Winning at weight loss, step 2: Lose fat through insulin control
It is said that you can have too much of a good thing, and that’s certainly true of insulin. Without this hormone you’re either dead or diabetic, but too much and you could be fat and sick.
Insulin is released by the pancreas when food enters the stomach, and nothing stimulates this hormone quite like carbohydrate. Carbohydrates include cereals and other starchy grains, bread, pasta, pastries, potatoes, and sweet and savoury snacks.
If you are partial to any of the above, you need to understand just how easily insulin makes you fat.
How insulin turns carbs into fat
Insulin is the great multi-tasker, performing numerous important functions in the body. But in terms of weight management it has three major roles, as explained below.
First, insulin regulates blood sugar. Eat carbohydrates and your digestive system will get to work, breaking them down into smaller molecules of glucose and then transporting those molecules through the gut lining into the bloodstream. The more carbohydrate you eat, the more glucose enters the blood.
This glucose, or sugar, needs to be tightly regulated. Too much and you are in potential danger. You have only (or should have only) around a teaspoon-worth of sugar coursing through your blood vessels at any given time. That’s it.
More than that, and you could find yourself in trouble — which is where insulin comes in. It takes surplus glucose and sends it off for storage in your muscles and liver, where it becomes known as glycogen. When these depositories are full — and they have limited storage capacity — off goes that surplus glucose to your adipose tissue. Aka body fat.
And that, folks, is how sugar is transformed into fat. It’s not magic; it’s the horrid inevitability of eating lots of carbs.
How insulin stores fat
Thus, the second main role of insulin concerns fat storage. You only have room for around 2,000 calories in your muscles and liver, but the storage capacity of your fat stores is prodigious, and all too visible.
Insulin regulates an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) whose job it is to pull fat from blood into either muscle or adipose tissue. The more carbohydrate you consume, the more insulin you secrete, and the more active LPL becomes on fat cells. Voilà! You’ve just got a little fatter.
The third role of insulin is to block the flow of fat out of adipose tissue. If you continue to eat lots of carbohydrates, your fat stores will stay locked away, every exit blocked by zealous insulin guards. With your fat stores firmly under lock and key, you crave more carbohdyrates as fuel… and so the cycle continues.
Less insulin, more health benefits
Keep producing large quantities of insulin and you risk becoming immune to it. Being immune to insulin is called insulin resistance. This is a truly modern phenomenon, and underpins what are frequently referred to as ‘diseases of civilization’. These include obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Insulin resistance is a blood sugar disorder whereby either the liver or muscles no longer respond adequately to insulin, or the pancreas is no longer able to keep producing enough to deal with the never-ending glucose. It is caused by a relentless intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar that eventually takes its toll.
It’s not that your body is defective when it comes to coping with your diet; your diet is defective and ill suited to the genetic design of your body.
A modern disease
We might think of these diseases of civilization as ‘normal’ — scourges that have always afflicted humanity, but that is not the case. These diseases were once rare; now they are our common killers, bred from our industrialised diets and industrialised lifestyles.
Clearly, it is essential that you limit your insulin production if you want to start burning fat stores. To do this, you need to embark on a low carbohydrate way of eating.
There is no official consensus on what constitutes a low carbohydrate diet, although daily consumption of fewer than 50 grams of carb is a good general guideline. Avoid all the foods mentioned above, as well as those listed in the table below.
A low carb diet works because it reduces insulin secretion and stimulates the release of fat from storage. That’s it, in a nutshell. And that’s also precisely your goal! Liberate those fat stores, burn that stored energy. You can also expect to feel great too. By reducing your chances of developing insulin resistance, you also reduce your chances of developing those ‘diseases of civilisation’.
In parts one and two, you learned how calorie counting is counterproductive, and how a high carbohydrate diet leads to weight gain. Now that we’ve cleared the decks, and you know what you are not going to do, it’s time to make way for the next stage of your weight loss journey. You need to know what you ARE going to do.
If you were determined to lose weight, and were granted one superpower to make this happen, what would it be? Most probably, the ability to control your appetite. As it happens, your superpower has been there all along, hiding in plain sight.