Does the word fat bring any positive thoughts to mind? Whether it’s fat on your body or dietary fat in your food, fat has not been painted in a positive light. But like all things created and that exist in nature, fat has a purpose. It’s an organ that helps in the creation of various important hormones, it’s critical for insulation, and at the very least, it kept us alive for hundreds of years when food was sparse and hard to work to get. We used to go days between meals, feast then famine, and fat kept us alive. Well, genetic programming is a curious thing, it took thousands of years to become the perfect adaptation machine and that programming is always in us. Combine that with an endless supply of hyperpalatable, carefully engineered to be “addictive”, and calorie dense foods and you have a couple pieces of why we have an obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Over the next 3 articles I am going to discuss the 3 most important principles when it comes to efficient and rapid fat loss. Mastering these 3 principles will put you miles ahead of the majority of dieters and save you countless weeks in your journey to the body you have always wanted.
ENERGY BALANCE IS KING
Calories in and calories out. Eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight, burn more calories than you ingest, you lose weight. Sounds simple but when it comes to the human body nothing is simple. Enter hormones and what actually happens to food once it goes into the body. To over simplify this process, you eat food and that food is digested, absorbed and either used for energy or stored for later use. Now your body is in a fasting state where fat has to be burned for energy. Your body cycles through both of these states as needed thanks to hormones. Insulin is a hormone that causes muscles, organs, and fat tissue to either absorb and use OR store nutrients like glucose and amino acids depending on what you are doing. Insulin is a storage hormone so it makes sense if you have too much of it, you will store more fat. It has been demonized because carbs are the master signal for insulin release, more carbs = less fat burning and more fat storage so a low carb diet should get you burning fat and storing less to keep you lean.
However, this theory has some holes in it. Yes carbs trigger insulin production and insulin's job is to store energy (fat) but if there isn’t excess energy (calories) available you won’t gain weight (store body fat). This is why overfeeding studies have confirmed that the only way to cause meaningful weight gain is to eat a large surplus of calories.
Studies have also shown that high-protein, low-carb meals can result in more insulin production than high-carb meals. Actually studies show that whey protein raises insulin more than a simple high carb food like white bread.
Of course it’s not nearly this simple in the body, other hormones are affected by insulin and their job is to liberate fat into fatty acids. If insulin suppresses this it must promote weight gain but dietary fat suppresses insulin as well so there goes that theory.
I know what you are thinking, you have a friend that lost a bunch of weight when they went keto or started intermittent fasting. Maybe you heard that if the calories were from whole foods they don’t really matter and you can eat as much as you want. Maybe you have tried to starve yourself and you still didn’t lose weight? How does any of this make sense?
Let’s look at the person that started the “_____” diet and lost weight. The one variable that is never accounted for is how many calories they were eating before the diet was started. What is paid attention to gets managed and in this case it’s how many calories are being eaten. Most diets require limiting or complete restriction of a food group so inevitably less calories are consumed. If they are fasting then less calories are being consumed because they simply can’t eat as much in such a compressed window of time. Every diet involves switching to eating better quality foods and less highly palatable, processed foods so calorie intake naturally goes down. The second aspect is how healthy habits are paired with eating a more healthy diet. When someone starts to pay attention to their diet, they typically start an exercise program as well. Decreased calorie intake + increased calorie output = negative calorie balance and weight loss.
So what about the “under eater” that can’t lose weight? 99% of the time there isn’t a malfunction of their metabolism, there is just human error. Counting calories and being accurate is a tricky game. Typically one or even all three things can happen to this person, they are eating at their body's maintenance point so calorie balance is equal, they aren’t sticking to a deficit long enough, and/or water retention is masking their weight loss. The unfortunate thing is that our bodies get more efficient as we lose weight so the calories that got us to lose 10 pounds and go from 180 to 170 are now our new maintenance calories. In order to lose 10 more pounds and get to 160 we need to tip the calorie balance with more calorie expenditure (movement/exercise) or less intake. Our body, especially a woman's body, tends to retain water as more fat is being liberated for energy through the hormone cortisol. This increases fluid retention and masks weight loss. If these factors go on for several weeks then the person may think they aren’t losing weight and conclude that “calorie counting” doesn't work.
The last “enigma” that I think we should address is “clean” calories vs. “dirty” calories. Yes, of course “clean” or healthy foods are much more conducive to weight loss because they have more fiber, take longer to chew, fill you up more and keep you full longer but 100 calories of spinach is the same as 100 calories of pizza….It’s 100 calories, But 100 calories of spinach is 16 oz, that’s an entire container of spinach (container picture) and 100 calories of pizza is about 1⁄3 of slice (pizza picture).Maybe you could have them side by side? Have you ever stopped at 1⁄3 of a slice of pizza and been full? On the other hand I would challenge you to eat 16 oz of spinach in one sitting (can anyone say disaster pants).
What I am trying to show you is that the body doesn’t discriminate against calories, yes it’s very complicated but there is a reason why every single weight loss study requires a negative calorie balance. Whether you are lean, obese, young or old, ENERGY BALANCE IS KING and is the first principle of human metabolism. Control calorie balance and you have taken a huge step to mastering your body composition.
In the next two articles we will discover the other two critical principles when it comes to rapid fat loss. If you can monitor and master all three of these principles then you are well on your way to losing fat and keeping it off.
Eat Smart, Be Smart