For almost 30-years I have been on an incredible journey of education and discovery about fat – all because a friend couldn’t lose weight and I wanted to know why.
What I have learned has taught me enormous respect for the human body. It is truly remarkable. The more I understand, the more compassion I feel for our bodies, and the more I appreciate that if we go to war with our fat – we are not going to win.
This morning’s musings started after a heart-wrenching phone call from a good friend. This beautiful and talented lady was overwhelmed by the challenges of losing weight.
It is usually me phoning her for advice – she is usually so calm that this phone call was unusual. She told me her story. She decided she had sorted her life out to a point where she could tackle her weight. She started with eliminating refined foods and lots of walking. After plateauing at a 6 kg weight loss for some months, she decided to try the ketogenic diet. At the same time, she began high-intensity exercise training.
She gained 13 kilo’s over a few weeks and couldn’t understand why. In a nutshell, she went to war with her fat and her fat won.
This is a story I hear over and over again. This is not the story that makes the “client of month” at the local gym, or the one used when advertising diet and exercise programmes. But it is the real story behind the fat loss industry. It is a worldwide story and one that no matter what is thrown at it – regardless of diet or exercise regime it is a story where for far too many people, young and old alike, fat is the victor.
Why is fat winning this war?
Fat has the upper hand because it wages war on multiple fronts. Fat will take any opportunity to survive and reproduce. You threaten it with food restriction and exercise, it responds with both guerilla warfare and sophisticated technology.
Fat has been around for a long time. It has been part of our evolution and ability to survive as a species. It is essential to life. The ability to store and retain fat is encoded in our DNA and expressed in our genes. It won’t give itself up without a fight and it won’t ever give itself up unless it feels safe to do so.
What makes our fat feel safe?
First – plenty of calories coming into our bodies. Restricting calories for more than a few days at a time puts fat on guard. Do this for 6-8 weeks and a full-scale battle is underway.
Hormonal messages are sent out – telling fat to store as much as possible. Neurotransmitters flood the subconscious with hunger and food cravings – the kind of food that feeds the fat.
The problem is if fat was to relinquish itself and then we ran out of food, well that would be a disaster. Fat doesn’t know we stopped eating by choice. It has an ancestral brain. It thinks it is famine time. Fat only cares about staying alive, not how we look in our skinny jeans.
It isn’t just the quantity of food either.
To feel safe, fat requires the body has access to all the nutrients it needs to function properly. Adequate vitamin and minerals are essential for energy production, repair and maintenance of body tissues and DNA. Just eating plenty of food won’t work unless it is nutrient dense. This is one of the reasons the keto diet doesn’t work for everyone. While eating a lot of fat reduces insulin response and stops hunger, when there are not enough nutrients available fat storage ramps up again to protect against famine.
We also need a healthy gut, one that can digest and process food properly.
The gut needs to repel the invasion from bacteria and viruses and to transport waste material out the body. Almost every blood chemistry analysis I complete shows inadequate digestion with malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies and immune reactions to molecules that should not be in our bloodstream. Fat loss is almost impossible in this environment.
If we want to lose fat, our bodies need to be healthy. An unhealthy, nutrient deficient body triggers a survival response in our fat cells.
Fat also has a direct connection with the brain through hormones and neurotransmitters. Anything that negatively affects their production will trigger hunger, food cravings and fat storage. Stress, lack of sleep and eating foods that elevate insulin for long periods – all add to fat.
Exercise has a lot of benefits and can positively affect our hormones. We know this because exercise is great for regulating mood and reducing depression. But, like everything else, it is a delicate balance. Too much or too little – those little fat cells hang on and multiply and send out their viruses to affect our brains with hunger, anxiety and fatigue. We all know what happens then.
What is the answer?
Fat attacks us on a subconscious and metabolic level – returning fire, using conscious control (willpower and determination) only leaves us feeling hungry, exhausted and like failures, just like my friend. Eventually, most people give in.
While we can’t control our response to the messages fat sends around our bodies, we can control our environment and the choices we make. We can control the kind of food we buy. We can make sure that when a “fat attack” strikes that we feed the resulting hunger and cravings with food that satisfies our fat. The kind of food that lets our fat know we are safe and there is plenty of nutritious food to eat. When our body is safe from the threat of famine, fat can then turn down all those messages it sends to protect our survival.
Another way we can help our fat is to be more selective in how we exercise.
We can use exercise as the friend it should be, instead of as an attack and punishment.
Exercise is one of the most remarkable tools we have to fight our fat, but in the wrong hands, it becomes a dangerous weapon that does more harm than good.
The most important thing we can do for our fat is to appreciate it.
Treat it with the respect it deserves. When fat starts expanding think of it as a warning system that our body is under threat. Take the time to listen and respond. Don’t just ignore it and hope for the best or try to starve and exercise it into submission.
Your body works in cycles. Think of it like the seasons. Time for recovery and rest, time for new growth, time for maintenance. If we can make peace with our fat and treat it well, maybe those skinny jeans will be possible after all.
If you’re tired of fighting the war against fat book in for an initial consultation and let’s start investigating the underlying reason why.