I have translated a fascinating interview with Dr. Ludwig of Harvard University for you, which was recently published in the New York Times . Dr. Ludwig is one of the world’s leading experts on weight loss diets. According to him, the most tenacious myth is that there is just one category of calories: implying 1 calorie of protein = 1 calorie of carbohydrate. Counting calories isn’t the best way to lose weight, says Dr. Ludwig. He says that if people fail to lose weight, it is because they are unfamiliar with the different categories of foods they eat (carbohydrates, fats, proteins). He explains that certain foods make our fat cells proliferate.
What is the message of your book?
The new idea is that eating too much doesn’t make you fat. It’s having body fat that makes you overeat. This is a radical idea, but it has been proven by centuries of research. Trying to eat fewer calories, as is often advised, makes the situation worse. If you simply reduce your calorie intake, you will increase your appetite and your body will go into “starvation mode” where it will slow down your metabolism to consume fewer calories.
A low-calorie diet makes it harder and harder to lose weight when you pit your metabolism against your willpower because you are sure to give up.
But we’ve always heard that obesity affects those who overeat. Isn’t that the case?
We think of obesity as a state of excess, but it looks more like a state of starvation. If fat cells store too many calories, the brain runs out of calories to keep the metabolism working properly. The brain will signal its hunger to try to deal with this problem. This is when we binge on solving this problem temporarily. But if it’s the fat cells that keep taking on too many calories, then we’re going into this never-ending cycle of overeating and weight gain. The problem isn’t that there are too many calories in fat cells. The problem is, there are too few calories in the blood. Reducing your calorie intake cannot solve this problem.
This view is very different from the common opinion which sums up weight loss in the calculus: calories consumed minus calories burned …
Yes. An analogy would be to try to cure a fever by immersing the patient in a bath of ice water. Imagine going to the hospital with a severe fever and hearing the doctor say, “It’s just a problem with the temperature balance – too much heat is building up in the body, not enough heat is coming out of the body.” From a physical point of view, it is true. So, the doctor decides to put you in an ice bath. It will work temporarily: your fever will drop. But imagine the rest: your body will violently counterattack with powerful chills and blood vessel contraction. You will feel even worse than before you entered the ice bath. That’s why we don’t treat fevers with ice baths.
To continue the analogy, how do you deal with the underlying problem?
Lowering the temperature that the body is trying to maintain is much more effective. This is how aspirin works. Put the biology on your side by eating healthy and you will lose weight naturally, just as the fever goes away if you treat the underlying cause.
If eating too much is not the cause of obesity, what is the cause?
The cause is the low fat, high carbohydrate (starchy like pasta, bread and potatoes) diets that have been practiced for 40 years. They increase insulin hormone levels and instruct fat cells to speed up calorie storage. I consider insulin the best fertilizer for growing fat cells.
When screening for type 1 diabetics, blood sugar levels are high because not enough insulin is being made. We still observe that they have lost weight. They can eat 5000 calories a day, they continue to lose weight. You cannot gain weight without insulin.
The reverse is also true. If you give a diabetic too much insulin, they are bound to gain weight. Insulin tells the body to store calories, and most of those calories are stored in fat cells. If you have too much insulin, you will store too many calories. This is a mechanism well known to researchers.
How do you get obese patients to reduce their insulin?
The fastest way is to cut back on refined carbohydrates and get a balanced intake of protein and fat in your diet. A diet high in fat is the fastest way to correct your metabolism. It lowers insulin, puts fat cells to rest, and kicks people out of the hunger-craving-overeating cycle.
It sounds like I’m recommending the Atkins diet …
No, it’s different. The Atkins diet is very low in carbohydrates (starches), which in its classic interpretation involves not eating fruit. Most people don’t need a very low-carb diet. Especially since they surely won’t have the will to adhere to such a strict regime.
These diets are only useful for some people who already have serious metabolic problems, for example, type 2 diabetics (who suffer from insulin resistance).
Does your program work?
Our program is in three stages. Step one, we tell people to stop eating refined carbohydrates, added sugars and all grains for two weeks. The carbohydrates that you can eat are fruits, beans, legumes, and all non-starchy vegetables.
After two weeks, we reintroduce whole grains (not crushed), some potatoes, and a little added sugar.
You do this until your weight drops and stabilizes at a lower level. It may take a few weeks or a few months for a person who has significant weight problems.
Dr. Ludwig’s words are interesting because he takes the difficulty of resisting hunger without breaking down seriously. It is more important to control your appetite than to count calories. If you choose foods that are very filling (protein and fat rather than carbohydrates), you will eat fewer calories  without thinking about it!
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