If you look around the web for advice on how to lose weight, you’ll find that people fall into two broad camps. There are those that believe weight loss is entirely dictated by that caloric deficit we just discussed and there are others that feel there are other, more important factors at play.
Let’s take a look at some criticisms of the ‘calorie deficit’ approach to dieting…
It is certainly true that your body needs to burn fat for energy once it has run out of other sources. It is certainly true that if you have no other means of getting that energy, you will lose fat stores and eventually you lose weight. This really is simple math – cause and effect.
But the problem comes with calculating that magic ‘AMR’ – active metabolic rate. These calculations are rough guesses at best and they are based on nothing more than your physical features. The best calculations take into account your muscle mass (which is metabolically active) but even these don’t take into account underlying issues such as the balance of your hormones.
Simply put, some hormones help you to burn fat faster and some help you to burn fat faster. These are directly responsible for how many of those processes that require energy are going on in your body at any given time and how capable your body is of utilizing the various stores of energy available to it.
Just a few of these hormones include:
- Thyroid hormones (T3 and T4)
- Human growth hormone
- And many more
The problem is that we all have different balances of these hormones. These hormones are in constant flux and are affected by everything from what we are eating at the time and how stressed we are, to how much sleep we’ve had and how sunny it is.
Some people have imbalances in these hormones that are permanent, while others will use medications that can alter them.
Those fitness ‘gurus’ that ignore the role of hormones in weight loss can’t explain why hypothyroidism or polycystic ovaries leads to weight gain. They also can’t explain why using steroids builds muscle and burns fat.
You may not have a condition like hypothyroidism but the point to recognize is that these conditions are not really binary. You do not have to ‘have’ or ‘not have’ a condition – but rather you can view everyone as existing somewhere along the spectrum. You might have a slightly lower production of thyroid hormones than someone else, or you might be higher in testosterone.
This is why some people lose fat very easily and it is why some people struggle to lose it. It’s also why things tend to get harder for us as we get older and it’s why things get harder for us as we become more stressed and more tired. All of this upsets our hormone balance and puts our bodies into ‘fat storage’ modes.
The issue is not with the calorie deficit but rather our ability to accurately calculate our own AMR. Not only that, but these hormones also play a very big role in why we struggle to lose weight (they make us hungry, low in energy and depressed) and they contribute directly to fat storage around the midriff.
This is before we take into account the fact that it is essentially impossible to calculate the precise number of calories burned (heart rate alone is not a perfect correlate for calories burned) or the number of calories in any given item of food. You really think that every single apple has the precise same number of calories in it? Are you sure you are really adding precisely the same amount of sauce to your meals?
Then there’s another fallacy of the calories in/out diet, which is the notion that our calories somehow magically reset at the end of the day: that we can make sure we’re in a calorie deficit on Monday and then start again on Tuesday. In reality, the build up of calories is cumulative and can be ‘carried over’.
And then there is the way that eating in itself can affect your hormonal balance and process the foods that are coming in…
Not only does everyone have different balances of hormones in the long term, but we all also go through cycles where different hormones pique.
This is useful information to know if you want to try and make it as easy as possible to encourage weight loss because it means you can time your consumption of food to coincide with points when your metabolism is fastest and you can try to diet the hardest at points when you’re less likely to be hungry.
For example, when you wake up first thing in the morning, your body is in a ‘fasted state’. This is simply because you have just gone the last eight hours without eating anything, thereby meaning you have very low blood sugar.
How does the body interpret this? It interprets it as danger! In other words, your body will now react by telling you you need to eat and need to eat fast. If you don’t get food into your system quickly, then you might starve! Remember: as far as your body is concerned you’re still surviving out in the wild!
Thus, your low blood sugar will trigger a release of cortisol the stress hormone that will motivate you to go and find food. This is also what makes us grumpy in the morning. You’ll release sugar from stores into the blood and you’ll produce ghrelin the hunger hormone. This also triggers the release of myostatin – a chemical that tells the body to burn muscle and to use it as fuel.
In other words, you’re now in a ‘catabolic state’. This is further enhanced by the light coming in through the window, which wakes us by triggering the release of cortisol and nitric oxide in the brain.
Once you’ve eaten though, things change. Now sugar is released immediately into your body which the body responds as good news. This triggers the release of serotonin – a feel good hormone – followed by melatonin which is the sleep hormone. This is why we often feel sleepy after a large meal!
Now your brain becomes slower and groggier and you feel happier… but countless other activities can similarly alter your hormone balance. As it gets darker for instance, we release more of the sleep hormone melatonin. Likewise, if we’re in a good mood and having fun with friends, we release more serotonin. Likewise, when we work out, this triggers the release of stress hormones followed by anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone to trigger growth.
Ultimately, the body is constantly swinging between an ‘on state’ called ‘catabolic’ or ‘fight and flight’ and an ‘off state’ called ‘anabolic’ or ‘rest and digest’. When the body is hungry, harmed or threatened, you become more alert and produce more stress hormones. At this point, you burn your energy stores because you need to keep going. But when the body is relaxed or you’ve eaten a satiating meal, that’s when you are more likely to store fat and build muscle.
The issue is that countless things we do skew this system all the time and that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard for us to stick to a diet…
This is where the next huge factor comes in: lifestyle! We’ll look at that in the next chapter, but first…
As mentioned, the timing of your food and the way you eat can have a big impact on your hormonal balance. Likeise, the hormonal balance can have a big impact on the way that you’re eating!
For example, if you eat first thing in the morning, you ‘break’ your fast. That is to say that you take yourself out of a catabolic state where the body is desperate for food and is burning fat. Some people will then try to extent this catabolic state for as long as possible as a trick to burn more fat. They might even engage in something called ‘fasted cardio’ which means that they’ll work out first thing in the morning before breakfast so that the only thing available to burn is stored fat.
Another trick is something called ‘carb backloading’. Here, you engage in intensive exercise designed to deplete the glycogen stores. Then you consume carbs and as a result, they will be more likely to be stored in the muscle cells rather than being stored as fat.
But the technique that most people are interested in is to avoid ‘simple carbohydrates’ altogether. Simple carbohydrates are any carbs that release their energy immediately into the blood. These tend to be the sweetest carbs like sugar, cake and white bread. By eating these, you cause a sudden spike in blood sugar which triggers the release of insulin and puts your body into a ‘fat storage’ mode.
If you avoid these simple carbs however, then you can maintain more of an equilibrium and thereby prevent your body from storing the energy. Instead, you’ll simply be replenishing your blood sugar as it is being used up. This is the objective of many low carb dieters who will instead rely on complex carbohydrates and fats which digest much more slowly and therefore release sugar into the blood at a slower rate as well.
Some low carb dieters and fasters will go even further to try and reduce blood sugar to the point that the body beings producing an alternative energy source ketones.
Do you need to worry about this? Is any of it relevant for losing your belly? Don’t worry – everything will be explained into a simple to follow programme very shortly.
- >>Lesson 4: Audio File