Trying To Lose Weight? Don’t Forget The Protein

I fell into the trap. When I started the Intermittent Fasting Regime – which is really just following what nature provided – I lost weight with very little effort.  No calorie counting as long as I kept my food – and especially my carb consumption – between 9pm and 5pm and ate mainly ‘keto’ for breakfasts and dinner. This, I assume allowed my body to enter ketosis (or fat burning) for a few hours in the morning and the resulting fat loss (as indicated by my BMI scale). But – after about a month – I was feeling tired and drained most of the time and angry.

My sleep patterns were also affected.  I was feeling down and sleeping more than normal – or was waking up more often at night. Then some personal stress happened.  I started to eat carbs outside the 9-5 window and began to feel better. I am a carb-stress eater anyway. The result is that I gained some of the weight back – but I felt better. I can hear some of you saying and pointing a  finger….see….see….carbs are good. Good for the brain, perhaps, but not the waistline. At least for me, more carbs means more insulin.  And more insulin means more visceral fat.  So what to do?

eating protein for weight loss

Looking back, I had fallen into a “mind trap”.  My mind has been programmed to accept the belief that in order to lose weight, I have to severely cut calories.  In other words, in order to lose weight you have to eat less overall – rather than just restricting carbohydrates.  I began to realize that I had not been eating enough food during the 12 hours that I could be i.e., 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

To make things worse, I wasn’t eating enough protein either – and this is rather critical.  Protein is broken down into amino acids – the building blocks of life.  The two amino acids that are the most important, in my mind, are tyrosine and tryptophan.  Many of the amino acids, including these two, are converted into neurotransmitters.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acids and is the precursor to serotonin. Serotonin has many functions in the body and brain in particular. This critical neurotransmitter affects mood, desire, sexual function, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, temperature regulation, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system and the muscles.  Symptoms of serotonin deficiency in the brain include:  depression, OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and excessive anger.

It is well-known that carbohydrates – especially sugar and starches – raise the serotonin level. This is why people with low serotonin levels often crave carbohydrate – rich foods and eat them compulsively.  Carbohydrates temporarily raise serotonin levels and make you feel better. I will attest to this. The problem is, that shortly after carbohydrate consumption, serotonin levels drop dramatically creating more drowsiness, hostility, anxiety and depression.  Another way to say this is that increasing carbohydrate intake is not advisable nor the cure. So what is?

eating protein for weight loss

I believe that the answer is protein. Due to the “mind trick” I mentioned before, my protein consumption also was restricted as was my food intake, in general. Restricted protein means less amino acids, including tryptophan. Less tryptophan means less serotonin, and less serotonin affects mood, sleep and energy.

Protein around 25 -30 percent of total daily calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80 – 100 calories per day, compared to low protein diets. A higher metabolism means more fat burning. Protein keeps you feeling full much better than either fat or carbohydrates (one study in obese men showed that protein at 25% of calories increased feelings of fullness, reduced the desire for late-night snacking by half and reduced obsessive thoughts about food by 60%)

Another study showed that women who increased their protein intake to 30% of total calories ate 441 fewer calories per day and lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks – simply by adding more protein to their diets.

Older adults, like me, have significantly-increased protein needs – up to 50% higher than the DRI (daily recommended intake) – which is also concerning.

In Summary,

  1. Carbohydrate cravers may be tryptophan/serotonin deficient;
  2. Increasing carbohydrate consumption can temporarily make you feel better but will cause weight gain due to the insulin effect;
  3. Adding more protein to your diet (especially tryptophan-containing foods) will potentially increase your serotonin level and make you feel better without having to indulge in sweet/starch binging. Eating more protein should  keep you feeling full longer and reduce your calorie intake naturally;
  4. Increasing your protein makes it potentially easier to stick to any weight loss diet;
  5. A protein intake of around 30% of total calories may be optimal for weight loss.

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Until next time,

Dr. G

Remember  the Body is the Matter of  Mind – So Pay Attention To What Matters To Your Body.