It seems not a day goes by where fat loss isn’t in the headlines. Plus the messages consistently relayed have become increasingly confusing. Butter is good yet it’s fat that is the enemy. No wait, it’s carbs that are the enemy. Make sure you do cardio oh wait, it’s cardio that makes you fat etc etc. Suddenly everything you thought you knew and understood about health has come into question, your head is spinning and you’re in desperate need of a brew but even that’s too complicated as you have no idea what flaming milk to put in it!
We’ve been in the health and fitness industry for over a decade and have observed what works when it comes to fat loss. Recently we’ve focused our efforts on putting together advice that’s easy to implement as well as effective for our clients. Our goal is to offer some clarity in amongst the overwhelming degree of conflicting information popping up on your newsfeed, inbox and TV screen each morning. In previous blogs we’ve talked about the importance of nutrient density, blood sugar balance, lifestyle factors, supplements, offered tips just for women and some for blokes, and finally put together an abundance of tasty recipes to help you put all this into practice.
Whatever you health goals we strongly advise you work your way through this lot as there’ll also be some great reminders of things you keep meaning to do (like chill out!) and could make a huge difference to your success rate. We also suggest whatever changes you make to your nutrition and lifestyle you aim to sustain them consistently for 28 days or more. We developed our fat loss Kickstarter Plans as a means of coaching people through this – with guidance on all the essentials; including beating sugar cravings, establishing your carbohydrate tolerance and knowing exactly where you stand with calories.
Whilst these all provide you with a solid foundation to help you achieve and sustain your health and fat loss goals, as our biochemistry is unique there are some things you may wish to consider specific to you that could just be the final piece in your fat loss puzzle.
We have mentioned the intricate relationship between nutrition and the immune system before. Over time our body may decide that a certain food is similar to a pathogen and eventually when you eat that food your body launches an immune response characterised by inflammation. If chronic inflammation is present in the body your fat loss efforts will be hindered.
We continually emphasise the importance of food rotation and increasing the variety of your nutritional intake to lessen and limit the impact of food sensitivities. With schools declaring themselves ‘nut free’ zones and supermarket rapidly expanding their free from (goodness!) aisles it would suggest more and more people are experiencing adverse reactions to particular foods or food groups. Although elimination nutrition is often criticised as a fad diet – or even worse – an eating disorder, as a Nutritional Therapist I observe case after case of negative reactions to food.
One thing that needs to be clarified is a food sensitivity is not the same as a food allergy. A food allergy is mediated by something called IgE antibodies (remember E for evil) and often characterised by a sudden rash, wheezing or itching. These are usually permanent reactions to food and maybe in serious cases life threatening. Common food allergies include fish, shellfish, nuts, milk and eggs.
A food sensitivity, on the other hand, is mediated by different antibodies, commonly IgG or IgA, or it may kick-start the inflammatory cascade in the body and cause symptoms like bloating, skin issues, fatigue or brain fog. The complicating factor here is that the onset of symptoms can be delayed. To further confound the situation, you might also be experiencing a food intolerance not a sensitivity, this an adverse reaction to food where the symptoms are usually the result of an underlining gut disorder such as ‘leaky gut’ or disruption to the balance of gut flora. In this case there is no specific immunological response.
Confused? Don’t be! The point here is simply to trial an elimination and food rotation plan. As you will likely know we advocate a paleo-basis for nutrition, removing many foods that have been shown to exacerbate gut dysfunction including gluten grains, legumes, pasteurised dairy and refined sugar. In addition to this you may need to reduce the FODMAP foods within your diet and follow our Good Gut Guide to address any digestive issues. As you narrow your nutritional intake by eliminating food groups it becomes hugely important to rotate your food intake. Plan your weekly menu ahead and make a conscious effort to vary your meals and NOT eat the same foods every single day. Imagine if you had a sensitivity to oats and started every morning on porridge! Explore pseudo grains like quinoa, buckwheat or try making rice porridge instead. The same applies to your protein and fat intake. If you’ve been living on chicken and salmon for years try some wild meats (most taste like chicken!) or game and rotate your olive oil with coconut, avocado, macadamia and walnut oil. There are testing options available but there is a cost involved and repeat testing maybe necessary. If you only eat a food 1-2 times a week you lessen the potential impact it has to cause inflammation and impact upon fat loss progress.
Not Enough Calories
We’re a nation obsessed with counting and reducing calories. The success of the low fat revolution was the ease with which it became to fill our plates with a lot of food that yielded next to nothing in terms of calories. However, the problem with reducing your calorie intake long-term, is that our bodies are then well adapted to facing starvation from time-to-time and will have a series of protective mechanisms it will initiate once the brain has detected the threat of starvation.
The brain instructs the body to:
- Increase calorie absorption in the gut
- Decrease calorie expenditure at rest
- Increase appetite
- Increase fat deposition
Essentially a lack of sufficient calories can turn you into a hungry, slow, fatigued, fat storing machine. Your body does this to protect you from what it perceives to be an environment of scarcity and famine – it simply doesn’t know if or when the next calorie is coming and therefore needs to hold on to every bit of body fat it can. Often people get results as they commence a calorie restricted diet but soon hit a fat loss plateau and may even start gaining body fat as the body implements the changes above. Our thyroid gland plays an important role too, especially in the “are there enough calories to survive?” decision making process. Calorie restriction can increase a hormone known as Reverse T3, essentially putting the brakes on your metabolism by decreasing active thyroid hormones in the blood. Paleo nutrition, clean eating and elimination diets can all lead to this dietary pitfall, you may not be consciously reducing calories but by eliminating processed foods by default you may have significantly cut your calorie intake. Although we don’t recommend calorie counting religiously, it can be helpful to calculate your basic calorie need (known as your basal metabolic rate or BMR) and account for the calories you expend through physical activity, to check that your calorie intake is close to your needs and not drastically below it. You can calculate your BMR here and use MyFitnessPal to input a rough idea of your nutritional intake and calorie expenditure. We usually do this on an ad hoc basis to check in and ensure we’re sitting comfortably close to our needs.
DNA & Diets
Gene testing is getting increasingly fashionable as you can now tailor your nutrition and exercise programme to your genetic disposition. Genetically we are pretty much identical, but within our gene codes variations (or mutations) may occur known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphism or SNP’s (pronounced SNIP). Over generations these adaptations occurred to improve our chance of survival in specific environments.
Nutrigenetics studies this genotype information to determine the effect these gene mutations have on our metabolism and elimination of nutritional toxins. For example, you can have your APOA2 gene status tested, studies have shown that a genetic variation on this gene means your BMI increases with saturated fat consumption, suddenly that paleo steak topped with butter isn’t looking too appropriate for you! You can also test a protein receptor located in the cell nucleus known as Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma (PPARG) which plays a role in the production of fat cells. A mutated version of this can make an individual more predisposed to weight gain if they consume refined carbohydrates and lead a sedentary lifestyle.
There are many others genes that can be tested which assess the impact of dietary and exercise interventions on your genotype. You can also test your ability to digest lactose (milk sugar), your risk of developing coeliac disease, your efficiency in detoxifying caffeine and alcohol and your ability to modulate inflammation. You can find out more at 23andme.com or DNAdiet.
If you can’t afford the test its not the end of the world, we simply highlighted this to allow you to understand that a diet that works awesomely for one person might not be right for you. If you’ve tried a high fat diet and gained weight maybe try decreasing saturated fat intake and increase leaner protein sources and healthy carbohydrates. Rather than pay to be tested for coeliac, lactose intolerance, caffeine and alcohol metabolism eliminate them all for 28 days as we do on Kickstarter and see if your body composition responds positively. Simples!
Measuring Margin For Error
How do you actually track fat loss? Scales, tape measures, callipers, photos? Almost all are fraught with a margin for error and simply overthinking the process is enough to drive you mad! Thankfully most people have reached the conclusion that in terms of assessing body composition weighing yourself is:
Firstly, weight loss in the initial stages of clean eating and exercise is mostly water so the numbers on the scales will decrease rapidly. Whilst this results in a motivating and positive start, as the numbers slow down people often become disheartened by the lack of progress despite continuing efforts. Anyone training and exercising regularly will usually observe the numbers creeping up as they increase lean body mass in place of fat mass. There is also the accuracy of the scales to consider (I’ve witnessed a difference of half a stone on different sets of scales in the same gym) not to mention time of the month, time of the day, and as Matt infamously posted on Facebook, the results of weighing himself before and after a number two! Let’s just say the ‘loss’ was significant!
We recommend circumference measurements on our plans as these can be done easily without relying on machinery or equipment, we also get individuals to post photos too as these can be the most useful means of assessing progress, we suggest taking photos in the same clothing and in the same position each week. Measurements can be incredibly insightful but are also unnecessary for some people, especially if your fat loss journey has been governed by numbers in the past, they may create more anxiety than is helpful and in which case simply use the fit of your clothes plus your energy and mindset as a marker of progress.
We hope the tips in this week’s blog have been helpful. If you’d like to join us on our next online programme then you can find out all of the details here.