Counting calories and making sure to consume fewer calories than you burn in an average day is one almost guaranteed way to lose weight and to ensure that you keep getting thinner. Simply put, if your output is greater than your input, then you will reduce the total amount of energy stored in your system – which means reducing fat.
But if you think that losing weight is going to be as simple as calculating your AMR (active metabolic rate – the total number of calories you burn in a day) and then consuming less than you burn, then think again.
The problem is that there is no completely accurate way to calculate how many calories you burn in a day. Individual differences here are huge and this is largely down to the role of hormones in the body. A lot of people will sneer at that claim and say that hormones are ‘just an excuse’ for people who aren’t willing to reduce the amount they eat – but this is sorely misguided.
To see the role of hormones, all you have to do is look at a bodybuilder using anabolic steroids. All those do is to increase certain hormones like growth hormone and testosterone and this completely changes the effect that food has in the body.
Or for the other end of the spectrum, take a look at someone with hypothyroidism. This means an imbalance of T3 and T4 hormones that prevents the body from using as much energy. These people can exercise as much as they like but their AMR will remain very low – despite calculations saying otherwise.
You might not have a hormone imbalance and you probably (hopefully) aren’t using steroids. But even so – we are all incredibly different and this alteration in hormone profile means we should all expect drastically different results from the same diets.
The Role of Insulin
And one of the biggest examples of this of all is insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that we produce in response to an increase in blood sugar. When you eat, the body produces insulin which in turn triggers a reaction that causes the sugar to be absorbed into the blood stream and converted into useable energy.
People with type 2 diabetes have developed a ‘resistance’ to insulin and this means their blood will build up with glucose and they won’t be able to use it. That then causes a build-up of triglycerides and fat and it leaves the body tired and lethargic. What’s more is that it can cause nerve damage and eventually even blindness due to the toxic nature of high levels of glucose.
Again, you may not suffer from a full-blown case of diabetes but all of us have different levels of insulin sensitivity and the lower this is, the harder it becomes to lose weight.
The good news? You can increase your insulin sensitivity and thereby improve your health and accelerate your weight loss.
How to Impact Insulin Sensitivity
While insulin sensitivity is somewhat genetic it can also be ‘trained’ like so many other processes in the body.
What’s key to recognize here is that the body will always adapt to the circumstances you put it in. This
follows a principle known as ‘SAID’ – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. If you lift heavy weights, then your body will become stronger. If you go out in the cold, you can actually strengthen your immune system.
Meanwhile, if you eat lots and lots of sugar, then your body will learn that it doesn’t need to be energy efficient. Thus your insulin sensitivity will drop, your number of mitochondria will lower (as will their efficiency) and you’ll find that more of what you eat gets stored as fat. Eventually if this goes too far, you can become resistant to insulin. And if you have a genetic predisposition, then this can eventually result in type 2 diabetes.
So how do you increase insulin sensitivity? Simple: you do the reverse! Simply by consuming less sugar your body will have to work harder to get the energy from your blood and thus you will start producing more insulin and being more sensitive to it. Likewise, you can this way increase your mitochondria.
There are a number of controlled methods you can use to accomplish this. One of the best ways is to try intermittent fasting which means you’ll go for periods of having very low blood sugar so that your body will be forced to burn fat instead. Another option is to try the ‘slow carb diet’ or a low carb diet. These force your body to survive on either complex carbs or fats, both of which will be much slower to release energy into the blood and twill therefore avoid any sudden sugar ‘spike’.
Supplements and Lifestyle
You can also help to increase your insulin sensitivity by using specific supplements. One example of this is to use cinnamon. Cinnamon has been shown in many studies to help lower cholesterol and blood sugar and that it could even be a possible treatment for diabetes. In one particular study, volunteers were given 1-6 grams of cinnamon for 40 days and were able to cut their blood sugar levels by as much as 24%.
Another example of a potential supplement is milk thistle. This has an active component known as ‘silymarin’ which has been shown to help support liver health and to strengthen the liver. It has been shown in some studies to be effective at lowering insulin resistance even in diabetic patients!
Also useful is exercise. Exercise increases the demand for immediate energy in the body and this forces our systems to plunder fat stores as well as the blood for glucose. When you exercise intensively, this can help you to immediately use up large quantities of sugar and thereby it works in a similar way to starving your body of energy.
You can also enhance this effect even further by combining the right types of exercise with the right types of diet. For instance, if you use ‘fasted cardio’ that means that you’ll be exercising specifically when you have low levels of blood sugar already. If you do this, then you’ll be forcing your body to work even harder at getting the energy from your body.
Note as well that insulin isn’t only used for energy – it is also an anabolic hormone that the body uses for getting nutrients out the blood to build muscle and tissue. When you work out you can increase levels of testosterone and growth hormone and this will help to enhance the role of insulin in your system.
There are many more tricks too: improving your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 for example, drinking green tea and avoiding trans fats can all help to boost your insulin sensitivity!