Diets fail: In the first 4 to 6 months, diets are great because with some sacrifices you get very good results. After 6 months, losing more weight needs even greater sacrifices. You feel tired, lousy and depressed, until the day you quit. You regain exactly the same weight in less than a month. All the sacrifices of several months are lost in one single month. We have failed. Is it us or is it the diet?
Diets are doomed to fail. Any diet: low-fat, low-carb, ketogenic, calorie restricted or portion control. It’s not your fault.
Can you imagine restricting the amount or the type of food during your whole life?
Food has always been a part of celebrations in human history. Social occasions are always followed with big feasts: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Weddings, Birthdays, New Year’s Eve. Restricting food quantities and food types is too hard and psychologically very tough.
“I just do a diet, lose some weight and then I just have to keep at that weight.”
That was my plan and I’m sure that this is probably the plan of another ten thousand souls.
It’s just doesn’t work like that. Why?
Reducing and Limiting Calories Doesn’t Work
Science can’t explain how, but we all have a body weight memory. In a study with 1000 convicts at the Vermont State Prison, subjects were given 4000 calories at every meal, when they would have eaten 1800 calories before.
Initially, they started to gain some weight but after a few days, they found it very hard to overeat. Some even gave up as they found it more and more hard to overeat. Others were given 10,000 calories, and they put on 20 to 25% more weight, but not as predicted by the study.
Once the study finished, their body weight quickly and effortlessly returned to normal. Most of the participants did not retain any of the weight they gained. Their overeating did not lead to weight gain. In the same way, undereating does not lead to lasting weight loss.
In short: Our body adapts our metabolism rate to burn more or less energy. If you eat too much food, your metabolism adapts to burn more fuel. But if instead, you provide less energy, the body adapts and uses less by reducing some activities: body temperature, cognitive activity, mental focus.
Does this mean we can’t lose weight? We can, but not by limiting or reducing calories. Portion control and calorie restriction work only while you follow the rules; once you finish, your body weight will return back to normal.
There’s a solution, but first, it’s important to understand the cause of the problem.
Why Do We Gain Weight?
Air and energy are the most crucial and important resources we need.
We can’t store air but we can store energy.
To understand why we gain weight we have to understand how we store and burn energy.
When we eat, our body produces insulin, a hormone responsible for taking excess glucose out of the blood. Some foods spike more insulin levels than others, but all food causes insulin to be produced.
First, insulin stores glucose in the liver in the form of glycogen. This is our quick storage energy access. The liver has a limited capacity and once it is full, insulin converts the glucose into fat and stores it under the skin. Fat is our long-term and not so easy accessible energy source.
We have 2 sources of stored energy: glycogen in the liver and fat under the skin.
We can either create fat or burn fat, but we can’t do both at the same time.
During meals or snacks, insulin is produced so fat is created. While there’s insulin in our veins, we can’t burn fat.
What happens if you give insulin to a patient? The patient gains weight, that’s a fact.
We are constantly using our easy access energy called glycogen. Glycogen has an autonomy of 12-24 hours, depending on your brain and physical activity.
We use the glycogen and when we eat, new glycogen is created and the liver gets full again. Once glycogen levels are full, our body starts to produce fat and stores it under the skin. I’ve made a video explaining how this process works. You can watch it here.
Our body only uses our long-term energy storage once the glycogen is depleted. Then we start to burn fat.
As we eat, insulin is produced, glycogen is restored or fat is created. While there’s glycogen available, the body will not use fat.
When we stop eating, insulin levels drop and we burn stored energy.
While there’s a limited capacity in the liver for glycogen, there’s no limit to store fat. Our body stores as much energy as it can, because energy is critical to us.
What about exercise?
I’m a big fan of sports. Exercise plays a very important role in my mental health as it helps to release stress and anxiety, and sweating helps to clean my body.
In terms of weight loss, exercise is 20% part of the solution, the rest being diet (what we eat and when we eat).
Exercise is very important but if you don’t change the way you eat (or when you eat), you will not find great results in terms of weight loss.
The benefits of sports go way beyond weight loss: sweating helps to clean your body through the skin; reduces your brain activity which alleviates stress; stretches and uses your muscles, helping to reduce tensions that may cause pain; helps to get you tired and improve your sleeping time.
Storing and Burning – The balance
Every time we eat, we store energy and when we do not eat, we burn energy.
Storing energy is very important as our body is ensuring that we never run out of fuel. But why do we keep on storing energy when we already have enough of it? Because we keep on eating.
To use our stored energy we have to stop eating. Our inner balance comes from periods of eating and not eating.
If we eat all the time, we are storing energy constantly, so more fat is produced and we gain more weight.
When we don’t eat, our body used our stored energy and so energy is burned and we use our stored energy.
There needs to be a balance of periods of eating and periods of not eating.
Feasting like Kings and Queens
Centuries ago, we only feasted on special occasions while kings and queens feasted every day. Obesity was very uncommon and overweight people were rarely found. The only overweight people were the kings and queens.
If we feast every day we will gain weight, as our body is storing fat constantly.
The Big Snacking Problem
“We have been brainwashed to believe that constant eating is somehow good for us! Not just acceptable, but healthy.”
From The Obesity Code by Dr. Fung
Most of the snacks available in supermarkets are pure sugar, fat and salt. Even if you prepare your own healthy snacks, if you’re constantly eating, your insulin is constantly storing energy; first as glycogen in the liver and then as fat under the skin.
There are 2 main types of foods: whole food and processed/junk/fast food.
Processed/junk/fast food is very low on nutritional value and high on sugar, processed fat and salt. These are the cause of many diseases and they should be avoided and restricted.
Some whole foods are more fattening than others, and sometimes we indulge and feast on these in excess.
If we fast after a feast, we allow our body to burn the excess, so we don’t gain weight and restore the balance.
50 Years ago we only ate 2 or 3 meals a day, allowing time between meals to lower the insulin levels and our body used glycogen as a source of energy.
Today with all the snacking culture promoted by the big food companies, people are constantly eating. We can and we do eat everywhere. You can eat in the car, in the movie theatre, on the bus. There are so many eating opportunities that we are constantly being flooded with the stimulus to have another bite.
Insulin levels are constantly high, new fat is constantly being created. There’s no time to use glycogen, so all the excess of glucose is stored directly as fat.
When we eat, insulin is always produced. Some foods spike more insulin than others, but we always need insulin. If we are constantly eating, insulin levels are constantly high which with time will develop insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease, just like high blood pressure, heart failure and non-alcoholic fatty liver. But I will leave that story to another article. Let me know in the comments section if you have any interest to learn about the causes of such diseases.
The solution is to lower insulin levels so we use glycogen and stop generating more fat.
How do we drop insulin levels? First, we don’t eat between meals. Forget snacking, you don’t need it.
Eating more will not help you to lose weight.
Snacking is probably the cause of your weight gain. Most of the commercial snacks are high on sugar, fat and salt. Even if you prepare your own snacks, allow time between meals so insulin levels drop.
I started to experiment with fasting by skipping breakfast. I started to allow my body a 14-hour window between dinner and lunch the next day.
A 14 hour not eating period
A 10 hour eating period with 2 meals: lunch and dinner
That’s what I’ve been doing for 1 year and I’ll continue to do so (my 1-year intermittent fasting story is here). I skip breakfast every morning.
I’ve lost weight, I increased my productivity and reduced my anxiety. As I write this article I’m currently on my 12 hour fasting. Losing weight and not getting the excess weight back was one of the many benefits of intermittent fasting.
I’ve set a new body weight memory for my body. I’m not following a diet. I’ve an eating pattern where I fast every morning until noon, at least.
On special occasions like Christmas, I feast like a king and the next morning, I fast like a Monge.
Why is intermittent fasting the best way to lose weight?
You burn energy: Fasting is a natural way for the body to burn energy. 12 hours of fasting burns some of your stored glycogen energy, reducing the quantity of new fat being generated and stored.
No calorie restrictions: In your eating window you can have normal meals. No calorie or portion control meals.
No food restrictions: In your eating period, you can eat what you want. Of course, junk/processed food and high sugar beverages are never good options.
You can do it everywhere: You can fast anywhere. Contrary to diets where you need to eat certain type of foods, you can fast while traveling, working or exercising.
Simple and easy: All you have to do is fast during your fasting period. You don’t have to pay to fast.
Save time and money: In the morning I don’t have to worry about preparing or having breakfast.
Burn fat: Extend your fasting to 20 hours, so you deplete your glycogen storage and start burning stored fat. You can accelerate the process by working out (or running) when fasting. With exercise, you will burn glycogen faster and start burning fat.
No sacrifices: It’s not a diet, it’s an eating pattern. You’re not restricting calories or foods, you only are skipping one meal to allow your body to burn that extra stored energy.
There are many types of fasting patterns; I prefer to do my fasting in the morning.
Mornings are usually calm with no social events and no food temptations.
Fasting benefits go beyond weight loss
Weight loss and keeping the same weight for over one year is definitely great, but for me, fasting has offered me many other advantages.
New food habits: After a long fast, your body is cleaner and more sensitive. I started to get different emotions from the food I ate. Fruit and vegetables improve my mood, while meat makes me tired and sleepy. White rice and pasta makes me bloated and my mind foggy.
With experimenting, I realize how raw fruit and veggie salads are my best option to break my fast.
For the past year I’ve been reducing my meat and fish consumption and I feel much better. Before I ate meat or fish mostly every day; today I eat them one or 2 times a week.
More energy: You may think that fasting will make you feel tired and sleepy, but that’s exactly the opposite. Since your body doesn’t have to dedicate energy to digesting food, you get extra energy for other activities. While fasting in the morning, I get a boost of adrenaline that makes my morning very productive.
Less anxiety: Fasting gives me a sense of calmness. Less stress, more focus, clear thoughts and clear goals.
More organized: Since I’ve been fasting, I’ve found myself being more organized and taking the time to put things in place.