Here are 5 foolproof ways to win the battle of the bulge
I regularly talk to you about what consistent exercise can do for your health and longevity. But it’s time we had an important conversation about what it can’t do.
The truth is, exercise is virtually useless against the outrageous amounts of sugar and carbohydrates people consume nowadays. (Thanks, in large part, to the idiotic dietary guidelines that have steered Americans in the wrong direction for decades.)
So all of those claims that the world is getting fatter simply because we’re all a bunch of couch potatoes? Well, they aren’t entirely accurate…
Ten thousand steps simply isn’t enough
I realize this may run counter to a lot of the public messaging out there these days. So allow me to provide a recent case in point: Exercise researchers from Brigham Young University recruited 120 new college freshmen for a step-counting experiment.
Over their first six months of school, subjects walked either 10,000, 12,500, or 15,000 steps a day, six days a week. Meanwhile, researchers kept track of the students’ calorie intake and weight.
The goal here was to see whether increasing step counts above the minimum of 10,000 steps per day would help ward off weight gain. Subjects wore pedometers around the clock, and averaged around 9,600 steps daily prior to the study.
By the end of the study, average step counts ranged from 11,000 to 14,500 steps per day.
But in the end, it made no difference (in relation to weight) whether the students walked more—even if they were topping 15,000 steps a day. Because the study participants still gained an average of about 3.5 pounds over the course of the study anyway.1
In other words… increasing your steps may keep you more active—which, of course, is a good thing! But relying solely on exercise isn’t enough to keep you from gaining weight.
And let me remind you: These were college freshman! Sure, they’re up against the dreaded “freshman 15.” But I don’t have to tell you that staying trim only gets trickier as you age, especially once you hit 40.
The fact is, even 30 minutes of hard work at the gym only burns a few hundred calories—progress that can be completely undone with just a couple of cans of Coke. And yes, I mention Coke specifically for a very good reason…
A mass misinformation campaign
Back in 2015, the New York Times exposed that Coca-Cola® had paid millions to well-known universities and scientists to conduct so-called “unbiased research.”2
Coke donated nearly $1.5 million to start an organization run by prominent scientists called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). The group’s president, James O. Hill, is a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and is also a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry.
Coke also provided close to $4 million in research funding to two of the organization’s founding members: Dr. Steven Blair, a professor and exercise scientist at the University of South Carolina, and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.
Dr. Blair’s research has formed much of the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity over the past 25 years. And, surprise, surprise! Much of it has turned out in Coke’s favor—with results claiming, in a nutshell, that “exercise is the most important thing in controlling weight… and cutting back on sugar isn’t the problem.”
Now, I should mention that these doctors stated Coke didn’t make decisions for them about what to analyze and what to report. But you know what? They also conveniently made no mention of Coca-Cola’s generous financial support.
And it only gets worse: Dr. Blair went on record saying that while popular media and the scientific press have been “blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on” for obesity, “there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”
Needless to say, that’s an outright lie. But the story has a somewhat happy ending, at least. Because a couple of years later, reports of a Federal lawsuit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association trade group emerged.
The nonprofit Praxis Project accused these two co-conspirators of downplaying the health risks of soda and sweetened beverages to boost sales. The suit contended that they did this in spite of scientific evidence linking sugar-sweetened drinks to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
I’m sure you can guess whose side I’m on here.
Of course, regardless of how this suit pans out, the damage is unfortunately already done. But it’s still important to set the record straight on this subject, once and for all.
The modern food supply is making us fat
Let me be clear: None of this is to say that exercise doesn’t matter. Because it does matter… a lot. (Especially as you age, as I discuss on page 2.) Sitting disease is as real as it ever was, and a sedentary lifestyle kills. Period.
That’s why I always tell you that, if nothing else, at least make time for a 20-minute walk after dinner every night… and get up and move every chance you get. After all, in the study I mentioned at the beginning of this article, subjects in the highest step groups reduced sedentary time by as much as 77 minutes per day. And that’s a health victory all in itself!
But the sad fact is, most people would have to run for miles every day just to make up for the dietary damage they’ve done by lunchtime alone.
Sure, obesity is a complex issue with a lot of factors. And of course, inactivity is part of the problem. But at the end of the day, there’s one core factor that’s keeping us all fat: We simply eat too much of the wrong things.
When it comes to the obesity epidemic, the modern food supply is hands down the primary driving factor. So if you want to win the battle of the bulge once and for all, your journey needs to start with your diet… and with a handful of critical dietary steps, in particular.
The first of those, of course, is to kick sugar—in all its forms—once and for all. Because as I’ve explained here many times before, our national addiction to sugar is easily the single biggest threat to the public health….
Get the chunky monkey off your back
Back in 2012, researchers analyzed the effects of ice cream consumption on the striatum—the brain’s reward center. And they found that milkshakes “robustly activated the striatal regions.” (Translation: These subjects’ reward centers lit up like fireworks on the 4th of July.)
But they also found that frequent ice cream consumption actually dulled this response.3 In other words, you build a “tolerance” to it, requiring more and more to get the same satisfaction. Just like drug addiction.
And this isn’t the only study to expose the sinister allure of sugar. In 2013, another report showed that areas of the brain associated with rewards, cravings, and addictions were especially vulnerable to the influence of milkshakes with high glycemic loads.4
And what do you think the secret ingredient was in this experiment? You guessed it… high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Studies show that HFCS has a special knack for kicking your body’s hunger mechanisms up a notch. Both through your brain’s reward system and by throwing your insulin levels off-kilter.5
Luckily, it only takes three days of being sugar-free to shake the dependence out of your system. (By sugar-free, I mean eliminating everything that even remotely turns into sugar in the body—like breads, pasta, rice, and fruit—as all of these foods will quickly convert into sugar. Not just refined sugar and other sweeteners.)
That doesn’t mean it will always be easy once you’ve made it through those first three days. But the good news is, this is largely a mind-over-matter endeavor. Which is why I always urge you to focus on the many foods you can eat, instead.
I’ll circle back to those foods in just a moment—but first, let’s discuss some more “foods” you should avoid at all costs…
Fake sugar fuels obesity, too
Despite being marketed as a “healthy” alternative to sugar, artificial sweeteners are fattening and dangerous, too.
Research has established significant links between non-nutritive sweeteners and gains in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist size.6 Not to mention elevated risks of high blood pressure, stroke, heart-related events, and type 2 diabetes.
Granted, one could argue that unhealthy people simply tend to reach for artificial sweeteners more often—not that the sweeteners themselves do any damage. But a single look at the latest findings flushes that theory right down the toilet… where it belongs.
Recent studies have shown, for example, that artificial sweeteners alter the microbiome in rodents and humans—making it “obesogenic.”7-8 In fact, evidence also suggests that regularly consuming these chemicals hijacks the metabolism, paving the way toward high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and weight gain.9
That’s why I always recommend avoiding sweeteners of any kind on a regular basis. Limiting your intake helps to reboot your palate and re-sensitize your taste buds.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a treat on occasion. Especially since there are natural sweeteners out there that don’t carry the same risks as chemical sugar substitutes.
My personal favorite is stevia—an all-natural, non-caloric sweetener extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Its active component, stevioside, is up to 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar (so you need much, much less of it). And people across the world have been safely using it as a sweetener for ages.
Always pass on ultra-processed “food”
Now that we’ve talked about kicking sugar to the curb, let’s look at another main dietary factor driving our obesity crisis…
“Ultra-processed” foods—or what I like to call “Frankenfoods”—are foods that feature a long string of tough-to-pronounce ingredients, which manufacturers add to extend shelf life, save on prep time, or simply to make the product taste better. (Think fast food, candy, ice cream, packaged baked goods, canned soups and fruit, sodas, breakfast cereals, oven-ready chicken nuggets and fish sticks, and other prepared meals.)
Since 1990, ultra-processed food consumption has tripled. In fact, these Frankenfoods now comprise a good one-third of daily calories in the average American diet. So if you want my opinion, the following research was long overdue…
It only featured 20 patients, but it was very tightly controlled. Study subjects all received three meals, of which they were free to eat as much or as little as they wanted within an hour. Researchers specifically designed the meals to match in terms of total calories, sugar and salt content, fiber content, and macronutrients.But there was one key difference: One meal was mainly derived from ultra-processed foods, while the other was unprocessed.
Turns out, study participants on the ultra-processed diet gained two pounds during the study—and they ate an average of 500 more calories daily, at a faster pace than subjects on an unprocessed diet. Meanwhile, the subjects who consumed unprocessed food lost two pounds in the same timeframe.10
All of which is yet another nail in the coffin when it comes to ultra-processed foods, and another victory for unprocessed, real food. That’s why I always recommend cooking at home and consuming wholesome, healthy, fresh, natural foods—like the ones found in my very own A-List Diet.
Time your meals for success
Last but not least, if there’s one final factor that counts just as much as what you’re eating in the fight against obesity, it’s when you’re eating.
In fact, in a small, pilot study, 19 subjects were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and reported eating during a time window that exceeded 14 hours a day. More than 80 percent of the subjects were on at least one medication (such as a statin drug or a blood pressure pill).
For two weeks leading up to the study, they used an app called “myCircadianClock” to log their food intake and eating times. After that, their eating window was restricted to ten hours daily, for three months.
To adjust to this window, most subjects simply ate a later breakfast and an earlier dinner. (So if they ate their first meal at 8 a.m., for example, their last meal would be finished by 6 p.m.) And they weren’t advised to cut calories.
But get this: At the end of the study period, subjects reported better sleep and a three to four percent drop in body weight, BMI, belly fat, and waist circumference. Not only that, but they also experienced improvements in blood pressure, total cholesterol, and blood sugar and insulin levels.11
Results were so dramatic that the researchers suggested time-restricted eating as a “new treatment option” to ward off diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
And, well… pardon the pun, but it’s about time. Time-restricted eating is really just a form of intermittent fasting (IF)—and as I’ve shared here many times before, this approach to eating can completely transform your metabolic health.
It’s true that longer fasting windows appear to be more beneficial. (That’s why I typically only eat one meal a day, myself.) But this latest research is a good reminder that you don’t need to commit to 36-hour fasts to see results. In fact, you don’t even need to skip breakfast!
Instead, just honor your body’s circadian rhythm. Stick to wholesome, square meals—no snacks. And never eat close to your bedtime.
At the end of the day, the lifestyle changes I outline here will help you kick obesity to the curb, once and for all. So, keep moving, avoid sugar and regular consumption of artificial sweeteners, opt for healthy, whole foods, and respect your body’s circadian rhythms.
- Bailey BW, et al. “The Impact of Step Recommendations on Body Composition and Physical Activity Patterns in College Freshman Women: A Randomized Trial.” J Obes. 2019 Dec 1;2019:4036825.
- “Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.” The New York Times, 08/09/2015. (nytimes.com/2015/08/14/opinion/coke-tries-to-sugarcoat-the-truth-on-calories.html)
- Burger KS, et al. “Frequent ice cream consumption is associated with reduced striatal response to receipt of an ice cream-based milkshake.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):810-7.
- Lennerz BS, et al. “Effects of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jun 26.
- Page KA, et al. “Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved With Appetite and Reward Pathways.” JAMA. 2013;309(1):63-70.
- Chia CW, et al. “Chronic Low-Calorie Sweetener Use and Risk of Abdominal Obesity among Older Adults: A Cohort Study.” PLoS One. 2016 Nov 23;11(11):e0167241.
- Bian X, et al. “The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice.” PLoS One. 2017 Jun 8;12(6):e0178426.
- Suez J, et al. “Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges.” Gut Microbes. 2015; 6(2): 149–155.
- Kundu N, et al. Low-Calorie Sweeteners Alter Glucose Uptake and Promote Adipogenesis in Human Fat Biopsy-Derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) in-Vitro and in Subjects’ Subcutaneous Fat. Presented at ENDO 2017. OR27-6.
- Hall KD, et al. “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.” Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):67-77.e3
- Wilkinson MJ, et al. “Ten-Hour Time-Restricted Eating Reduces Weight, Blood Pressure, and Atherogenic Lipids in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome.” Cell Metab. 2020 Jan 7;31(1):92-104.e5.