Now that New Year's resolution season is upon us and many people don't know which way to turn with their dietary and health aspirations, I have made an effort to make your decision much more informed, in an attempt to prevent you falling for all the marketing hype from the mainstream diets e.g. 5:2 diet, the NewMe diet.
To achieve this we need to tackle a few concepts, which may seem foreign or abstract to some; however they offer the real answers, not only to permanent weight loss, but also optimal physical and mental health.
Metabolism refers to all the chemical processes that go on continuously inside your body. It is influenced by your age, gender, muscle to fat ratio, the food you eat, environment and physical activity. Your hormones and nervous system control your body's metabolism.
It is widely accepted that metabolism controls weight; the higher your metabolism, the more calories you burn at rest. From the above definition of metabolism, we learn that hormones control metabolism, hence it makes complete sense that we need to focus on what controls or more to the point balances hormones; balance is what the human body strives for and is often referred to as homeostasis.
When we upset this finely tuned chemical system akin to an orchestra, mainly through poor lifestyle choices, we knock our hormones (signal sender) out of balance and deplete their respective receptors (signal receiver).
Cornerstones of weight loss and health
The key to achieving your weight loss and health goals include; controlling inflammation, improving gut flora, adopting a low carb/high healthy fat diet, adopting intermittent fasting and avoiding the pitfalls of dieting.
Chronic inflammation is a constant immune response the body finds itself in when confronted by foreign invaders and these include certain foods like gluten grains, certain dairy (if lactose or casein intolerant), refined vegetable oils, processed foods; also sleep deprivation, elevated stress, excess alcohol, infections, toxins, lack of exercise and medications can all contribute to this chronic state of inflammation.
If you are obese or overweight, you will have chronic inflammation by default, resulting in insulin resistance and leptin resistance (via inflammation of the hypothalamus in the brain); insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and can lead to weight gain when elevated in the blood and leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism.
What is the other problem with this state? Damaged gut flora , which are inextricably linked to inflammation in that they both have similar triggers and can both be a cause and result of each other.
As alluded to above, gut flora and inflammation are inextricably linked. Fix one and the other becomes fixed by default since they have similar triggers as listed above.
It was the father of medicine, Hippocrates who wisely stated over 2,000 years ago that "All disease begins in the gut".
Poor gut health, where the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is unfavourable, increases appetite and causes insulin resistance. ; leptin resistance also results via inflammation of the hypothalamus. Insulin and leptin resistance unfortunately promote weight gain; insulin is not called "The fat storage hormone" for nothing.
Poor gut flora can increase the rate at which we absorb fatty acids and carbohydrates, and increase the storage of calories as fat.
Not only are higher fat/low carb diets healthier, but you will lose fat permanently by adopting them and your health will be much improved; there are at least 23 quality studies that conclude this.
Higher carb diets equals high blood glucose levels in turn causing high insulin levels; consistently elevated insulin levels are a disaster for not only weight control, but also general health as it leads to a plethora of conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers. Low carb diets help with weight loss for many reasons including:
• Helping to regulate insulin levels; insulin being "the fat storage hormone".
• Carbs suppress PYY compared to fats and proteins; PYY is an appetite regulating hormone.
• Carbs increase the release of ghrelin, usually referred to as "the hunger hormone".
• Low carb intake helps turn on the fat burning switch, glucagon/HSL.
NB HSL is short for hormone sensitive lipase, an enzyme that helps with accessing fat stores for energy, in tandem with glucagon; glucagon is a hormone that works in reverse to insulin, signalling the release of fat for energy in the presence of low blood sugar or glucose.
The fasting diets are getting this all wrong including the 5:2 diet; as John Berardi, a leading American nutritionist coach put it; "With IF, you still make great food choices and eat the same amount of food, you just adjust your meal frequency". Folks, intermittent fasting (IF) was originally devised as a substitute for calorie restriction, as a solution for the masses who find severe calorie restriction difficult to sustain.
Also you can eat certain foods that do not trigger an insulin response, thus preserving your fast; hence you don't need to torture yourself with 20 hour fasts that most fast diets advocate. Why is this significant? Well there is strong anecdotal evidence that women in general find it difficult fasting. Here is an article on the subject.
When properly implemented, fasting:
• Improves insulin sensitivity, thus enhancing the body's use of glucose, preventing fat storage.
• Turns on the fat burning switch, glucagon/HSL
• Secretes human growth hormone (HGH), a fat burning hormone aka "the youth hormone"
The 5:2 specifically does not return any better weight loss than calorie restriction alone, which is not that impressive anyway as well as being unsustainable. However you have to complete two 20 hour fasts (no calories) in a week. You can read my Huffington Post blog here on the subject.
Also it's inadvisable to dive straight in to fasting; small incremental changes in diet over a period of about a couple of months allow your hormones to improve towards balance and their receptors to up-regulate.
Fasting is also not an excuse to eat junk foods; you still need to eat highly nutritious foods about 80% of the time, allowing for 20% treats to reap the health and weight loss benefits in the long term.
NB Combining intermittent fasting or IF with high intensity exercise is the "Holy Grail" for hormone balance, receptor function and optimum genetic expression, resulting in optimum health and weight loss.
The Huffington Post had a great quote some time ago, which stated that "The diet industry is the most successful failed business in the world"
Dieting as we know it usually involves deliberate and severe calorie restriction; in a landmark study (Mann 2007), which reviewed 31 scientific studies on calorie restriction, the authors concluded that calorie restriction does not work long term. The main reason for this is that the body goes into survival mode as it interprets the lack of calories as a potential shortage or famine, thus slowing down metabolism to preserve energy reserves.
Diets and dieters see weight loss targets as an end game, like the wonderland, where in fact it is only the start and unless you adopt a new lifestyle with more of an emphasis on health, you will revert back to your old habits.
Diets are obsessed with calorie counting, where in fact it is the quality rather than quantity.
The diet industry usually advocates snacking especially if they produce snacking products; which disrupts leptin signalling, throwing your normal appetite cues and disrupting metabolism.
The "want it now" aka immediate gratification culture has played into the hands of the diet industry, who serve up calorie restrictive diets with short term results, but long term problems e.g. weight rebound, hormone imbalance and long term damage to your metabolism.
Health and weight loss are a journey; there is no ending. Avoid inflammatory foods and other aforementioned triggers, improve gut flora, eat a high, healthy fat diet, practice IF and combine with exercise where possible.
Eat highly nutritious foods 80% of the time, allowing 20% for treats and calorie control will take care of itself. If possible have your treats on a workout day, which lessens any chance of fat storage. Eating the right foods actually stokes your metabolism; poor foods and deliberate calorie restriction actually slows your metabolism.
The crux is you will be able to develop a small calorie deficit naturally if you are following all the aforementioned advice, because your body's hormones (and receptors) will be working optimally and in balance, aka homeostasis; your cravings will subside and you will begin to discover the new YOU
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