You Are What You Eat: Wrestling With Fat

sumo

It’s no secret that obesity is epidemic in the U.S. Two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese. It’s not just a cosmetic issue. Being overweight increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and shortens life. The weight loss equation sounds simple: Burn more calories than you take in. But it’s not just about decreasing food intake and becoming more active. It’s also about how we eat and what we eat. This is evident in the dietary habits of Japanese sumo wrestlers whose goal is to gain as much weight as possible, usually about 400 pounds.

Sumo wrestlers skip breakfast then work out on an empty stomach. By working out on an empty stomach they secrete more cortisol, a stress hormone that ramps up appetite. Also, they eat just one or two large meals a day, mostly higher carb with some meat and little to no fat. Consuming most of one’s calories in one or two meals results in more fat storage compared to dividing calories among three or four smaller meals. With the majority of calories coming from starchy carbs like bread, noodles, potatoes, and rice, body fat is more easily increased. Carbs are the body’s preferred fuel for energy. But if we don’t burn them in physical activity they are stored as body fat. It may seem counterintuitive to limit fats in the sumo diet, but some fats actually promote fat loss by increasing heat (thermogenesis) and calorie burning. Quite simply, the body is reluctant to give up its stored fat when it is deprived of essential fats found in seeds, nuts, olives, avocado, and fish. The small amount of meat in the sumo wrestler’s diet provides added protein needed to build muscle. However, body fat is more important to them because it occupies more space and is less metabolically active than muscle. Last, sumo wrestlers ingest a ton of calories and drink beer with their meals, then go right to sleep for three to four hours during the day or overnight after the last meal. (No explanation required.)

Bottom line: If you want to reduce body fat, do the opposite of what sumo wrestlers do. On the other hand, if you want to literally throw your weight around, the sumo diet is for you.