I grew up in the 90s where fat was demonized. As a overweight kid, my mother, following doctors orders, had me eating special k with skim milk. All the low fat yogurt, and rice cakes never stopped my weight from creeping up. In fact, I was always hungry. When I was old enough to make my own nutritional decisions I was of the “a calorie is a calorie” mindset. Which of course is true, but that is only a part of the equation. But at the time, I didn’t know that. I learnt how to calorie count and drank Diet Coke like it was a necessary macronutrient. But like most of us who follow this paradigm - it worked...until it didn’t. So I cut more calories out, ended up feeling unsatiated and downing a bag of chips before I even knew what hit me.
I was weak willed. If I tried harder, if I was better, I could resist temptation and stick to my 1200 calorie a day diet. I will start again tomorrow, but tomorrow took much longer to come then I thought it would. Finally I was desperate enough to go low carb. I had heard all the bad press (your brain needs carbs to function, you’ll gain all the weight right back) but I just wanted results. And it worked! For a while....
Then I came across the hormone theory of obesity and weight gain and I finally felt as if my dieting world made sense!
“We do not get fat because we overeat, We overeat because we get fat.” - Gary Taubes
One of the reasons we put on excess body fat is too much insulin. Glucose is produced whenever you eat and when there is glucose in your blood, insulin is produced. It’s insulins job to push that glucose into cells so it can be used as energy or stored to be used later (as fat) in case of famine. Most of us are fortunate enough to not have to worry about where our next meal is going to come from, in fact, many of us eat 5-6 times a day when you consider snacks and caloric beverages. However, if you are eating all the time, your body is getting a constant flow of fat storage hormones(insulin!). If you carry on in this state for too long, you become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is when your cells become desensitized to insulin. (Like when you step into a hot bathtub, the water may feel too hot but after a minute or two you adjust and it’s no longer painful but your skin is still turning a bright shade of red. Your pain receptors become numb to the heat.)
When you eat too much or too frequently, Insulin is no longer able to push all that blood glucose you’re creating into your cells because the cells are full. Your body now panics because there is still so much glucose in the blood so it calls for more insulin to try to over stuff the cells. So you are getting more and more of the hormone that is trying to store fat! The more fat storing insulin there is, the more resistant your cells become to it, so it produces more...over and over again. This is how many people develop obesity as well as type 2 diabetes.
As insulin goes up, the bodies set weight does as well (body set weight = the weight your body fights you to be). Your body is constantly trying to maintain a state of homeostasis. It has its own idea what a healthy weight for you is, and will try to prevent you from straying too far from its preference. The higher your insulin, the higher that set weight will be.
This homeostasis is also the reason why calorie reduction diet only work for the short term. If your eating 2000 calories a day, your metabolism will try to burn energy to match that intake by burning 2000 calories. When you reduce your intake to 1200 calories a day, you body will keep burning 2000 for a bit, but once it realizes your regularly only getting 1200 calories your metabolism will start to slow to match it. If it didn’t do this, your ancestors would have likely died when food was scarce and you wouldn’t be reading this post right now!
So let’s forget about calories and get back to hormones! The hypothalamus is responsible for sending out the hormones that make us hungry, so that we eat (and likely gain weight). Hormones regulate many of our bodies processes. Hormones tell us how much body fat we should be carrying around (body set weight). They send us signal to say when we are hungry, when we are full, and they even set how many calories we burn in a day.
At the end of the day, how many calories we ingest vs how many we burn is the cause of weight gain BUT we have to look at what is causing us to eat all those extra calories and not burn them off. And the answer is clearly hormones. Therefore, if we can balance our hormones and decrease insulin, we can lower our bodies set weight which will lower our hunger hormones. We eat less because we are satisfied and not hungry. We don’t produce too much insulin (we regain sensitivity) because we aren’t eating all the time so we don’t gain fat, we actually lose excess fat. Ta-da!
You’re probably asking....how do we decrease insulin so that we can be re-sensitized to it?
Here comes my first set of rules for my 21 day reset. They are all based on reducing insulin.
No snacking. Preferably eating two meals a day within a 4 to 6 hour window. The rest of the time is for fasting because your insulin is at its lowest when you are not ingesting anything but water. We will get into the “when” of eating next week, when I will write about fasting.
No fast food or restaurant eating. There are so many hidden ingredients in food you don’t prepare yourself. Added sugars, inflammatory vegetable oils. I want to know what exactly i am eating so I can closely monitor any changes in my wellbeing.
No artificial sweetners. Sigh. I hate this one. Many report that artificial sweetners do in fact raise insulin and increase hunger. Most will tell you that they affect people differently and some continue to indulge in them and have no problem losing or maintaining weight. But regardless, the only artificial sweetner I use is in diet coke and it doesn’t take a medical degree to posit that drinking a cocktail of man made chemicals is not the best thing for your health. I am also starting to worry about bone strength and osteoporosis (man I must be getting old) and all that phosphoric acid worries me.
Keep net carbs under 20 grams per day. Whoops, my keto is showing!
Carbohydrates are not the enemy. There are lots of nutritious foods that contain carbohydrates. Some vegetables, fruits, and legumes are high in carbs and handled very well by the body. However, man-made, refined carbohydrates that have been processed in order to be palatable are not your best choice for health. Would you snack on a piece of wheat straight from the field? Probably not. The grains have to be grind into a super fine powder, bleached and then have nutrition put back into it. Now the problem here is how easily this super fine powder is absorbed by the body. This is why many people find carbohydrates can only satiate there hunger for a short time. Then they crave more. These processed carbohydrates also reek havoc on your blood glucose levels. All carbohydrates break down into sugars. And these sugars spike your insulin levels and we know that insulin is what makes us fat!
If you don’t have a lot of excess fat to lose, you probably don’t need to avoid many of the good carbs (vegetables, fruits, legumes). But if you struggle with your weight then you will likely benefit from a reduction in your carbohydrate consumption. You will avoid crazy spikes of your blood sugars and the highs and lows that come with it.
In order to keep my appetite down and my body burning fat instead of sugar, I am keeping my carbs below twenty grams (net, which means you subtract out fibre as it isn’t digested the same).
The switch to going very low carb should be done slowly if you want to avoid the low-carb flu. If your body is used to primarily burning carbohydrates (sugar), it will likely make you feel pretty miserable (low energy, headaches, brain fog, cravings) as you withhold its familiar source of energy. But as your glucose stores are depleted and your body gets used to using fat as fuel (fat-adapted), you will feel fantastic. Steady energy, less food craving, better focus, reduced appetite. The best part is, once you’re fat-adapted your body becomes a fat burning machine and it doesn’t care where the fat comes from! That means your body is just as happy burning your body fat for energy as it with the calories you ingest! This is why many of the fat-adapted folk will often forget to eat, because their body is no longer sending them intense hunger cues because it’s happy to burn up the bodies fat stores. This has been such a blessing for me as I used to find my appetite insatiable. Now, I can restrict my eating times and intermittently fast with minimal effort. I find my food cravings usually don’t come until about 22-24 hours without food and my cravings are 99% mental.
I am experimenting with lowering my protein intake. My blood glucose levels are not as low as I’d like to see them despite eating < 20 net carbs. My hunch is that my body is turning the protein I’m eating into glucose through gluconeogenisis (the process of creating glucose from non carbohydrates.) Through tracking my food intake I can see that I am eating more protein then I need.
The production of glucose increases insulin and when insulin is high, processes such as Autophagy shut down. Autophagy is the new health buzz word. The anti-aging, skin tightening, cancer killing, Alzheimer zapping answer to our prays. Conclusive research on what exactly turns Autophagy on and off and what exactly it’s benefits (or detriments) are will likely not be widely available for another 10-15 years. That is just the speed at which research works, folks. What we do know is that Autophagy (literal translation self eating) is a process that eats and destroys old cells and junky proteins. Loose skin after weight loss? Why have expensive surgery when you can limit your carb and protein intake and have your body feed off of your excess skin and diminish it in the process. Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of abnormal proteins. If we can harness the power of Autophagy could this heartbreaking illness become a thing of the past? Lots of anecdotal evidence exists on the internet but I’m unaware of any clinical research that has been conducted on those specific subjects. For now, it’s simply wait and see or try your own n=1 experiment if your intuition is guiding you to it.
Since conclusive research isn’t available there are varying opinions on how much protein we really need to maintain (or increase) lean body mass and not disrupt Autophagy. A good place to start is multiplying your body weigh (kg) by .6 to .8. For example. 150 lbs = 68 kg. 68 x .6 = 41 and 68 x .8 = 55. Try aiming your protein intake to between 41 and 55 grams of protein a day if you weigh 150 pounds. You can also experiment with upping it by 10 or 20 grams on very active days or decreasing on sedentary (Riverdale binging) days.
Autophagy is thought to be more reliably activated after water fasting for over 24 hour if eating low carb (2-3 days if not low carb). But again, I will leave the fasting talk til next week.
Poor delicious, vilified fat. Like I previously stated, I used to follow a low carb, high protein, low fat diet. And I lost a bunch of weight on it...until I didn’t. I tried cutting more calories and I would lose a tiny bit of weight only to succumb to cravings and gain it back. This was like a broken record on repeat until I started adding more healthy fat to my diet.
I will admit, it was difficult at first to make the switch. I kept thinking about the calories in that avocado, no matter how delicious it was. And eating bacon everyday? Surely I was going to put on weight...but I didn’t! It’s been 5 months of eating a high fat diet and I will admit, I haven’t lost a ton of weight like some people do when they make the switch. See, I am used to eating a lot, so when I made the switch to high fat I continued to eat a lot. I probably ate on average 500 calories more daily than I was previously. But I didn’t gain a pound! My energy sky rocketed, my skin didn’t get super dry during the winter as it always used to, the dark circles under my eyes reduced and I swear my wrinkles no longer seem to trap my foundation make-up. Now I’ve made other lifestyle changes in the last 6 months so I can’t say conclusively that it was all due to the fat but the satiation and flavour of my food will keep me maintaining high levels of healthy fat in my diet.
You have to start thinking about your bodies hormonal responses to what your eating. And eating fat reduces ghrelin (hunger causing hormone) and increases lepton (your satiety hormone). At the end of the day you end up taking in less calories because your food is satiating. And don’t be afraid of saturated fat. Research is now showing that not only are they not bad for you-they may actually be good for your heart!
So how much fat do I eat? Well it depends. When I was first becoming fat adapted I ate quite a bit of fat. It really helped with the switching over process. I also felt like I needed it to feel satisfied by my meal. Eat fat to satiation is the usual advice. But it now takes less and less fat to satiate me! Which is bad news for my fat stores as the less fat I ingest the more my body will go looking alternative sources...like my thighs!
Fat also doesn’t increase insulin. Which is why appetite decreases and satiation increases!
Trust the process and listen to your body. You are setting your body up for a life long change, this isn’t a quick fix.
Healthy Fats to add to your diet
Rendered animal fats (grass fed is healthiest)
Butter (again grass fed is best)
Extra virgin olive oil
Coconut Oil (or MCT oil)
Full fat cheeses
Cheese: I always choose full fat cheeses.
Eggs (or just the yolks if you are trying to keep your protein in check)
Fatty Fish, full fat yogurt and nuts can also be high fat but monitor amounts due to protein or the high calories of nuts.
Vegetable oils (the bad fat)
Vegetable oils were mainly first introduced to our modern world after the oil became a byproduct from cotton seed production. To increase profits the oil was then used used for machinery in the industrial revolution until some profit seeking individual saw the oil solidified and realized it could be used as a replacement for lard.
Vegetable oil underwent a huge marketing campaign to convince housewives that these oils and margarine were cleaner and healthier than lard for cooking.
After saturated fat was incorrectly faulted with an increase in heart disease, many families followed the governments recommendation to replace saturated fats with unsaturated ones. Now it is known that these man made oils have been linked to heart disease and inflammation and the sugar companies were paying researchers to say that fat was damaging to increase their own profits. Even after the demonized saturated fat had been shown to actually be protective against heart disease, people still avoid the satiating macronutrient
The main reason we see these vegetables are so bad for you is because of the bodies ideal omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Vegetable oils are high in omega-6, which can negate the good effects of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help prevent inflammation while omega-6s can provoke inflammation. Eliminating all omega-6s from your diet isn’t wise. You’d be avoiding many healthy foods such as eggs, bacon and nuts. Our body needs a certain amount of inflammation for reparative purposes. The trick is establish a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Many experts recommend a ratio of 4:1 for general health but some anti-aging specialists recommend a straight 1:1 ratio. That’s quite the leap from the reported ratio of 20 to 1 many currently consume!
Vegetable oils are especially dangerous when heated as their unstable nature leads to oxidation products which are inflammatory and what many of us try to fight against by consuming antioxidants. Never heat vegetable oils for cooking. The heating of vegetable oils is very common in restaurants therefore avoiding there fried food is a very wise choice. This is yet another reason my 21 day reset includes the boycotting of restaurant foods.
Honestly, I don’t stress about my ratio. I just avoid vegetable oils, shortening and margarine to keep my omega-6s down. But be careful. Many of my favourite packaged foods, which I assumed to be healthy low carb snacks, have had vegetable oil as one of the main ingredients. Manufacturers are still too scared to increase saturated fats on their labels, because most consumers still believe the old lies we were fed about them being damaging. So to increase shelf life, they are packed with oils that are know to make people sick. That’s the food business for ya. Profit before people.
While this way of eating works for me, I cannot tell you it’s going to work for you. As with any dietary change, do you research, speak with trusted professionals and start slowly. Learn to listen to your body, it will tell you if your heading in the right direction.
Next Tuesday, When To Eat!