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Carb Loading – Paleo Women of Crossfit Version

Tomorrow we are releasing our Metabolic Flexibility chapters that you get when you purchase a year long subscription for $49.95.  These chapters are written by Mike T Nelson who is considered to be the authority on the topic.  When I wrote this article Carb Back Loading was the only book that closely resembled what I teach.  With two volumes of Foundations and now Mike’s chapters on MetFlex I can safely say this is NOW the best information you can purchase specific to our sport (that being high intensity weight lifting and OLY lifting).  Not only do you get that but you get seminars and a private group with other doctors and Crossfit athletes to support your new performance journey (how cool is that?).

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

This is a big topic for the seminars:  “How can a woman keep a healthy amount of carbs in her diet while also mobilizing fat?”  I realize that it’s all very confusing at this point, because there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years surrounding fat loss on a ketogenic diet.  There are certainly a lot of women who’ve made dramatic transformations by cutting carbs, but the results may have come at a cost; for a small percentage of women, symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles and compromised fertility go hand in hand with calorie deprivation and maintaining a low body fat percentage.  If this doesn’t apply to you, you probably can’t relate, but for a few of the ladies out there, a bell just went off in their heads.  Another group of relatively lean ladies have taken a less restrictive approach to eating, and most are quite happy with their body composition.

Exercise Differences Between Men and Women

Aside from the obvious differences, men and women are biologically quite different and respond differently to exercise in a few important ways.  For instance, women burn fat more easily than men do while CrossFitting; due to a significantly decreased oxidative work capacity, women have been shown to use up glycogen more slowly than men do.  They rely upon alternate pathways to supply ATP to the muscle cells during intense activity.  So if women burn more fat while exercising, why are some of them struggling to rid themselves of what they consider to be excess body fat?  Although it has something to do with neurotransmitters and adrenergic receptors in adipose tissue, we’ll just say that each person stores and mobilizes fat differently; it’s dependent upon so many factors that it would take an entire book to adequately explain.  Once again, this is a complicated question that is largely individual, but I have and will continue to argue that there is a process of analysis that must occur.  In the long run, the results are enlightening and will lead to important discoveries about your unique metabolism.

What about Carb Back-Loading?  That Seems Like a Lot of Carbs…

Later, you will read three testimonies from women who Eat to Perform.  Not all of them are CrossFitters, nor are they CBL zealots, but that makes their experiences much more informative and broadly applicable.  Each of these women has formulated a conscious approach to carbohydrate intake that works for them.

Once you hear from them, you’ll agree that the contrasts between these various athletes are eye-opening.  All of them do some version of what I describe in this article, adjusted for their activity level, at various times.  Some do it by feel, some count calories and some carb cycle BUT every single one of them agrees that a high-functioning metabolism involves some amount of carbohydrates.

Adjusting CBL for Women

Back-loading can be intimidating.  Kiefer talks about “slamming the carbs”; images of doughnuts and turnovers dance before your eyes.  This rubs people the wrong way sometimes, because it doesn’t jive with what they consider a basic tenant of human nutrition; it seems insane (and unhealthy) to suggest that eating baked goods and pizza could help you lose fat.  When I started this site, I wanted to start women down the path of thinking more openly as far as carbohydrates are concerned.  That started a discussion and here we are with almost 200,000 people participating (it will probably be more if you read this down the road).  That discussion led to experiments for a lot of people and better performance while eating moderate carbohydrates.  I think I can safely say that women trying to lose fat might do well to try something out of their comfort zone and add some carbs/starches to their meal plans.

This Is a “Non-Standard” Recommendation

It’s important that everyone understands that no recommendation works for everyone.  You have to take the reins, but this is a safe spot for most active women to start.  I just posted an article with a link and explanation of how to calculate your energy requirements based upon your activity level.  It’s very informative so you should give it a quick read.  In the articles coming up you will see examples of women using vastly different approaches as it relates to carb strategies that all make sense.  We’ll go over this more during the seminars as well, so don’t sweat it if these numbers don’t work for you.

  • For our example, we’ll use a woman in her mid-twenties, 5’4”, 125lbs who CrossFits a few times a week.
  • We’ll start her on 125g of protein a day.  If you are particularly light (under 125 pounds) then you can get away with 100g.
  • 125g of carbs (ideally eaten in a small window post workout at the end of the day, similar to the way it is described in the book).  Again, if you weigh less than 125 pounds, 100g is a good place to start.  If you’re particularly active (or you train in the morning), you may want to add 25-50g of carbs to your post workout nutrition.
  • 125g of fat.  This will provide the bulk of your energy throughout the day and turn you into a veritable furnace of fat burning.

Starch Sources in Your Evening Meals

Part of the problem with very active women following a Paleo-esque diet is that they struggle to find energy dense sources that come from mostly whole unprocessed foods.  Fibrous vegetables don’t count; eat as much of them as you want throughout the day but leave them out of your evening meals.  While they may be packed with vitamins and minerals, they will fill you up and you may have a tendency to under eat when it comes time to “slam the carbs”.  This is one of the reasons I recommend having dessert on your back-loading days (ideally, the day before a workout).  My coconut milk smoothies are a great choice; I have also seen women get very favorable results adding dark chocolate and wine into the mix (as long as it’s in moderation).

As far as more traditional options go, we’ll keep this simple: sweet potatoes, squash (kabocha squash pictured above) are great carbohydrate sources.  If you’re open-minded, you could occasionally try some white rice too.  Starches are important, as they provide a quick source of glucose to spur muscle tone (really muscle growth but I digress) and trigger the hormonal cascade responsible for fat burning.  I think you’ll get a great response from these.  Finally, variety is the spice of life, so try different things and don’t be afraid to have a cinnamon roll before bed to prepare for a particularly brutal workout the following day.

Workout Days Followed by Rest Days

Because men burn through sugar like there’s no tomorrow, they can get away with back-loading every day.  Women have things a little harder due to their decreased usage of glycogen as fuel during exercise.  If your goal is to mobilize fat, I would suggest reducing your carbohydrate intake on these days, while simultaneously increasing your fat intake.  It may seem like it contradicts the entire ideology of back-loading, but by eating relatively low carb after training, you will ensure a glycogen debt and maximize fat burning hormones.  Using the example from above, stay with 125g protein, 100g of carbs and add roughly 22g of fat (preferably from sources like coconut oil and grass-fed butter) to make up for the loss of calories incurred by lowering carbohydrate intake.  That would shift your macros to 125p/150f/100c.

These are just my thoughts; you can play with this many different ways.  My goal is to convey a more clear understanding that a reckless approach is unnecessary; you don’t need to eat turnovers and pizza to back-load.  I hope this helps a bit in clarifying that.  As always, these are guidelines and not rules.

Summary

  • Men and women utilize carbohydrate differently.  Women are, in general, better at burning fat than men so they need fewer carbohydrates in their nutrition plans.
  • Ketogenic/low carb diets can cause fast weight loss but they are rarely ideal for optimal performance.
  • While it may not be extremely common, some women suffer some unfortunate side effects when they get really lean and/or deprive their bodies of carbohydrates.  For this reason, it’s better to adopt a less restrictive approach to carbs.
  • Women should strive to hit their protein goals first, and then focus on carbs and fat; in general, women seem to do well on 100-125g of carbs on training days.
  • Rest days can be modified to include more fat and less carbs; 75-100g may be appropriate.
  • As with most things, experimenting with more or less carbs will help you arrive at a balance that works for you and allows you to look and perform the way you want to.
  • You don’t need to eat pizza and turnovers to carb back-load; go for starches like potatoes and rice, and be sure to include some vegetables.  Coconut milk smoothies are also a great option.

 

Is your low carb diet making you insulin resistant?

That answer for a lot of people is yes.  Let me explain both kinds and pay particular note to the italicized portion at the bottom.  Once again “eat less do less” isn’t helping but leaving out carbs actually harms your cells and the result is a withering metabolism.  I wrote this about a year and a half ago and I (actually my editor at the time and I) use the word toxin pretty freely.  Since then I have come to think the word toxin is overused and is often the defense of someone that really doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Insulin Resistance

With the growing population of type 2 diabetes, most everyone has been informed of insulin resistance yet it is poorly understood. The result of excessive intakes of empty carbohydrate foods lacking vitamins and minerals leads to jacked up blood sugar levels. These constantly jacked up blood sugars lead to longwinded elevated insulin levels because insulin and blood glucose should rise in a relatively similar fashion but not ALWAYS be high. The result of inadequate vitamins and minerals (namely magnesium) leaves an exhausted liver and pancreas; two crucial organs to insulin’s stability and reliance.

The sugar in your blood is broken down to glucose.  Excessive production of is a toxic and inflammatory. The inflammation centers itself in the process, focusing on the liver and pancreas and widening to other parts of the body as it progresses. The body handles toxins by storage and dysregulation. This leaves your fat stores full of toxins. When your fat stores are filled with toxins, your organs become ‘fatty.’ Many doctors are forced to inform their patients these days of their ‘fatty livers.’ Over time, an overworked body with excessive glucose becomes insulin resistant which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. So you see, becoming insulin resistant takes a while and once you are resistant to insulin, you have long been doing damage to your body.

When you are in a state of glucose excess, your muscles are full and do not need any more glucose to power them. Insulin tells your body to store excess as fat to be used as energy later. It becomes clear the benefit of having muscle; glucose will be stored in muscles before it is stored as fat so there is a bit of leeway and advantage to more lean body mass. If your muscles are constantly receiving glucose, it becomes reliant on sugar as a primary source of energy.

In an ideal scenario, your body is optimized by using a combination of both sugars and fats for energy.  This is why simultaneously eating low carbohydrate AND a low fat diet will leave you feeling run down and fatigued.  If you are controlling your weight by controlling your intake of carbohydrate, you need to eat fats as a signal to burn fat as a primary fuel source.  This makes the condemnation of fat silly as shown before. It can not only be a primary energy source for the body, but also protect it from things like the cold.

There is a win-lose, lose-win here. Basically, eating very low in carbohydrate means you don’t have access to tons of glucose, so the majority of your cells switch to burning fatty acids instead of glucose. These same cells which are now running on fatty acids become more resistant to taking up glucose in order to save it for use by those few cells that have to have glucose, like in the brain. It is a healthy ‘saving mechanism,’ if it didn’t happen we would die. When glucose becomes sparser, the cells that have the option of running on fatty acids, which is not sparse, choose to not use the glucose and instead use the fatty acids. Thus you can assume those cells have become ‘resistant’ to glucose as they are saving it for other cells that really need it (again, namely the brain). This is a healthy response designed to keep those few cells that need glucose having a good supply of it, and at the same time, it will maintain a healthy level of glucose in the blood. This type of adaption serves as a type of insulin resistance resulting in a healthy level of blood glucose.  This can however lead to a slowing metabolism and I will get you guys that reason tomorrow.

The only problem comes if you eat very low carbohydrate for an extended time, and your cells adapt to this low level of glucose, and then suddenly you decide to pound a ton of sugar into your system. Your cells are caught flat footed for a while. They had adapted to a strategy of saving glucose and all of the sudden they are awash in way too much glucose. This is where understanding nutrient dense food and the right cycling works.

Carb Back Loading for Crossfit and Paleo

Sweet PotatoesCarb back loading is probably the best version of what I refer to as a metabolically favorable way of eating.  The focus of this style of eating is not to create a deficit at all, it is to get your metabolism humming along like a Ferrari so when you enter your Crossfit gym you are ready to perform.  The points where I disagree with Kiefer are not significant but I think it should be brought up.  The fact of the matter is simple, if you are looking for the absolute best book to understand what goes on in your body and WHY this book does that better than any I have seen.  If I find a better one, I will put that one in the sidebar but, for now, this is the holy grail for a high functioning metabolism that allows you to burn fat.  The book is expensive, is it worth the money? I think it is.  Much of what I talk about on my blog and the associated Facebook page covers topics in the book.  The book however does a good job as a “one stop place” for an approach to eating with the scientific references to back it up.

Carb Back Loading is $53 dollars, when you consider all of the $109 nanos, $139 OLY shoes and the list goes on none of those will help your understanding of how your nutrition self and athletic self work together quite the way CBL will.

To Download your version of Carb Back Loading click here

This blog exists to help people understand their health and performance.  It is a business and as such I sell things.  I only sell things I use and I only promote products I believe in.  If you like this blog and you like my content and are considering buying this book I would ask you to use this link.

Can you do this Paleo?

Absolutely you can and it probably best describes how I eat.  I rely mostly on sweet potatoes for my carbs and occasionally white rice (many Paleo authors are starting to include white rice in their “safe to eat” foods for athletes).  My coconut milk smoothies are a perfect addition to the fat back load which is used in conjunction with carbs to get a better response before bed.

Cherry pineapple and Banana Chocolate Hazelnut smoothies

Some minor points of differences

Kiefer suggests A LOT of supplements in the book.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I disagree with his recommendations as much as I would say they aren’t necessary for all populations.  If you are eating a diet of mostly whole foods with adequate protein you have it mostly right.

Is this THE way of eating?

I think if you asked him John would describe this style of eating as the best strategy he has come up with for extreme athletic performance.  BUT IT IS JUST A STRATEGY.  It is not THE way, you could certainly take the concepts in the book and put the pieces together for an optimal way of eating designed for you.  As someone who coaches people on their diets there a lot of one off’s that you need to account for.

Even though people spend 100′s of dollars on personal trainers and Crossfit memberships they are often reluctant to spend the money for a book like this.  That is a mistake.  Even if you never carb back load you will learn infinite strategies related to how to eat to perform (catchy right).

Carb Nite Solution

The other book offered is called Carb Nite Solution, that will appeal to many people who will see it as the holy grail of fat loss.  You won’t however see see a link or it in the sidebar of this site because Ketogenic Diets (even good ones like CNS) are a metabolic train wreck for Crossfitters, especially women who have a history of extreme dieting.

He doesn’t seem to like us Crossfitters

The original versions of Carb Back Loading  was for PowerLifters and Physique Competitors (you see them as the testimonials).  His criticisms of our approach to fitness is legit for optimizing squatting 1,000 pounds or even getting shredded down to 5%.  So if those are goals of yours then you should understand that Crossfit isn’t a good method for reaching those goals.  Crossfitters are attempting different goals.  Let me put it to you this way, if you want to become the best version of yourself this book will show you a great approach to get there.  I also believe that if you play with it a bit, Kiefer describes his approach as Legos, it might take a bit to figure it out completely.  Certainly if you have any questions on how you can adapt this approach to eating to Crossfit leave a message in the comments and I will attempt to help you.

What about all of the donuts and turnovers?

You’ll just have to get over that part.  Think about it, people want an approach to eating that allows them to perform athletically WHILE ALSO allowing them to make some poor choices.  Is the turnover and donut approach vastly superior to a more Paleo approach? I have tried it, it didn’t feel right.  FOR ME.  I am a 44 year old man but I wouldn’t recommend the turnovers and donut approach to most populations.  Do I realize that it might describe an approach to the way some people want to eat? I certainly do.  If you are doing the 80% version of Paleo or even the version that Dr. Cordain recommends in the Paleo Diet for Athletes this can be easily accomplished with carb back loading and just/almost as effective for optimizing Crossfit as the donut approach might be.  Any differences would be minimal and unless you are an elite athlete those differences likely won’t matter for you and your progress related to Crossfit.

Tackling the Sugar Addiction question

First let me start off by saying I don’t make light of addiction.  I have been free of chemicals for 26 years, it destroyed my life as a teenager and I had to leave my family to get treatment for that illness.  So while things kind of worked out for me in the end I still deal with repercussions of that illness to this day.  Let me give you the timeline for this addiction.

- At 18 I was admitted to a treatment facility for 3 months where I underwent extreme psychotherapy

- I then was admitted to a halfway house in Minnesota (where I currently live), I stayed in that facility for 6 months as did most of the residents there.

- I am originally from New Orleans, La. one of the coolest places on the planet.  Most of my family still resides there or near there.

- After leaving the facility in Minnesota I decided to acclimate for a bit before heading back home.  New Orleans held a lot of temptation then and now so I really wanted to make sure I had it right.

- 26 years later I am still here, I met my wife about 6 months after leaving the halfway house.  I often get asked “what makes a person come from a warm weather place that seems as cool as hell to a miserable wasteland (their words not mine, it’s really not so bad and Prince is from here)” my simple retort is often “had to be a woman, right?”

- My children have a great life and our family is well supported by people that care for us but it’s incomplete.  It’s a little tough looking your father in the eye as he tears up because he is being robbed of seeing his “grand babies” grow up.  That is one small casualty of addiction.

So yeah, I take addiction real serious.  As a drug treatment counselor I heard many stories of people who stole their grandmothers microwave to buy crack or compromised their humanity to get a fix.  So while sugar is a powerful chemical can we at least set the bar as a SEVERE consequence that possibly compromises who you are as a result.  Before anyone suggests obesity, let’s not confuse not knowing WHY with uncontrollable behavior.  So let’s start there.

The insulin hypothesis

The insulin hypothesis goes like this, if you can keep insulin suppressed it solves body fat storage because insulin is said to be a “storage hormone”.  Let’s be clear about this, body fat can store without the presence of insulin through multiple channels.  Insulin is more accurately described as a building hormone.  Eat correctly and it builds muscle, eat incorrectly and it BUILDS/stores fat.

It has been proposed that if you can control insulin you can control your health, that is the basis for all low carbohydrate diets.  As many of you know that frequent this page/blog I recommend eating carbohydrates with strategies related to the time you workout or even eating in a smaller window in the evening.  No matter which macronutrient we are talking about I believe you should have a strategy as it relates to that macronutrient.  I also believe that you should have some general idea of your overall intake needs daily and adjust those needs related to your activity level.  Let me give you an example of what that might look like, for protein I try to get around 160g a day, each gram of protein equals 4 calories, so I need 640 calories from protein a day (you don’t really need to count calories daily to have a good idea of your protein intake but it might be helpful for a week or so just to check, knowledge is powerful).  Through massive trial and error I have found a good balance of about 200g of carbohydrate, up to 300g if my activity is higher, once again, I do this intuitively but as most of you know I am pretty good at this whole nutrition thing.  Carbs also equal 4 calories per gram so I need 800 to 1200 calories of carbohydrate to support my daily activity.  While yes I realize carbohydrates are a non-essential macronutrient they are very favorable as it relates to metabolism.  I know this because I basically cured my hypothyroidism related to chronic dieting once I went down this road of discovery related to my intake needs.  Which brings me to fats, through various ways including dexascan and bodpod testing as well as trial and error I know that I need about 3000 calories a day to support my activity levels.  Once again I don’t actually count this stuff but I am also not naive as it relates to the caloric values of the foods that I eat and also know what those foods represent in my body.  Which is another article for another day and not germain to the discussion of sugar addiction.  So fat calories basically equal the rest, if I get 640 calories from protein roughly and 800 calories from carbohydrates that leaves me with 1560 calories coming from fat, fat calories (as most of you know) equal 9 calories per gram, so my fat intake represents more than half of my calories, which is right about 170g a day of fat alone.

For the ladies in the crowd I will use my wife as an example without all of the dirty details. Protein 120g, carbohydrates 150g, total calories for her (she is a crossfitter so quite active) are 2400 a day (she doesn’t count either but eats in an intuitive manner similar to the way that I do).  So her fat calories represent also over 50% of her calories at 1320 or roughly 146g from fat.  From what I have seen my wife is pretty average but I would like to put out there that everyone’s life journey should be a bit more self discovery.  In a lot of ways that is why I made this blog and my accompanying Facebook page, it is my life’s mission to help people navigate these personal struggles.

If you think you don’t need to eat that much to support your activity level you are almost certainly wrong.  Even if you are right it is only minor degrees.  I am not saying this as someone using two people as an example, I have many case studies that prove this.

So let’s start there as it relates to your sugar intervention.  Until you actually KNOW these types of numbers and have worked towards this level of self discovery and you haven’t had to miss carpool to prostitute yourself for a twix bar (you are going to have to imagine this in Jeff Foxworthy voice switching our redneck for sugar addict) “you might not be a sugar addict”.  Just so people know I am not stereotyping I pick up carpool for my children and I can say to you “god willing” I haven’t had to miss carpool for a twix.

So why so much fat?

I like fat as a primary fuel because it’s very stable, I have heard it said that over reliance on glucose (carbs) for energy is like burning a fire with kindling and fat is like putting a log on the fire.  At rest, for most people, fats are a great source of daily energy levels.  Fats also keep insulin blunted and while it seems odd fats can be a good STRATEGY as it relates to your body fat levels.  I highlight the word strategy because my way and my wife’s way might not represent the best way for you.  That will be part of your self discovery but stick with me and I will give you some clues on how to get there.  Don’t be fooled though, the insulin hypothesis goes like this,  keep carbs out of your diet and you will be in fat burning mode all of the time.  Not only is this wrong it’s borderline irresponsible and has left many people broken with eating disorder type behaviors as a result.

The effects of Carbohydrate on a Ketogenic approach to eating

In an attempt to figure out if they are in ketosis many people pee on their hands each morning to check their ketone levels.  I don’t mean to make light of people working towards a better style of eating but there is a crucial aspect they are missing.  Carbs are said to be a non-essential macronutrient because your body can exist without them, the body requires glucose (a fuel source readily available through actual food) so much that it actually can turn fats and mainly protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis (I misspell this word non-stop).  It’s an inefficient process and can often leave the user with headaches as a result.  The brain functions mostly on glucose but I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it can however function on Ketones which is the by-product of fat metabolism.  So while yes if you can suffer through the bad workouts and the headaches it is indeed possible to use fats as a primary fuel source but the net result as it relates to body fat mobilization becomes dependent on the amount of fats you eat as a result.  The process is relatively inefficient for athletic populations and virtually impossible as a strategy for Crossfitters that want to excel.

It has been well known for a long time that when you eat in a ketogenic way and then cycle your carbs that stimulates metabolism whether it by intraday, bi-daily, weekly or whatever floats your boat.  When you eat low carbohydrate and then you have a carbohydrate re-feed (you eat a good amount of carbs) you not only mobilize fat but the net result tends to be more favorable than the “eat less do less” model of eating.  This is because a low carbohydrate way of eating suppresses the hormone leptin which is the primary mover as it relates to body fat mobilization.  Suppressed leptin levels can lead to hypothyroid like symptoms and is often the result of extreme dieting.

So low carbohydrate dates get to a point of diminishing returns as it relates to body composition.  I will say there are always outliers where it can work but those are not the majority of folks that go down the low carb path.

I am going to stop here because this is going long

I am not going to make any promises related to WHEN I will write the second part of this article but you already should have some thoughts flowing through your head related to “sugar addiction”.  The next article is going to focus more on strategies related to eating that will allow to better understand your bodies signals.  Let me end on this note though, most people who think they are sugar addicted are underfed, plane and simple.  Since low carb dieting is not favorable as it relates to metabolism down the line people often need to reduce their fat intake to try and chase their body composition goals which is like driving towards a point that is continuouslyy moving.  Those that aren’t underfed are simply relying more on glucose (carbs or sugars) as their primary fuels and this can be handled easily by adjusting their diet patterns.  Here is the deal, you miss the sugar because the brain really really likes sugar, if you gave the brain sugar all of the time it would just ask you for more because, well, brains are gonna brain.  That’s what they want.  If you provide your brain adequate nutrition with strategies related to how the rest of your body manages your fat the equation for optimal health starts to appear.

I am thinking the next article should probably be called “The case for responsible energy management” but let’s be honest, no ones gonna click that.  So I’ll probably call it something like “The Sugar Addiction Cure debunked”.  I’m tricky like that.  Oh yeah, Doctor Oz can suck it.  I can’t believe people still think his information is even remotely responsible.

Some conjecture and Science on why Fats are important

grass_fed_steaks

It might seem somewhat ironic but “Carb Back Loading” is a book about eating fats most of the time and using carbs to most effectively use those fats.  You can support this site and get a free science lab membership by purchasing items using the links on this site (much of which you probably already buy or want to buy).  Check this link out for directions on how that happens (or you can now purchase a Science Lab membership for $4.95 monthly).

Fat cells are part of the endocrine system, and, as I’ve discussed before, they have the power to influence the degree to which muscle cells prefer glucose versus fats as an energy source. They exercise this control by releasing two signaling peptides: leptin and adiponectin. Adiponectin promotes glucose consumption by the muscles, and it also acts directly on the fat cells to encourage them to take up glucose and convert it to fat. Leptin, on the other hand, stimulates the muscles to prefer fat consumption over glucose consumption.

For several decades now, Americans have come to believe that the following two practices are foundational in a healthy lifestyle:  eat a low-fat diet, and  stay away from the sun. Additionally, if people consume adequate amounts of calcium, then all three nutritional deficiencies that have led to obesity will be overcome: vitamin D, calcium, and dietary fat.

Lack of Dietary fats is a precursor to metabolic syndrome

The lack of adequate dietary fat contributes to the metabolic syndrome in at least four ways:  vitamin D is only available in fatty food sources because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, calcium uptake is more efficient when the calcium is consumed with dietary fats, calcium uptake depends critically on the presence of vitamin D, which is deficient due to (1) above, and the burden of fat cells to manufacture fatty acids from sugar is alleviated by the dietary availability of fats from ingested food sources.

I would also argue that one should make sure to ingest adequate amounts of dietary fat, especially dairy fat . Whole milk (assuming you are not intolerant) is particularly outstanding because it contains substantial amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and it contains the necessary fat to assure that these two elements will be well utilized rather than just passing through the digestive system unabsorbed. Animal fats such as bacon are good sources of vitamin D, while also supplying fatty acids to help with energy needs. Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are particularly good because they contain both omega-3 fats and vitamin D. One should assiduously avoid the trans fats found in processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and margarine. Butter and eggs are also healthy choices. Egg yolk is particularly good because it contains both fats and vitamin D. Nuts, particularly walnuts, almonds, and macademia nuts, are excellent sources of omega 3 fats.

The fat cells are able to influence the muscles to preferentially take up fats rather than glucose by releasing certain hormones into the blood, hormones that also have a powerful influence over appetite. One of these hormones is leptin. While leptin influences the muscle cells indirectly through its signaling in the hypothalamus, it also stimulates the muscle cells directly, and influences them to oxidize fatty acids in their mitochondria. Leptin also encourages the fat cells to release their fats through lipolysis. All of these actions work in concert to redirect fuel usage away from glucose. The programming of the muscles to preferentially consume fats aligns well with the fat cells’ infusion of fats into the blood and absorption of sugars through their fat-producing factories.

Leptin influences appetite

Leptin also has the effect, via the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, of suppressing appetite. Adiponectin is another hormone released by fat cells, and it is generally agreed that adiponectin induces hunger. Leptin and adiponectin levels would ordinarily fluctuate throughout the day, with leptin levels rising at night to encourage a switch from glucose-based to fat-based energy management. However, in the obese person, the leptin levels are typically high all the time, and the adiponectin levels are kept very low. High levels of leptin in the blood signal to the appetite center in the brain a sense of being full, whereas high levels of adiponectin are hunger-inducing. This means that the obese are being informed both that they are full, and that they are not hungry. You would think that this would protect them from overeating. However, it is likely that the observed insensitivity to leptin as an appetite suppressant in the obese is also related to calcium depletion, because the signaling mechanisms that respond to leptin in both the hypothalamus (Details) and the pituitary gland (Details) depend on changes in internal calcium concentrations.

Confusing signals cause deficiencies related to blood sugar 

The result of these three deficiencies is defective glucose uptake in both muscle and fat cells. The obese person becomes trapped in an endless metabolic cycle of trying to supply the energy needed for a steadily increasing demand. The fat cells are at the center of the storm, because they are burdened with the arduous assignment of converting the excess consumed sugars and carbohydrates into fat. The fat cells must do this because the muscle cells are impaired with a malfunctioning ability to metabolise sugars. Even if the metabolic problem were not fixed, if the obese person simply ate more fat, and therefore consumed fewer carbs, the fat cells’ burden would be greatly alleviated. In addition, getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium, either through diet or sun exposure, would alleviate the core problem of impaired glucose transport across the cell wall. Now that the heart and muscles can utilize sugars directly, the excessive burden on the fat cells to expand and proliferate is relieved, and the body fat will inevitably melt away.

The metabolic syndrome is a term used to encapsulate a complex set of markers associated with increased risk to heart disease. The profile includes insulin resistance and dysfunctional glucose metabolism in muscle cells, excess triglycerides in the blood serum, high levels of LDL, particularly small dense LDL, the worst kind  low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and reduced cholesterol content within the individual HDL particles, elevated blood pressure, and obesity, particularly excess abdominal fat. I have argued previously that this syndrome is brought on by a diet that is high in empty carbohydrates (particularly fructose) and low in fats and cholesterol, along with a poor vitamin D status [Seneff2010]. While I still believe that all of these factors are contributory, I would now add another factor as well: insufficient dietary sulfate.

Why being “fat adapted” makes your body run better

Glucogenesis is the process where the body breaks down proteins and possibly fats for energy, what this means is that in the absence of glucose the body can make glucose which is important for brain function.  This is also important for all those people that think they need carbohydrates every fewer hours to maintain their energy.  When a good majority of your energy comes from fats you are said to be “fat adapted” and less prone to voracious hunger related to blood sugar changes.  There is nothing wrong with glucogenesis, nor is there anything wrong with carbohydrate restriction. A glucose fueled body and a fatty acid fueled body are both healthy body’s (the latter arguably more health promoting and anti inflammatory). Insulin in and of itself has little to do with body weight and weight gain. The liver, pancreas and brain take care of this. One could potentially eat a ‘perfect’ diet totally devoid of carbohydrates, and still gain weight. if whatever you are eating is spiking your blood sugar and your pancreas is not releasing efficient amounts of insulin to clear the spike, then in turn you will store fat. This goes the same for EVERYTHING YOU EAT. Insulin is required to live, without it you would die. I think people are missing the point when the carbohydrate junk is thrown around, as well as the fear of blood sugar rises.  To suggest that one macronutrient is “bad” or “good” misses the whole point, conditioning your body to be able to exist on either is not only healthy, it’s optimal.

Lets say, for example, you do a 20 minute heavy lifting session in a fasted state (like first thing in the morning). Your body is PRIMED to produce a spike in blood sugar regardless of what you eat. NOT TO STORE FAT, but to reinstate hormesis in your muscles and deliver nutrients. This is the job of amino acids, but to deliver it you need insulin.

Preparation Over Precision

Precision

Preparing yourself for meals and one-off situations is a topic that comes up in the Science Lab a lot.  The Science Lab is a service I offer CrossFitters that are looking to reach their body composition goals.  The classes work in a similar fashion to the way WOD’s work; they are scheduled and our coaches walk you through what you need to do to achieve your goals. 

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

When determining what you should and should not put in your body, there seems to be never-ending confusion not only in deciding, but also in answering to other people who do not understand what real food is.  The messages we get are not always clear; what is real food?

In short, if you can pick it, grow it, or kill it, you should probably eat it. (Chia pets not included.)

  • Protein:  Chew it!  Protein should come mostly from real food and come bundled with Omega 3s.  Include grass fed/pastured livestock and wild-caught salmon, herring, or sardines.
  • Carbohydrates:  You need carbs to fuel your performance.  Glucose is king but you need your veggies as well.  A colorful diet will provide you with plenty of fiber and vitamins!
  • Fats:  Use them as a vehicle for vegetables, fruits and lean meats. It adds flavor, density, and libido!  Fatty meats obviously do not need to be covered in butter.

How to Get your Vitamins

Do not use a multi-vitamin as a blanket for a crappy diet.  Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly, and although a multi-vitamin taken with a meal can be effective, real food is where it’s at!

BEHOLD.

The Epic Humongous Salad (proper noun): It’s a bowl of everything:  lots of flavors, lots of colors, lots of textures.  Humongous salads are the best way to throw a ton of vitamins, minerals, and good fats into one big bowl.

¡WARNING!  You may need to purchase a new bowl specifically for epic-sized salads.  Eat To Perform.com cannot be held accountable for the mess you make trying to shove all of this vegetation into a less-than-epic-sized bowl. 

This is not a premixed bag of iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrots for appeal.  One of my favorite additions is roasted vegetables;  warm vegetables on cold salad greens is a win.  The list of possibilities is never-ending, but to get started:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Red leaf, green leaf, romaine, butter lettuces
  • Red cabbage
  • Bacon crumbs
  • Grilled sirloin
  • Roasted chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Avocado slices
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Sesame seeds
  • Zucchini
  • Summer squash
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Parsnips
  • Collards
  • Okra
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Figs
  • Dried fruit pieces
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Almond slices
  • Jalapenos

Salad dressing options are endless as well. First, you need a fat source (olive oil, butter, tallow, bacon grease), vinegar if you like the kick (white, apple cider, wine vinaigrette, fresh squeezed lemon), and your spice assortment (chili, onion, garlic, fennel, paprika, cumin, coriander, sage…). Fresh herbs work wonders too (basil, thyme, marjoram, cilantro…).  Someone should program a salad generating app…

Now that’s a salad! Eat it for size; it might take a while too.  Time of day does not matter for this beast but I would suggest that your first meal should have a lot of substance.  A lot of people have trouble eating breakfast and most of us are told that breakfast is the most important meal so they start the day off with nutrient-deficient grains and very few foods that fill you up.

My suggestion is that if you do not feel hungry, do not eat.  When you feel hungry you should eat. The epitome of a healthy lifestyle is living in harmony with food.  Don’t fear it, and do not become inhumanely excited over it. I do not know anyone who is addicted to real food, but I know plenty who are addicted to junky, chemically laced and alerted food. You may be able to overeat on a 12-hour standing rib roast, but it is not the same as overeating on a triple family-sized bag of Doritos with a side of Big Gulp Slurpee and Twinkies for dessert. When you are FULL on the rib roast, and you know it- your body now requires time to assimilate and process all the vitamins and minerals in the meat. This is why your appetite is depressed for a long while. No questions asked, and you lose your interest in food. When you’re full on the junk, your stomach is huge and expanded, but your brain is not content. It keeps searching for something that isn’t there. Many overweight individuals are NOT addicted to food as they are led to believe; they are addicted to junk food. Your ghrelin receptors adjust to the crappy food you give your system, which alters your reward path to your brain from your gut. If it doesn’t get nutrients, it does not function properly.

Are you addicted to carrots? No.

Are you addicted to strawberries or oranges? No.

Are you addicted a piece of grilled salmon with broccoli? No.

Do not wallow in your own misery; the only change can be made by you when you accept the difference. You CAN go cold turkey, just like an alcoholic can. But you must eat, right? Yes, obviously you do but you don’t need moon pies and Little Debbie’s all day – you do not NEED them ever…But if you make the conscious choice to sit and enjoy one once a week with control and confidence in getting back to your regular routine, then use it to your advantage. Choose the real food the rest of the time.

After a while, your body will establish patterns that will make this process a lot easier.  Remember, you have no addiction to real food; you have an addiction to crappy food. Eat when you feel hunger, eat a lot, and make it real food. Do not be scared to prepare yourself a huge plate of real food. When you are full you are done, put it away but promise yourself when you get hungry again, the real food is coming out again in full force. It will ALWAYS be there, and there is nothing to fear or hold back on. Freeing, isn’t it? Don’t go around being a grumpy Buddha, you and only you have the power to change!

“But I Don’t Like Vegetables”

Okay let’s just be honest; acting like an adult entails eating like an adult.  When you chose real food, a whole new sensory pathway will open you up to new tastes and textures. You need to shut off the excitatory, over-enhanced, MSG-laden, chemically-pumped-and-altered, flavorless (in reality) parts of your brain that were predominant before.  You need to fill your cells with nutrients to appreciate the well-being that is possible. There are very few vegetables that do not taste good cooked in lard, or roasted with butter and a good seasoning blend, or natural spices. If you need to wean yourself into vegetables, try stuffed peppers with a Tex-Mex ground beef seasoning, or bacon fried cabbage. Two sure fire flavor-yum bombs.

Preparation Over Precision

Many people find comfort in precision and pay dearly for the privilege. Weight Watchers is an example, and so are many of the “boxed systems” that you can buy to help you lose weight.  They all work; the problem is that for many people, these diets leave them hungry and/or ill prepared once the box is gone. “Rules” become “limitations”; what if that 2 point bar doesn’t leave you satisfied and you have no points to spare? Sorry, but your appetite doesn’t run on points; it runs on neurochemical impulses.  What if the Nutri-System bean burrito tasted like crap?  You are left unsatisfied, and your brain is looking for something to fill that void. Even with such systems, you need to remember to bring the food or prepare your meals ahead of time.  Eating well will always entail this.

If you can nail the preparation part, the precision part should follow naturally.  It would be a very difficult argument to make that those people would not benefit extremely from preparation.  Preparation is the answer to succeeding in a lifestyle change. How can you eat a big ass salad with no vegetables?  How can you promise yourself to eat big when you are hungry if you do not have any food waiting for you? Preparation takes out the worry of making food choices; it leaves you calm and determined and in power. There is a confidence in looking into a refrigerator full of nourishing food, ready for when you are hungry. Again, promise to feed yourself well with such foods when you do get hungry. Preparation, execution, confidence.

“Breakfast” simply means the time in which you break your fast.  Anytime you are not eating, you are fasting.  Fasting has such a wide array of benefits that an entire book would need to be published simply to detail its benefits. Most people relate breakfast with eating upon rising – hunger or no hunger.  Others would prefer not to eat when they wake up.  There is no right or wrong here, no benefit or lack thereof; eat when you are hungry but do not allow yourself to become ravenous.  Preparation is the key.  Your first meal should be filled with nutrition.  If you are the type that says, “I cannot eat a lot when I first wake up.” then great.  You do not have to eat then.  If you choose to eat upon waking, be sure to get a good amount of protein and fats. Remember that if you prefer eating when rising, you need to remain consciously aware of this as night time draws. Instead of forgetting about hunger signals and going straight for your old couch-and-chips routine, remember that as soon as you wake up you’ll be eating again. This leaves nighttime and saying no to junk easier by rest assuring you hunger will be met.

What a small meal looks like:

2 egg omelet with a coconut milk smoothie.  If you followed that meal up with the humungous salad at noon, you are well on your way to a healthy nutritious day where your appetite is self regulated.

What a big meal looks like:

A 10 ounce grass-fed rib eye, big ass salad and sweet potatoes followed by a bowl of full fat greek yogurt with strawberries and cacao nibs.  It is extremely filling and since I delayed my meal timing it allowed my body to detox and heal a bit better, promoting cellular repair.

Getting fat has nothing to do with when you break your fast for breakfast; it has to do with learning to listen to your body and choosing real food. Most people like to go until they are ravenous and somehow justify pounding through a sleeve of Oreos dipped in milk.  “It’s okay, I was hungry…I really needed to eat!”

Going hungry inevitably leads to grabbing the most convenient options which also lack nutrition. Why? Hunger leads to low blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels force the brain to use less glucose, which is the only energy source the brain can use.  So, when you are hungry, your brain is lacking glucose or in need of it. A piece of junk candy bar or cookie will send a high to your brain of satisfaction, which lasts…maybe 5 minutes followed by the same scenario on repeat. Up, down, high, low. Behavior is a result of what the brain perceives (aka the reaction to unreal food). The behaviors you are addicted to, the bad patterns you get caught up in, are all direct results of the information you are giving your brain and how it reads such signals.  However, when hunger hits and you feed on protein and fat alongside some vegetables, your rise in the blood is slower, longer, and controlled. This is because both glucose and glucagon are released when protein is eaten. It leads to a steady supply of energy for the brain and a happy content body.

In the book “Nutrition Against Disease”, author Dr. Roger J. Williams points out that like all other living cells, brain cells often receive less than perfect nutrition. He goes on to observe that brain cells get nutrition from blood, which in turn gets its nutrients from the food we eat each day. At first, it takes a while to get past that and let your body readjust to a new way. Psychologically, your brain may want to get that rush back, even at the expense of feeling bad later. It’s the same reason why people like to smoke. They cultivate an addiction and then enjoy the pleasure of satiating that addiction.

So you need to deal with feelings of:

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Futility
  • Fear of change
  • Nostalgia
  • Fear of deprivation
  • Denial
  • Obsession
  • Loathing
  • Hyper self-criticism

        It has to do with healthfulness, and mindfulness, and gratitude, and forgiveness.  It has to do with having a free mind, and using food to fuel that beautiful capacity.

        You get back whatever you put out, so don’t think about what you don’t have or what you didn’t get. That is unhealthy thinking in itself. Think about the possibilities because they are endless. Perhaps learning to let go of baseless misconceptions like ‘”artery clogging saturated fats” and the necessity of eating every other hour is the best thing to do. To be satisfied with what you have, and what you receive, are aspects of success not to be overlooked.

Summary

  • Although taking a multivitamin every day can help you get the vitamins and minerals your enzymes need to function properly, you can’t beat eating real food.
  • A great way to get your micronutrients is to have a humongous, colorful salad for lunch. 
  • Salads are also a great way to get some extra fat in.  Olive oil and vinegar is a common dressing choice, but don’t be afraid to throw in some seasonings and herbs like paprika and cilantro.
  • Making sure you have a kitchen stocked with nutritious, whole foods is one of the best ways to make sure that when you’re hungry, you don’t make bad decisions and go for convenience/junk foods. 
  • There’s a big difference between binging on a slow-cooked, bone-in roast and eating a whole bag of Doritos.  Real food will satisfy you whereas junk food will typically make you hungrier; don’t be afraid to eat when you’re hungry!
  • Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast if you’re not hungry in the morning.  Listen to your body, and break your fast with quality nutrition rather than processed foods! 
  • Cravings for junk food and relying upon poor food choices to fuel your body can lean to negative body composition changes as well psychological hang-ups that reinforce the bad eating behavior. 
  • Satisfy your nutritional requirements first, and then consider satisfying your taste buds.

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