How Nutrition Relates to Weight Gain
Whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight is ultimately determined by the energy balance equation. Energy balance is the relationship between the calories you take in and the calories you burn. When you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight. When you burn and eat the same number of calories, you maintain weight. When you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.
For a long time, scientists thought that was the answer to weight loss and gain. In a way, they were right. Recently, however, new information has come to light about the role nutrition plays in weight gain beyond the energy balance equation.
Nutrition and Energy
It is possible to lose weight in unhealthy ways. For some people, creating an energy deficit, or burning more calories than you eat, is sufficient to lose weight. However, this method of weight loss is not sustainable over the long term. Why do people have so much initial luck with intense calorie restriction, then plateau or even gain weight?
One reason is that, when most of the body’s energy comes from refined, processed carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fats, and fatty proteins, deficiencies in micronutrients develop. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that support your body’s metabolism. When your body is deficient in these substances, metabolism slows and you feel sluggish and unable to maintain a healthy level of physical activity. You may also succumb to intense cravings and binges as the body tries to correct the deficiency.
Instead of excessive calorie restriction, try moderate restriction of calories. By eating between 1,200 and 2,000 calories, depending on your activity level, and consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, your body avoids deficiencies and energy nosedives.
Fiber and Fullness
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all associated with weight loss and weight maintenance over time. One theory to explain this fact is that all those foods are rich in fiber. Fiber is indigestible plant material that passes through our digestive tract without providing any energy. It keeps you full without contributing to the “calories in” side of the energy balance equation.
Your Microbiome and Weight
The most exciting recent discovery in human nutrition is the role of the microbiome in weight status. Your microbiome is composed of billions of friendly bacteria that live in your gut. They produce hormones, growth factors, and other substances that regulate everything from mood to metabolism.
The composition of these bacteria is important. People who eat a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber have a healthy microbiome that makes maintaining or losing weight much easier. Diets high in processed foods, artificial flavors, and colors, and refined carbohydrates have a microbiome composition that produces chemicals in the body that impede weight loss.
Putting it All Together
What does this new information tell us about nutrition and weight? While the fundamental truth of the energy balance equation persists, there is more to the story than scientists in the field of nutrition previously understood. Good nutrition supports healthy weight by preventing deficiencies, promoting satiety, and feeding a healthy gut microbiome.