THE MYTH OF DIETING: WHY DIETING MAKES YOU FATTER
I probably shouldn't say this, but I will be the first to admit that if you want to lose ten to twenty pounds quickly, just put this book down right now and start starving yourself. I promise you, with some effort you'll lose weight right away.
But study after study of dieters shows that almost all of you will not last two weeks on a diet. Most don't last a week. And here's the saddest news of all. If you do lose weight through diet programs, you will gain it all back within a year. Here are the facts: There is simply no scientific evidence to suggest that dieting does anything other than create a temporary weight loss. Think about it. If losing weight were simply a matter of going on a diet -- that is, cutting calories -- then why aren't all of us able to do it? If all these diets really worked, then why are we collectively getting fatter?
Now I am not going to load you down with highly technical jargon about nutrition. But over the years, I have learned the one irrefutable science lesson that should make you forever abandon the idea of losing weight by starving yourself. What happens when you diet is that you force your body to slow down its metabolism, one of the most important words you're going to come across in this book.
Your metabolism is what burns calories to create energy. Think of it as your inner engine. The higher the level at which you can keep your engine revved up, the more fuel (or calories) it will burn. But if there is no fuel for your engine, your metabolism slows down. It tries to preserve every calorie it can. According to some studies, if you drop from 2,000 calories a day to 1,200, your metabolism decreases by 5 to 10 percent. If you drop to 800 calories a day, your metabolism lowers by a whopping 10 to 20 percent.
After a couple of weeks of a very strict diet, your body readjusts and starts cutting back on its own caloric needs. Suddenly, that paltry 800-calorie-a-day diet can feel like 8,000 calories. Because your metabolism is working at a snail's pace, you actually stop losing weight.
But that's not your only problem. With your slower metabolism rate, you're very vulnerable to gaining back huge amounts of weight. And you will gain it back, because at some point you will have to start eating again. You may think you're different, that you have the willpower to stop eating, but scientific research shows that when your body is starving, it is stronger than your brain. Your body will send such strong signals to your brain that you will break into Fort Knox if there's a candy bar in there. Come on, you know it's true. If you diet, you will also overeat.
And the minute you start eating again, two things will happen to you. First, your depleted carbohydrate cells, desperate to soak up any fluid they can, will act like sponges and regain every bit of water weight that you lost during your diet; and second, your slowed metabolic rate won't be able to speed up in time to burn off the new food you have just put in, which means the food will go right to your fat cells.
"Hold on," you say, "I thought I had gotten rid of my fat cells when I dieted!"
Sorry, you've been duped again. For the most part, what you lose when you diet is your muscle tissue -- the most valuable part of your body for maintaining a high metabolic rate. Granted, your body will pull calories from some of your fat cells, but it will first look to your muscles for nourishment. The truth is that your body wants to get rid of your muscle tissue. Why? In its dietstarvation mode, your body, desperate to preserve itself, is doing everything it can to save calories, not burn them. And what's the one thing that burns calories? Your muscles! Fat is metabolically inactive because its function is to serve as a big old greasy warehouse for the storage of fat cells. In other words, fat tissue does nothing but collect fat. Muscle tissue, on the other hand, is the critical element in maintaining a high metabolism. It's what makes your body act like a powerful furnace, burning up the calories that come in. It follows, then that the fewer muscles in your body, the less food fuel you need to consume. Some studies say that up to 50 percent of the weight you lose on a diet will come from your muscles, the very component of your body you should keep and build to keep the weight off. On top of that, when you diet, your body can potentially double the number of its fat storage enzymes to hoard more calories. Visualize that -- multiplying fat cells! -- while you're starving yourself.
At the end of a diet, you end up with shrunken muscle cells and a higher percentage of body fat. You're fatter! Instead of weighing 160 pounds with 30 percent body fat, for example, your diet has dropped you to 135 pounds but given you 40 percent body fat.
Wait. The nightmare continues. When your diet fails and you start eating again, your body fat is going to get even higher, because all that food is going straight to your fat cells. Without an exercise plan, you're not developing muscle to burn it up. So now you have even more fat to lose in your next diet! And the cycle begins again.
You've probably noticed that every time you go on another diet, it takes longer for your body to lose the weight and it regains weight faster. In frustration, you might turn to one of these "new, improved" lines of diet pills, hoping to jump-start your weight loss. Sure enough, your weight goes down -- for a while. But if you don't know how to eat or exercise correctly, you won't know how to achieve permanent results.
More bad news. If you have certain problem areas, dieting only make them more problematic. Fat, it has been said, is like a river. It flows right to that part of the body that offers the least resistance. In men, it goes to the middle, creating those dreaded pot bellies. In women, it goes to the buttocks and thighs. In other words, dieting does not reshape your problem areas. It makes them worse.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL HELL OF DIETING
What else do you need to know? I've seen people who have been on so many low-calorie diets that they have a medically dangerous fat-to-muscle ratio. Furthermore, such a yoyo pattern of dieting -- losing and regaining, losing and regaining -- significantly increases the risk of heart disease. And even if you don't die of a heart attack, you'll be so sick from your starvation that you won't be able to enjoy life.
And that's what bothers me most. Ultimately, a diet does nothing but make you deeply unhappy. You can't enjoy the life around you, because you're obsessing about not eating. Yet the more you obsess, the more you think and dream about food.
I know firsthand just what a disturbing emotional issue dieting can be. My mother spent most of her life consumed with worry over her weight. By the time she was six years old, my mother was the fattest kid in her neighborhood. When she was eleven, her mother, who then weighed nearly 300 pounds, took her to her first diet doctor. The doctor prescribed diet pills and two boxes of appetite suppressant chocolate candy. By the time she got home, my mother had eaten all the candy in both boxes. Although she was considered a jolly, cheerful girl, she cried herself to sleep.
It didn't get any better when she reached adulthood. By then, she was so addicted to diet pills that she needed them just to stay awake through the day. She would take her pills all week and try not to eat, then binge all through the weekend. She was in the very first Overeaters Anonymous chapter in the country. She joined Weight Watchers. She sent off for every weight-loss program advertised in the backs of magazines. She tried a diet that required daily injections. After trying the Beverly Hills Diet, she went around for days with her lips puckered from the pineapples recommended in the program. She tried diuretics and laxatives. She wore rubber gloves when preparing food, because she had been told that fat from meat could get into her pores and prevent her from losing weight.
As a young boy, I felt that I was in a madhouse. One afternoon, I was out with my mother and bought a hot dog with my carefully earned money. My mother was on one of her typical 500-calories-a-day diets. I hadn't even take a bite of that hot dog when she shouted, "Larry, look over there! There's your father!" As I turned around, my mother grabbed the hot dog and stuck the whole thing in her mouth. The whole thing! I started crying, and so did my mom. She was crying over what this absurd life of dieting had done to her -- a life that would drive her to steal her own child's treat.
When people ask me why I'm in this business, I tell this story. My mother never knew what it was like to sit by the side of a swimming pool and feel comfortable. She thought no man would ever want her because of her ugly legs. Her weight had a stranglehold on her whole life.
I feel a pain in my heart whenever I tell the story of my mother. Yet because of her, I am devoted to making sure no one else has to go through that same torture.
BREAKING FREE FROM THE FAT COCOON
But there is an answer. A few years ago, my younger brother Alan was telling me in our long-distance conversations that he was in great shape, so I invited him to move to Dallas to help run my new gym. But when Alan stepped off the plane, I was speechless. What could I say? He was a North, prone to get heavy at the drop of a hat. He had tried everything the rest of us had tried-and yet he kept getting heavier and heavier. Although he'd been too ashamed to tell me, he weighed more than 300 pounds, 120 pounds more than his twin brother.
At that moment I told myself, if I can't help my own brother, I don't have a right to help anyone else. I took him to lunch and said, "Get ready." I ordered him a chicken breast grilled with no oil, a cup of rice, and a side dish of vegetables. He said, "Larry, how am I going to lose weight eating all this food?" I replied, "Alan, this is the program. You're going to be eating these kinds of meals all the time. You're going to lift weights and do some cardio work. You're going to learn to feed your muscles and starve your fat."
He looked at me. "What?" he said. "I'm going to what?"
"Feed the muscles and starve the fat."
Four months later, Alan had dropped 100 pounds and had become one of the most popular and knowledgeable trainers in the gym, now rated one of the best in the country by Vogue magazine. He changed because he trusted me, even though at first the program didn't make sense to him. If you ever want to get and stay permanently lean, I told him, you have to start focusing on your muscle tissue. I'm not talking here about bulky pumpingiron muscle. I'm talking about the skeletal muscle within your body. It's your fountain of youth, your gold at Fort Knox. It is what stokes your body's metabolism so that you can burn off the food you eat and shrink your fat reserves. Nothing is going to rejuvenate that metabolism except lean, silky, beautiful muscle -- not dieting, not liposuction, not diet pills, not an extra hour a day on a treadmill, not even a five-day-a-week running program.
As I'll explain later, if you focus on nothing but aerobics and cardiovascular exercise, you will not permanently speed up your metabolism. Sure, you'll burn calories -- sometimes in the form of fat and sometimes in the form of carbohydrates. But the fact is that your body burns most of its fat during the day when you're not working out. It burns more total calories when you're walking around, doing your work, even when you're just sitting around and breathing. So it follows that if your body is full of highly toned muscle tissue, you'll burn far more calories throughout the day, because your metabolic rate is so much higher.
And that, in essence, is the key to the North Program. In my program, you must eat the kinds of food that build muscle tissue and keep your metabolism working. The other component of the eating program is meal frequency, which makes your metabolism work even faster. Finally, you'll want to build your muscles naturally through careful weight training (not a fanatical regimen of weight lifting). Think of it as body shaping, not body building.
And here's the best part of this story. You'll see results quickly, because you will feel your muscles starting to work inside you. Building muscle tissue doesn't take years. It begins the day you start the program.
Still skeptical? Afraid I might send you to the gym to grunt and groan for hours under a bench press? Wrong again. We're going to start with food, because proper eating makes up 70 to 80 percent of the North Program.
So let's get started. It's time to reveal the thin from within!
Copyright © 1997 by Larry North