For decades, we’ve been told that fat loss is simple: Burn more calories than we consume. Eat less, move more. Calories in, calories out. Simple first grade math, right?
So how do we explain the fact that, in spite of doing everything right, we still can’t break through to achieve our ideal weight and body composition?
We count and restrict our calories. We hit our daily step targets. We even make sure we exercise in the optimal fat burning zone. And while this seems to work for some, and maybe even worked for us at first…it’s not working anymore.
So, what’s going on? You might be asking yourself…
Am I bad at math?
Am I disciplined enough?
Is there something wrong with me?
None of the above. You see, the truth is…
- Weight loss, like most physiological processes, is complex and highly individual.
- “Eating less and moving more” neglects biochemistry, specifically blood sugar and insulin, in the physiology of weight loss.
- By regulating blood sugar and insulin, you’ll make it easier to break through your weight loss plateau.
Why “Eat Less, Move More” Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss
Studies demonstrate that the “eat less, move more” approach to weight loss isn’t an effective long-term strategy for a majority of people who try it.
Why is that?
One reason is that it doesn’t account for the role hormones play in regulating our weight.
When we focus on calories, we incorrectly assume that all calories are metabolized the same way. For example, we might believe that one beer is the same as three slices of bacon.
After all, both are roughly 150 calories…right?
The logic follows that as long as we burn more calories than we consume, we should lose weight. In this model, the source of the calories is irrelevant.
Unfortunately for the beer lovers, it's not quite that simple.
Blood Sugar and Insulin: The Missing Pieces to Your Fat Loss Puzzle
In reality, our bodies respond differently to beer than bacon, regardless of their caloric value.
Beer, a carbohydrate-heavy, nutrient-devoid liquid, is likely to spike blood sugar which in turn elevates insulin. Bacon, higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, will have a much smaller effect on blood sugar for most individuals.
So why do blood sugar and insulin matter for weight loss?
When we eat, the amount of glucose in our blood (blood sugar) will rise.
In response, our pancreas releases insulin, which among other things, facilitates the uptake of blood sugar into fat cells.
Insulin also inhibits our body’s ability to use fat as fuel.
When insulin levels are high, the body stores glucose as fat, while simultaneously shutting down the ability to burn fat.
This isn’t necessarily a problem when blood sugar and insulin levels remain in a healthy range for a short period of time.
However, when blood sugar and insulin levels spike above a healthy range and remain elevated, weight loss becomes nearly impossible because our body stays in fat storage mode. The elevated insulin will literally imprison our fat stores while our cells burn through our glucose supply.
What happens when the glucose runs out and we need more fuel?
Under healthy conditions, we would dip into our fat stores. But as long as insulin is holding those fat stores hostage, they cannot be utilized and our body signals us to get more fuel from food (hunger)…and the cycle repeats itself.
As a result, we not only stall in our weight loss but are likely to gain weight.
If we are able to ignore the hunger and endure the associated pain and suffering, we can lose weight in the short term. However, over time our metabolic rate will slow to compensate for the reduction in calories and our weight loss will plateau in spite of our heroic efforts.
On the contrary, when you keep your blood sugar and insulin levels stable, the body will use glucose and then fat for fuel. This makes it easier to sustain a caloric deficit and lose weight because our metabolic needs are being met by the food we eat and the excess fat that has been stored and is also available for energy.
This results in a caloric deficit and a healthy energy balance, which is the formula for sustainable weight loss.
Here are the big takeaways…
- “Eat less, move more” isn’t an effective weight loss strategy because calories aren’t the only things that matter.
- Weight loss (and gain) is largely a function of our hormonal response to the food we eat.
- Losing weight becomes easier, safer, and more sustainable when we target that response by regulating our blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Instead of obsessing over calories, we should focus on reducing blood sugar and insulin levels.
How to Regulate Blood Sugar and Insulin for Fat Loss
The good news is there are many natural ways to regulate blood sugar and insulin. Diet, exercise, intermittent fasting (or time restricted feeding) and certain plants, spices and supplements can help regulate blood sugar and insulin so you can finally achieve sustainable weight loss.
Balance Blood Sugar with Diet
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid foods that spike blood sugar. Knowing which foods spike your blood sugar, personally, is the real challenge. As a general rule, it's often safe to stick to:
- Healthy fats
- Vegetables and leafy greens
- High-quality protein sources
- Complex, whole-food carbohydrates
Remember…it’s not necessarily the foods we eat that makes us gain weight. What’s most important is our body’s response to those foods, and our individual response is dependent on a number of variables including our individual genetics, microbiome, and stress levels.
Keep in mind that finding what diet works best for you is a journey that looks different for everyone, and trial and error is often the best guide.
To Carb or Not to Carb?
Many people find a low carb diet was the missing piece to their fat loss puzzle. And while studies like this, and this (and many others) show low carb diets to be extremely effective at regulating blood sugar and losing weight, they're often conducted on obese or diabetic populations, both of which would likely benefit most from reducing carbohydrates.
However, keto or low carb doesn’t work for everyone. This is because the same factors like genetics and microbiome play a role in your individual response to carbohydrates.
A landmark study by the Weizmann Institute illustrated this point, with results that showed vastly different blood sugar responses to the same carbohydrate sources between different people, as well as surprising results among the same individuals. One person's blood sugar spiked higher in response to eating a banana (complex carbohydrate) than it did to eating a cookie (refined carbohydrate)!
So in other words, we can't say for sure whether low-carb is, or is not, the best diet for your weight loss journey. It depends on your personal blood sugar response to certain carbohydrates, and the only way to know that is a little self-experimentation! You can simply look out for signs you’re eating too many carbs, or really geek out with data and blood glucose testing using Robb Wolf’s 7-day carb test.
Reduce Blood Glucose and Improve Insulin Sensitivity with Exercise
When we exercise, we improve our ability to direct blood sugar (glucose) into muscle cells instead of fat cells. Exercise also contributes to a reduction in blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity (which means we need less insulin for the same job).
What kind of exercise is the best for managing blood sugar, and how much is enough?
The specific kind of exercise you choose should depend on your fitness goals. However, if your primary fitness goal is weight loss, it might help to know both cardio and resistance training are effective for blood sugar regulation and weight loss.
In general, a cardio workout burns more fat during the workout. Resistance training elevates our metabolism for longer post-workout and is better for building muscle, both of which can increase the amount of calories you burn outside your workout. As a general recommendation, it’s best to incorporate both in your exercise regimen.
Intermittent Fasting (Time Restricted Feeding) Is Effective For Regulating Insulin and Blood Sugar
Intermittent Fasting (also known as Time Restricted Feeding) involves fasting for 12 to 22 hours between one day’s final meal and the following day’s first. It has been shown to be effective for fat loss and improved body composition in part because it improves insulin sensitivity and lowers overall levels of blood sugar.
One often-used strategy for intermittent fasting and weight loss is the 16:8 method. You simply fast for 16 hours a day, often skipping breakfast, and have a feeding window of 8 hours. Many people find improved weight loss abilities and blood sugar responses by using this method. Read here for more information on how to incorporate IF for weight loss.
A note of caution for women: the female body has been shown to be more sensitive to caloric restriction than male physiology. When done improperly or excessively, fasting may result in irregular menstrual cycles, hormone imbalances, and blood sugar dysregulation. That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t fast at all, they just may need to fast differently or take extra precautions. Check out this blog post (and Part 2) for more information on fasting for women.
Promote Healthy Blood Sugar with Plants, Spices and Supplements
Many plants, spices and herbs have also been shown to have positive effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
Apple Cider Vinegar and Cinnamon
Many people will use apple cider vinegar in water as a tonic before or after meals to blunt the blood sugar response. It can also be used in salad dressings or other recipes to add flavor and health benefits.
Try sprinkling cinnamon on higher carbohydrate meals like oatmeal or sweet potatoes to not only improve your blood glucose response, but also the taste!
Chinese Ginseng, Astragalas Membranaceus and Wild Bitter Melon
There are also lesser-known but extremely potent and long-used plant compounds. Chinese ginseng and astragalus membranaceus are two notable examples that have been shown to decrease the duration and intensity of blood glucose spikes.
Wild bitter melon has also been shown to increase adiponectin secretion from fat cells. Adiponectin is a hormone and key regulator of insulin sensitivity. Wild bitter melon therefore indirectly increases insulin sensitivity by upregulating the hormone that improves it.
However, finding high quality extracts of these plants in the right doses can be difficult and costly.
That’s why we formulated Kion Lean: A plant-based supplement designed to support healthy blood sugar, metabolic wellness, assist in weight management. Kion Lean can assist in stabilizing energy and may help prevent unwanted weight gain—even after indulging in a meal that spikes blood sugar.
Although calories do matter for weight loss, they are just one piece of the fat loss puzzle.
Restricting calories is not only a soul-sucking activity, it doesn’t take into account bio-individuality and will only get you so far on your weight loss journey. It may work at first, but after a while results will plateau and your body will adapt.
What’s more important to consider is the effect your personal biochemistry has on your fat metabolism, namely the role blood sugar and insulin play in determining whether nutrients get stored as fat, or fat gets burned up as fuel.
To win the game of fat loss, you need to ensure you’re keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels under control.
Try these blood sugar balancing strategies to enhance fat loss:
- Find the foods that spike your blood sugar and avoid them (this may or may not be carbs).
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day with cardio, weights, postprandial walks or all of the above.
- Try intermittent fasting.
- Integrate apple cider vinegar and cinnamon into your diet.
- For the best of what the plant world has to offer, supplement with Chinese ginseng, astragalus membranaceus, and wild bitter melon. To make it easy on you and your wallet, try Kion Lean which has the clinically-proven doses of these ingredients, using the highest quality extracts.