Weight loss is believed by many to occur when we eat less, and exercise more. Unfortunately this outdated weight loss prescription is still mainstream, and is a barrier to many people who seek to change their body. It’s sadly accepted by most that a person carrying excess body fat is either lazy, or indulgent. If it were really as simple as exercising more, and eating less, so many of us wouldn’t be struggling with our weight.
Balancing calories isn’t the answer
Before I became a trainer, I was guilty of believing that obese people were simply lazy and didn’t move enough, or that they ate too much. Over the last few years of studying wellness and learning about the body, my opinion now couldn’t be further from the truth. The more I learn about metabolism, digestion, stress and inflammation, I can appreciate how impossibly challenging weight loss can be for some people. Some of the hardest working people I have witnessed in the gym, are those who we typically would call fat. These people are committed to getting results, but no matter how hard they train, their body stays the same.
If training hard isn’t the answer to fat loss, then we can often assume diet is a problem, and that energy intake is either too great, or the wrong types of food. Restricting food intake when trying to lose fat is not the answer. If we restrict food intake, we grow hungry, fatigued, and our metabolism will slow down. Our bodies are highly intelligent, and will reduce energy expenditure in order to prevent us from losing even more energy. Restricting food intake can leave us feeling tired, cranky and push us to be more sedentary.
Starvation will inevitably cause short term weight loss, but given our chance to eat normally again, metabolism will speed up and we’ll gain the weight right back. Hence why yoyo diets won’t work.
‘If reducing calories-in doesn’t make us lose weight, and if increasing calories out doesn’t even prevent us from gaining it, maybe we should rethink the whole thing and find out what does’.
- Gary Taubes 'Why we get fat and what to do about it'
Fat = Toxic Inflammation
Excess body fat is inflamed tissue that is a dumping ground for toxins. If the body is holding excess fat, the question should be why? What is causing the fat cells to store fat? What is causing excess inflammation? In order to quell the inflammation you’ll need to hunt down the root cause of the problem, rather than simply trying to ‘burn fat’ away.
Key smoke signals that may be increasing inflammation include:
High levels of either exogenous or internal toxins
An inflammatory diet high in processed food, GMO ingredients, refined nut/seed/vegetable oils, sugar, grains.
High carbohydrate diet (more on that later)
A leaky gut, autoimmune condition, food sensitivity, underlying pathology
Overtraining or training too intensely for your daily readiness
Poor nutrient intake
More exercise isn't the answer, better quality and more frequent movement is!
The old concept that increasing muscle mass will speed up your metabolism because it is more metabolically active than fat is partially true. The problem with this notion, is that increased muscle mass needs increased fuel. In other words training harder often leads to an increased appetite. Anyone who has ever had an intense, high volume training session can testify as to how hungry they were afterwards, and to the fact that they are prone to overeat in this period. And then there is the mental argument that we have ‘earned it’, and can thus afford to eat extra.
Aside from the flawed energy in/out equation, perceptions about exercise intensity are also over zealous. Too many of us are fixated on a punishing more is better training mentality that drives us to ignore key body feedback, at a cost to our wellness. Too much high intensity training forces our body to use it’s vital reserve to recover from intense training, rather than building us up to be resilient and healthy.
Given the high lifestyle, physical, mental and emotional stress that we face today, adding more stress can delay weight loss, and actually increase fat storage. In order to lose fat, low intensity movement levels must be increased, and it’s a good idea to limit time spent in high intensity zones. This approach adds resilience to the body, increases lymphatic drainage and circulation, (a key part of excess weight) and helps build healthy movement habits and a functional, pain free efficient body.
This approach breeds slow visible results at first in terms of weight loss, but brings a fast change in the clients state of wellness. It's a sustainable approach that sets the stage for long term lasting success. Training with heart rate monitors is priceless to get real time feedback about how well you are actually coping with the stress of the workout, to help guarantee results.
Control stress to accelerate weight loss
High stress levels will negatively influence every body system and create an inflammatory cascade. Despite the fact that cortisol (the stress hormone) is itself anti-inflammatory, burning the candle too hard at both ends can eventually result in decreased cortisol levels. In stressful situations, a healthy body will initially increase cortisol levels to cope, while simultaneously decreasing DHEA levels. Cortisol is catabolic and breaks down body tissue, DHEA is anabolic. When cortisol is high, the immune system is compromised, hence why we often get sick after a stressful time.
Long term stress can deplete both DHEA and cortisol, leaving you feeling fatigued, overweight, achy, bloated, and lacking drive. High stress levels also negatively impact our blood sugar levels, our cravings, our gut bacteria, our nervous system, our sleeping habits, our digestion etc. You simply cannot lose fat when your body is pushing hard each day just to increase it’s cortisol stores to cope with high stress levels. Therefore for successful weight loss, stress reduction is one of the most important things you can work on.
Control your blood sugar - Carbohydrate intolerance
Those pesky love handles or muffin tops on the sides of our hips, tell us a lot about how well your body is tolerating carbohydrates. According to the Biosignature Hormone practice, these areas indicate how insulin sensitive you are, and whether you are eating too many carbohydrates for your body type, whereas the stomach fat tells us a lot about your stress threshold.
Blood sugar that peaks and then rapidly drops like a roller coaster throughout your day, is a sure fine way to decrease your insulin sensitivity. Decreased insulin sensitivity is the precursor to diabetes, and means that your cells are struggling to accept energy in the form of glucose. If you are constantly reaching for high carb, or high glycemic foods through your day that quickly spike your blood sugar, only to send it plummeting an hour later, leaving you cranky, hungry and tired, then it’s a key sign your insulin sensitivity may be lacking. The longer this cycle continues, the more intolerant you became to being able to use carbohydrates as fuel.
Insulin is the gatekeeper to the cells, and helps to pull glucose into the cells. When blood sugar is chronically high, insulin is forced high too in order to manage blood sugar. The more insulin you release, the less sensitive to insulin your cells become, making it harder to get energy into the cells.
‘When insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue; when these levels fall, we liberate fat from the fat tissue and burn it for fuel. This has been known since the early 1960’s and has never been controversial. Second our insulin levels are effectively determined by the carbohydrates we eat – not entirely, but for all intents and purposes. The more carbohydrates we eat, and the easier they are to digest and the sweeter they are, the more insulin we ultimately secrete, meaning that the level of it in our bloodstream is greater and so is the fat we retain in our fat cells.’
- Gary Taubes 'Why we get fat and what to do about it'
The vicious cycle
Insulin is like a fuel gauge; it determines how the food you eat is used in the body. The food you eat can be used as energy, or stored. When insulin levels are low, our fat cells will release energy into the blood stream to use. When insulin is high, fat cells store energy.
The food you eat is digested and enters circulation as glucose
As blood sugar rises, so does insulin.
When insulin levels are high (due to high blood sugar) the fat cells stop releasing fatty acids into the blood stream, and instead absorb more fatty acids into the fat cells.
Fat from your food intake is stored as triglycerides in the fat cells, some of the carbohydrates from your food intake get converted to fat in the liver, and are also stored.
Because the calories you eat have been stored as fat, you have less available energy to use, and therefore feel tired and hungry!
You feel tired and hungry and therefore want to eat more
And so you eat more, and your fat cells get fatter and continue to hijack your energy!
If food quality is high, food quantity will take care of itself
The solution to the vicious cycle of weight gain is to balance out blood sugar by addressing all of the factors mentioned here. Stress, gut health, food quality, underlying health conditions etc, will all negatively influence blood sugar levels. Many people get great results by reducing refined carbohydrates (especially in the first half of the day), and increasing good quality fats and proteins. Eating fats and proteins gives your body an abundance of slower burning or lower glycemic index calories and helps tell your body it's nourished and full! Eating carbohydrates first thing in the morning (traditional breakfast cereals!!!) is the perfect way to screw up your blood sugar all day long, and create an insatiable hunger that you cannot satisfy.
Eating nutrient dense food is a no brainer. High quality food fuels and builds high quality human tissue. Processed toxic Frankenfoods create more work for your body, and will increase fat storage, not to mention metabolic chaos and hormone dysregulation. If your diet consists of real food free from packaging, you are on the right track. Eating high levels of vegetables, and antioxidant rich foods like coffee, berries, herbs, dark chocolate etc is great to reduce inflammation.
'It's true that people who restrict carbohydrates often eat less than they otherwise might. A common experience is to give up fattening carbohydrates and find that you are not as hungry as you used to be, that mid-morning snacks are no longer necessary. Intrusive thoughts of food and the urge to satisfy them vanish. But that's because you're now burning fat stores for fuel, which you didn't do before. Your fat cells are now working properly as short-term energy buffers, not long term lockups for the calories they've sequestered. You have an internal supply of fuel, and your appetite adjust accordingly.' Gary Taubes 'Why we get fat and what to do about it'
Heal your gut
A leaky gut can launch body wide systemic inflammation and cause you to gain fat, lose muscle, and feel tired, bloated, and sore. A healthy gut that absorbs good quality, nutrient dense food, is the key to longevity and health. You are not what you eat, you are what you absorb, and what your gut bacteria eat. Absorbing your food properly will ensure you have adequate levels of nutirents, which will mean less food cravings, increased satiety you’re your food and better detoxification.
There are many supplements that are beneficial for gut healing like digestive enzymes like HCL, probiotics, L-glutamine etc. Supplements are only worthwhile if food quality is top notch.
Reduce toxins and reduce fat
When the bodies toxic load is too high, and we cannot excrete toxins efficiently via the gut, liver, kidneys, skin or breath, tour body will store them in fat. When losing fat it’s imperative to upregulate your detoxification process by eating nutrient dense food and supplementing with the basics like magnesium, multivitamins, fish oils, probiotics and especially Vit D, and C.
Our bodies need basic nutrients to complete both phases of detoxification and if we have a deficit, or compromised gut health, toxins that were meant to be eliminated from the body, can wind up back in circulation. Supplements like activated charcoal or bentonite clay are great binders that help pull toxins from the gastrointestinal tract, and reduce our toxic burden.
Sleep like a baby
Sleep is very important for recovery and repair. We know that compromised sleep quality increases Ghrelin the hunger hormone, and decreases Leptin the satiety hormone therefore making you want to eat non stop, and not feel satisfied! Failure to get enough quality sleep also increases stress hormones, decreases brain function, and creates blood sugar disturbances. More info on getting great sleep here.
Aside from the above issues, we fast while we are asleep which also creates fat loss. If blood sugar levels are not roller-coastering through the day, we will be able to fast over night with no problems, and help reduce cellular waste.
Fat loss can be a complicated challenge for many of us, but by managing the above factors we can create sustainable healthy habits for our bodies, which will in turn create wellness and fat loss. For more information on this topic, check out Gary Taubes brilliant book 'Why we get fat, and what to do about it' or Dr David Ludwig's book "Always Hungry?'