Those selling weight loss believe the “eat less, move more” model. They falsely believe all calories are equal and stored in one single compartment.
Those that believe in this model think if you’re using more calories than you’re consuming you must be burning body fat and will lose weight.
The truth is there is more than a single compartment of calories. There are actually multiple compartments consisting of fat and glycogen. According to Jason Fung, MD, The Complete Guide to Fasting,
“To burn fat, two things must happen: you must burn through most of your stored glycogen, AND [emphasis added] insulin levels must drop low enough to release fat stores.”
Doing both of these two things isn’t easy. When stored glycogen gets low of glucose your body (led by your brain) starts to get protective and throws hunger cravings your way. Then you either eat more or get hangry. If you don’t eat, or eat enough, to fill up the glycogen stores and your insulin remains high, body fat CAN’T be used.
Then this happens;
The body’s only course of action is to decrease your metabolism so that you’ll be burning less energy.
Have you ever experienced this? Ever gone on a “eat less, move more” program and lose weight only to gain it right back? Chances are good you have because this method ignores the truth of the multiple compartments of calories and the role insulin plays in reaching fat stores.
What’s Really Going On
Let’s define glycogen in context to fat stores, i.e., the multiple compartments of calories. Glycogen is stored glucose in two main areas; in your liver and residing in muscle cells. The average amount of glucose that can be stored in glycogen is between 400-500 grams of glucose. At 4 calories per gram, you have between 1,600 and 2,000 stored calories.
Fat is the other storage container. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. Most people, therefore, have 90,000 or more of fat store calories. If a person was severely obese and carried 100 lbs of fat, they would have a whopping 350,000 stored calories!
Think of these two containers this way. Your glycogen store is your refrigerator in the kitchen. Your fat storage container in your freezer in the basement and it’s the food you store for long-term use and depend on if for some reason your refrigerator can’t be restocked. You are almost always in your refrigerator putting food in and getting food out. It’s not often that you get something out of the freezer in the basement.
The reason for most weight gain over the years is because of decades of abundant carbohydrate consumption. The fat stores proliferate because you never allow your refrigerator to empty and have to make room for more glucose and move the excess to the freezer in the basement.
Why You Can’t Get Access to Your Freezer in the Basement (a.k.a. fat stores)
Insulin has a major role in allowing you access to your fat stores.
When glucose is present in the blood (often referred to as blood sugar) insulin is a hormone released to regulate it. Glucose is created mostly from carbohydrates. Insulin’s role is to help the glucose get used by the working muscles. When insulin is in the blood it turns fat burning off because the blood glucose needs to be used first before the body can use fat. It’s like the refrigerator in the kitchen. As long as there is food there you’re not going in the basement to get food from the freezer. If you have more glucose in your blood that can be used by your working muscles, your body’s only course of action is to store the excess as fat (just like what would happen if you had more food in your refrigerator than you could eat and you had to store the excess in the freezer in the basement to be used later.
According to Jason Fung, MD,
“When either food or glycogen is available, we do not use our less-accessible fat stores. This ensures that body fat is only used in times of need.
“The body always wants to stay at a certain weight, and any deviation above or below that weight triggers adaptive mechanisms to get us to return to that weight. That’s why, after weight loss, we become hungrier and our metabolism relentlessly slows, so that we have to eat even less just to maintain our lower weight. That’s the body trying to get us to gain weight to get us back to our set weight.”
“The reason the body has to resort to decreasing metabolism and increasing hunger is because insulin remains high, so it doesn’t have access to the energy stored as fat.”
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say your goal is to lose weight so you reduce your usual 2,000 calories a day diet down to 1,200. Your body up until this time was used to the 2,000. Initially, though some fat will be lost because of the 800 calories per day deficit. However, most people that are overweight have some degree of insulin resistance and a higher level of insulin. The higher levels make it difficult to access fat stores. The higher levels of insulin are instructing your body to store energy, not burn it. Because your body is used to burning 2,000 calories and only 1,200 are available, it has to reduce its expenditure to match. Your new basal metabolic rate decreases to 1,200 calories.
In Jason Fung MD’s book mentioned earlier he says,
“This explains why the Biggest Loser contestants, just like all dieters using the “eat less, move more” approach, gained their weight back: their metabolism slowed down in response to caloric reduction. The heavy exercise schedule demanded by the show is also not sustainable for long. Between the slowed metabolism and the reduction in exercise, we see the very familiar weight plateau. Once calorie expenditure drops below intake, we see the even more familiar weight regain. Bam! Goodbye reunion show.”
How would you feel, or perhaps have felt, to lose a bunch a weight only to start to feel cold, lethargic, and tired as your body slows down to conserve energy? You probably couldn’t take it anymore and you’d start eating again just to get rid of these feelings, all because your metabolism had slowed down. Then the worse happens; you gain all your weight back that you had lost starving yourself, and then some, and your family starts to ridicule you for cheating on your diet. You quit looking in the mirror and start to feel worthless.
With the single compartment calorie model of “eat less, move more” the results are predicable. This strategy has a 99% failure rate, just like the Biggest Loser strategy.
Take a Trip With Me to the Freezer in the Basement
Keep following in subsequent blog posts as I explain the two ways out of this problem and correctly use the multiple compartment models to regain control of your weight and reverse your insulin resistance and finally get access to your fat stores (take a trip with me to the basement!).