Watch what you eat; cut down on calories; have small meals at regular intervals, workout intensely; exercise on empty stomach; NO, have a nutritious pre-workout meal and also a post-workout meal; lose your fat, not your muscles; drink more fluids...
And the list can get pretty long.
You are right, those are the things that make home in our minds when we are doing the most obstinate thing on this planet – Lose Weight! There is this, there is that and there is that as well and then there are 147 other things people tell us to follow to shed a few kilos to show off on the weighing machine. Though all these words of wisdom might not always help you lose your weight, they sure as hell will make you lose your mind.
Weight loss is quite a sensitive subject and also a pretty confusing one.
METABOLISM & CALORIES
Metabolism is the process by which our body converts whatever we consume into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories in food are combined with oxygen to release the energy our body requires to function. When at rest, our body is carrying out functions such as breathing, circulating blood, digesting, adjusting hormone levels, and growing & repairing cells. The number of calories our body uses to carry out these basic functions is known as our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). About 70% of the calories we burn daily contribute to merely keeping us alive. This number of calories reflects how much energy our body requires to support vital body functions if, hypothetically, we were resting in bed for an entire day. These are known as resting calories and then there are active calories that our body burns when we are physically active – walking to catch our morning commute, sweating in the gym or doing household chores, walking or playing some sport. These calories are vital for losing weight, as the only way to burn more calories than we eat; while maintaining a healthy diet is to burn active calories.
To understand weight loss efficiently, the calories in, calories out (CICO) model gives us a breather as it is based on a really simple idea – ‘to maintain a stable weight, the number of calories you eat needs to match the number you expend.’ Building on the same logic we can understand that we need a calorie deficit to lose weight.
Net Carbs (Impact Carbs & Non-Impact Carbs)
The concept of net carbs is based on the principle that not all carbohydrates affect the body in the same manner.
Net carbs are the carbohydrates in the food that you can digest and use for energy. Net carbs usually only count starches and sugars; most other types of carbohydrates have no energy value or impact on your blood sugar, so you don’t count them towards your daily carbohydrate limit.
Simple carbohydrates like refined starches & sugars are absorbed rapidly and they possess a very high glycemic index (GI). This simply means that they are the reason behind your blood sugar levels spiking immediately after you eat something. Excess of these simple carbohydrates gets stored in the form of fat. Potatoes, white bread, white rice, and sweets are a few examples of these carbs. Other carbohydrates, such as the fibre found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, move slowly through the digestive system, and much of it isn't digested at all (insoluble fibre).
Impact carbs are the carbs having a pretty high impact on your blood sugar level. Known as high GI carbohydrates, these carbs break down rapidly into glucose, which then finds its way into your bloodstream. When these high GI carbs enter your bloodstream, they contain much more energy than your body can utilize in one go and obviously, everything that is not used at all for energy generation gets stored in the form of body fat. Impact carbs can be very damaging to your health (and waistline) when you consume them regularly in high amounts.
Unlike impact carbs, non-impact carbs have a low GI and they digest at a rate much slower than that of impact carbs. Due to this prolonged release of glucose into your bloodstream, insulin spikes are less likely and thus, you experience more sustained energy levels.
It’s the overconsumption of high-GI carbohydrates that are presumed to cause many of the negative health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Weight Loss VS Fat Loss
Our body weight is the sum of the weights of our muscles, bones, organs and the amount of water our body retains. Hopefully, the following two equations will help us realize the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
Weight loss = Muscle loss + Fat loss + Water loss.
Fat loss = Reduction of stored body fat.
Thus, it is safe to say that losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean you are fit. Your fat percentage is the true measurement of how fit and in which shape your body is. Losing excessive weight can backfire as it may lead to a loss in muscle mass, which can cause a rebound effect that leads to weight gain as losing muscle mass can slow down your metabolism. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t lose weight. If you are overweight, you have to shed off those extra kilos but at the same time, you should focus on fat loss.
We assume that losing weight is equal to losing fat. In a perfect world, our body would only burn fat and we’d lose our stubborn belly first and pose like a fitness model for our next Instagram post. But sadly, weight loss is a complicated phenomenon. Reduction in calories doesn’t mean that our body will turn to burn excess fat for energy. As mentioned earlier, this might well lead to muscle loss and thus the overall body weight.
We should focus on the question “How much fat should I lose?” rather than the question “How much weight should I lose?”
THE SCIENCE OF WEIGHT LOSS – How our body stores and burns fat?
On consuming starch & sugar, our body breaks them down into glucose, which is the easiest fuel for our cells to burn for energy. On consuming too many calories, our body converts this excess glucose into fatty acids and stores them for later use when there is a consistent calorie deficit. As long as we have excess calorie intake these fatty acids remain untapped and eventually keep growing. The process of handling excess glucose in the blood and the inhibition of fat breakdown is controlled by a complex hormone signalling system, which has insulin as one of the primary signals. Elevated glucose levels in our blood from every single meal triggers the release of insulin, which signals our fatty acids (fat cells) to hold onto the energy stores and this leads to our muscles burning the glucose first. Thus, keeping the fatty acids untapped and intact.
When the glucose in our blood drops, insulin levels drop and the body starts to mobilise energy from the stored fatty cells. It’s important to note that our fat cells will not release their energy stores if insulin is present, so sticking to a diet that keeps your blood sugar stable is the key to fat loss. This translates to avoiding sugar, refined carbohydrates, white flour, and many fast-digesting packaged foods. Slow-digesting whole foods will prove to be your best friends.
Strive for Fat Loss
A fit body has lower levels of fat percentage, 14% to 17% for men and 21% to 24% for women. Proper nutrition not only increases your metabolism but also initiates fat loss while crash dieting slows your metabolism down, though it may result in weight loss temporarily. It is not as sustainable.
Eat more vegetables, whole fruits (not juices), fibre-rich foods like whole grains and beans, lean proteins, and nuts in moderation. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, refined flour, fried foods, and excessive fat. If one has a lower fat percentage with higher muscle mass they look fitter despite having the same weight. So remember, when you want to lose your weight, focus on losing your fat.