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Is losing weight worth losing your mind?

Published September 08. 2018 01:35AM

Reading about the revival and sudden popularity of the most basic of all weight-loss diets, now called the CICO diet on social media, made me think of Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus a few hundred years before the birth of Christ. He invaded Italy, defeated the Romans one year later, but sustained such heavy losses doing so that he remarked, “One more such victory and I am lost.”

In short, this conquest ruined his country and created the phrase “Pyrrhic victory” for any situation where success comes at such a severe price that it’s really not success at all — such as the situation alluded to in the title of this article.

This title is clearly rhetorical, so debating the question can’t be the intent of this article. Arguing that losing weight incorrectly could adversely affect your brain during the diet and possibly years later, however, is.

That’s why the CICO diet (an acronym for “calories in, calories out”) needs to be delineated. Its success hinges on one of the two irrefutable weight-loss truths: that expending more calories than you eat causes weight loss.

To begin the diet, you determine how many calories you currently consume each day (which can be easily calculated at a number of online sites), and then decide the following: how many pounds per week you want to lose and if you feel like doing additional exercise.

If you decide upon one pound per week, for example, you create a 500-calorie-per-day deficit by eating less (and possibly working out more).

What you may not like about the diet is that it requires you to weigh foods in order to insure the proper caloric deficit. What many others love, though, is that the types of foods you eat while creating the deficit doesn’t matter.

In the CICO diet, all calories are the same — whether they come from chicken or potato chips, fish or French fries, beans or baked goods.

There’s a second irrefutable weight-loss truth, however. It states that the body processes the macronutrients differently; ergo, all calories are not the same.

For instance, eating excess protein is less likely to lead to stored body fat because up to 30 percent of it gets burned off as heat in the digestive process. Eating excess fat is more likely to lead to stored body fat since no more than 3 percent of it gets burned off as heat.

Similarly, excess complex carbohydrates are less likely to become body fat than simple carbs because digestion of the former requires at least twice the burn off as the latter.

There’s no debating any of that.

Likewise, there’s also no debating that eating potato chips, French fries, and baked goods if you’re eating little else leads to nutritional deficiencies.

What is open for debate is how much damage those nutritional deficiencies do to the brain function and the brain itself.

In a November 2006 Public Health Nutrition article, lead author Almudena Sanchez-Villegas declared that research has not only linked poor diet to mood fluctuations but also with several mental diseases like autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, dementia, and depression. Seven years later Sanchez-Villegas and her group reviewed all relevant research specifically pertaining to the role of diet in creating depression and published their findings in the journal BMC Medicine.

They discovered a link between adhering to the Mediterranean diet and avoiding depression and called for further investigation by others on the matter. By 2017, Felice Jacka PhD at Deakin University in Australia had done just that.

Her randomized controlled study also published in BMC Medicine proved that depressed people who previously ate poorly could improve their mood when following a modified version of the Mediterranean diet. A total of 67 men and women with moderate to severe depression, most of whom were taking antidepressants or receiving psychotherapy, participated.

Half switched to the aforementioned modified Mediterranean diet and attended dietary support sessions with a nutritionist. The other half also attended support sessions, but did not change how they had been eating.

The depressive symptoms of all 67 were graded by using the Montgomery-Asterg Depression Scale (MADRS) before and after the three-month study. Those who followed the modified Mediterranean diet and completed the study saw their MADRS score (scaled from 0 to 60) improve by an average of 11 points.

In fact, 32 percent of those subjects scored so well that according to the scale they were no longer depressed — a percentage four times higher than the group that didn’t change their diet.

Read more about the link between diet and other ways besides depression of “losing your mind” next week.

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