FAT LOSS: A PROCESS NOT A PROTOCOL
By Jade Teta
If you decided to learn to play the piano and had no prior experience, how good do you think you would be after three months? Likely not very good at all. And that presupposes you are doing the requisite daily practice. Mastering something like the piano is a process that starts with learning, involves hours of practice and after several years a degree of mastery is achieved. Ask any good piano player and they will tell you their practice never stops.
This idea of practicing towards mastery gets lost on those seeking body change. But the same concepts apply. Like learning the piano, fat loss is a process NOT a protocol. Just like learning a new instrument, everyone will have a unique path to body change. Some learn more quickly and see quick changes, others will struggle to break the old “weight loss mindset” and results will be slow. Others will see steady results and then find long periods of being stuck without progress. Still others will struggle for long periods before anything happens. This is the way it works, not just in body change, but in life.
Learning comes first
To become good at fat loss you first need to learn a few things. The first thing you need to understand is how fat loss is different than weight loss. The next thing you need to know is how your metabolism functions differently from everyone else. A sure sign of being stuck in the weight loss mindset is a singular focus on weight and results.
Weight loss people treat everything as a simple equation. I change a few things (eat less and/or exercise more) and I should see results. And, not only should I see results, but they should be steady measurable weekly results. This is wrong. And the more the above scenario occurs (i.e. eating less and exercising more) the greater the chance of rebounding like a Yo-Yo back to where you were ………….or with even higher amounts of fat.
If you are really interested in body change you have to realize that weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing. You can lose a few pounds by jumping in a sauna and spitting for a couple of hours. I learned this back in high school wrestling. As absurd as it sounds, this is still the way many approach body change. They step on the scale every morning and actually believe the weight they lost or gained came from gaining or losing fat. In case your still confused by this, I can tell you It doesn’t. A gain or loss of a pound or two overnight are fluctuations in water not fat.
Fat loss is different. It does not respond to calories the way most think. It responds to hormones. Calories still matter, but hormones come first. Hormones determine whether we burn or store fat, whether we eat more or less, whether we have cravings or are satisfied and even whether we have good sustained energy or feel lethargic and unmotivated. When you balance your hormones, your hunger, cravings and energy change as well and you will naturally eat less without even trying.
The Fat Loss Formula
Here is where the problem comes in. Your hormones interact like a symphony. Change one and the others change in response. What makes it even more frustrating is that your hormonal makeup is determined by the unique interaction between your genes and your lifestyle. In other words, your metabolism is different than your friend who just went on the Super Slim Detox Program and looks amazing. Since you can’t change your genes, the only choice you have is to change your lifestyle and this is where it really gets tough.
Your friendly neighborhood nutritionist, personal trainer and even your physician has learned to help you with your weight issues by plugging you into a protocol. They make no distinction between weight loss and fat loss and prescribe the same “healthy diet” to everyone. They treat you the same as everyone else and have almost zero training in nutritional biochemistry. So, the only choice you have is to discover for yourself what your fat loss formula is. It really is not as hard as you might think, but it does require a leap of faith away from the protocol mindset of steady weight loss and one size fits all healthy eating.
The truth is you may or may not get quick results. For some it will be months of working the fat loss lifestyle before they begin to see a change. And the longer you have been overweight or the more weight loss diets you have been on, the more likely you are to fall into this category. Yet, if you truly want to find your fat loss formula and achieve body change there is only one meaningful way to make the change for the long term.
To find your fat loss formula you need to first understand your hormonal balance. This is complicated, but it mostly has to do with a single question. Are you more stress driven or food driven? Another way to ask this is do you live to eat, or do you eat to live?
See, many people don’t realize there are plenty of heavy people who actually eat very little. It is convenient to dismiss these types (and too many fat loss coaches do), because they don’t fit the model of “calories in vs. calories out” but they do exist and they know who they are. If you are the type that does not think about food. then you are a stress type. If you are the type that thinks about food all the time, you are the “food driven” type.
I refer to these two types as muscle burners & sugar burners respectively. One is dominated by cortisol and other stress hormones and the other is dominated by insulin. Things get complicated here because both of these hormonal imbalances will ultimately bring you to the same destination. Both lead, in the end, to the exact same hormonal dysfunction characterized by insulin resistance, leptin resistance, nervous system dysfunction, etc. A state of metabolic dysfunction we call Homo Obesus.
A little physiology
Insulin is a fat storing hormone. This is not a controversial statement. Pick up any biochemistry text book and you will learn about two enzymes responsible for fat gain or loss. They are called (lipoprotein lipase) LPL and HSL (hormone sensitive lipase). LPL associated with fat tissue is activated by insulin and it works by stripping fat (AKA fatty acids) off of a triglyceride (a glycerol molecule carrying three fatty acids) and allowing it to be stored as fat. Insulin also suppresses HSL, which strips fats off of stored triglycerides so they can be released and burned for energy. So, insulin is a “storing and locking hormone”. It stores fat and if it is around it reduces fat release. This is why even a very low calorie diet in someone who is very insulin resistant can wreak havoc causing insatiable, cravings, hunger, loss of muscle instead of fat and excessive weight rebound. Also, keep in mind the above is just what impact insulin has on fat release. Once the fat gets to a cell to be burned insulin also interrupts the rate limiting step in fat burning, an enzyme called CPT-1.
Cortisol is a bit more tricky. Cortisol also blocks LPL, but it stimulates HSL. So, contrary to what many people think cortisol can be either a fat storing or fat burning hormone. Which one predominates is determined by other hormonal influences. Cortisol with HGH and testosterone results in fat burning. Cortisol with insulin results in fat storing, and cortisol interrupts normal insulin metabolism causing the body to make even more insulin. This creates a vicious cycle of high insulin and high cortisol and is the real culprit on belly fat.
So, in the end fat storing is about disrupted insulin metabolism as one of the primary issues. It is just a matter of how you get there. Is it simply because you ate yourself into insulin dysfunction, or is it because you stressed yourself there? The truth is, it is actually even far more complex than that with contributions form hunger hormones and brain chemistry and inflammatory compounds, etc. But, taking care of insulin has to be priority number one, and your unique reaction to insulin can range from normal to completely dysfunctional.
Carbs and fat loss
The major stimulant of insulin is carbs. And in case you don’t realize it, carbs mean sugar and cover everything from candy and pastries to organic quinoa and brown rice (vegetables and fruits are carbs too, but the water and fiber content along with lower sugar content makes them much less of an issue). For some of us, eating any carbs is a problem and for others simply switching from Fruit Loops to Cheerios will make a difference.
This is perhaps the most infuriating, and confusing, thing about fat loss. Some of us simply can’t eat that many carbs, and even fruit can be an issue for some. Your metabolism does not care how you feel about this and does not care if your fat loss coach says this is true or not……..your metabolism will respond when the right dietary and lifestyle factors are in play to create fat loss. This is why asking for meal plans, and food lists and recipes and following them to a T may still not deliver results. These are the tools of weight loss, not fat loss. This is following a protocol, not learning a process.
Some of us can simply switch to whole grains and brown rice and see great results. And for others lowering calories will do the trick……not because we are eating less calories, but because we are eating less carbs. This is another confusing issue for people to understand. Lowering calories always results in either one of two things that lower the influence of insulin. Lowering calories lower will almost always involve lowering fat (because it has the most calories, and getting rid of simple sugars (no one on a diet continues to eat candy, soft drinks and Twinkies). The removal of the simple sugars mean you are eating less carbs and the removal of fat means you have eliminated one of The Worst Food Combination For Fat Loss, sugar/starch and fat combined. I have never heard anyone explain this phenomenon better than Gary Taubes author of Good Calories, Bad Calories.
So, do calories even matter? Of course they do, and insulin is NOT the only factor in fat loss by far. We simply believe that they are the effect of a hormonally balanced fat loss program not the cause of one. In other words, if you eat the right things for your body hunger, energy and cravings will not be an issue and you will naturally eat less without even trying…..and without the negative rebound weight gain that comes along with forcibly lowering calories.
Weight Loss is NOT Fat Loss
Here is where fat loss makes a sharp departure from weight loss. In the weight loss world the gurus simply chalk anyone not getting results up to being lazy (not exercising enough) or being a pig (simply not eating strict enough). To me, there is nothing more ignorant than this in all of health and fitness. Anyone who truly understands biochemistry realizes this is almost as bad as telling someone who has a chronic disease they are not trying hard enough to get well.
Here is the deal. We all share an inherited physiology that is built on a feast and famine reality. In other words, our ancestors did not have food on every corner and developed complex biochemical strategies to deal with food shortages including maximizing fat stores, being stingy with the release of that fat, seeking food constantly, and eating as much as we could when we found food. The second part of that is we are each different in our fat storage and fat burning capacity because we are each different in our sensitivity to insulin and other hormonal influences.
Some of us can make minor changes to our lifestyle and see immediate results and have no metabolic compensations that generate insatiable hunger, cravings and energy fluctuations…………and some of us can’t. And, those with the most dysfunctional metabolisms to begin with (the overweight and obese) are the ones most likely to respond negatively to severe changes in diet. This is why taking advice from a thin, fit fat loss guru who says “its, easy only eat when you are hungry”, or “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” or “never snack” are completely missing the boat in my opinion. Telling an overweight person with insulin and leptin resistance to “eat less, and exercise more” is like telling a bird to fly less and stop singing. The very essence of a fat storing physiology is driving these reactions and willpower alone is not enough. To understand the process of fat loss this point needs to be honored and understood.
Starting the process
So, to begin the process of fat loss and avoid the weight loss and protocol trap. Here are some rules to understand and follow:
1) Don’t rely on off the shelf meal plans: Meal plans, recipes and food lists are a tool of protocols and weight loss. Unless you can learn to generate your own lists, recipes and food lists that work for your body, the process will be very difficult for you
2) Don’t let the latest study sway you: Do what works for you, not what a study tells you works. Research is not a tool for individuals. Research regresses to the mean and systematically throws away outliers, which means it is incapable of defining individualized approaches to fat loss. Research should be used to confirm what works, not define it.
3) Stop eating less: No matter what your fat loss coach tells you, stop eating less. It does not work. Even gastric bypass surgery has been found to work because of the hormonal changes it forces not the caloric ones.
4) Stop exercising more: Exercise smarter, not longer. Efficiency is the name of the game. Know which types of exercise cause negative compensatory food seeking behavior.
5) Stop expecting linear, predictable and consistent results: Fat loss happens in stages and real body change will likely involve peaks, valleys, and plateaus all on your way to changing your metabolism.
6) Learn the process, and stop looking for protocols: There is no off the shelf protocol that is going to work for you over the long-term. You are far better off learning how your body works and reacts. One-size-fits-all meal plans, and food lists are part of the weight loss trap.
7) Be a detective not a dieter: To find your fat loss formula, you need to know how to read the signals of your body and adjust your approach. Hunger, energy and cravings give you a reliable source of biofeedback. Correct these sensations first and then you are in a position to see lasting change
8. You are not lazy, you are exhausted: If you want change you need to make room for change. Psychologist tell us that self-control, just like our muscles, is fatigue-able. If you are doing too much, you will do nothing well. Before adding to your life, make sure you subtract.
9) Lifestyle design: Body change requires making changes that are as easy or easier than the things they are replacing. If you think you can go on doing the same old things and get a different result, you are sadly mistaken. You must change and that change must be doable over the long run.
10) It is all about ME, meaning you. It does not matter if your friend can lose weight eating fruit loops and Frappucinos. There is nothing fair or logical about body change. Learn, practice and master what works for you. No matter what any article, guru, friend or anyone else tells you, filter EVERYTHING through your own metabolic tendencies, personality behaviors and psychological preferences. This is the core teaching of Metabolic Effect.