It’s summer. The sun is shining. People want to look and feel good wearing their summer clothes. It’s a time when, personal trainer Helen Taranowski, hears from an increased number of people wanting to lose weight – and that usually means lose ‘fat'
When I meet people who are looking to lose weight they have usually tried to do so in the past (maybe with a small amount of success), then re-lapsed and tried again and again! They usually tell me that they went on a ‘diet’. When pressed further these ‘diets’ usually involve calorie restriction and/or eating low fat foods.
I see you nodding your head; after all, this is what we have had drummed into us for around the last 40 years or so - ‘Eating fat makes you fat and reducing calorie intake will reduce body weight’ – but what if I told you that was not strictly true?
Ok, you are going to take a bit of convincing, so lets look first at what happens in our bodies to promote fat storage. The hormone insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to increased levels of sugar in the blood. Blood sugar is raised after eating and is especially high after eating carbohydrate foods (sugars and starches – which are both broken down to simple glucose molecules in the body).
Insulin’s job is to lower the blood sugar level and store fuel sources in our body for later use. It drives sugars into muscle cells and fats into fat cells. When insulin is busy doing it’s job, hormones that break down fat for fuel are switched off, so no fat gets removed from the fat cells. Which makes sense because there is plenty of fuel circulating in the blood to supply your immediate energy needs.
A diet high in carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, sugary foods and drinks) keeps levels of insulin elevated. This means your body spends a lot of time storing fats and not much time using them.
So what’s this got to do with low fat? Well, the foods that we know are naturally low fat (bread, pasta, rice, cereals) and the specially formulated ‘low fat’ foods that are marketed to those wanting to lose weight are high in carbohydrates and sugars. For example, low-fat cereal bars are laden with simple sugars. Eating these foods only serves to promote fat storage.
We have been encouraged to make these foods the staples of our meals and snacks but there is now a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we want to lose some inches from our waists we need to lose those sugars from our plates.
Instead we should aim to fill half to two thirds of our plates with plant foods; vegetables, legumes and fruits, a third with protein and maybe a small amount of whole grain, high fibre carbohydrates; With protein - meats, poultry, fish and eggs - we don’t always have to choose the leanest cuts. Fat is no longer the enemy. Fats are absolutely essential to our health and are used in many body structures and processes. Especially beneficial are the Omega 3 fats found in oily fish and the monounsaturated fats found in olives, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Eating fats does not cause a surge in insulin and increased fat storage. The body is able to use the fats for normal body processes. Proteins and high fibre fruits and vegetables again do not cause high insulin levels. When we have relatively low and stable insulin levels throughout the day, the hormones that break down fat stores for fuel can become active. The fat in our fat cells gets broken down and used to fuel or body processes and daily activity – this then reduces our body fat.
And forget counting calories! Yes, obsessively counting calories is boring, time consuming and pointless. Of course if you are eating twice the amount of calories that you need then you definitely need to cut back but if you stick to unprocessed, real foods, plenty of vegetables and fruit and drink water, teas and coffee, you really would be struggling to massively over-eat every day.
Foods that encourage over-consumption of calories are once again, carbohydrates and sugary foods and drinks. You get a surge of sugar into the blood. Insulin levels go up. Sugar is removed from the blood stream and then you feel hungry again and reach for a couple more biscuits. Sound familiar?
If we want to lose body fat for good, It’s time for us to get off the high sugar, low fat, low calorie diet rollercoaster and move to a more healthful and sustainable way of eating and fat loss.