Thursday, August 19, 2010

Notes To Shi No Ubi - Portion Control?

While the following statement would be counter-intuitive to most, anyone that understands the carbohydrate hypothesis would immediately see the logic in this finding:
"Dietary factors may make people less inclined to exercise. An interesting finding in the Framingham study was that those who ate the most saturated fat, the most calories and the most cholesterol were the most physically active.5 They also weighed the least and had the lowest levels of serum cholesterol!"

When people talk about portion control, generally what they mean is they see obesity as a matter of folks eating too much.  If they talk about why they think folks eat too much, they are likely to discuss will power or lack of exercise, or possibly a 'toxic food environment.'  These thoughts parallel the assumption that people who are obese should simply eat less and exercise more.  In other words, they think what people eat is much less important than conscious control over energy intake and expenditure.  On the other hand, I think conscious control over energy intake and expenditure is not possible for most people who are eating the standard American diet (SAD).  Further, conscious control over energy intake and expenditure is unnecessary if we eat the right food.

I think some folks can manage their weight well by 'portion control' (whatever that is).  But the very concept of portion control begs this question:  why did paleolithic people remain lean when they had no idea how many calories they ate?  For most of us, if we eat the USDA recommended type of diet, and/or a diet laden with breads/pasta/sugared drinks/rice/potatoes/sweets and processed food bars, the metabolic processes these foods will set in motion will drive us to eat more food and/or be inactive.  This is exacerbated over time as the damage to our metabolic system accumulates. 

My version of portion control (but I never refer to it by that name), is to eat every meal based around a dose of protein.  How much you need is determined by your lean body mass and activity level, but here's a simple approach - eat a gram of protein per day for every pound of body weight, or as much of that as you are willing to eat, not less than 100 grams per day.  If you weigh over 130 pounds, that's going to be a lot of work.  As an example, I weight 210 pounds.  I can't eat that many grams of protein, so I eat about 30 grams of protein, four times per day, which is 120g, or ~500 to 600 kcal.  I add vegetables to lunch and dinner, and usually have a serving of fruit with lunch.  I estimate I'm getting 1000 kcal/day in meat, vegetables and fruit, and the rest of my intake is in fats from heavy cream, nuts and coconut oils.  I'm sustaining approximately 13% body fat, and a very healthy looking fasting lipid profile.

So to me, portion control means starting with good quality protein, and a lot of it.  After starting each meal with the good stuff, add some veggies to lunch, dinner and/or a snack.  If you stick to veggies - not bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, rice etc - you will have to work hard to eat 100g (400 kcal) per day.  Into this mix, add some fruit - a piece (or serving if you find blueberries, cherries, grapes or some such delicacy) or two per day.  If you find you are still hungry after this, add good quality fat.  Coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans and a few cashews.

Summary to this point:  If you manage to get 100g of protein down the hatch, and add up to 100g of quality carbohydrate, your total caloric intake will be between 800 and 1000 kcal (depending upon your protein source; salami will provide more calories, through fat, than chicken, for example).  This is often enough nutrition to meet what the body needs, it may only be lacking in energy.  The best way to add more calories without hormonal disruption is by adding the aforementioned source of quality fat.

If you skip the junk - grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar - you can eat what seems like a lot of food, and still maintain your health, energy and performance.  Portion control becomes a matter of keeping good sources of protein handy all day and working to eat enough of said protein. 

So, if someone I know argues for portion control, I say 'yes!  Eat a lot of protein and skip the junk and your body and appetite will do a very nice job of portion control!'  Otherwise, portion control is a fool's game - you cannot apportion the right amount of worthless junk food (grains, legumes sugar and processed dairy) to make you healthy and fit.

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