Losing fat can be an uphill battle. It can be easy to put it on and very difficult to remove it. So, what should we do to lose fat? To lose it, we must understand how we first put it on.
It’s about calories, right?
Not entirely. You’ve seen this idea before:
- Eat more calories than your body needs = gain weight
- Eat less calories than your body needs = lose weight
However, what weight are we talking about?
- If you eat more than you need to, will you put on muscle or fat? It’s not bad to put on muscle, right? But, why does it put on fat instead?
- If you eat less than you need to, will you lose muscle or fat? It’s not bad to lose fat, right? But, why does the fat never go away?
- What if you eat what your body needs? Will you gain muscle and lose fat, or lose muscle and gain fat, or will nothing change?
And how does your body make these decisions?
It’s about the hormones
When it’s uncomfortably cold, you go inside. When it’s beautifully warm, you go outside. If your back hurts from doing an exercise, you stop. If you have a ton of energy, you feel like running. Why is this?
Because, your body is reacting to signals. Signals are telling your body when to start and stop doing certain activities. Hormones are the signals in your body telling your body when to execute certain functions, including when to put on fat and when to lose it. Let that sink in.
It’s not entirely about the calories. It’s about what the hormones are telling your body to do with the calories. And the hormones we’re interested in are insulin and leptin.
In addition, insulin effects a very important enzyme, which we need to talk about as well called Hormone-sensitive Lipase (HSL).
How it works (simple description)
Say you eat 12 donuts. Why does the body choose to turn it into fat instead of burning it up, building muscle, or pooping it out? Because of the hormones.
The donuts enter your stomach. Your digestive system breaks down all the sugar and fat and dumps the sugar into your blood stream. The pancreas releases insulin to deal with this sugar.
Insulin now has a job to do. It needs to direct the sugar out of the blood stream to those parts of the body that need it the most. And it needs to do this fast in order to prevent the extra sugars from forming AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-Products), sugar-protein compounds that can damage your body.
- Insulin first helps feed the cells in your body (they run off sugar).
- Once all the cells have their fill, it then stores about 200 g of extra sugar (in the form of glycogen) in the muscles and 70 g in the liver.
- Once that’s been filled up, if there’s still sugar remaining, where does it go? It needs to leave the bloodstream as fast as possible, but everything has their fill. And you can’t just toss it out the back end of the digestive system; it’s so valuable! And the body knows that. So, it gets turned to fat.
And that’s why the donuts get converted to fat. However, 1 donut doesn’t make you fat. But eating 12 could do the trick. So, why do we not stop at 1, but end up eating all 12 in the first place? Because there’s more to the story.
Insulin continues its job by suppressing leptin and HSL.
Leptin is the hormone that tells your body that it’s full (satiety). That’s the hormone that literally gets you to say, “Man, that hit the spot.” If insulin suppresses leptin, then you never get the signal that you’re full. So, you end up eating the remaining 11 donuts! In fact, you’ll keep eating until the stretch receptors in your stomach tell your brain that you’re actually done.
Those 11 donuts each spiked your insulin which continues to suppress leptin which causes you to eat more, continuing this terrible fat depositing cycle. With so much left over sugar, the body can only convert it to fat. That’s how those calories become fat!
Hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) is the enzyme that causes your body to burn fat for energy. Let that sink in. If we have fat on our bodies, why aren’t our bodies using it as energy? Because insulin suppresses HSL. If you suppress HSL, your body decides not to use the stored body fat for energy.
So all the sugar from the donuts that got converted to fat remain as fat as long as the insulin says so. The insulin basically jails the energy!
If you keep eating more donuts, in a sense, you end up jailing your body fat. It will never be used and will only keep growing. That’s how you get fat.
Why is it like this?
Before, we continue into how to reverse this, let’s first avoid vilifying insulin. Insulin is good. It’s meant to help feed your cells and protect your body (remember AGEs).
However, how is it helpful for insulin to store fat, suppress satiety, and suppress the use of body fat for energy?
Because, in the past, we used to suffer from famines. In times of plenty, we could eat more than normal, store fat and avoid burning it, so that in times of famine, our body had something to use for energy.
Unfortunately, today, the food manufacturers have hijacked this mechanism. They have engineered these processed foods so that we eat more, store more and then continue to eat more. The food in the store shelves are designed to get you fat! And they know this.
If I give you a narrow stick of butter or 6 croissants lathered in the same amount of butter, what would happen?
If you just ate the butter, you’d get fed up quickly. That’s the leptin telling you that you’re done. However, you’d easily finish the croissants. The reason is because leptin is suppressed by the insulin response. You never get the signal that you’re full.
Why do you think you can binge on sliders, but not steaks? Or on nutella but not butter? The carbs in the pizza and nutella spike insulin, suppressing leptin, making you want to eat more. You eat more, you further spike your blood sugar and it all turns to fat.
How to lose fat
If insulin is the cause of putting on fat, the key to losing fat is to manage insulin. Again, excess sugar in your blood stream triggers insulin (same with excess protein in the blood stream, but that’s another story).
Therefore, you must reduce the amount of sugar in your bloodstream at any one time. The best way to do this is to avoid foods that raise your blood sugar quickly and embrace foods that increase your blood sugar slowly.
The glycemic index
The glycemic index is the measure of how quickly a food increases your blood sugar level. A high number (above 55) means it quickly increases your blood sugar. A low number (55 and lower) means it slowly increases your blood sugar.
The glycemic index does have a draw back, in that in doesn’t take into account the amount of sugar consumed. One may have a low glycemic index food but then have too much of it, which will then elevate the blood sugar level. An alternative measurement to use is the glycemic load.
Low glycemic index foods include whole grain bread, oats, broccoli, apples, sweet potatoes and chickpeas. To get a good description of what to eat, here’s an excellent reference article by Healthline.
High glycemic index foods include table sugar, syrup, brown sugar, white pasta and white bread. Avoid or reduce them and you’re good to go.
Foods without carbs
There are also foods without carbs (fish, beef, poultry, nuts, butters, oils, herbs and spices). Without carbs, there’s nothing to spike your blood sugar.
However, your body does not do well with just this type of food. You also need a tremendous amount of vegetables for nutrients and fiber for your health and digestion. Without that, meats and butters can lead to all sorts of trouble.
The bottom line
What I’ve described above is the idea that eating refined sugars can cause you to be fat. Many experts maintain that it is our excess sugar consumption that is making us fat. Now you know why. And now you know how to fight it.