Iron Sharpens Iron
From “Eat to Perform”:
I thought it would be interesting to describe a few examples of fat loss approaches and why the people who undertake them are typically unsuccessful. Now, I am certainly not saying you CAN’T achieve success using these methods, but I am going to throw out the pros and cons of each scenario. This will be the first installment in a series. These won’t be overly-scientific explanations, so they should be easy to understand for those without a background in human nutrition.
Let’s begin this discussion by bringing up an important consideration that is often lost in translation: the way the given example is currently eating i.e. their nutrition history. By far, the most effective way to lose fat is to be well-fed in the beginning. Because many people that read Eat To Perform are underfed for their level of activity, I will address this scenario (and how people tend to get there) first.
“Eat Less/Do Less” followed by “Extreme Deficit Dieting”
The most effective way to lose fat is, unfortunately, often the least sustainable.
(Note that I say “most effective,” not “best way to lose fat.”)
I think most of us have tried this method before – it’s the basis for many of the “30 day Paleo/low carb/whole foods/etc. challenges.” This person is usually someone coming from a background of eating mostly processed carbohydrates, inadequate amounts of protein, and relatively little fat. Flip that around – teach people to eat low carb, high fat/high protein in the form of whole foods – and it seems like something magic is happening.
If they move towards a more “whole food” way of eating and keep their activity low (activity requires energy after all, which is the culprit behind a lot of cravings), they can typically mobilize a good amount of fat in a short period of time because their energy intake decreases – a steak and a salad will provide fewer calories than a double cheeseburger and a milkshake.
Not all of the weight this example loses will be fat. However, while this formula isn’t great as far as muscle retention is concerned, if their fat layer is relatively thick it won’t take much of a toll on their lean mass in the beginning because they really aren’t doing all that much.
(This would be a different story if we introduced high-intensity exercise into the equation; unfortunately, this happens all too often and that’s kind of why ETP exists.)
While hormones like leptin and growth hormone that keep you lean were being repressed by chronically elevated levels of insulin, now those hormones are let loose to do their job. For these people moving to a low carbohydrate way of eating seems like a godsend because their glucose-dependent hormone profile will reverse, allowing their bodies to better use fat as a fuel source. Make no mistake about it though, it isn’t the fat doing the heavy lifting – it’s the calories and the carbs.
For a lot of people, losing 30-40 pounds is great but they probably won’t look or feel all that great. Since there was no emphasis on building lean mass or developing skills, this approach will leave the person less capable and “skinny fat”. In an effort to further strip away body fat, calories will inevitably continue to drop, and they’ll eventually start to get really hungry.
Since insulin wasn’t being utilized, there’s no reason to produce leptin and without exercise, there was really no reason to make HGH, so these hormones become repressed. Thyroid function can also take a nosedive – it’s not pretty. Confused as to why their plan is no longer working, this person defaults to the most logical conclusion (it’s actually wrong, but I will talk about this more later): they eat.
Now that insulin is back in play, it takes a while for leptin signaling and growth hormone to get the memo. This is the part that most people screw up. They didn’t really understand why they lost the weight or how to keep it off. They do know that it sucked, and they certainly know that eating doesn’t suck as much as dieting did…So they return to their old routine. A lot of people regain the weight with interest.
Can work well for sedentary people who need to quickly lose weight for health reasons
Hormone function is restored due to the inclusion of healthy amounts of fat and less dependence on carbs – leptin, HGH, testosterone, etc. often return to normal levels
An emphasis on whole foods can improve overall health, especially if fish/grass fed meat and a multitude of vegetables are included
While overfeeding was possibly part of the problem, the real issue (lifestyle) isn’t addressed and these people will often create an incredibly stressful atmosphere within their bodies to continue to see results.
The scale will often go down, and in the beginning a lot of that weight will be fat, but the individual is not a more capable human being – they’re just smaller.
The hormones that were repressed (leptin, HGH etc.) can actually become repressed due to prolonged low carb/low calorie dieting; this is what causes people to plateau, not starvation.
While the first 30-40 pounds come off easily using this method, after a while the loss of lean mass due to lower calories can become a threat to long-term health
This approach is not sustainable for athletic populations
Rebound weight gain is very common
This isn’t to say that no one has made it using this approach and it may well be the best approach for sedentary people with obesity issues, but most people fall somewhere in the continuum and being less capable as a human being without the ability to live life and use the body they were blessed with isn’t a great long-term plan. It’s also not great for body composition, so many of these people DO lose weight but DON’T really see great gains in the mirror. Those that do will often deal with a lot of loose skin because their body didn’t have enough time to adjust to the change. As their fat layer shrank, their muscles were weakened by the lack of activity and there was nothing to fill in the space.
Hopefully this has given you something to think about as far as weight/fat loss goes. The “30 day” approach is not the most pretty, exciting, or sustainable way to approach fat loss. It’s not the best way to lose fat. In future installments, we’ll look at a different way to do things that may yield more favorable results without all the negatives.