7 Principles for Permanent Weight Loss (part 2)
Apr, 24, 2014
If you missed the first three principles for Permanent Weight Loss please go here, as I think they are foundational to any Permanent Weight Loss plan.
In Part 1 of these 7 Principles, I said that if you only did the first three principles, you would be well on your way to seeing the results that you want to see. In this second part, I will argue for you to add in these other 4 Principles. When you allow the culmination of all 7 Principles to come together, you help form a lifestyle that becomes more than the sum of their parts. By doing so, you ultimately give yourself the best odds of seeing permanent weight loss. Although there may be a lot of different methods that can move you towards permanent weight loss, by following these principles you give yourself the best odds of doing so. Let’s get started.
4 – Become Fuel Flexible
If you had a hybrid car that could use both electricity and gas to power the car, but only used gas, you would be wasting precious energy that could keep your car running as long as possible. This is analogous to what happens when people’s energy levels are dependent on their carbs and glycogen levels (glycogen is just stored carbs).
Sure, you may be running on a high-octane gasoline (carbs), but you are wasting the resources of the electric portion of the car which would allow for more sustained energy (stored fat). By using the gas only, you are running out of fuel way too early.
Humans have adapted to both use fat and carbs as fuel sources, but most people are not very good at utilizing their fat stores for energy. Instead, they depend primarily on carbs as their sole source of energy and in doing so, are not very good at burning fat in general.
In order for you to become “fuel flexible,” you need to eliminate carbs for 2-4 weeks, as the enzymes that your body needs to utilize fat as energy have become sluggish from a lifetime of non-use.
When carbs are available, your body will use these first. Since, your brain and spinal cord can only use carbs or ketones for energy, during the first week of a low-carb diet, your glycogen stores become depleted (stored carbs) and your body starts to utilize the “back-up team” of ketones (part of fat breakdown). The problem is that both your brain and your body are fighting for energy from that same energy source. This is because instead of using fat as energy, as your body is supposed to do, it’s trying to use ketones for energy, which should be spared for use by your brain primarily.
After a week or two (sometimes longer), a part of fat, called triglycerides, finally starts to get utilized by your body for energy. In other words, the “electrical component” of the hybrid car starts working. When this starts to occur, you’re utilizing body fat for fuel and will have more steady energy because of it.
This allows for two main benefits. The first, and most important, is that it helps you decrease your reliance on carbs for energy. Instead of “needing” carbs for energy, you simply go into full-on fat-burning mode when your carb stores are low. This happens after a tough workout or when you get busy with work and “forget to eat.” This allows you to burn fat at an optimal rate, while simultaneously helping to keep your energy levels constant. By having your energy levels remain constant, you get the benefit of reducing cravings. Sure, if you forget one too many meals, you might get ravenous, but you don’t “need” carbs every time you start to become hungry. Instead of hunger controlling your day, you get to control your day and your eating.
You don’t want to stay here indefinitely as your body’s metabolic rate needs carbs to function correctly, but you want to be able to use both sources of fuel for energy. Once you’ve started using fat for fuel regularly, it becomes much easier for your body to switch back and forth between both fuel sources as needed. Overall, by becoming fuel flexible, you both help to stabilize your moods when you don’t eat (decreasing the chances of being “hangry” – hungry/angry) and this results in less cravings, at least from a physical standpoint.
Add to Your Life:
A – Eat a low-carb diet (under 50 grams per day) for 2-4 weeks.
B – During this time, you should also be working out consistently. The reason for this, is that some research has shown that some individuals (usually overweight and obese individuals) have impaired fat breakdown, but working out helps to repair that.
C1 – Afterwards, try to limit carbs to about 100-150 grams of carbs per day, until you’ve reached your goal weight.
C2 – Or, have days of lower carb intake (less than 50 grams) with periods of higher carb intake (at least 200 grams of carbs), until you’ve reached your goal weight.
5 – Eat Only “Natural” Whole Foods
In the article on Leptin and Bodyweight, I quickly touched upon how the Kitavans, who were never exposed to overly sweet and processed foods, had much lower leptin levels. What I didn’t explain, is why those things can be so detrimental, especially to the people most susceptible to seeing the negative consequences of that particular type of eating (overweight and obese individuals).
The biggest detriment is that it over-stimulates the reward centers in your brain. Most people have heard of dopamine and may have even heard that “Food can be as addictive as cocaine.” Most people, incorrectly assume that dopamine is the “pleasure-seeking hormone” though, when in reality it’s a goal-seeking hormone. If your brain thinks it’s important, dopamine will give you the drive to go after it.
For example, most addicts no longer want to do drugs, but when put in front of them, they have an over-whelming urge to do the drug of their choice. Usually this gives them nothing but a fleeting pleasure, of which they have a lot of regret and a feeling of helplessness.
When researchers say that “Food is as addictive as cocaine,” what they are saying is that the same centers in the brain are lit up in the same manner and intensity as someone doing cocaine. People that tend to binge eat and who feel unable to control their eating do so with an overwhelming urge.
When other people look at these people, they ask, “How could they eat like that?” The reason is three-fold:
1 – Processed foods over-stimulate the brain and there is a huge dopamine rush. This starts innocently enough. You eat a piece of cake and it’s delicious.
2 – Over-time, people come to want this huge dopamine rush (“addiction” starts). In this case, from food.
3 – Your brain becomes less responsive to the “drug.” Whereas, the first time this occurred, you could eat one cookie and feel satisfied, by the end, you’re eating a whole package, just to get the same rush.
This happens with anything that relies on dopamine rushes; drugs, alcohol, food, sex, fast cars, roller coasters, etc. All of these things can become “complacent” if overly done. This is especially true if you’re prone to be more impulsive (but that’s another post).
Just how big of a role does overly processed foods play for some people? Consider this study highlighted by Eirik Garnas:
One of the most interesting studies on food reward in humans was published in 1965 and involved feeding lean and obese humans through a liquid feeding device. Participants were allowed to eat as much of the liquid food as they wanted, but couldn’t consume anything else. While lean subjects ate their normal amount of energy and maintained body weight, obese subjects lowered their food intake dramatically, and although they only ate between 200-300 calories a day (yes, you read that right), they didn’t experience fatigue or hunger, and quickly started losing massive amounts of weight. It seemed like their bodies responded to the monotonous, low-rewarding diet of liquid food by lowering the body fat set point and increasing the use of stored body fat for energy (41).
When I read this, my mind was blown. Consuming only 200-300 calories per day is ridiculously low. More important than that was the reward that obese subjects got from food. By taking away that reward, they consumed far less calories than they needed. These people were addicted to processed foods and 50 years ago, the foods were nowhere near as bad as they are today.
This is an instance where “everything in moderation” may not be good for certain individuals (at least until they get control of their brain chemistry), and where food quality trumps the amount of food ate. In addition to that, eating highly rewarding foods will continue to mess with leptin over time and this basically tells your body to store more weight and fat. This is why one’s set point usually skews higher over time. If you want to lower your body’s weight as naturally as possible, then you need to lower your Leptin set point. As of now, the only way to do that, is to eat whole, natural foods, consistently and become more sensitive to leptin’s signals.
Add to Your Life:
A – If you’re overweight or obese, recognize that you have more things working against you. This is why some lean individuals can eat a lot of junk food and not see any detrimental results, while others will gain unwanted fat. This simply means that you may need to do things a bit differently to see permanent fat loss than naturally lean individuals.
B – Stick to whole, natural foods. This includes, meats, fish, potatoes, eggs, fruits, vegetables and beans. By process of elimination, that also means that you have cut out all of the other things that may be detrimental to permanent fat loss efforts – including, but not limited to, bread, sodas, juices, pasta, candy, cakes, cookies, bagels, chips, etc.
6 – Learn to Turn Yourself “On and Off” (Get Adequate Sleep and Control Stress)
For years, we’ve been taught that we should both get more sleep and reduce the stress in our lives. Knowing these things though, doesn’t point to the fact that it usually does nothing more than add more things to do in our already hectic lives (and add more things to “stress” about). The key isn’t so much reducing stress in our lives, as it is learning to control our reactions to stress.
In Matt Perryman’s book, Squat Everyday he discusses the nervous system and how to control fatigue from doing maximal lifts every day. One of the things is to know “when to push it” in the gym and when to relax. If you can teach yourself to be able to do both of those things, you will have energy for when you truly need it, and be able to recover in between those efforts. The key is knowing how to do both, or how to “Turn On” and “Turn Off.”
So for example, if you’re working out and you’re about to do a heavy deadlift, you want to be able to turn yourself to the “on” mode. You want to be able to give everything you have on that set. But once that set is done, you want to go into recovery mode. People have asked me, “How do you push yourself when in the gym?” And really, the answer is, to not waste any energy. When doing the set, I’m pushing it as hard as I can. In between rounds though, I’m not getting amped up to do the set. Instead, I’m “relaxing” as much as I can.
Outside of the gym, there are examples of turning “on or off.” For example, imagine the first time you did anything that made you nervous, that still gets you excited while doing it now. For example, we’ll say giving a presentation. If you’re like most people, than your first time was in high school or college. The presentation may have been something nerve-wracking for you. If that was the case, then you were “on” long before the presentation (keeping you up the night before) and it took a while after it was completed for you to go back to normal. That extra energy, better known as adrenaline, helps you, but that first time, it was released way too early, just causing a waste of energy. If you give presentations often now, then you still might get that adrenaline rush, but only a minute or so before, during the presentation and a few minutes afterwards. That extra energy serves to make the presentation worth listening to and helps keep you engaged with the audience, but if it’s on too early, it isn’t helping you.
The “on mode” is stress and how we interpret it, makes a huge difference. Life is not inherently stress free, nor should it be. “Stress” isn’t bad if it helps us to grow and do the things we love. It is bad when our reactions to it are not appropriate.
For example, although Bruce Springsteen has been performing live for over 35 years, he’s been quoted as saying that he still gets nervous before concerts. Yet, after all of those years, people who see him live still talk about how he is one of the best performers they’ve seen. That nervousness, that “stress,” helps fuel his performance after all of these years. Imagine he gave into that stress and didn’t perform? That would be unheard of.
He gets nervous, is set to “on mode,” and after the show takes some time and goes back to “off” mode. Knowing how to elicit that “on switch” when it’s needed and to be able to “turn it off” when it’s not saves a lot of energy and gives you the ability to control your reactions to “stress.”
By the way, this becomes infinitely easier if you are eating enough protein, vegetables and fermented food while being fuel flexible, as you have much more stable blood sugar levels. Just saying.
Add to Your Life:
There are literally hundreds of methods to help “control stress, but at the end of the day, you have to find methods that work for you. I present three that are backed up by a substantial amount of science (meditation, sleep and nutrients), but there are tons of ways that I didn’t include such as exercise, laughing with friends, a glass of wine, writing, reading, naps, spending time in nature, having a dog, etc. So the key is to find methods that work for you.
A – Take Quiet Time
This will eventually be its own post, but the research on meditation is quite extensive. It has been shown to decrease a person’s stress response, but more importantly, it acts as a way to strengthen your self-control muscle.
Research over the past couple of years has shown that self-control can fatigue like a muscle, and just like a muscle, it can be strengthened. If you strengthen your “self-control” muscle, than just like a muscle, if you have to lift something (if you need self-control), it becomes easier. And let’s be honest, most people could use more self-control in their lives.
Most people think of meditating as something reserved for those who love yoga or some Buddhist monks, but really, it can be quite simple. As I put in the title, it’s simply taking “quiet time.” For me, that’s at least 10 minutes (although 15+ is ideal) of sitting down (in a comfortable position – no need to sit cross-legged) and focusing on your breathing. If I take only 10 minutes of quiet time, then it’s really hard for me to focus on just my breathing. In fact, with 100 things going on in my head, it’s very hard for me to get to a point where I am not thinking about something the whole time.
The point is to not fight against the thoughts, but to simply go back to the focus on your breathing. The thoughts will pop up, despite your best efforts, but if you can continue to focus on the breathing, then you are doing your job. When I get closer to 20 minutes, I have small (very small) instances where I am not thinking or planning something and that’s where the magic happens. It may not seem like anything and as a rule, you will barely notice it, but the clarity that comes throughout the rest of the day is small but significant.
To me, the analogy is like having a small stone in your sneaker or shoe. If you remove that small stone, despite its size, you have a much easier day. If you keep it there, then you can still get everything done, but it’s not nearly as easy and you constantly have it on your mind. Taking “quiet time” removes the stone from your shoe for that day and makes your day easier. Others may not notice it and if you’re not consistent, you may not notice it. But if you do it consistently, you will start to notice the differences in all aspects of your life. Conversations become easier as words come to you easier. Avoiding certain foods becomes easier as you don’t even think about it. Instead of plopping down on the couch, you go for a walk. Small, but significant changes.
B – Go to bed 30 minutes earlier
Do this for 2 weeks or as needed to make that earlier time a habit for you. Once you’ve gotten there, go to bed another 15 minutes earlier on a consistent basis. Keep moving down in 15 minute intervals, until you’re getting an optimal amount of sleep for you.
If you know nothing about sleep, know this: the more sleep you have, the better your body is to hear the signals that it needs to hear in order to lose weight.
C – Ensure proper nutrient intake
I think this is where supplements can be of benefit with two of the most important being a high end multi-mineral and digestive enzymes.
Most people are deficient in more than one mineral and yet minerals are really needed for one’s ability to relax. For example, it’s estimated that close to 7 out of 10 people do not take in enough magnesium per day (68% to be exact). Yet magnesium is critical in having your body relax. It’s hard to “turn off” if you don’t have enough magnesium and a multi-mineral will have magnesium. I say high quality though, because you want to be able to absorb the magnesium in the pill.
The other supplement I think most people should at least get accustomed to are digestive enzymes. As the quote says, “It’s not what you eat, but what you absorb that matters.” Taking digestive enzymes helps you to absorb more of the nutrients from food and in doing so, gives you the best opportunity to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients from the food you eat. After vetting a bunch of multi-minerals and digestive enzymes, these two are the most cost effective and high quality:
Multi-Mineral (take 2 with dinner) – Beware, these are some large pills.
Digestive Enzymes (take 1 with each meal)
7 – Do “Concurrent Training” and Move More Often
So what about working out? Everyone is often looking for the “secret” to working out in order to lose more fat.
Do you want to know the secret? It’s quite simple. Do both strength and cardio in the same workout and move as much as possible when you’re not in the gym. If you’re trying only to gain muscle, then this would not be a good idea, as the signals that tell your muscles to grow become “clouded” when you do both. If though you’re trying to lose fat primarily, then doing heavier strength training with some sort of cardio in the same workout has consistently been shown to have the best results when it comes to fat loss.
Now there are literally hundreds of ways you can do this and you can progress your workouts to make them different and more challenging, but in general, this is the best way to lose fat.
The question then becomes, what happens if you’re just starting to work out? Should you do this type of training? You still should, but you can separate the strength and cardio a bit more. For instance, you would do your strength training first and then you would move over to the cardio at the end. Once you build your cardio base a bit more, then you can start to add the cardio in between the strength rounds for the most effective way to lose fat and keep the muscle you have.
Here’s how it would look in action (a bit more traditional set-up):
1A – Deadlifts
1B – Incline Chest Press
2A – Hip Thrusters
2B – Push-ups
2C – Burpees
3 – Treadmill Intervals
Or, here’s another example (a bit more advanced):
1 – Squats
2A – AirDyne Bike Sprint
2B – Chin-ups
3A – Bulgarian Split Squats
3B – Box Jumps
3C – Single-Arm Dumbbell rows
4 – Rowing machine Intervals (200 meters as fast as you can, followed by 100 meters slow)
Here’s the thing though, these workouts won’t make you the strongest you can be, and they won’t help you to lose the most “weight.” What they will do though is to help you lose the most inches and overall body fat, and isn’t that what we all want?
So that’s what you should do in the gym. Outside of the gym, is when you should then start to move as much as you can. The key here is to do things that can help your body recover, without over-taxing it.
For example, instead of taking the car, ride a bike to somewhere local. Or instead of simply sitting around during a nice day, go for a hike. There are hundreds of ways to be more active and you should include them regularly. Although I don’t think they, in themselves, will cause significant weight loss, they can help keep you burn a few hundred extra calories per day, which makes it easier to keep any fat off that you do lose.
In the end, do you have to follow these principles to lose weight? The answer is still, it depends. Some people may never have to do any of these things and lose the weight they want. Others will have to follow all seven.
The more important question is, do you want to give yourself the best odds of not only losing weight, but staying healthy and keeping it off permanently? If the answer is yes, then these 7 Principles give you the best odds of doing just that.
Not every diet will work for everyone, all the time, just like there is no “perfect workout program” for everyone, but there are principles which form the foundation of successful weight loss. These principles are that foundation. Use them going forward and thank me later. 😉
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