Avoid falling into the Fat Trap! Start losing fat and improving your health today by understanding the truth of how we get and stay so fat.
Misinformation on how people get fat and how they should lose that fat is everywhere in the media. It’s even been dubbed the “The Fat Trap” because these faulty strategies like eating low-fat and calorie-restricted diets or doing aerobic training for 150 minutes a week don’t work. In some cases these methods make the poor folks who try them even fatter! What is a well-intentioned, motivated person to do?
This article will tell you who is fat and the truth about the source of that fatness. I will provide three tips for clearing away the myths, lies, and misperceptions about fat loss so that you are left with some real strategies you can use to lose the fat and avoid the trap.
Who Is Fat?
Americans are some of the fattest people in the world with 33 percent considered obese and 68 percent classified as overweight, but obesity is a problem in many industrialized countries. The UK, Australia, Mexico, and New Zealand all have obesity rates over 20 percent.
In the U.S., a quick snapshot of obesity trends show that women are slightly more likely to be obese than men, and 33 percent of children are classified as overweight before they reach the age of 5. People living below the poverty level are more likely to be obese than those above it, and people of color are more likely to be obese than Caucasians.
Why Are They Fat?
People are fat because they eat too many carbohydrates, the majority of which are high-glycemic carbs that persistently raise insulin and drive fat gain in the body. According to the Center for Nutrition Policy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American also eats too much everyday—a whopping 2,800 to 3,000 calories a day in 2006.
We’re not talking about highly active athletes and strength trainees who obviously need to consume that amount of calories, but the vast majority of Americans who do limited or no physical activity but still eat 2,800 calories a day. In fact, 25 percent of Americans report no daily physical activity and many more live sedentary lifestyles, while exercising a few days a week, which is not enough to induce fat loss on a 2,800 calorie a day diet. Plus, statistics suggest that 55 to 65 percent of those calories are from high-carb foods, making the source of the obesity epidemic crystal clear. The average American eats 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners such as sugar or high –fructose corn syrup a year!
The daily intake of 2,800 calories is up 21 percent over 1970, and prevalence of being overweight has naturally increased over that time. The amount of food available for consumption daily in the U.S. is even more appalling: There are 3,900 calories available per person each day but about 20 percent of that gets thrown away and the rest goes into the mouths of Americans to be stored as fat. About 474 grams of those 3,900 calories are carbs, 111 grams are protein, and 178 grams are fat.
You Can’t Out-Train A Bad Diet
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Although strength training and regular physical activity will provide numerous body composition benefits and make it much easier to lose fat, exercise is not the sole solution to the obesity epidemic. A common misperception is that if you go to the gym everyday or jog a few miles on a regular basis, you can eat whatever you want. This is not the case.
You need to eat a diet that promotes sensitivity to the hormone insulin in the body, and eat macronutrient ratios that promote health. I’ll get more into dietary solutions to obesity below, but before we go there, you need to understand three critical points about exercise and fat loss:
1) Aerobic exercise is not the ideal exercise mode for fat loss because it doesn’t increase muscle mass and does not raise metabolism significantly. The common policy solutions promoted by government health organizations to perform aerobic training will not solve the obesity epidemic.
2) Strength training and high-intensity intervals can help you create an energy deficit to lose fat. Training will build muscle and increase your resting metabolic rate, and hard training elevates your metabolism during the recovery period meaning your body burns more energy, further supporting the energy deficit and weight loss.
3) Strength training is well known to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Making the body more sensitive to insulin improves energy use, enhancing the metabolism.
Tip #1: Avoid A Calorie Approach to Fat Loss
Avoid the calorie approach to fat loss in favor of a lifestyle in which you eat a diet with a macronutrient profile that improves hormone and chemical transmitter response in the body so that you achieve optimal body composition. By eating more protein and fewer carbs you will increase metabolism, elevate hormone levels that keep your appetite in check, and help you feel physically and mentally sharp. There’s research to prove this, which I’ll get to below, but let’s get the calorie issue out of the way first.
If you take in too much energy every day, you will get fat. But, all calories are not created equal when you are dealing with a sane and reasonable energy intake. Here’s why:
• Macronutrient ratios will determine hormone response. Carbohydrates like sugar, bread, and grains all raise the hormone insulin, which when persistently high, leads to fat gain.
• High insulin also drives up the hormone cortisol, which tells the body to store energy as fat. Carbs drive insulin, which drives fat storage and sleepiness, while protein drives wakefulness and fat for use as fuel.
• Using a calorie-restriction approach to fat loss puts the body into a fat conserving mode and lowers metabolism. This is the reason people commonly regain all the weight they lost after ending a calorie-restriction diet—they’ve altered their metabolism for the long-term.
• A recent study showed the futility of the calorie approach to weight loss. A 10-week calorie-restricting diet produced weigh loss but also resulted in severely altered hormone levels that regulate hunger and fat storage. Leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger was reduced, whereas ghrelin and gastric inhibitory polypeptide, which promote fat storage and stimulate hunger, were elevated for at least a year after then end of the 10-week diet!
• The thermic effect of food varies greatly. This is the amount of calories required for the body to break down and send different foods where they need to go. Protein requires many more calories to process than do carbs or fat, and nearly all the protein you eat will be used to rebuild tissue and increase muscle mass in the body.
Tip #2: Eat A High-Protein, Low-Carb Diet
Use a “lifestyle” change diet for long-term, sustainable fat loss, rather than a temporary dietary change that induces short-term weight loss but alters hormone response for the worse. Research in the New England Journal of Medicine
shows that adopting a low-carb, high-protein diet for the long-term—over two years in this study—leads participants to have better eating habits that support weight loss and maintenance of that new weight.
The study used a simple lifestyle intervention program that taught participants how to eat primarily low-glycemic carbs, with a diet high in protein that did not restrict fat intake. This diet did not restrict calories, but carb intake was limited to 120 grams, mainly from vegetable sources. This diet was compared to a low-fat, calorie–restricted diet of 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 calories for men.
Results showed that participants on the low-carb diet lost more weight (4.7 kg compared to 2.9 kg in the low-calorie group), and that because the diet improved insulin and hormone response to eating, it induced “a cascade of changes” that led to better maintenance of body composition. The low-carb diet also decreased markers of systemic inflammation, and produced better cholesterol levels and blood sugar regulation than the low-calorie diet.
Tip #3: Eat Smart Fats and Protein for Better Body Composition and Health
A fascinating new Swedish study provides support for flavorful eating, finding that a high-fat, low-carb diet can help you lose fat! The study used two energy-restricted diets of 1,600 calories a day for women or 1,800 calories a day for men with the following macronutrient ratios: the low-carb diet included 50 percent fat, 20 percent low-glycemic carbs, and 30 percent protein; the low-fat diet included 30 percent fat, 60 percent carbs, and 10 percent protein. Participants were all type 2 diabetics, and researchers measured cholesterol levels, blood pressure, insulin and glucose levels, and weight loss.
Results showed that both groups lost equal amounts of weight after 6 months (4 kgs), and the low-carb diet produced better blood sugar regulation with much lower glucose levels than the low-fat diet. Insulin levels were decreased by 30 percent because the low-carb content produced better blood sugar regulation. This group also had dramatic improvements in cholesterol markers, with the “good” HDL cholesterol increasing more than on the low-carb diet, despite eating 20 percent of the diet from saturated fat. Blood pressure also decreased more from eating a low-carb, high-fat diet than from the low-fat diet.
This study is not first of its kind to show that smart fats aren’t evil, although it may be earth shattering for American nutritionists and “obesity” experts who are counseling low-fat, whole grain eating. Be aware that in order to use a high-protein, high-fat diet for health and body composition, you do have to be smart about it. For example, you can’t start chowing down on trans-fats, processed foods, or grain-fed meats from factory farms. Instead, include the following strategies to use a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet for optimal body comp and health:
• Eat a large portion of your diet from a variety of animal protein sources—20 to 30 percent.
• Opt for organic grass-fed/finished beef or wild meats for protein.
• Eat only low-glycemic carbs in the range of 20 to 30 percent of the diet or no more than 100 grams from carbs.
• Get the vast majority of your carbs from vegetables and fruits.
• Eliminate all juice, soda, alcohol, and beverages other than water, tea, and coffee.
• Eliminate all processed foods no matter what the macronutrient ratio.
• Eliminate all sugar (obviously, since it is high-glycemic) and sweeteners, including low-glycemic ones such as agave.
• Do not restrict fat intake and consider eating as much as 50 percent of your diet from healthy fats. Ensure you get adequate omega-3 fats.
• Avoid all trans and hydrogenated fats. When choosing saturated fats to eat, opt for those that contain stearic and lauric acid rather than palmitic or myristic acid because the last two may elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Shai, I., Schwarzfuchs. D., et al. Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2008. 359(3), 229-241.
Guldbrand, H., Dizdar, B., et al. In Type 2 Diabetes, Randomization to advice to follow a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Transiently Improves Glycemic Control compared with Advice to Follow a Low-Fat Diet Producing a Similar Weight Loss. Diabetologia. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.
Center for Nutrition Policy, U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the U.S. Health and Nutrition Data Tables 215-218. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
Obesity Statistics by Country. Nation Master. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
Kamani, M., Schoute, J., et al. Activation of Central Orexin/Hypocretin Neurons by Dietary Amino Acids. Neuron. 2011. 72, 616-629.
Golan, R., Tirosh, A., et al. Dietary Intervention Induces Flow of Changes Within Biomarkers of Lipids, Inflammation, Liver Enzymes, and Glycemic Control. Nutrition. December 2011. Published Ahead of Print.
Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L., et al. Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss. The New England Journal of Medicine. October 2011. 356(17), 1597-1604.