This is a guest post by James Gaida, creator of 4 Day Fat Loss.
The 2004 movie Mean Girls taught us everything we need to know about nutrition….okay, maybe not. But it did illustrate how confusing the fat loss puzzle can be, especially in regards to carbohydrates.
Karen: Do you want to eat at Taco Bell?
Regina: I can’t eat at Taco Bell, I’m on an all-carb diet! God Karen, you’re so stupid!
Carbohydrates are the most misunderstood nutrients when it comes to fat loss.
Far too many people, my past self included, have completely removed carbs from their diet in an effort to speed up fat loss.
However, for most people, the best fat loss results actually come from consuming carbs, not completely cutting them out. A big reason for this is the specific fat burning hormones that only respond when carbs are strategically part of your diet.
This is a critical point, because hormones flat out decide whether or not you are a fat burning machine or just on the road to ending up a skinnier version of yourself with very little change in body fat.
The fact is, anyone can lose weight by simply eating very low calories. But just because you are losing weight doesn’t mean you are losing much body fat. Just “losing weight” hopefully is not your goal.
You want fat loss! And in order to target body fat, you absolutely must have your hormones under control.
Here are the 4 biggest hormonal players in the fat burning game and how the practice of avoiding carbs puts the brakes on your fat loss:
This hormone is known as the “fat burning hormone”. When leptin is elevated your body is sending the signal to start burning away at body fat stores.
Leptin is released from fat cells. The more body fat you have the more leptin your body will release. As you begin to diet for fat loss, the reduction in calories and the loss of body fat naturally leads to less circulating leptin. When leptin levels are lowered, fat burning slows down.
Carbohydrate containing meals happen to be the best way to keep leptin elevated so that you keep burning fat. On the flip side, a low carb diet keeps leptin depressed shutting down your fat burning.
You’ve probably heard cortisol described as the stress hormone responsible for accumulation of belly fat. If you haven’t heard this, cortisol is the stress hormone responsible for the accumulation of belly fat. 😉
Anytime your body is placed under stress, (physical, emotional, or mental) the response is to produce cortisol. When cortisol gets out of control, your abdominal fat begins to get packed on.
Carbohydrates are essential for keeping cortisol balanced. Carbs provide an easy energy source for the body, in the form of glucose. When glucose levels are optimized there is no stress response needed to produce energy.
However, when carb intake is kept very low, there are lower levels of readily available glucose to be utilized. In this case, cortisol is released in order to free stored energy and provide the glucose needed to keep you going. If cortisol continues to be released due to low energy levels, as is the case with chronically low carb diets, the end result is belly fat accumulation.
3. Thyroid Hormone:
This hormone is produced by the thyroid gland and is largely responsible for your metabolic rate. In other words, healthy levels of thyroid hormone keep your metabolism buzzing, whereas depressed levels of thyroid hormone bring fat burning to a halt.
I’m sure you can guess what is coming next. Low carb diets lead to reduced levels of thyroid hormone putting the brakes on your fat burning efforts. By limiting carbs too heavily, you can actually end up shutting down your metabolism.
When you eat carbohydrates they are broken down into glucose and your blood sugar becomes elevated. This in turn, signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin’s job is to deliver the sugar from the blood into muscle cells making insulin a very anabolic hormone. In a perfect, fat burning world, the story ends there.
However, we don’t always live in a perfect fat burning world. Eventually, your muscle cells get “topped up” and can no longer take in any more sugar. Once your muscle cells are no longer accepting sugar, insulin deposits the remaining energy into body fat. In this way, insulin can be responsible for making you fatter.
Hence, the low carb diet was born with the idea that if you completely eliminate carbs from the picture, blood sugar will remain low, insulin will be under control and you will be able to avoid fat accumulation. Now, this works to a degree and short bursts with very little carbs can work wonders for fat loss, but this is not the most effective way to keep your fat loss humming through the entire duration of your diet.
Enter “Insulin Sensitivity”. This term, insulin sensitivity, refers to your muscle cells willingness to accept insulin (carrying blood sugar) so that it can be properly distributed. When you are highly insulin sensitive, sugars get deposited in the right place (muscle cells) and avoid being stored away as body fat.
However, because it is carbohydrates that create the most profound effects on insulin, by going too long with very low carbs in your diet and not experiencing bursts of insulin your muscle cells essentially will start rejecting insulin, leading to insulin resistance. When insulin resistance occurs you go into fat storing mode.
All four of the above hormones need to be balanced for optimal fat burning efforts. Get any one of them out of whack and you can say goodbye to fat burning. And when you cut carbs too low for too long, you run the risk of hormonal imbalance.
The solution to this dieting dilemma is the introduction of carbohydrate re-feeds. The carbohydrate re-feeds are meals (or sometimes entire days) where you intentionally eat high amounts of carbohydrates in order to balance hormones and burn more fat than you would otherwise.
The re-feed happens to be the best way to keep your hormone levels in a fat burning zone. As discussed above, leptin levels sky rocket after a meal that is both high in calories and high in carbohydrates. Additionally the loading up of glucose from a re-feed, fuels your cells so that cortisol remains at bay, thyroid hormone stays elevated and you maximize insulin sensitivity.
On a side note, apart from balancing your hormones,carbohydrate re-feeds also end up being a great way to maintain your sanity while dieting for fat loss.
During a re-feed, I don’t typically restrict calories. For the most part, you want to keep it clean (avoid high sugar crap) but don’t stress about the amount of carbs. Frequency of the re-feed is far more important. The frequency of these carbohydrate re-feeds depends on how much fat you have to lose. The more you have to lose the less frequently you need to load up on carbs.
If you have lots of fat to lose try “carbing-up” every 2-3 weeks. If you’re already six pack lean, and looking to get leaner then you can carb up every 3-5 days. If you’re somewhere in between, then try a frequency schedule somewhere in between 5 days and 2 weeks. Where ever you are starting, pick a carb-up frequency and adjust it (if needed) based on your results.
Stop hiding from carbohydrates and instead use them strategically to Turbo-Charge your fat burning.
That’s so Fetch!
(If that means nothing to you please watch Mean Girls as soon as possible)
James Gaida bio:
I am a fat loss expert and certified Precision Nutrition Coach. I have spent more than 13 years coaching clients in both nutrition and fitness. In that time I have also became certified as a Specialist in Performance Nutrition and a Certified Fitness Trainer. I also own many leather bound books and yeah, I’m kind of a big deal!
My baby, 4 Day Fat Loss (4DFL) is dedicated to teaching simple techniques to rapidly burn fat, increase energy and live a healthier life. If you want to find out how to burn fat quickly and transform your body check out the 4DFL Method.