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In The Weight Loss Journey, Not All Calories Are Created Equal

The Insulin Program Book

So you are on a diet and at a birthday party. The medical powers-that-be have spoken, and they have said that cutting down on calories makes the pounds fall off. Just then, a great idea hits you: “if I skip the 230 calorie chicken breast at dinner tonight, then I can definitely have the 230 calorie equivalent slice of cake”. You move forward with your plan because it makes sense -- you’re still eating the same number of calories, so it shouldn’t matter where they’re coming from.


This is a dieting mistake I have seen many hopeful pound-shedders make at the clinic my brother and I run in Southern California. We hear it time and again. Along with calorie counting comes the “all calories are equal” mentality. And it adds up from a mathematical standpoint. As a function, “calories in, calories out” should yield the same results. But it just doesn’t.

That’s because the body responds to different types of calories differently. All calories are not, in fact, created equal.

My brother and I work to educate dieters on the differences between calories. It’s a philosophy we have: if a dieter understands why the different foods with the same calorie count affect them differently, it will make their decisions easier. These concepts are explained in the new book we have co-authored with health journalist Mary Ann Marshall, The Thinsulin Program: The Breakthrough Solution To Help You Lose Weight And Stay Thin.

But before you go grabbing a pen to jot a huge list of “do” and “don’t” foods, know that the answer is simpler than memorizing a litany of things that you can and can’t eat.

Here’s the big lesson we are sharing today: weight loss is not about calories. It’s about insulin. Once you understand how insulin impacts your body on your quest to lose weight, you’ll get what foods can and can’t be eaten and won’t even need to add up the number of calories they’ll cost you.

The reason is simple: insulin causes the body to store fat. Any excess of it in the bloodstream will signal fat cells to store glucose as fat and to take in fatty acids from the bloodstream, storing these as fat too. In the birthday party scenario, high doses of sugar found in the cake would send your body into a fat-storing whirlwind because the sugar raises insulin levels.

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What’s more, spikes in the body’s insulin level will lead to dramatic drops in your blood glucose, which will actually make you crave more sweets as your body tries to compensate. Feeling hungry, you are then very likely to grab something sweet or another slice of cake, thus, repeating the cycle.

Other ingredients that cause insulin levels to rise include:
• Grains
• Root vegetables
• Corn
• Carrots
• Beets
• Sweet fruits such as pineapple and mangos

It’s interesting to note that carrots, often considered a diet food for their low-cal appeal, should in fact be avoided since like most roots and tubers, they produce insulin hikes. Again, not all calories are created equal.

You may find that eating a diet without these foods will actually cause you to consume more calories than is typically suggested for weight-loss. That is okay, because remember: cutting calories alone doesn’t make for a thinner you. Controlling your intake of insulin-spiking foods does. Yes, foods such as eggs, chicken, beef, almonds and walnuts can contain plenty of calories, but they don’t tell your body to store fat as insulin-spiking foods do. And by consuming foods that don’t spike your insulin levels, you will actually wind up burning fat since just as higher insulin levels cause the body to store fat, lower insulin levels will trigger the fat-burning process.

Does this mean that you have to avoid grains and potatoes forever? No. Ultimately, you’ll be able to carefully re-incorporate such foods into your diet in the right doses. We’ve helped individuals on the weight loss journey do this countless times and they have kept the weight off for years.

We encourage you to do further research on what foods can cause spikes in insulin throughout the dieting process. As a first step, this graphic about how to change your thinking about food will help. And just keep reminding yourself: if you’re only counting calories, you’re missing a big part of the weight-loss picture.

Charles Nguyen, M.D., is medical director of the Lorphen Medical Weight Loss
Clinic in Riverside, CA, and co-author with Tu Song-Anh Nguyen and Mary Ann
Marshall of The Thinsulin Program: The Breakthrough Solution To Help You Lose
Weight And Stay Thin. (Da Capo Press, 2016).