in the stone age (listen up you Paleo guys!) but on the other hand we know that there are several chronic diseases that re directly connected to this “normal” diet, as we call it. Not only is it obesity, but also Crohn’s disease, diabetes and cancer to give you some examples. So, it is ok to ask yourself what we could do better. Let’s have a look!
A typical American diet would consist of ca. 50% carbohydrates, 15% proteins and 35% fat. This is what we consider as a normal diet. The first thing that catches our eyes is: “Why are there so many carbs?” Carbohydrates from grains, potatoes etc. are easy to store and cheap to produce. They make up a big part of our food. A high amount of carbs can cause issues though.
Carbs increase your blood sugar levels as they consist sugar molecules (glucose, fructose, saccharose etc.) Sugar molecules are soluble in our blood just like salt and increase our blood pressure. Our body wants to dilute high carb concentrations and pushes water in our blood vessels. This is a chemical process called osmosis. Our blood pressure rises and thus, too many carbs can be unhealthy for our heart and the whole cardiovascular system on the long run.
High blood sugar levels also leads to imbalance in our eating behavior. If we consume many carbs our blood sugar rises steeply and then suddenly drops to low levels again. Carbs are processed very fast by our body and so the level comes down again soon. This drop causes us to grave for more carbs and so you will tend to overeat later during the day.
We should limit our carb intake because of these two facts and instead increase the protein and fat amount. There is no general rule for where this levels “must” be but we certainly should limit carbs. A healthy level could be 33%/33%/33%. However, for example a keto diet has a much higher fat amount and it also works. In the end it is also much about the quality of the macro nutrients that we consume.
And to those guys that realized that three times 33% is 99% and not 100% … Congratulations! You know what I mean :-D
Processed food is a major player in our Western diet. It has a higher shelf life compared to natural food and food industry earns more money with it.
There are some issues with the quality of our food though. The sodium-potassium ratio is” not good”. We typically consume far too much sodium, which is bad for our cardiovascular system. (same effect like sugar excess).
Processed food has a high amount of added single sugar and less complex macro carbohydrates like starch. High sugar levels are bad for our eating behavior and they can cause diabetes and problems with our cardio scholar system. We also consume a lot of saturated hydrolyzed fats that are very unhealthy for our heart and last but not least processed foods contain little micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Because of the quality of our food we often end up with high risk of obesity, accompanied by high HDL cholesterol and insulin levels, and a blood sugar level going roller coaster and causing unhealthy eating behaviors.
We should thus limit our consumption of processed food and eat more fresh and unrefined food. An extreme example of this diet is the paleo diet that is completely free of refined food and dairy products, which is healthy for sure but quite hard to maintain for many people. However, any step in this direction will have a positive effect on our health and body weight.
In our Western diet we tend to eat big. Many people eat 2-3 huge meals during the day. Studies show that dish size has significantly increased during the last 50 years. Combined with the processed food that we mostly consume this means 2-3 huge sugar shocks per day that increase our blood sugar levels. After some hours we get very hungry and have our next huge meal.
The result of this eating behavior is calorie excess and weight gain. A proper approach would be 4-5 smaller meals, that together with a reduction of carbs and added sugar will lead to a constant blood sugar level and thus a constant eating behavior with less hunger pangs and stable body weight.
Mindset and eating behavior:
A stable eating behavior is directly connected with a stable mindset. Soft factors for weight gain are often stress at work or social stress. Many obese people have a malfunctioning reward system and use food to decrease their stress level. Chocolate makes you feel better. It works. Why ask yourself what is the reason for feeling bad in the first place, when it’s easier to eat some sugar?
We also do not take the time to eat slowly and focused. Many of us do not have the time to have a proper lunch. They eat some fast food at the go and overeat before they even are able to feel full. A good meal takes time and focus.
We need to find our way to reduce stress. Meditation is a good way to recover your mind from phases with a high stress level. We should take enough time to eat and avoid overeating with fast food before we feel full.
To give you a short summary of the last chapter here is a list with the problems of our Western diet and what we should change:
- Reduce the amount of carbs
- Avoid processed food with much sugar, salt and saturated fat
- Avoid added sugar (e.g. sugar drinks)
- Reduce meal size and have 4-5 small meals per day
- Avoid a high stress level take time to recover
- Eat slowly and take the time to focus on your dishes
How to travel to Rome or which weight loss system should I use?
There are a range of diet systems on the market. We will give you a short overview on the currently trending diets and write about the Pros and Cons of each system.
Keto and low carb
Low carb and keto diets limit the amount of carbohydrates and increases the amount of fat and protein. The most extreme example is the keto diet where carbs are limited to a maximum of 20g per day. Under this circumstances your body goes into ketosis and uses fatty acids as fuel. It is easier for you to burn fat. The keto diet is quite young and was strongly trending between 2016 and 2019. If you try the keto diet you should take care to consume high quality fats from plant oils, nuts, seeds and fish and avoid to eat too much red meat.PROS
- Limited amount of carbs
- Promotes the consumption of healthy fatsCONS
- Keto is quite extreme and hard to follow for many people
- In the first weeks you will have keto flue (headache, fatigue ...) because of the big changes in your metabolismATTENTION!
- Be careful with the quality of the fats that you consume. Take care to eat high quality fats from plants, nuts, seeds and oil and avoid to eat too much red meat and, butter and dairy products.
- You should avoid to consume less than 60% of your calories from fat because your body will start to burn protein which can reduce your muscle mass.
The Paleo Diet is the caveman diet. No processed food, no grains, no dairy products. Instead you eat more fish, meat, fruits and veggies. The Paleo Diet claims that the human body has almost not changed since stone age and we are designed for a diet that was accessible at that time. Eating what the cavemen ate should improve our overall health and prevent certain diseases like diabetes, acne and cardiovascular disease.
On the one hand it totally makes sense to cut carbs and eat fresh high quality food, on the other hand the paleo diet restricts certain foods which can lead to deficiencies (Vitamin D, Calcium). The Paleo diet can be very healthy and work well for weight loss, but you should carefully monitor your micro nutrients and consult a medic frequently.PROS
- Avoids processed food
- Low on sodium & carbsCONS
- No dairy products and grains
- Can get expensiveATTENTION!
- Take care to consume enough Calcium. This is mainly found in dairy products in our typical nutrition. You can develop a deficiency on Paleo which is bad for your bones, teeth and muscle.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Vegetarians avoid meat, fish and poultry. Vegans that are kind of elite vegetarians even avoid all animal products. No dairy products, no eggs. A vegan diet is high in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
This kind of diet can work and it can be very healthy compared to our typical western diet. However, you can also develop deficiencies easily. Vitamin B12, D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids can fall short in a vegan diet. You can avoid this by supplementing or by actively searching for plant based food with these micro nutrients. Don't worry, there are many choices, you just need to be aware of this fact and control on a frequent base.PROS
- High amount of micro nutrients from fruits and veggies
- Filling, high in fiberCONS
- You can easily develop deficiencies (vitamin B12 & D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids)
- Can be a lot of workATTENTION!
- Take care to consume enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and omega 3-fats. If you are not able to keep your levels think about supplementing.
The bottom line
There are many ways to Rome and every way has its Pros and Cons. You need to find the diet that suits you best and brings you balance. I have tried keto diet and I could not work with it because I need my carbs and I am not able to hold the strict rules of keto. This is just because I am not a keto guy. Maybe you are the perfect keto guy, and then keto will work totally well for you. You simply need to find out what works best for you.
In any case you should always consult a medic, and be aware of the deficiencies that you can develop when restricting certain food. Also be aware that you do not need to go fully keto, vegan or paleo. You can only take some steps in a certain direction. Reduce your carbs from 50% to 30% for example. Or try to avoid eating meat on 5 days in the week. Finally, you need to find a balanced diet that works for you and promotes your weight loss.
And no matter what diet you chose you will always find the same patterns that lead to success:
- Reduce carbs
- Reduce processed food and added sugar
- Reduce meal size
- Avoid stress
- Eat slowly
Have fun finding your way to Rome!