Moral Fiber
November 17, 2006 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Is it pathological, pointless or unhealthy to fiber-load for weight loss?

I'm on a weight loss odyssey, having lost 45 lbs. and gained back some (I'm too scared to check how much, but less than a whole size.) I work out as much as I can (dance, ellipticals, yoga) and know how to eat a well-rounded low-calorie diet. I really do. Protein bar, Salad, Fish 'n' Wild Rice 'n' Veggies is my breakfast lunch and dinner most good days.

Anyway, I bought this bottle of Benefiber on sale at the market, and I'm wondering whether I should start adding it to anything that will take it.

My thinking is that in the Weight Watchers points system grams of fiber are used to counterbalance consumed calories, so if I eat more calories than I want to metabolize, I could effectively reduce their absorption with "nature's broom."

But my concerns are that 1. It won't work to any noticeable extent and 2. It's not far from bulemic use of laxative. Which I admit, I tried one time. I would never, ever do that again.

It it too nutty to try, or harmful in any other way?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if your logic is based on the Weight Watchers points system and its use of fiber intake, keep in mind that in order to accurately calculate your points, you have to cap your fiber at 4 grams per serving (I think this is because people were doing things like drastically reducing points with high fiber foods, and adding Benefiber to ice cream and other high calorie foods to lower the points value and not losing any weight).

I am in no way a nutritionist, but I don't think that it will hurt for you to add the Benefiber to the healthy foods that you normally eat. You might remain satisfied for a longer period of time (possibly preventing overeating?), and from a nutrition standpoint, most of us could use a little more fiber in our diets. But as far as fiber loading for weight loss - I think that the Weight Watchers folks knew what they were doing when they added the fiber cap - it doesn't really work to counteract overeating (drat, because I'd be adding Benefiber to everything).
posted by mewithoutyou at 12:16 PM on November 17, 2006

Regarding #2, there's at least one major difference: generally speaking (and leaving weight loss out of the equation for a second), a high-fiber diet is healthy, while a high-laxative diet is, um, not. It's kind of like asking whether eating lots of oranges to prevent a cold might be bad for you, because one time you tried to prevent a cold by overdosing on sudafed.

And just to continue the analogy, is it theoretically possible to eat too many oranges or too much fiber? Sure, but that's a FAR higher threshhold than too many laxatives or too much sudafed. IANAD, but I suspect that you'd have to go pretty far overboard with the Benefiber before you reached the level of serious health risk.

Regarding #1, Weight Watchers limits the fiber tradeoff to 4g or less for exactly that reason -- people were fiber loading thinking that it would be a get out of jail free card, and it wasn't. So for their purposes, eating something with 8g fiber is the same as eating something with 4g fiber. Whether 4g is truly the magic number, or an arbitrary WW decision, I have no idea.

Bottom line, eating a high-fiber diet is Of The Good, but don't expect a sprinkle of Benefiber to negate that banana split.

(on preview, what mewithoutyou said. that is all.)
posted by somanyamys at 12:28 PM on November 17, 2006

and congrats on your success so far... I'm down 17 myself, with another 28 to go.
posted by somanyamys at 12:30 PM on November 17, 2006

Eating high fiber foods which fill you up yet contain less calories can help. Adding in fiber sprinkles could I guess help to the same degree if used along with food to fill you faster and with less calories.
posted by caddis at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2006

This won't work, at least not for any sort of magical effect fiber has.

Fiber still has calories you absorb and process - its just a very small amount. Probalby less then 1 calorie per gram of fiber, versus normal carbs having 4 calories per gram. Its a fraction of a full carb calorie, but its still there.

Its not like fiber has some magical "negative calorie" balance. I'm guessing WW does that with their points to simply promote fiber. High fiber = more fullness and generally better food choices, so it helps dieting for that reason.

So get at least 20 grams of fiber a day, and more if possible. I would expect real fiber is better then the powder stuff, as high fiber foods are generally good for you for other reasons too. Be careful about rapidly increasing fiber, or you will have digestive "issues". Slow and steady is the way. Congrats on your weight loss, btw.
posted by rsanheim at 4:18 PM on November 17, 2006

Best answer: Somanyamys is correct -- I'm looking at the Weight Watchers manual, and anything over 4 grams of fiber doesn't count when you're figuring your 'points' intake. Higher-fiber carbohydrates are encouraged partly because they produce smaller fluctuations in one's glucose level. If you mix Benefiber with low-fiber food, it's not going to change the way the carbs are processed by the body. It sounds as if you're getting a good amount of fiber. If you want to take advantage of foods that have a lower glucose load, google "glycemic index." There are some surprises; e.g., sweet potatoes are a lot 'better' than regular potatoes in terms of keeping blood sugar steady.

You're doing great. If you're just beginning to get back on the wagon, keep in mind that in the first couple of weeks of healthy eating and small portions, you'll feel hungry all the time, but after that you get more used to it. Hang on!
posted by wryly at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2006

It seems like your real question is how do I lose weight? You are doing great on the cardio if you are working out three times a week more than 30-40 minutes, but consider resistance training twice a week to build lean body mass. More lean body mass means more calories burned even at your basal metabolic rate.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:35 PM on November 17, 2006

I'd say the short answer is that it won't stop you having to count calories like you always would (and the points system is really just a rule of thumb for easy calorie counting), but it might be worth a try to keep you feeling full for longer. Good luck.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:08 PM on November 17, 2006

Oat fiber will absorb some fat, even from the blood stream, and allow it to be passed. Wheat fiber, less so. Take care to drink your water when eating high fiber foods, it keeps things moving along.
posted by Goofyy at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2006

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