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September 2, 2015

Going Hungry—The Diet Advice we can’t Ignore.

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My grandmother hoarded canned food.

When she died, my mother and I threw out about 100 pounds of canned food that had expired—it could not be donated to local food banks.

While my grandmother hoarded many odd things—bolts of material, balls of yarn, plastic bags—the food made sense.

Growing up, she was one of seven children in a household run by an erratic mother. More often than not, when her father received his weekly wages her mother would take the grocery money and instead of buying food and household items, she spent it on clothing or some luxury item for herself—leaving my grandmother and her siblings to go without food.

Even though it had been decades ago, my grandmother remembered how it felt to be hungry.

Even after she began she lose to her memory to Alzheimer’s disease, she still could vividly recall what it was like to go without food and how it was something that simply could not go away or ignored.

She was not alone.

Many years later, I dated a man whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors. When his father was a boy he was overfed to the point of becoming obese, because his parents were determined that their children would never go hungry like they did.

Going hungry is something that as humans we strenuously avoid. No one ever wants to be hungry or have chronic feelings of hunger, for hours or days on end.

Dieting is an exception.

The U.S. and many countries in the Western World are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

The impact is real—financially and emotionally.

While the best diet is still a subject of debate, it’s no mystery that in order to lose weight one must burn more calories than are consumed.

The question, as to whether or not the majority of these calories should come from fat or carbs, has been hotly debated for some time. For most of us who were around in the 80s and 90s, we can remember when fat was the devil and nearly everything else—from potato chips to cookies—were fine as long as they were “low-fat.”

However, people continued to gain weight.

For most of the early 00s, the advice was the opposite—fat was okay and it was the carbs—especially the refined ones like white flour and sugar—-that were bad.

Recently, a study by the National Institute of Health was said to have settled the debate once and for all. For the study, 19 obese people (10 men and nine women) were put on diets lasting six days of about 1,920 calories per day. One group was given a diet that was 29% carbohydrates and 50% fat while the other was given a diet that was 71% carbohydrates and only 8% fat.

Those on the low-fat diet lost more weight.

However, before anyone jumps on the low-fat bandwagon again, health and science journalist Gary Taubes (who is also the co-founder of the Nutrition Science Initiative) cautions that we look at the long-term implications of this study.

As Taubes points out, the low amount of fat in the low-fat diet would not be enough to ward off the feeling of hunger. (It is almost half of the U.N.’s recommended daily allowance of 15% fat per day.)

It’s not surprising that the subjects in the study lost weight—both groups were consuming less calories and their intake was carefully monitored.

How about in real life where this isn’t the case?

Plus, six days is hardly the same as six months, six years or the rest of one’s life. (Most experts say that in order for a diet to work, a person has to make permanent changes for the rest of their lives.)

Taubes starts his NY Times piece by citing an experiment conducted in the 1940s where subjects were put on a low-fat diet of 1,600 calories a day for 24 weeks. Subjects lost weight on this diet, with only 17% of its calories coming from fat, but they also suffered from depression, hair lose, swollen extremities and slowed metabolisms. They also “thought obsessively about food night and day.”

With side effects like these, most people would not sign up for this, even if they did lose a considerable amount of weight.

There is no magical formula or diet plan for weight loss, but it appears that if any plan is going to succeed, it needs to address the problem of feeling deprived and hungry all the time.

All experts seem to agree—in order for any sort of diet to result in long-term weight loss, there needs to be enough calories and fat to keep one satisfied.

The odds are overwhelming that a diet that deprives the dieter, will fail for the majority of people and for the small minority who can stick to it, the side effects like the one listed above are arguable just as bad or worst than being overweight or obese.

And until that perfect plan is discovered, those who are struggling with their weight and have failed at numerous diets—causing them to think about food non-stop—can at least stop blaming it on a lack of discipline and “willpower.”

Chances are that you have both. However, you are human, too, and we are not meant to like hunger.

Trying to embrace or get accustomed to constant hunger isn’t just unnatural but goes against our most basic need to feel satisfied.

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Relephant bonus:

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Relephant read:

7 Food Swaps for Healthier Eating without Big Diet Changes.

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Author: KImberly Lo

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: Pixoto

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