What if I told you there’s not much to evidence to validate our crazy fixation on exercise for weight-loss? Would you sock me in the face with your sweaty boxercise mit? Would you snap my lululemon sports bra in violent disbelief?
What if I dropped an F (for fitness) bomb and posited that weight management may have more to do with hormones and inflammation than hamster-wheel, dreadmill drudgery and semi-starvation? Perhaps you may stop reading right now, breathe a rattling sigh of relief, and park yourself in front of a Biggest Loser marathon; smug, absolved of your 5am fitness first elliptical date.
Please don’t attempt any of the above. The reinforced lulu bra’s really smart on the twang. But DO hear this crazy polemic out!
Train like a caveman on crack
The general consensus on weight-loss is calories in, calories out, long, steady cardio and an avoidance of all things fatty, meaty, sweety and rich. All these assertions, bar one, are complete and utter grass-fed bollocks. (Yes, sugary sweetness has to go). There is so much more to weight management and homeostasis (bodily balance) than this puny little excuse for a wellness mantra. Like, get some complexity, conventional wisdom.
I’m feeling silly. You want me to lay it down, g-bitch style?
If you’ve got a tubby tyre and it has to go,
Shun weight-watching, fat-counting diets, yo.
There’s a whole heap more to the plump-ass pie,
Listen up, grab a steak, let’s unwrap the lie.
Insulin, leptin, inflammation fo’ real,
Dictate your success with unbridled zeal.
Y’all got a setpoint, a fatness-o-stat,
Your diet, your stress, yo sleep’s where it’s at.
Cortisol’s the enemy, let’s take him down,
Chow on fat, lose the carbs, adipose be brown.
Let’s hark on back to ancestral days,
Dem g’s be lean, lets count the ways.
You want my advice? Cut the cardio crap,
HIIT some sprints, lift some bells, bust out a rap.
Please don’t judge this bonkers confession,
Throwing down stanzas in rhyming succession.
Read on for some messed-up weight loss shiz,
The industry’s whack, sabotage the biz.
Moving on to the (dubious) content.
Let’s ask a mind-boggling question that thwarts everything we think we know about energy input and expenditure. How do lean-ass folk, without reference to calories, macronutrient ratios or weight-watcher points, maintain a constant body mass? Why don’t incremental increases in calorie consumption accumulate and cause their weight to fluctuate wildly (like my blog-posting schedule)? Perplexing. Baffling. An homage to the amazing an intricate systems of regulation and balance that govern our bodily processes, more like.
Certain macronutrients are metabolized differently for one. Fats and protein are like slow-burning logs on our metabolic fire and are used for a host of structural, hormonal and antioxidant purposes before being shunted into fat deposits as a last resort. Whereas carbohydrate, glucose, is kindling. Burn it or store it, baby.
Our unique gut flora dictates how much energy we extract from our food, and how it is utilised.
Our hormones, appetite control mechanisms and stress levels engage a continuous dialogue with our obese-o-meter.
Genes and their expression can inform fat storage, placement and body composition.
Thyroid function, fatty-acid balance and nutrient deficiencies tag along for the ride.
(Abrupt. Sentence. Overload)
The biggest, boldest and most badass idea that is floating around the (credible) health community though, is the idea of a ‘setpoint’. A predetermined status quo unique to the individual. A comfy beanbag of superfluous padding on which your bodacious behind likes sit, maintain and ferociously defend. It works both ways; ‘skinny’ people may struggle to put size on, overweight folk have trouble making lasting changes. This is summed up in Chris Kresser’s latest podcast (recommended listening). An excerpt from the transcript:
“The body has a system for maintaining a level of fat that’s appropriate for the human ecological niche, and this is called the energy homeostasis system or the homeostatic regulation of weight, and it’s this system that’s one of the main reasons it’s so hard to keep weight off once you lose it, because the homeostatic system responds to any reduction in fat. Like if you lose 20 pounds, let’s say, this homeostatic system will increase hunger, it will decrease your resting energy expenditure, so even when you’re just sitting down the number of calories that you’ll burn will be lower, and it extract more calories from the food that you eat, so your metabolic efficiency goes up. So, it has all of these mechanisms that are basically working against you when you lose weight to get you back to that body fat setpoint or what it thinks is the ideal weight for you. On the other hand, if you were to gain 10 or 15 pounds, the body responds in the opposite way. It would decrease hunger, it would increase your resting energy expenditure, so you burn more calories just sitting there, and it would extract fewer calories from the food that you eat, and by doing that your weight would also fall back down to the setpoint.” (source)
Hey, no eye-rolling. It’s not as monstrous and bewildering as meets the retina.
Right now you’re scowling at the computer screen, wondering how the hell you can compete with such metabolic certainty?
Luckily for you, despite the mutifactorial nature of weight management, most aspects can be addressed through a simple, traditional diet and a kickass exercise regime. Like most modern health afflictions, reverting to a primal-style menu, adding intelligent exercise and making a few individual tweaks will set you back on the dirt track.
Let’s summarise, seeing as i’m incapable of a coherent argument. Lists good, essays bad.
Negative-nelly problemos! (Factors influencing weight)
- Dysbiosis → New research is emerging that links imbalances in gut flora with obesity. The theory goes that overweight people may have different strains of microorganisms that both extract extra energy from our food, and also secrete toxins that cause inflammation (see below) and predispose us to certain metabolic disorders. Read more here.
- Leptin resistance → Leptin is a hormone made by fat cells that (in a neatly-package, grossly-oversimplified explanation) informs the brain of changes in energy balance (calories) and increases in fat mass. In a normal, healthy scenario, this would send the signal, ‘Hey! Your body’s too bootylicious for me, babe’ to the brain, informing your gaping jowls to shut up shop and your grubby hands to put down that last piece of paleo pie. Leptin should, in this way, regulate appetite and help us determine when enough is enough. Unfortunately, in the same way as people are becoming insulin resistant, they are also becoming insensitive to leptin. Ignoring a master hormone? You loco. How do we become leptin resistant anyway? Things such as systemic inflammation (the root of all bodily evil, so it would seem) and, uh, obesity (which came first? The love-handle or the scrambled egg?) are two standout factors. Address them and address the crux of the issue. There are also ‘leptin reset’ protocols which help you regain appetite perspective. They go roughly along the lines of “eating 50 grams of protein at breakfast everyday within 30 minutes of rising, eliminating all snacking especially past 7:30 PM, eating three meals a day, and limiting carb intake below 50 grams per day for about 6 to 8 weeks” – From Dr Jack Kruse. Google it.
- Inflammation → What the good charlotte does inflammation have to do with anything? According to Chris Kresser & Stephan Guyenet, proinflammatory cytokines can inhibit leptin signalling. Awesome! That tells us regular folk nothing. Basically, when your body is inflamed it starts to produce these aforementioned cytokines. Refined foods, sugar, improperly prepared grains all illicit this response. An imbalance in your omega 3:6 ratio will do the same, as will toxins from bad bacteria in the intestines, leaky gut and food intolerances.
- Environmental nasties → xenooestrogens (from plastic containers, drink bottles, household chemicals) can disrupt endocrine function and tox-up your body.
- Other annoying tidbits → epigenetics, gene mutations, breast feeding status, maternal birth weight, bacterial exposure during birth, the fact that EVIL MULTINATIONAL JUNK-FOOD-PEDDLERS DESIGN HYPERPALATABLE GOODIES WITH THE HELP OF TEAMS OF SCIENTISTS WHICH MAKE US SALIVATE AT THE VERY MENTION OF THEIR CATCHY, COLOURFUL NAMES! Food reward is a mammoth dilemma…too big to go into now (phattest post ever), but let’s just say that self-control is definitely not the issue when frankenfoods, manufactured to appeal to the hedonistic pleasure centres of your brain, are in the mix. Here is an amazing series if you want to know more.
(YES these are Paleo; I wouldn’t tempt you with chocolate-coated naughtiness now would I?! Check out Food Lovers Primal Palate for more orgasmic goodies)
Like, woah. Can we just stick with calories in, calories out already?
After all that, I need to let you in on something. There is one lifestyle & diet philosophy that pretty much covers all these bases, with a few individual tweaks. Ahem.
Paleo. Hunter-gatherer. Primal. PaNu. An ancestral diet. Call it what you will; when done intelligently and implemented intuitively, it’s the bomb diggity for disease prevention, wellbeing & weight regulation. Here’s what you need:
- Your own version of the ancestral diet – it could be raw-dairy included, dairy free, higher starchy-carb, low fruit, activated-nut-full or nut-free. Details, friends. Your call. Focusing on a variety of grass-fed, organic, slow-cooked, meats, organic veggies, some fruits, some nuts & seeds if tolerated (though, I don’t agree that a high PUFA diet is necessarily optimal – more on that later), cooking with heat-stable saturated fats, fermented foods, bone broths, raw dairy if you want, white rice if you want & eschewing sugar and modern agents of disease is where it’s at. This is a hugely anti-inflammatory diet. It’s satiating. It rebalances omega ratios. It’s nourishing to our gizzards. Once you heal leaky gut, allergic/autoimmune disorders and feed your friendlies (bacteria that is) you’re setting yourself up for a big, warm serve of dietary win. Check to the checkity check.
- Au naturale cooking, eating & living – as championed by the paleo movement. Avoidance of damaging chemicals, plastics, excessive caffeine and alcohol and drugskies. This will negate much of that xenooestrogen bother, toxic liver congestion, hormonal dysregulation and physiological stress! Win two for team cave-non-gender-specific-person.
- Sleep, sun, play & sexytime – ‘play’ includes exercise, but we’re lovin’ it. It’s stimulating, engaging, challenging. Mark Sisson espouses the formula ‘move heavy things a few times a week, do high intensity once or twice (sprints, cycling, whatever floats your makeshift raft) and move at a steady pace the rest of the time’ (spark up a competitive game of ultimate frisbee for extra points). High intensity interval training is one of the few exercises shown to actually stimulate the release of growth hormone and stoke the metabolic fires; efficient, effective. This kind of speedwork also helps increase your insulin sensitivity and is not pro-inflammatory, seeing as it’s a short, sharp, manageable stressor. Sounds pretty aiiight to me, and with all this rugged outdoor fun, you’ll be topping up your D, sleeping well (10pm to 6am if you please) and fostering better relationships. Game, set and match.