Out With The old
Today is New Year’s Day, and my Facebook feeds are filled with people selling products and solutions for weight loss. Without exception these are based on the ‘calorie deficit model’ – or dieting. Unfortunately this is completely incorrect science. If ANYONE tells you that losing weight is a matter of “exercising more and eating less” just walk away. They don’t know what they are talking about.
The calorie deficit model is based on the incorrect application of machine physics. It does not apply to the human body in the same way.
Worse, the calorie deficit model has major problems with long term health. Firstly the systemic reviews of these ‘diets’ show that any weight loss is transient at best. This means that long term you are more likely to PUT WEIGHT ON rather than lose it. With this process come metabolic changes in your body that can adversely affect your health – let alone your psychology.
I can see my 6-pack, and complete ultra-marathons. Yet my metabolism though is amazingly slow! My rest heart rate is only 42. My body has become very efficient at conserving energy. After I do a long run, my body is looking to conserve energy, so I don’t tend to do much, and my metabolism is slowed. I burn lots of energy during exercise so my brain influences my body and behaviour to do less the rest of the time.
Our bodies are always looking for homeostasis – the conditions that promote cellular life. If we eat less calories than our energy output requires, our brains slow our activity down to create balance once more. In our brains we have a ‘set point’ that represents our ‘ideal weight’, which is based on genetic and behavioural factors. Our behaviour influences this set point. Certain behaviours, such as eating too many carbohydrates than our bodies require, or eating when our bodies don’t need the food, over time can throw this set point out.
Dieting is one such way that your ‘set point’ is thrown out. Reduce your calories and in a few days you will start obsessing about food, craving certain foods, and these are signs of your psychology driving you to eat what you need. It slows your behaviour too, reducing motivation, and reducing overall exercise. Your body and mind will be looking to maintain that set point.
So that’s a brief over-view just touching on some of the many issues with dieting and weight loss, in particular the calorie deficit model. While we are at it, calorie counting is silly anyway. We are often told that “1lb of fat is 3500calories”. It isn’t. It is actually somewhere between 2,843 and 3,752calories. Not every fat cell is equal. We are also told that 1g of carbohydrate is 4calories, protein is 4calories, and fat is 9calories. Again, not every gram of these nutrients has the same. Worse, not every food we eat stays in our body – some passes out as waste. Then try and work out accurately how much energy you burn – your basal metabolic rate, the thermal effect of feeding, the post-exercise oxygen consumption, and so on. You will need a laboratory and detailed physiological knowledge, and even then you probably will be way off. So what chance of getting calorie counting right does Joe Public have?
In summary, diets don’t work, calorie deficit doesn’t work, and lots of myths are being perpetuated. And the above is just the tip of the iceberg as to the incorrect advice being given.
In With The New
So how DO you lose weight? Firstly, it is the excess unnecessary fat that you need to lose, not the muscle mass which is of benefit to you. In order to burn fat you need to set the right environment up in the body so that it burns fat as an energy source rather than storing it. And you also need to allow your body to return to a more appropriate set point.
Let’s look at the set point first. It amazes me how we try and dictate to our bodies what we should eat and when. There is so much advice that is put to us by our Government, Nutritionists, Nutritional Therapists, Dieticians, Doctors and Personal Trainers. It scares me how little of the advice they give is actually based in science. Worse, the advice they give is probably fuelling the obesity problem in the first place. No-one should tell you what to eat and when. Now, there are certain rules that I will come onto, yet everyone is an individual with different genetics and adaptations. What works for one will not work for another. There is no ‘one size fits all’ that works. Even worse still we are trying to consciously dictate to our bodies what they require. This has a major failing.
Remember our bodies are looking to maintain homeostasis – the environment in our bodies that best support cellular life. In order to do this we have little senses all over our body detecting everything from temperature to blood sugar levels. Our bodies know what nutrients they need and when. They send us signals to drive our behaviour. If we listen to these signals we will maintain a healthy set point – we’ll be the right weight. Yet we look to ‘force’ this process. As a result, our bodies look to adapt, often raising the set point, and carry out ‘mitigating measures’ to do its best to ensure cellular life, such as adjusting metabolism and such like.
There are simple ‘Eating Rules’ for allowing your body to find the right set point, and easily and effortlessly reach it and maintain it:
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Stop eating when no longer hungry, never when full.
- Listen to your body and eat the nutrients that your body is telling you to eat.
- Never eat for any other reason than that you are hungry
- Drink only when thirsty, and stop drinking when no longer thirsty.
Just by simply following these principles you can easily and effortlessly reach your ideal weight and maintain it. Simple.
To help you reach this ideal weight you may need a little more knowledge. The environment you need in your body to burn fat rather than store it requires application of the knowledge of five hormones – insulin, glucagon, leptin, ghrelin, and adrenaline. What follows is a generalisation.
Insulin has the job of storing fat and keeping it there. It is secreted every time you eat carbohydrates and just a little bit when you eat protein. Fat has a negligible insulin response. (Oh, just an interesting fact – it is almost impossible for fat to be stored as fat without carbohydrates being present. Eating fat does not make you fat.) Glucagon has the job of releasing fat for burning when energy is low. Glucagon runs and hides when insulin is present. Leptin tells you that you are no longer hungry – it tells you to stop eating. Insulin also makes leptin run away and hide. Ghrelin tells you that you are hungry. It stays out when insulin is present.
In summary, eat carbohydrates and you are setting your body up for fat storage. Insulin comes out, ghrelin tells you that you are still hungry, and you keep eating and storing excess to requirements as fat. Worse, glucagon (fat burning) and leptin (no longer hungry) run and hide, so you don’t burn fat, and you don’t stop eating.
Certain carbohydrates have a higher insulin response than others. This is termed the ‘glycaemic index’, where a high value produces lots of insulin and a low value very little if at all. If you want to lose weight then you should look towards getting any carbohydrates from as low a GI source as possible.
Putting it into better perspective, if you follow the rules 1-5 above you will lose weight to reach your ideal weight and sustain it. You can assist it to reach its goals in a more efficient manner by only eating from these foods, which will ensure you get all of your nutrients whilst having a low insulin (fat storing) environment, and allow you to continue to burn fat as an energy source – I call these the ‘Nutrient Rules’:
- Eat real foods, whole foods where possible, properly prepared (which may be raw or cooked), and cut out all processed food
- Eat all meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, mushrooms, berries, non-root vegetables, non-tropical fruit, and salads.
Oh, and while we’re at it, cut out grains and refined sugar. In fact, if you do ONE thing, cut these out. Your body, and your mind will thank you for it!
Earlier I listed five hormones. The fifth was adrenaline. This is a hormone that, in the context of this blog post, mobilises fat for energy during exercise. Fat burning during exercise IS inhibited by insulin’s presence, but not to the same extent as when our bodies are at rest. Exercising to burn fat is a very complex subject and not just simply a matter of “exercising to burn calories”. Fat is mobilised as an energy source throughout all exercise at all intensities – arguably even when we are working at maximum capacity. More fat is burned at lower intensities than at high, yet all intensities burn an element of fat.
Exercise therefore is a very complex subject in respect to fat loss. You need to exercise in such a manner where the environment is right to burn fat. The food rules as above need to be followed, together with their hormonal responses. To get this as accurate as possible takes detailed knowledge and its application – that is where an appropriate professional comes in.
Mind you, any exercise will be good for your health and is unlikely to do harm to weight loss efforts. A brisk walk first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will burn fat quite nicely. Increasing exercise during your day, such as standing more (reducing sitting), can have massive effects on your overall health. I would recommend that people do as much natural movement as possible – walking, running, gardening, lifting, moving things, cleaning and such like. Walk to work. Get a bike. Play footie with the kids. Exercise is important for health – though not necessary for fat loss, although it can speed it up.
If it is fat loss you are after then employing an appropriate Personal Trainer (such as me!) with the right understanding of fat loss will be of massive benefit, and will mobilise you more quickly and easily to your goals. Along the way you’ll have fun, learn to enjoy exercising and see it as a part of life and not a chore – you’ll be exercising for ‘life’.
In summary, follow the ‘Eating Rules’, and follow the ‘Nutrient Rules’, and you’ll be able to easily and effortlessly lose weight.
There are too many perpetuated myths in respect to weight loss and fat loss, the foods we should eat, and the way we ‘should’ exercise. The more I study the more questions I ask. Compare this blog post with some of my previous ones on weight loss and you’ll see that my approach and the information within are changing as I develop. Science and knowledge is increasing daily. I study to remain current, and ask the difficult questions to so called ‘authority figures’.
For weight loss there is no quick fix. Ignore anyone who is trying to sell you pills, potions or shakes. Ignore anyone that is selling the ‘calorie deficit model’ or telling you to simply ‘exercise more and eat less’.
Weight loss and holding your ideal weight is very simple in principle. Follow the Eating Rules and Nutrient Rules. Add in exercise wherever possible.
As an aside, over Christmas I followed the rules. I ate what I wanted to eat when I wanted to eat it. I dropped 1kg in weight. I didn’t deprive myself of anything.