There’s a saying in the fitness industry:
“You can’t out train a bad diet.”
But what exactly does that mean?
We live in a world of excess. Even when we’re broke, we don’t seem to skimp on the calories. Considering how expensive food can be, it’s surprising that we’re in the throes of one of the worst obesity epidemics in history.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s not surprising at all, when you consider what the cheapest foods consist of: sugar, starches, saturated fats. Tons of refined, bleached grains. Really, it’s a lot of filler. And most of that filler comes from wheat flour.
Flour and starch made a lot of sense a century ago, when people spent all day outside
working in the fields or carrying heavy stuff around factories and construction sites.
But most of us today are planted at desks, inside, with little to no physical activity
apart from what we force ourselves to do.
So what’s the problem?
Well, this gets a little complicated, but bear with me.
Every cell in your body runs on glucose. This is, in fact, true for almost every living thing on the planet. Glucose is a very basic type of carbohydrate molecule that’s consumed for energy.
Carbohydrates, as a family, include sugars, starches, and fiber. Fiber isn’t something easily digested and serves mainly to help move things along your bowel. Starches are slightly more complex than sugars, but are easy to break down -- so, to your body, they’re metabolically basically the same.
Consuming these causes your body to produce insulin, which is a hormone devoted almost entirely to blood sugar regulation. It’s primary goal is to get glucose to your cells, where it’s stored as glycogen. When the cells are full, extra glucose gets attached to certain protein molecules to be stored as fat for later use.
See the issue? When we eat too much sugar and starch, there’s an abundance that the body doesn’t need right away. That gets stored as fat. That’s what we DON’T want.
In the 1970’s, it was observed that people who ate a high fat, high cholesterol diet were prone to heart disease. Despite there being no significant study to confirm this correlation, the FDA and the AMA went on an advertising spree, promoting the health benefits of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, coupled with a lot of cardio. Since then, some 30+ years later, the obesity and heart disease epidemic has spread like wildfire.
Newer research has shown that what’s actually happened is a lack of dietary fats and cholesterol has slowed people’s metabolisms, while they continue to consume sugar and starch in abundance, causing massive insulin spikes that result in a lot more stored body fat.
Oh, and as a bonus, the LDL you do get from fructose is supposed to be fluffy. That
only happens if there’s omega fatty acids in your system. Cut those out (like in a low
fat diet), and it becomes small and dense, which makes it easier to lodge into fissures
in your arteries and lead to clogging. Those fissures are caused by small trauma to
your arterial walls from scraped by (ready for this?) glucose molecules attached to
Isn’t nutrition fun?
Luckily there is a way around this. The low-carb / no-carb diet craze caught on years ago, starting with the Atkins and South Beach Diets. It works because it trains the body to preferentially consume stored fat for energy. Cutting out carbs just plain works.
Before you go off on a tangent about needing carbs for energy, let me emphasize this: we’re talking about rapid fat loss, which means we’re looking at combining short-term lifestyle changes that will bring results quickly. When you upgrade to bodybuilder or athlete status, we can change tactics.
By reducing carbohydrate intake, we can adjust the insulin response, and keep your body burning off that stored energy instead of using cheap, easy-to-obtain glucose.
If insulin is the storage hormone, then leptin is the energy burning hormone. Leptin is fueled by a higher calorie intake, and drops off when there are fewer calories. This is one of the reasons why long-term low-cal dieting flops so hard. But there is a way around this:
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that extends the overnight fast (the 8 hours you’re asleep and not eating) to as much as 16 hours or more. While this often does involve skipping or delaying breakfast, the results are pretty impressive.
See, with the extended fast leptin’s response is, “hmm...less food? OK, less leptin.” But then, you squeeze all of your calories into an 8-hour window, and leptin goes, “Oh cool! Lots of calories! I’m on it!!” As leptin starts to taper off over the course of a week, a lot of programs recommend doing a “cheat” meal on day 6, followed by a full fast.
When you combine this with fewer calories overall (for the short term) and a reduction in simple carbohydrates to reduce insulin, your body responds by activating the metabolic processes necessary to take that extra fat out of storage and put it to work.
Increase the amount of energy you need to keep your muscles activated while boosting your metabolic rate and state of readiness over a 24-hour period through resistance training and HIIT, and you have a recipe for a significant shift in body composition.