If you are overweight, you have a fat storage issue, not an overconsumption of calories issue. You may think they are one and the same, but fat loss and fat gain are regulated by an intricate hormonal dance. Hormones, the complex chemicals within us, send our cells messages which then cause them to behave in certain ways. When it comes to fat (and other more serious health issues) the hormone to zero in on first is insulin.
Begin by seeing food as your hormones see it – as information. The type of food you eat informs your body what to do; it tells it which hormone to release. For example, when you eat carbohydrates, they are rapidly (within about two minutes) converted into glucose. Listen very carefully – it does not matter if that carbohydrate food is sweet or savoury, a fruit or vegetable, bio-organic, wholegrain, one of your ‘five a day’ or made by socially-challenged, ethnic minority, amputees as part of a global fair trade policy – on a bio-chemical cellular level, it does not matter.
Those things may matter on a mental level of course – “it’s a banana, so is natural and has potassium.” It is and it has, but it also has as much sugar as a can of cola and far less potassium than an avocado. On a molecular and cellular level, a blood sugar spike is a blood sugar spike – whether it got there via fruit, ‘healthy’ wholegrains or fizzy pop. Few people would become 60 lbs. overweight eating bananas alone as no-one could eat that many, but when you have packed on the pounds, eating bananas will not help your attempts to shift them. Why not? The fruit sugar or fructose (and there is a lot in bananas, mangoes and other very sweet fruits) will cause an insulin release.
On a molecular and cellular level, a blood sugar spike is a blood sugar spike – whether it got there via fruit, ‘healthy’ wholegrains or fizzy pop
Insulin is the fat storage hormone. When you have triggered it, the beta cells in your pancreas release insulin to ‘scoop’ up the sugar and transport it to your cells, where it’s hoping it can be used. Some of these cells will be able to use part of it for their immediate energy requirements, thereby taking this bit of glucose off insulin’s hands – but Insta scrolling or fantasy football is not 20 lengths of an Olympic pool, so your immediate energy requirements are often nowhere near enough. Rafa Nadal during a five set match? Yes, he can burn through a lot. Bloke in coffee shop on his laptop? No. However, you have to take delivery of the sugar package. On a cellular level, once you choose to put the blood sugar-spiking food in your mouth, your body must deal with it. Insulin is left with a pile of sugar to process that you don’t need. Your crazy mind is running a tape – we’ve all been there – “it’s organic, wholewheat bread and low sugar jam.” “It’s granola” (dried fruit, honey, wheat – expect an Everest size sugar spike) “I’m on holiday” “Friday night is pizza night.” But irrespective of any mind games, on a cellular level all of this glucose must be dealt with. Your cells don’t care that you are in Barbados or that you always eat pasta on Thursday.
When your cells refuse to take any more glucose because they don’t need it, insulin converts this leftover glucose into fat called triglycerides. This is why carb eaters have such high levels of blood triglycerides and low carb/high fat eaters don’t. Dr. Bernstein, author of The Diabetes Solution, states that, “High triglyceride levels contribute to atherosclerosis.” Dietary fat does not trigger insulin secretion. That is also why if I eat fried bacon and eggs and you eat granola, you will have much higher levels of triglycerides in your blood and later on your belly than I will, assuming we both have the same levels of insulin sensitivity. That is also how I lost lots of fat (as measured by a DEXA scan) whilst eating a full English breakfast every day – no toast though and certainly no juice. Insulin has taken the glucose in your blood and turned the excess into fat that is now showing up in your blood lipid profile. It is also why fat around the waist is linked to diabetes and other diseases. A thick waist means lots of insulin is being produced. It loves to dump fat here as well as viscerally (around the organs).
The fat does not stay in your blood forever. As we all know, it makes its way to your inner thighs, love handles and bingo wings. How? The triglycerides that insulin has made are actually too large a molecule to pass through the fat cell membrane and add to your jiggle – great you may think. Insulin, unfortunately, does not give up so easily.
Insulin brings in a friend, an enzyme by the name of LPL. Insulin boosts (or upregulates) the production of this ‘handyman’ enzyme (full name – lipoprotein lipase) which does two things. Firstly, it breaks down the fat globules (triglycerides) that insulin made from the carbohydrate you ate but didn’t use, into smaller free fatty acids so they can pass through the cell wall and add mass to your fat cells. Secondly, the same enzymatic handyman then reassembles these free fatty acids into triglycerides on the other side of the fat cell wall. This reassembling process is known as re-esterification (RE).
It gets worse though – insulin is not done yet. If insulin is present, it also prevents the fat in your fat cells from being released to be burnt for fuel (oxidized). It does this by inhibiting the production of two important fat-burning friendly enzymes – ‘hormone sensitive lipase’ and ‘adipose triglyceride lipase’. Boo, hiss. But that is the way insulin rolls. These two enzymes do the opposite of insulin’s fat storage mate LPL. They break down triglycerides into free fatty acids so they can get out of the cell – remember they are too big to pass through the fat cell membrane wall – so you can burn them for energy and thereby reduce the size of your love handles.
So insulin, in basic terms, manufactures fat from the carbohydrate you have eaten and not used immediately. It boosts fat-storage enzymes and shuts down friendly fat-burning enzymes. Therefore, you can see that when it comes to fat loss, high insulin levels are not a good idea.
“Insulin is the master hormone that regulates the flow of fat (and glucose) into and out of the fat cell. There are other players in the game for sure but insulin is The General. High levels of insulin promote fat storage and inhibit fat oxidation and low levels of insulin promote fat release,” says Dr Peter Attia.
He explains in his excellent blog “The Eating Academy” (eatingacedemy.com) that prior to insulin being an available treatment, patients with Class 1 Diabetes (where insulin is not produced and therefore levels are very low) were emaciated whereas patients with insulinoma (a tumor on the beta cells of the pancreas causing high levels of insulin to be secreted) were morbidly obese. When the tumours were removed, the weight would melt away as overproduction of the fat storage hormone was reined in.
I never operated on anyone who did not eat a ‘heart healthy’ breakfast
Dr Steven Gundry, MD heart surgeon
We are fatter than ever before because we continue to consume more and more foods which result in insulin secretion. Low fat versions of foods often mean a higher carb version of the same foodstuffs. Carbs are used to replace fat as fillers and to improve mouth feel. If you (wrongly) believe that fat makes you fat (remember fat does not trigger the fat storage hormone), you will want to limit it, choosing skimmed milk or low fat spread. But if you really understand how the body goes about the process of storing (and burning) fat, you quickly realise the last thing you want is a higher milk sugar (lactose) version of milk. You now know the effect will be more insulin and therefore more fat manufacture, fat storage and fat lock down.
This release of insulin in the past would have been a very occasional phenomenon – to store the fructose (fruit sugar) from the late summer bounty as body fat for the long winter for example. Today though, cereal, milk, juice, banana, mid-morning biscuit, sandwich for lunch, mid-afternoon chocolate bar, pasta for dinner plus some fruit ‘for health’ every day means the body is dealing with insulin secretion constantly. This response inevitably gets tired and worn out, and the cells in your body begin to resist insulin’s call to offload the sugar. This is insulin resistance. The pancreas secretes more (or if you like, insulin knocks louder at the cell door) in a desperate attempt to get them to take delivery of some of the sugar as blood sugar levels rocket. In the end, no amount of insulin is enough. You have created a cellular environment after decades of sugar consumption starting from when you were in nappies, where the cells are tone deaf to insulin’s call. You are now a Class 2 diabetic. This used to be called adult onset diabetes, but now as it has begun to show up in children, it has been re-named. A study in Bangladesh found that abdominal obesity was a reliable indicator of pre-diabetes – defined as having a fasting blood sugar of 100-125 mg/dl. A 2014 American study concluded that 89 million people are deemed to be pre-diabetic, joining the 29 million diagnosed diabetics in the US. Oh dear. In the same way that feeding cows who are gentle herbivores some grotesque pellets containing meat caused CJD, something has gone very wrong with the human condition. We have to look at what we are subjecting our cells to by looking at the food we insist on bathing them in.
What I did to lose excessive stored fat
When you keep blood sugar and therefore insulin levels low by restricting carbohydrate intake, you enter a state called nutritional ketosis. This is where your body breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids for fuel (remember you need to do that for them to pass through the fat cell wall) and your liver makes ketones from those free fatty acids…
This is an excerpt from Issue 4 of Amanda Magazine, Read the full article by ordering your copy now.