The fitness industry has exploded in the last decade with so many new and exciting trends taking off. From Crossfit to bare workouts. From online training to MMA inspired workouts, there has been a proliferation of choice for the fitness enthusiast to choose from.
On the nutrition front, there are interesting discoveries being made on nearly a daily basis.
As far as fat loss is concerned the basics are still the same, Calories in /Calories out, macronutrient balance and timing, etc. Nothing new there, but the big breakthroughs have been in our understanding of how our hormone balance affects how our bodies deal with fat, so perhaps we should take a look at what we now know and how it can help us fight the flab.
There are a few hormones that play a big role in controlling hunger, what our bodies do with fat, how we handle carbohydrates and even which part of the body we store the fat and the actual composition of the stored fat.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in response to raised blood sugar and is released into the bloodstream following a carbohydrate meal. You may have heard that insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body, this is true and great news for those wishing to build muscle. But the problem for those wishing to lose fat is that those same anabolic (muscle building) properties have a powerful ability to prevent fat breakdown
What we need to understand is that unless we are engaged in regular bouts of strenuous exercise, long periods of mental focus or hard physical labour we are simply not built to consume much carbohydrate. And considering the increasingly sedentary nature of modern life, most of us consume way more carbohydrate-rich foods than we need.
And to make matters worse research tells us that Insulin sensitivity increases when you lose weight or decrease your body fat percentage. This means that not only do you have to reduce your carbohydrate intake if you wish to lose fat, but as your fat levels decrease your ability to handle carbs decreases as well, facilitating a need to reduce carbohydrate consumption even further if you want to continue getting results.
Ghrelin and Leptin
Why do most people who go on a diet and successfully lose weight end up putting it back on within a year?
This is an interesting question and the full answer is too complex to cover in this short post, but one of the biggest contributory factors to this problem and the one most relevant to this article is the role played by the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin.
A quick biology lesson: Homeostasis is the process by which the body attempts to keep everything in balance, basically, the body tries hard to keep everything the same. In most cases, this is a good survival mechanism. But unfortunately, it also means that when we try to change our weight or body composition our bodies fight us every inch of the way. Hormonal mechanisms that try to maintain homeostasis kick in and starts messing with our heads by making us feel more hungry.
Two important hormones that are responsible for shaping our appetite and hunger signals are leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin and Ghrelin play opposite roles in controlling appetite. Leptin which is secreted primarily in fat cells, as well as the stomach, heart, placenta and skeletal muscle, decreases hunger, while Ghrelin which is secreted primarily in the lining of the stomach increases hunger.
Both hormones respond to how well-fed you are, the more fat you have, the more leptin your body produces, and the more fat you lose the more Ghrelin your body produces. So the more fat you lose the more your body tries to trick you into eating more to maintain the weight at which it has become accustomed.
So technically the more fat you have the less of an appetite you should have and your body should stop you from eating in an attempt to lose the excess weight. But this generally doesn’t happen as we can become leptin resistant as too much fat can disrupt the signalling mechanism, making you unable to detect the leptin and making your body think it is in starvation mode and instead revving up your appetite in an attempt to make you eat more. A vicious circle that leads to obesity.
so the ideal situation would be one in which we could control the production of these two hormones so that we can reduce our fat and Calorie input whilst at the same time reducing appetite.