This immortal line from “When Harry met Sally” (YouTube it if you are too young to remember this) is the embodiment of our attitude to weight loss. We fall for it, hook, line and sinker, every time. Don’t believe me? Do the following statements apply to you?
I have tried a weight loss spray (congratulations, if you don’t know what I am talking about)
I have bought/considered buying AbCirclePro
I have done a Lemon Detox Diet
I buy protein bars endorsed by my favorite bodybuilder
I have bought Zumba DVDs to get a “Zumba body” at home
I follow the success stories in a fitness magazine and analyse their diet and training
I ask my girlfriend what she did to lose weight and try to copy her plan
I bet most of us go from “you gotta be kidding me” to “what’s wrong with that?”. In actual fact, all these scenarios are based on clever advertising (featuring skinny models) + our natural inclination to believe in patterns. It is very easy to look at a fit and slim individual and say: “Whatever you are doing is obviously working, please tell me your secret so I can look like you”.
The next natural step is for the owner of this fantastic slim and fit body to say: “Whatever I am doing is obviously working, so if you do the same, you will look like me”. To be honest, I was a perfect example of this self-righteous arrogance myself a few years ago. Teaching 10-15 classes a week as a 20-something fitness instructor, I was happy to share my advice to “eat everything in moderation” to my obviously less disciplined participants.
My previous post on insulin received similar comments.
“I understand that carbohydrates stimulate insulin, and insulin promotes fat storage. But I have been eating sweets, cereals, pasta, cakes, etc. all my life, and I am still skinny. According to your logic, I should be fat and unhealthy. What gives?”
I totally hate you for being able to eat whatever you want. But don’t give your metabolism a pat on the back and go crazy with leftover Easter eggs just yet. You might just pay for it later.
There is no doubt that some people seem to be born with an ability (or a gift?) to consume a box of Krispy Kremes with no consequences. Come to think of it, most people could get away with a lot more dietary indiscretions as children or teenagers. For others, the battle might have started in high school, or in their 30s. Many factors are at fault. You can probably blame it on genetics, it is a fashionable thing to do. The problem with that is that genes are passed down with very little change between generations. As recently as 1989, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in men in Australia was 46.7%. In 2000 it shot up to 60%. I am sorry, but genes do not mutate that quickly!
And since now we hopefully agree that our weight is regulated by hormones, has anything changed in our bodies on hormonal level? Yes. Let me introduce you to insulin resistance, the key player in metabolic syndrome. Think of it as a link between overweight and diabetes. If you remember, insulin’s job is to let glucose into the muscle, liver and fat cells. Insulin resistance means just that: cells, especially liver and muscle cells, stop responding to insulin and do not let any more glucose inside. As a result a couple of things happen. Blood glucose levels go up, firstly because of peripheral resistance (muscle cells close their doors to glucose), secondly because liver cells fail to detect the rising blood sugar and do not down regulate their own glucose production. Double whammy means more glucose floating around your system (=hyperglycaemia). Pancreas try fight the flood of glucose by releasing even more insulin (=hyperinsulinaemia). Does this sound like perfect conditions for putting on some extra fat? (I’ll discuss the causes of insulin resistance another time, but you can be sure that carbs will not be an innocent bystander).
So the road from insulin resistance to diabetes looks like this: peripheral muscle + liver insulin resistance -> hyperglycemia -> pancreas releases more and more insulin -> insulin and extra glucose causes fat gain (mostly around your belly) -> belly fat promotes inflammation which further increases liver insulin resistance -> pancreas gets tired of playing catch up with blood sugar -> blood sugar rises even more -> you get diagnosed with type II diabetes -> pancreas is now burned out completely -> you need insulin injections.
The first few steps can happen before you even know it. By the time you realise that your metabolism is out of whack, your body is churning out too much insulin for an innocuous amount of carbohydrates. Suddenly a piece of pizza, which was your weekly staple in your 20’s, becomes a luxury your waistline can no longer afford. Same principle applies if you are a high carb fitness freak, cruising on the Australian government recommended diet. Your muscles and liver are still sensitive to insulin. You look good. You feel great. Is it possible that you are genetically gifted to avoid all complications of obesity and diabetes later in life? I don’t mean to be a killjoy (I love my cheesecake too!) but with insulin resistance rates estimated between 13 and 30% in Oz, I don’t like your chances.