There is a common perception within the Paleo or low-carb community that one can eat as much food as they want (while adhering to those respective diets) and never gain any weight while simultaneously getting ripped.
This theory hinges on the idea that fat accumulation is driven by over-consumption of carbohydrates, something which is rather difficult to do on low-carb or low glycemic paleo diet.
Let’s face it, if your only source of carbs comes from vegetables like lettuce or cabbage, the large majority of your calories will come from dietary fat.
So, assuming that carbohydrates are the primary culprit in the problem of obesity, if one just eats mainly protein and fat can you then consume as much food as you want? I mean, can you just shovel mountains of bacon into your mouth every day? This is certainly the image that many people are portraying. Bacon has become the rallying cry of paleo’s everywhere.
If it were completely true, it would be one of the greatest revelations in the health and fitness fields, ever. I think somewhere in there is a bit of truth, but also a bit of exaggeration.
Half of the truth is that a person should be eating as much as they want until their body signals that they are full. Then, they should stop eating and not eat again until some time later when they are sufficiently hungry. The human body relies on a host of hormones to regulate this process subconsciously, like ghrelin, leptin, and cholecystokinin. You shouldn’t have to consciously decide when to eat or how much to eat.
- Ghrelin helps to tell you when to eat, its release is entrained with meal patterns and stimulates hunger near meal time.
- Cholecystokinin shuts down your appetite in the short term by slowing gastric emptying and jump-starting digestion.
- And Leptin works to suppress your appetite in the long term (till your next meal) and is released in proportion to the amount of adipose tissue in the body.
It’s highly probable that leptin plays as much or more of a role as insulin in the development of obesity. Leptin resistance in the brain (by a similar mechanism as insulin resistance) would cause a person to have a progressively reduced ability to respond to endogenous leptin, and thus be unable to properly control their appetite.
So, a person who is experiencing some degree of metabolic derangement probably can’t rely on their body to adequately control their appetite. However, a perfectly healthy person should be able to. As body fat rises the circulating levels of leptin will increase as well, hypothetically causing you to reduce your long term food intake. Conversely, if you’ve been fasting for a long time your levels of ghrelin will shoot up and drive you to the dinner table.
This whole process is subverted somewhat if you choose to ignore the signals your body is throwing at you and continue to gorge yourself on bacon (or whatever paleo/low-carb food you like) until sick.
The mystical fairy tail we all want to believe is that we can eat like that all the time (because eating stimulates happy feelings) while still cutting fat and getting a ripped body builder’s physique. The full truth is that if you want to cut your weight to extremely low body fat levels then you will have to restrict your calorie intake.
You see, the amount of body fat stored in the human body exists on a kind of U-curve in terms of benefit to survival. Too much body fat will likely decrease physical capacity somewhat, and increase inflammation and risk of disease. Too little body fat and you won’t have much energy stores to rely on during a period of famine. Levels of food intake and activity will give your body the information it needs to decide what amount of stored body fat is appropriate or how to partition food intake.
Generally though, body fat is extremely important to the human body. Despite the amount of hate it receives from everybody, we couldn’t survive without stored body fat. Your body knows this, and it will relinquish that fat very hesitantly while adding to it whenever possible.
It all comes down to this:
- If you eat just enough food to fuel your body’s needs (stopping when full) and eat types of food which don’t make you sick, while staying active, you’ll likely look trim and healthy and probably drop down to a very sustainable, yet relatively low body fat level.
- If you start restricting your food intake a little bit (too much and the body will freak out and go to famine mode) while staying active, your body will rely on body fat stores to make up the difference while sustaining muscle capacity in the face of physical challenges. You will lean out, and probably start to have extremely defined musculature. This may not necessarily be healthy or sustainable long term.
- However, if you stuff your face past the sensation of fullness and keep going, and then eat 3 to 4 times a day, you aren’t going to lean out. Your obviously eating far more food than your body needs (you ignored it’s signals) to replenish energy reserves and it will have no choice but to store what it can and convert to heat what it can’t.
I understand why people want to eat as much bacon as they can. It tastes good, and food that tastes good stimulates our brain in such wonderful ways. Don’t let yourself fall into the food-as-recreation trap people. First and foremost, food is fuel.
With a car, if you overfill your gas tank the tank sensor may become confused and misreport your fuel tank levels until it reaches a normal volume again. Think about that.