There was a point when I asked myself, “Why am I not able to lose fat!?” I had just gotten done with my final year of playing college football and I was ready to go from beefy linebacker to shredded stud. I thought the process would be simple: do some cardio, and eat less. But as many know, losing weight is pretty complex and in a lot of ways your body will fight the process the whole time. So I decided to really dive into the science and figure out why I was not able to lose body fat!
Biochemistry of Fat Loss
How is fat even removed from the body? Do you sweat it out? Is it removed from your body when you go to the bathroom? Which organ in the body is responsible for actually removing fat?
Fat is removed by your lungs when you breathe. Therefore, you lose fat by expelling CO2. If you’re familiar with cellular respiration you know that glucose (food) + oxygen are “burned” to create CO2 and water. Here’s what the chemical equation looks like:
Glucose + 02 —-> CO2 + H2O
So in order to lose body fat you have to breathe out more carbon in the form CO2 and ingest less carbon from food sources (protein, fat and carbohydrate).
To increase how much CO2 you expel, you can perform some moderate exercise. For example, doing 1 hour of moderate exercise can increase your metabolic rate by 7 fold and drastically increase the amount of CO2 expelled. Pair this up with eating less and presto! You are losing body fat.
Ok this seems simple enough- move more and eat less if you want to lose weight. As many know, this isn’t always the case. A lot people still cannot lose body fat on hardcore diets and exercise routines. Why is this?
Why You Still Can’t Lose Body Fat
Let’s discuss some of the reasons why you may still be having difficulty trying to lose body fat.
To start, we will be discussing one of the most important aspects of weight management: glycemic variability.
Glycemic variability is how much the sugar levels in your blood vary throughout a given period of time. For example, when you eat a donut your blood sugar levels spike high and when you don’t eat anything during the day your levels start to decrease.
When blood sugar levels increase the sugar/glucose in the blood has to get stored somewhere. It can be either stored into the muscle/liver or into your fat cells. Your muscle and liver only have so much “room” to store excess energy. Once they are “full” any extra energy you consume will get stored as body fat. This is why it’s crucial that you don’t spike your blood glucose levels frequently and don’t spike them very high.
This is especially true if you haven’t “made room” in your muscles. What I mean by “making room” in the muscles is by expending energy by doing something like weight lifting or running. When you do these types of activities you use muscle glycogen (stored sugar in the muscles) and essentially “make room” for more sugar to be stored in the muscles when you eat later on. When you don’t “make room”, acute spikes in blood sugar will most likely cause you to store fat.
Ok, so working out helps make room in the muscles and helps to remove sugar from the blood. What other strategies help to lower blood sugar levels?
Strategies to Control Glycemic Variability
–Postprandial walks/standing: After your largest meal simply going for a 20-30 minute walk has been shown to greatly reduce blood sugar levels. Standing for that same amount of time has also been shown to reduce blood sugar levels.
–Cold exposure: prolonged cold exposure, like in a cold tub or from a cryotherapy session has shown to remove blood sugar and keep blood glucose levels low. A hormone called adiponectin is released when the body is exposed to cold temperatures. Adiponectin breaks down fat and shuttles glucose into muscles.
–Post/pre meal air squats: get in 1-2 minutes of air squats or wall pushes before/after your largest meal. This helps to activate the translocation of the GLUT4 insulin-regulated glucose transporters onto the surface of muscle cells to allow for more glucose intake by the muscles
–Eat more fiber– getting in fiber from veggies and insoluble sources increases the amount of short chained fatty acids in your body. Short chained fatty acids get converted into acetate. Acetate has been shown to stop glucose from getting converted into fatty acids in the liver.
–Another strategy is to become more insulin sensitive. The opposite of being insulin sensitive is being insulin resistant. The more insulin resistant you become the less able you are to tolerate carbohydrates. This means you will store more energy as fat each time you eat. To become insulin sensitive it might be a good idea to do a hard “insulin reset”. This means you go for prolonged period on a low carbohydrate diet to give your insulin receptors a break and allows them to become more sensitive to insulin again.
The next problem you may be facing that is preventing you from losing that stubborn belly fat is inflammation.
What causes inflammation in the body?
Well, constant stress, too much mental and physical work and a diet that is loaded with damaged fats can cause chronic inflammation.
But, not all inflammation is bad, for example when you workout and damage your muscle tissue an inflammatory response from the body is natural and helps start the regenerative processes that the body must undergo to heal. We want this type of inflammation.
What we don’t want is constant, chronic inflammation that will make you hold on to your body fat for good.
Inflammation also causes insulin resistance and as we’ve discussed previously this causes you to store body fat more readily.
So what’s the easiest fix you can do today to reduce inflammation? Ditch any food that has canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, and safflower oil. Swap them out for healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and macadamia oil. Get in a good fish oil or krill oil supplement daily. Eat more wild caught fish and eat healthier meat sourced from from grass-fed animals.
Another good way to reduce inflammation is by reducing stress. Finding a hobby that allows you to destress can be a great way to decompress. Yoga tends to be a popular activity for stress relief. Basically any activity that can take your mind off things can help reduce stress load.
Do these things and you’ll be well on your way to reducing your inflammation.
The third reason why you might not be losing fat is because you may be getting poor quality sleep.
You see, sleep is the cornerstone to almost every aspect of health. When your sleep quality suffers this creates hormonal imbalances in your body. One of the main hormones to go awry is cortisol. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is secreted by your body when you are stressed or when you don’t get enough sleep. We already discussed how stress can cause inflammation in the body which will lead to body fat storage. One of the nasty things about cortisol is this- cortisol adversely affects sleep quality. This creates a vicious cycle. The worse the sleep you get is, the more cortisol your body secretes. The more cortisol circulating in your body, the poorer the quality of your sleep is.
Poor sleep also decreases the hormone leptin. Leptin is responsible for making you feel full or satiated. But when leptin decreases, you get hungrier and are more likely to binge on snacks. In addition to this, the hunger hormone ghrelin gets increased when you have a night of poor sleep. Leptin levels go down and ghrelin increases. This is a double whammy for hunger and fat gain.
So overall, getting good sleep is imperative for losing fat.
The fourth reason you may not be losing fat is because you aren’t getting enough exposure to cold.
Your body has 3 different types of fat. White fat, brown fat, and beige fat. White fat is the fat you know and hate. It’s the fat that accumulates on your belly, around hips and butt. Brown fat on the other hand, is located on your sternum, collar bones, and ribs. This fat actually burns your white fat when it’s exposed to cold temperatures. Your body does this to keep warm. Beige fat is simply brown fat that starts to accumulate in the white fat, when white fat is exposed to cold. This process is called “browning of the fat”. So you see, the more you’re exposed to the cold the more your fat will “brown” and the better you will be at burning of fat stores in your body.
Here are some easy ways to get more cold exposure:
- Try taking a daily cold shower
- Take a cold bath
- Go swimming in a cool lake or go for a surf session in the ocean in the beginning of summer
A good strategy to employ is by taking a morning cold shower before starting your day. Not only does this wake you up completely, but it helps to mobilize fat from your fat stores and burn it for fuel.
Since my days playing football, I implement almost all of these strategies on a daily basis. During the winter I start each day with a cold shower, to get my fat mobilized and used for energy. I stay away from inflammatory seed oils like they are the plague. I have invested in my sleep by purchasing products that increase my deep sleep. My good sleep enables me to have less stress though out my day.
I no longer say, “Why am I not able to lose body fat?”