Counting calories to lose weight and gut bacteriaMost people believe the way to lose weight is to count the calories they eat and burn and try to make sure they burn more than they eat. This paradigm will help people lose weight, but it ignores quite a large chunk of what we know about factors that significantly contribute to weight loss outside of calorie counts. For example, what you eat has a fairly large impact on how many calories you burn, as does how much you eat. In a study performed in 2011 by Jumpertz, et al., people who had a shift in gut bacteria that increased firmicutes and decreased bacteroidetes absorbed 150 calories more from their diet than people who did not have this change in gut flora(1). While this may seem insignificant, over the course of a year it would lead to a weight increase of approximately 15lbs. This change in gut bacteria has been seen experimentally in humans (2) and in mice(3). Furthermore, switching the gut bacteria of obese mice with lean mice causes the lean mice to become obese and the obese mice to become lean (3). Changes in gut bacteria are generally driven by the content of the diet, and a study in 2011 found that the health of elderly people (Frailty, co-morbidity, inflammation, nutritional status) was strongly related to the composition of their gut bacteria(4). Something you need to consider if you want to know how to lose weight is that as the composition of your gut bacteria evolve, so do you. These bacteria manufacture nutrients such as vitamin K2 that you can't make or get through diet. They also produce a large portion of your serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter that is the target of many anti-anxiety and depression drugs that also has a role in appetite as people with low serotonin tend to overeat carbohydrates because carbohydrates increase serotonin(5) Your gut bacteria can evolve in a way that helps you lose weight, but they can also evolve in a way that makes it difficult to lose weight as well.
To lose weight, repair your gutThe problems associated with counting calories to lose weight are not solely related to gut bacteria. As mentioned in this blog as well as this one, the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) can induce insulin resistance throughout the body when it attaches to receptors on cell membranes. LPS normally enters the blood when the intestinal wall becomes compromised, also called a leaky gut. It is normal for LPS to be in your gut, it's not normal and certainly not good to have it in your bloodstream. When LPS attaches to the cell membrane of immune cells called macrophages, they secrete the inflammatory messenger IL-1B. Chronically elevated IL-1B levels have been shown to induce insulin resistance in adipose tissue(6) and negatively impact insulin secretion by beta cells in the pancreas (7).
Compounding the problem is the notion that adipose tissue can secrete IL-1B as well, further increasing IL-1B levels and, potentially, insulin resistance. IL-1B secreted from visceral fat has been implicated in hepatic insulin resistance as well(8). Insulin resistant people have problems when they try to lose weight because their insulin levels are always high and insulin blocks their ability to release body fat, increases appetite by not allowing cells to take in glucose that comes from carbohydrates, and can negatively impact energy levels. Chronically high insulin levels also cause a switch in muscle fibers from the more insulin sensitive IIa fibers to the most insulin resistant IIx fibers. If you are prone to Type 2 diabetes, chronically high insulin levels will get you there. If you are prone to putting on fat, especially around the middle, high insulin levels will get you there. If you are trying to learn how to lose weight, high insulin levels will slow you down.
Food sensitivitiesThe problem with LPS inducing insulin resistance is primarily driven by this immune reaction increasing inflammation throughout the body. LPS, however, is not the only way you can induce this type of inflammation through diet. Hidden food intolerance can also be a problem if they increase histamine levels which, in turn, increase IL-1B levels. Food sensitivities are different than allergies because allergies cause a near immediate IgE immune response while a sensitivity can take hours to produce symptoms and are more chronic in nature.
In both situations histamine is released, the only difference is that a food allergy is an immediate, permanent, and obvious reaction to a food while a sensitivity is typically temporary and the symptoms are not as severe so they are less recognizable. Since most people know when they are having an allergic reaction to a food due to the severity of the reaction, they do not typically affect your ability to lose weight. Since food intolerance tends to be hidden, people do not realize they are having an issue with the food so they continue to consume, chalking up the boating, sleep problems, headaches, and other delayed reactions to something else.
Lactose intolerance is a fairly common problem for adults as we tend to lose the ability to make the enzyme that breaks lactose down after the age of 2. You can also have a dairy intolerance while still making the enzyme that breaks down lactose because casein, a protein in milk, is hard to digest for humans. Gluten intolerance is another common food intolerance to a protein found in wheat in abundant amounts. However, all grains and legumes contain storage proteins that are difficult for most people to digest. Some people have adapted to our current food environment and are capable of digesting these proteins, the only way to find out if you are is by eliminating the problematic proteins for 8 weeks and then begin to reintroduce them. Enter, the Paleo regression diet.
How to lose weight using a Paleo regression dietUsing a Paleo regression diet to lose weight will cover all of your bases. Removing grains, legumes and dairy for 2 months and then beginning to reintroduce them one at a time will allow you to determine if you have a sensitivity to any of these foods. You may be surprised to find out that what you once thought was an allergy or sensitivity to one food is actual coming from another. A sensitivity to the sulfites found in wine is common and many people avoid red wine as a result. I've had clients who avoided wine for decades with constant migraines find out during their regression diet that their sensitivity was to dairy, not sulfites. Now they drink wine and only get migraines when they eat dairy. Other clients, including myself, have identified food intolerance to be the primary cause of the symptoms related to seasonal allergies. As long as they avoid the foods they are intolerant to their symptoms never appear.
The regression diet is also a good way to heal any injury to the gut wall and fix an imbalance of the bacteria in your gut. This will prevent LPS from entering your bloodstream and inducing insulin resistance. Our specific approach includes ample amounts of soluble fiber found in vegetables. The bacteria in your gut ferment soluble fiber in to short chained fatty acids, particularly butyric acid. Butyric acid is used by the cells of your intestinal wall to heal the gut lining, sealing a leaky gut(9). In order for this process to occur, you need to have the proper balance of gut bacteria in your gut and you have to provide substrate for them to ferment in to the short chained fatty acids that heal the gut. Since the damage to your gut may be the accumulation of many years of damage, you may be able to resume eating things that once caused a problem after the 2 month regression diet. As long as you continue to lose weight and remain free of symptoms you are repairing your gut at a faster rate than you are causing damage to it.
All of this is not to say that you can't lose weight counting calories, only that counting calories while ignoring all of these other issues will lead to lackluster weight loss. In a metabolic ward where you are fed a precise number of calories and everything else is held constant, counting calories may be effective. However, in the real world where we are constantly bombarded by snacks and food advertising, appetite is a huge factor in how you lose weight. In addition, the composition of your gut bacteria is obviously important. That is not to say counting calories will not affect this, it will. However, the composition of your gut bacteria as well as the health of your gut barrier is primarily determined by what you eat as specific bacteria consume specific components of foods. Cutting back on snacks and processed foods can bring you part of the way in establishing gut bacteria that will help you lose weight by providing less food for the bad bacteria, but you also must feed the good bacteria with plenty of plant matter to help maintain healthy gut barrier function. Eating a large diversity of foods will help accomplish these tasks and set you on your way to learn how to lose weight.
ConclusionEverybody is different. How you lose weight may be very different than how I lose weight at the onset of each our journeys. Each of us is adapted to the environment we have put ourselves in over the course of our life and that will be different for most people. That environment will shape the health of your gut, the types and diversity of bacteria in your gut, and the inflammation within your body. In addition, each of us may have completely different sensitivities to food that can be improved by fixing the damage caused by our reckless lifestyle. On top of all of this, the genes each of us has inherited from our ancestors will dictate how likely we are to become obese, our risk for Type 2 diabetes, and how our internal environment responds to the external environment via hormones. If you want to learn how to lose weight, your weight loss paradigm should take all of these factors in to account and not merely the number of calories you eat or burn. Putting yourself in to the proper hormonal state is paramount if you want to lose weight, and a Paleo regression diet can get your body in a position to be in that state so you can identify the things that may be holding you back. It will also give your gut time to heal so that you can enjoy foods that may have been holding you back and causing reactions via the leaky gut. Adding foods back one at a time after 2 months will give you the personalized nutrition program you need to learn how to lose weight.
In part 5 of this blog series, we will discuss how regular daily physical activity helps you to lose weight.