When we hear the word diet we imagine eating small portions of vegetables, sipping nasty green shakes and starving ourselves, all while constantly battling the urge to indulge in our favorite foods. The truth of the matter is that a diet is not just a temporary eating plan we stick to until we see results. A diet must be a lifestyle.
Over the course of the last century or so, the introduction of refined carbohydrates, processed foods and the addition of sugar to a large percentage of the food we typically eat has paved the way for all kinds of fad diets and weight loss strategies.
To understand why we now need diets in our society to improve our health and body composition, we must first understand what makes us unhealthy and what makes us accumulate body fat.
The human body will adapt to almost anything you throw at it. That is the reason we exist today. Body fat is not just an unsightly eye sore we all consider it to be. It is the reason many species were able to survive times of food scarcity.
So what causes body fat to accumulate? Believe it or not, it isn’t just about how many calories you eat. There isn’t a little accountant in your body determining where all of your calories go and when you’ve consumed too many. It is a much broader signal to the body through a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is responsible for transporting nutrients into cells. But in high amounts, insulin will partition more of your food energy into fat cells in order to protect its other cells from being over-stuffed. The human body is extremely efficient at burning energy, which is another reason we were able to survive famine. Partitioning excess calories to fat cells for later use was the perfect way to save energy when food was available for times when food was scarce.
Since insulin in high amounts drives fat storage, it is important to avoid the types of food that raise insulin during times when you don’t want high insulin levels. Dietary carbohydrate is the main culprit. Carbohydrates can raise blood sugar levels, which causes insulin to rise once it enters the blood stream. The carbohydrates that spike insulin the most are simple sugars and even processed grain-based carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, cereal, oats and wheat-based foods. The best choice of carbohydrates for fat loss diets are those from green vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli, spinach, asparagus and any other cruciferous vegetables. Starchy vegetables and fruits, although not as bad as processed grain-based carbohydrates, should be eaten infrequently due to their effect on insulin.
Contrary to popular belief, dietary fats do not drive fat storage. Fats have less effect on insulin secretion and provide twice as much energy per gram than carbohydrates. Once removing all of the excess process carbohydrates from your diet, replacing the missing calories with healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, nuts, avocados and fatty fish will keep your hunger at bay while creating the hormonal environment that could support fat loss.
One recommended diet for fat loss would include a very low carbohydrate intake (less than 10% of total calories), adequate protein intake (about 1g per pound of lean body mass) and the rest of your calories through dietary fats. Keep in mind, though, that everybody is different. People who tend to stay pretty lean can handle a higher carbohydrate load. Those who tend to put on body fat more easily will want to follow a diet low in carbohydrates. This macronutrient combination keeps insulin regulated, so fat stores can be emptied for energy while still providing enough energy to exercise intensely and control your appetite.