Knowledge is Power…
Have you finally had enough of struggling to lose weight fast? Are you sick of fad diets and unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions?
Then you’re in the right place!
There is really only one method to lose weight fast that actually works: learning the science behind weight loss and understanding how the body burns fat for energy and uses food for fuel and nutrients. Only with this understanding can you identify which diets are likely to actually work. You’ll be able to turn a critical eye to any advice you receive and you’ll be able to work out which of the ‘diet foods’ sold at your local grocers is really going to be a help rather than a hindrance (you may be surprised!).
And only with this understanding can you devise your own eating plan that will properly work for you individually; that will be compatible with your lifestyle, your metabolism, your preferences.
In short, you need to know everything that one of those ‘health experts’ knows. Once you properly immerse yourself in this world, you’ll find that you develop not only an understanding but also a passion and an enthusiasm that you can use to really trigger a full-body transformation.
The only problem is knowing where to start. With so much dense information out there and so many contradictory opinions, how can you go from a basic layman’s understanding of fitness to being a full-on health expert?
This page is going to help you. The purpose of this page is to provide you with a complete overview that will describe how your body works, what the different stances on the subject are, what the research says and how you can take all this information and turn it into a simple diet plan.
By the end of this text, you will be brought right up-to-date in regards to the current thinking around weight loss and you’ll be able to start applying that to your own life. Then if you want to continue your education further, I’ll point you in the right direction so that you can start doing that.
Understanding the Role of Calories for Losing Weight Fast
As mentioned, the purpose of this text is to serve as a good starting point and overview on the subject of ‘diet and weight loss’. So why do you need something like this?
Well, apart from the fact that it gets pretty scientific and jargon-filled, the subject of weight loss is also a very divisive one with everyone contributing different opinions.
Ultimately, diet advice falls into two broad categories:
- Those that say ‘a calorie is a calorie’
- Those that say it’s the type of calorie that matters
Who is right?
As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
As you no doubt are aware, calories are a unit of measurement telling us how much energy is in any given piece of food. Calories are what our body can use to provide the fuel for our movements as well as our basic functioning (breathing, blinking, sleeping). As we eat, our body is able to absorb these calories and use them in a similar way to how a car might use gasoline.
The problem comes when you consume too many calories – more than you need to fuel that day’s activity. When this happens you get a calorie ‘surplus’ and the body stores those calories as fat around the body to be used later.
Remember, we evolved in conditions where we never knew how long it would be until our next meal!
Conversely though, if you are very active and don’t eat very much, then our body will burn the fat stores using oxygen and carry the energy to the necessary parts of the body. This is called a ‘calorie deficit’.
In theory then, the simplest way to lose weight would be to calculate precisely how many calories you use in a given day (which you can do by wearing a fitness tracker or by calculating your AMR – Active Metabolic Rate) and then to make sure that you ate under that number. You could also increase your AMR by becoming more active.
‘Calorie counting’ is thus a common approach to losing weight and works ok for some people. So if that works, then what’s the problem? As often, things aren’t quite this simple…
Enter Insulin, the Weight Loss Wildcard
The first problem with purely counting calories is that it doesn’t ensure you are getting any good nutrition. Food isn’t only for energy – it is also there to provide us with the building blocks our body needs for creating tissue and chemicals and it is there to help support numerous processes and functions.
For instance, you need to consume antioxidants to enhance your immune system and combat cancer-causing free radicals. You need to consume protein to build muscle and bone. And getting more lutein can prevent macular degeneration.
Many diets that use the low-calorie approach recommend cutting saturated fat out of the diet for example. This is because saturated fat contains 9 calories per gram, as opposed to the 4 calories per gram found in carbohydrates and protein (and because out-dated information once led us to believe that saturated fat could lead to high cholesterol and heart disease).
In fact though, we need fat to help encourage testosterone production, to encourage nutrient absorption and to support brain health. And as we’ll see in a second, it also has another very important effect…
Because the bigger consideration is the role of insulin and the metabolism.
Insulin is a hormone and the job of this hormone is to trigger the body to absorb sugar from the blood stream. When you eat any food, the energy is extracted via digestion in the form of glucose – blood sugar. When this glucose becomes too high, your body then responds by releasing insulin. And when you release that insulin, it causes the blood sugar to be absorbed ready to be used by the body.
It’s at this point that your body can then either use the sugar to fuel movement, or to store the energy as fat.
But the rate of absorption will vary from one type of food to another and this can affect the rate at which the sugar reaches the body and in turn, your hunger levels.
And while fat might have the higher calorie count, it’s carbohydrates that lead to rapid release of glucose. When you eat carbs, they are processed by the body very quickly resulting in a spike in blood sugar. This spike then means that the body responds by releasing lots of insulin. And that insulin is what can potentially result in fat storage if you aren’t very active at that time.
What’s more, is that the spike in insulin means that you’ve quickly withdrawn all the sugar from your blood stream. And when you do that, you start to feel lethargic and hungry again – meaning you’re more likely to snack and more likely to fill your body with even more energy and trigger even more fat.
On the other hand, when you eat something with more fat in it or a more ‘complex’ form of carbohydrate (more on this in a moment), the digestion takes longer and the sugar is absorbed more slowly. This means that you’re provided with a steady flow of energy that you burn as it is released making it less likely to be stored as fat. It also means that you’ll be less likely to become hungry and need to snack shortly after.
Suddenly, finding the lowest calories is no longer enough and you certainly don’t want to focus on foods that have had the fat removed as they will be entirely unsatisfying and cause an energy spike. Instead, the aim is to look for foods that have a low GI (glycemic index) rating. These will typically be foods that contain fewer ‘simple carbs’ (think white carbs and carbs that taste sugary) and that instead combine a mix of food groups and high nutritional value.
So things like white bread, cake, chocolate and white pasta are all bad news in terms of GI. Meanwhile, oats, rye bread and broccoli are fine. Likewise, foods that contain mostly fat (such as avocados) or mostly protein (like meat) are also better for you. This will help to keep your blood sugar relatively consistent, so that you’ll get a steady supply of energy.
You still need to keep an eye on calories but the best way to do this is to focus on quality over quantity. Get more calories from fewer foods that will keep you feeling fuller. Meanwhile, try to get the best nutrition that you can from those few foods.
And think in terms of how many calories reach your blood and when as opposed to focusing entirely on the number that’s on the packet!
Insulin Sensitivity and Other Hormones
Plus, regulating your insulin has a ton of other benefits – such as helping to improve your mood! The reason you feel happy after you eat is that the tryptophan found in most carbs is a building block for serotonin or the feel-good hormone. This is one of the signals that tells the body we’re full and satiated and it is connected to leptin – a hormone that curbs hunger.
But it’s also important to think about how your diet is affecting your insulin in the long run, which is where ‘insulin sensitivity’ comes into play.
Insulin sensitivity describes how the body reacts to insulin, which is in turn an individual difference. In other words, some people’s cells will react more strongly to insulin than others and this can have profound impacts on your health, as well as on your weight loss.
Insulin resistance is partly determined genetically and partly a result of our diet. Some people are born with lower insulin resistance and susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. However, all of us can alter our insulin sensitivity by eating more or less sugar (among other things). If you are constantly eating simple carbs and sugars and constantly spiking your blood sugar, then eventually your body can become less sensitive to the insulin release that follows. As a result, sugar can end up building up in your blood and causing damage. This also tends to lead to weight gain.
And eventually, when you go past a certain point, this can lead to type 2 diabetes which results in a lot of serious health risks. Sugar is very damaging in the blood and can lead to nerve damage, vision loss, organ failure and even the loss of limbs and death.
A lot of other hormones and lifestyle factors come into play here too. ‘Metabolic flexibility’ refers to our ability to moderate our metabolism to thrive on different types of food. If you eat more fat, then the body can become more sensitive to fat and the same goes for protein and carbs. This is all thanks to insulin and insulin sensitivity is crucial to this.
Insulin is also very important for anabolism. If you increase your testosterone levels, then your body will spend more time in an anabolic state, which means it will be absorbing foods – and proteins in particular – in order to build muscle and repair tissue. This is also achieved via insulin and some bodybuilders will even inject with additional insulin for this reason (despite the serious health risks associated with this practice).
The Role of Glycogen
So we need to control our insulin levels by avoiding complex carbs and we need to increase our ‘nutrient density’ by avoiding processed (man-made) foods. This will help us to avoid hunger pangs and fat storage and it will also combat insulin resistance, diabetes and other problems.
But there’s another reason to keep blood sugar down, which is that it will allow us to burn more fat.
Simply, if there isn’t fat stored in the blood, then the body will need to look elsewhere which is when we start burning fat.
When you consume only complex carbs, you keep your blood sugar at a controlled, lower level which means that the body is more likely to have to burn fat stores to keep you moving. But there are other ways to achieve this same end – for example by timing your exercise appropriately. If you work out first thing in the morning, then you will have been ‘fasting’ through the night, which means that you’ll have very low blood sugar. Therefore, training first thing in the morning (what’s known as ‘fasted cardio’) which actually burn more fat than training after breakfast.
But there’s also another important player we haven’t talked about yet, which is glycogen. In fact, let’s rewind for a moment and talk about the main ‘energy systems’ of the body.
First, know that the body isn’t really interested in glucose or sugar but rather what it can do with it. That is to say that glucose is only useful to us in that it can be broken down into ATP or ‘Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is the ‘energy currency’ of life and it’s by breaking powerful bonds in this molecule that the body is able to drive muscle movements and other processes.
A little bit of ATP is stored in the muscles at all times and this gives us enough energy for a <10 seconds of movement. If you lift weights, then you will use this type of energy predominantly via the system known as the anaerobic a-lactic system AKA the ATPS-CP system.
When this runs out, the body needs to look elsewhere. That’s where our other key player comes in: glycogen. Glycogen is a type of stored energy that is kept in the liver and in the muscles. This is what you would use when curling weights for longer ‘sets’ or when sprinting 200 meters for instance and can last for 2 minutes in total. The system used to extract ATP from glycogen is called the anaerobic lactic energy system or the glycolytic energy system. A by-product of this system is lactic acid, which is what creates the burning sensation in your muscle.
Finally, after around 2 minutes, all the readily-available glycogen will be used up and we switch to the aerobic energy system. This provides energy from two minutes up to several hours. When this one runs out… that’s when you collapse! You’ll know the aerobic system has kicked in because you’ll start panting and this will allow you to bring in more oxygen. That oxygen is then carried around the body via the blood and used to break down fat tissue to extract energy and deliver it to the body. This type of energy system is ‘slower’ however, which is why you can’t sprint indefinitely: it takes time for the aerobic system to bring energy to the muscles.
The aerobic system is the type of energy use you’re most interested in when it comes to weight loss because it is the type that actually burns fat.
And there are ways you can encourage yourself to use this type of energy system more, as we’ll see in the next couple of sections…
How to Lower Glycogen and Control Insulin Through Your Diet
There’s still much to learn but at this point you should hopefully have a good understanding of how your diet affects your ability to lose weight fast, as well as impacting on your health, your mood and your energy levels.
This means we can start to take what we’ve learned and to create a basic outline for an easy weight loss diet you can follow. Use these steps then and you can begin to apply some real science to a diet that will work for you…
Step 1: Removing Water Weight
Before we get properly started, the first thing to do is to remove water weight. By doing this, you can actually become significantly lighter and look leaner in just a couple of days.
This isn’t something you can maintain indefinitely but shedding a little water weight early on is a good way to look a bit leaner and more defined and to thereby give yourself some positive encouragement to carry on.
Ironically, the objective is not to consume less water but actually to consume more water! Drink as much water as possible and your body will start flushing it out. When you’re dehydrated, your body will try to store more water leading you to look a little puffy.
Restricting calories will also help, as one gram of carbohydrate will pull 2.7 grams of water into the body. This also depletes muscle glycogen (more on this later) which is another place where a lot of water is held.
Most importantly of all, restrict salt. Sodium holds water, so the less you consume the more lean you’ll become. Keep these facts in mind during the initial carb restriction/backloading phase.
Speaking of which…
Step 2: Carb Restriction/Backloading
The first step is going to restrict carbohydrates for a short period of time – around three days to one week. There is only one time that you will consume carbs which is directly after training or exercising.
The reason for this is that you’ll at this point use the insulin release in order to rebuild muscle – you’ll be in an ‘anabolic’ rather than ‘catabolic’ state, triggered by the release of metabolites such as testosterone and growth hormone during training.
But ultimately, you’re going to be greatly restricting the amount of sugar entering your blood directly. Doing this alone can be enough to help you increase your insulin sensitivity and to help jump-start your diet. This will remove sugar from the blood, force some fat burning and also make your body more responsive to sugar when you do eat it. It will also encourage the body to become more adept at using preferable sources of energy such as fats for fuel.
At this point, you can also help yourself along with a few interesting supplements. These are:
- Milk thistle
- MCT oil
MCT oil is a type of fat that comes from coconuts. It stands for ‘medium chain triglycerides’ and is the perfect addition to any low carb diet. That’s because MCT oil rapidly enters the blood stream and is used by the liver to trigger the release of ‘ketones’. Ketones are a form of energy that the body normally uses predominantly in the absence of glucose. Although high levels of ketones can be toxic, lower levels provide a very useful alternative source of energy and further prevent you from snacking on carbohydrates. Restricting carbs leads to ketosis, as does using MCT oil.
Milk thistle is meanwhile a useful ingredient that can help to lower blood sugar thanks to an active component called ‘silymarin’ and its ability to support liver health. Several studies have shown that milk thistle can help to lower insulin resistance even in those with type 2 diabetes. Finally, many studies show us that cinnamon can be very helpful for lowering cholesterol and blood sugar. In one study, it was found that volunteers eating 1-6 grams of cinnamon for 40 days were able to cut blood sugar levels by as much as 24%.
Step 3: Intermittent Fasting
Next up, you are going to follow the initial period of carb restriction/backloading with a period of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, is a form of fasting that involves eating a very low amount of calories for brief periods – such as for a couple of days of the week.
One of the most popular forms of intermittent fasting is publicised as the 5:2 Diet. This diet involves eating normally for five days of the week and then eating only 500-600 calories for the remaining two days. It’s also known as the Fast Diet.
IF has a large number of benefits. For starters, it allows you to significantly decrease your overall caloric intake for the week. For at least those two days, your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – calories burned regardless of activity) is likely to be higher than your intake, causing a deficit and causing you to burn more fat.
At the same time, intermittent fasting means there are two days a week where your body is forced to work harder for its energy. This means your liver will keep turning fats into ketones and it means that your glycogen stores will be depleted. Depleting glycogen makes sense and is important, as it means you’ll more quickly switch to the aerobic energy system during exercise.
Intermittent fasting also keeps your insulin sensitivity high and it actually increases your body’s overall energy efficiency by quite a large degree. In particular, your cells will birth more mitochondria. Mitochondria are the ‘energy centers’ of the cells and the parts of the cell that can actually create and use ATP. The more mitochondria you have and the better they function, the faster you’ll burn energy (rather than storing it) and the more energetic you will be. Mitochondrial efficiency also means you can reduce the amount of free radicals (which cause cancer and ageing) in the body. That’s because the efficiency of the mitochondria will automatically mean less oxygen is released as a by-product in the cells. Oxygen is highly reactive and causes damage to many of our cells – which is why ‘antioxidants’ are so important for our health.
Intermittent fasting might also more closely mimic the way we would have eaten in the wild and thus the way that we are designed to eat. In the past, we would have tracked animals for hours or days while surviving on very little food.
During this period, you can also supplement with the same combination of cinnamon, milk thistle and triglycerides.
Step 4: Calculate Your AMR, Restrict Calories and Identify Nutrient Dense Foods
You can continue with a 5:2 format for your diet indefinitely and you’ll find that your body adapts to become a highly efficient fat-burning machine. If you’re forced to skip a day, then doing 6:1 will also have a lot of benefits.
At the same time though, you still need to think about what you’re eating on those remaining 5 days. And the key objective here is to fuel your body with all of the nutrients it needs to perform. Nutrients like CoEnzyme Q10, PQQ, lutein, l-carnitine and many more can help to improve the strength of your mitochondria even further, making you even more efficient at burning fat.
Try to get as much nutrition as you possibly can, while keeping the total number of calories below what you burn during the day. Calculate your AMR or where a fitness tracker to find a good ‘target’ to aim for.
Step 5: Introducing Exercise
Finally, you’re going to combine all this with exercise which will help you to burn even more calories in a day, improve mitochondrial function, improve aerobic efficiency and reduce blood sugar.
The best form of exercise for doing all these things is called HIIT. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and basically means you’ll be alternating between periods of high intensity training (90%+ of your max heart rate) and low intensity training (70%- of your MHR). For example, you might sprint for 1-2 minutes and then jog slowly for 4-5 minutes.
This kind of exercise is ideal for burning fat because it forces your body to use the ATP-CP system and glycogen system during the intense stages. This type of exercise is anaerobic because the demand for energy is great and your body needs sugar faster than the aerobic system can deliver.
During high intensity periods then, you don’t actually burn any fat. But because you are using your mitochondria and your stored energy, you are actually training your energy efficiency. What’s more, is that you’ll now have removed all available energy ready for the lower intensity periods of exercise. That means that when you’re jogging slowly, your body is forced to rely on fat stores and the aerobic system for energy. This also continues long after your exercise is over, meaning you’ll continue to burn calories throughout the following day.
And apart from all that, this type of training simply allows more intensity overall, which means you can get more done in less time. In just 20 minutes or even 10 you can get a highly intense and highly effective workout in. Use this once or twice a week and combine it with IF to see incredible changes throughout your body.
All of this shows you how an understanding of the science can give you complete mastery over your body. When you know how everything works, you are given agency to manipulate the various factors that determine your health and your physique. There’s MUCH more to learn, which can be found in the full 20,000 word ebook. But for now, apply these principles and you should start to lose weight fast and notice an incredible transformation.
Knowledge really is power!