Because most so-called experts believe in the “calories in, calories out” theory of weight loss, they have supported a semi-starvation diet as the solution to our obesity epidemic. Their solution was to dramatically cut caloric intake — which meant cutting all sources of calories, including proteins, fats, and (less so) carbohydrates — and increasing exercise.
But here’s why this regimen doesn’t work: When the body senses that it is starving, it will suppress energy usage, mainly by reducing thyroid function. That is, we become thyroid deficient (hypothyroid) during these periods of starvation dieting.
If at the same time a person consumes a diet full of sugars and high glycemic carbohydrates, their insulin level will rise and their body will shift glucose and fatty acids into storage — thus making that person progressively fatter.
So, if glucose and fatty acids are being stored, what is being burned for energy during starvation diets? The answer is proteins. The glycogen energy storage depot disappears quite quickly. After that, the body begins to break down proteins in muscles and organs to supply energy. Many amino acids can be converted to energy molecules (adenosine triphosphate, or ATP) through a cellular metabolism process known as the Kreb’s cycle. However, this process depletes muscles.
You may have noticed that many long-distance runners have very scrawny muscles. This is because they have run through their stores of glucose, glycogen, and fat, and have begun burning proteins.
While we do not want to burn up our muscles, the possibility of breaking down the proteins in our organs, especially the kidneys and heart, is even more dangerous. This can lead to heart and/or kidney failure, which is actually what kills people who starve to death or those who die from anorexia nervosa. It can also lead to congestive heart failure.
As writer Gary Taubes has pointed out, when you repeat this process experimentally in animals, no matter how much you starve them they retain fat. Even when the animals are starved to death, they still have fatty tissue.
Some people are obsessed with losing “weight.” They weigh themselves religiously every day, and are elated if they drop a few pounds. The problem is that much of the weight they are losing is muscle, which actually weighs much more than fat. In the end, this kind of weight loss can do great harm to a person’s health.
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