In our extreme fat loss classes these are the types of struggles that are very common, we don’t just help people understand their food choices. We provide them other people with shared experiences. Some of whom (me) have come out of the other side. For information on how to join click here.
If you have been reading my blogs (and not just enjoying my recipes) you’ll know that I have struggled with my weight all of my life. I didn’t need to worry or struggle with my weight when I was in highschool, but I did and this certainly lead to a path of unhealthy living and eating, which of course lead to me actually needing to worry about my weight. Over the past 25 years or so, I have learned a lot from my successes and failures…more from my failures than my successes since most of my successes were achieved by the wrong means. One thing I have realized and really owned recently (by recently, I mean today) is when I begin going to that dark place….any of you who have struggled with their weight know what I am talking about. It’s that time when you start getting frustrated, the weight is not coming off and you are focusing on the numbers. No matter how much you or anyone else tells you that you look great and the numbers don’t matter, you are brought back to that logic that got you to where you are in the first place. Numbers, numbers, numbers…logic doesn’t matter…self destruction begins…
I feel myself going there. I don’t know why, but I think that by writing about it and owning it, it will help me get through it and hopefully help someone else that may be going through it. I realized I was going there today when I was walking through Walmart and saw a bag of powdered donuts…suddenly, I had this urge to eat the entire bag. What is crazy is that I became very aware that this sudden urge to eat this bag full of sugar and carbs was a signal that I was getting frustrated with my progress. That has never happened before…
I feel like this is a major step in my journey to “be the person I am meant to be”. To be aware of the triggers that can lead you back to the person you used to be is a HUGE accomplishment and in 25 years of struggling with my weight, I have never chosen to listen to those triggers. I am listening now. I know that bag of donuts could have been the turn in the road that lead to self-destruction and am so proud that I have been able to listen to my body and my mind. People always say that to lose weight you need to find out why you are eating the way you do, find the underlying reason….
I think that’s bullshit for the most part.
Of course there may be certain situations where some traumatic event occurred in someone’s life which lead to a life of overeating, but for the most part, we are overweight because we make bad choices and form bad habits because we don’t know any better! I am not going to blame my mother, my father, how I grew up or a bad relationship for the condition I let my body get to. It was my fault and now it is time to fix what I have broken.
I am not sure if this will get me out of my “dark place” but the fact that I am aware I am starting to go to my “dark place” (and now so are thousands of other people) I know I will get through it and be stronger (mentally and physically) than I was a week ago.
Sorry, no recipe with this one…just me and my words Keep working hard, don’t give up and don’t buy the bag on donuts…I didn’t….
So Leptin says to the brain “Yo homey, why you always hoggin’ the sugar”. This is a leptin joke that will never catch on but it cracks me up.
Most people are aware of insulin but many people are not as aware of the hormone leptin and its role in the body. Leptin is sort of like insulin’s identical brother. Each is simply a signal for the body, and a hormonal signal at that. Leptin and its receptors are spread throughout your body and even those areas which do not see the light of day! Leptin is also found in your fat tissue. It relays signals to your brain regarding energy balance and the brain relays back whether your body should release fat, keep it or store it. So if you are on a diet, or have ever been on a diet then leptin is something you need to be well versed in. Blood tests resulting in elevated triglycerides may impair your brains ability to process the relay messages between leptin receptors and the brain. This can serve as a sign of leptin resistance. One week of dieting can lower your leptin by 50%.
The role of leptin in the body is affected when insulin levels are too high due to increased inflammation related to excessive carbohydrate consumption. Leptin is a complex topic, so complex that this short primer isn’t going to tell you all you need to know but it is a start.
Leptin excess leads to resistance of signaling, much like insulin in excess leads to downgraded organ signaling. When dieting too long or too strictly, especially when using a low carbohydrate diet as a tool for weight loss, leptin is lowered to an extreme level affecting the body’s ability to mobilize fat and keep hormones at healthy libido levels (this is the opposite of the scenario in the last paragraph). This is where a big helping of sweet potatoes and bananas after a day of low carbohydrate dieting can actually spur fat loss, because you have now opened the door for leptin again and it mobilizes fat as a result (I keep referring to this as the Metabolism Switch and it’s one of the basic premises of the book Carb Back Loading). As it stands, the body can become leptin resistant from excessive signaling but also levels can become too low from excessive restriction- both impair fat loss.
Carbohydrates are the boogie man of nutrition to many, even more so than fats, though there are groups on both sides who disdain both of them with equal fervor. The detonator in the carbohydrate war is over simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates consist of quick acting foods like white bread, cereal, table sugar, soda- very refined foods. On the other side are complex carbohydrates consisting of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes and quinoa. That is a pretty wide spectrum to paint with a very broad brush (but I just did it baby!).
For a lot of people the Paleo Diet can cause Leptin issues but things are fine if they add Paleo starches and some occasional white rice and keep overall calories at maintenance levels. I have no beef with the Paleo Diet if you do it without restricting intake. If you are in a standstill as it relates to weight issues and would rather not count calories Paleo can be useful. I can assure you it is more difficult to become obese eating in such a way. That said, if you eat coconut fried sweet potatoes in all of your meals each day it’s not the diet that is the problem ….. Such a diet would clearly be nutrient deficient and you are likely well aware of that fact.
So now that we have cleared that up let’s move on.
Solving leptin goes a long way to having a healthy metabolism and one of the best ways to do that is to keep a moderate amount of starchy carbs in your diet. Certainly fruits are advantageous and even the occasional sugary treat can actually serve a purpose as the joke at the top suggests.
For most people that blog about the way people eat I easily have the best folks to work with. People who do Crossfit and eat correctly basically make what I talk about extremely easy. I have worked with body builders, power lifters and models in the past. Most of those populations are trying to put a round peg in a square hole. Imagine working with a PowerLifter that needs to lift in a weight class trying to pull triple their body weight with less food. Body builders and models are legendary for eating disorder type behavior but those populations are getting a lot smarter as more scientific information gets out there. For us Crossfitters, our focus is simply, to get better at Crossfit and we know from the many folks around us each that are all “ab’ed” up that it really does work. But it’s not working for everyone, for every #SOGO warrior out there, there is also someone in the back of the gym kind of pissed off that they are killing themselves every workout with marginal gains in the mirror.
Why Ketogenic Diets work and when they become a metabolic disaster?
I talked yesterday about the fact that John Kiefer has two books, Carb Back Loading (check out my article on CBL adjusted for Crossfit and Paleo populations) the one I recommend, and Carb Nite Solution–which I don’t recommend. John is a pretty smart dude and CNS is so drop dead easy that the book is basically all about why the diet works. Go figure, an author that actually explains the processes that make the diet work. In my opinion it’s the best Ketogenic book on the market but Crossfitters don’t need another Ketogenic diet. They need a performance way of eating and that is the gaping hole that Carb Back Loading fills. Wait, what? That’s right, the way you are eating combined with your activity level nets out to about the point where the Ketogenic Diets become effective. To flip the metabolic switch when you are an inactive individual the key is strategic carb days like I describe below. For active individuals, the approach takes on a life of its own and many options become available.
In 2007, I lost nearly 40 pounds as a relatively sedate individual, this left me “skinny fat” but still probably a somewhat healthier version of myself. I wasn’t moving but I was seeing results. I fought through all of the headaches and the sleepless nights and got to the other side. Towards the end, I looked like the walking dead and there is no way in hell I could have done Crossfit. Basically, I did a Ketogenic Diet with a cheat day. That cheat day often left me sick, I would obsessively make lists of all the foods I really wanted to eat and just pound them on that one cheat day. Gradually I was able to manage things a bit better and looking back, all of the pieces of the puzzle were there I just hadn’t put them all together yet. Instinctively I reduced the window of cheat days from about every 7th day to about every 4th day, otherwise the scale wouldn’t move.
You have to remember I was NOT doing Crossfit at the time. Which is good, because I couldn’t have done it. Because I didn’t understand why what I was doing worked and at that time, I didn’t know the details on how to not get sick in the process. In the end, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was a metabolic disaster.
I will never recommend a Ketogenic Diet, for anyone, even good ones like John’s because when the scale stalls, the only option people feel they have is to start eating less. I have found they are unnecessary and can lead to harm in the wrong hands and I think it’s only natural that when the scale isn’t moving you push the panic button, eat less and that’s when things get real bad.
I was just too smart to be fat
If you want to know a synopsis of my life it’s pretty simple. I don’t follow the crowd. I walk into most situations with a skeptic’s eye. There are varying degrees of success people have with “eat less do less” diets but they don’t end up more whole as a result. I often describe this as the best version of themselves. Not only active and healthy but those results can be shown on paper through bloods tests and or body fat analysis.
If you aren’t eating any starches and one piece of fruit I am going to say you are probably hurting yourself. No amount of “rah rah” cheerleading bullshit is going to make that better. Also no amount of “sugar addicted” proponents can truly explain to you why their approach isn’t working for you, after all, maybe you are just being a baby (does it not stand to reason that with few energy dense options craving sugar represents craving more energy, this isn’t rocket science folks). “But it’s working for everyone else”. Is it though? I mean really? Because I hear a lot of people talking about progress but it doesn’t really show. Not in the mirror and not really in the gym. “But I am faster and I am stronger”. This does happen and I can explain it easily. From a cardio perspective if you pull all of the water out of your body (that’s part of what Ketogenic diets do) you are going to weigh less. Do you think that would be favorable as it relates to your cardio abilities? Seems obvious right? But what about strength gains, people often PR while eating low carb and Crossfitting, so what I am saying might not jive with those folks. Here is that answer and I am just going to lay it on the line. You weren’t all that strong to begin with. As someone that knows a fair amount of powerlifters I can tell you that they hone in on their areas of weakness and just hammer those spots. Then after hammering it they find different ways to hammer it. In some ways powerlifters are the perfect example of what I am talking about even though many of them are thought to be on the heavy side. To lift real big you have to realize your muscles potential, powerlifters are a great example of this. By keeping insulin high they gain muscle but many of them also get fat in the process and they become reluctant to lose weight because they think it might compromise their strength (they are probably right without proper guidance, however even with proper guidance there are no guarantees).
Your Diet Sucks
Your Diet Sucks was a book concept I came up with after many years of not knowing the little details of why all of the diets I was on didn’t work out in the end. I am not going to lie to you, when you read Carb Back Loading it’s a bit shocking. It doesn’t seem real and if you haven’t read the book you probably think it’s a book exclusively about making poor food choices work. The exact opposite is actually true. The concept I wanted to write about was going to describe some level of metabolic flexibility where I learned to move from one energy system (fats) to another energy system (carbs) and not only was it favorable it allows you to become the best version of yourself. And then I started hearing about Carb Back Loading. It has a few warts and if you come from a Paleo background it’s probably difficult to see all of the donuts and cherry turnovers. I am not even an ardent low carber and it got to me a bit. Kiefer has talked about this on multiple occasions and has said that while a super Paleo version of carb back loading might not be totally optimal it’s actually pretty close to the way he eats. He and Robb Wolf are positively gushy talking to each other.
The only book that I could have wrote would not have been technically better than Carb Back Loading but it would have been aimed at regular folks that might not need every detail covered. I have talked about this a bit, can you do carb back loading without reading the book, that answer quite simply is yes. But there are some details that make GIGANTIC differences. By the time I found Carb Back Loading I was doing things mostly right and I found tips in every chapter that made big differences for me and I have gained about 15 pounds of muscle in little over a year. Those tips only helped.
If you are considering buying the book I would ask you to use the various links on this site. I don’t recommend a lot of stuff so I need readers to know that it keeps me blogging when you purchase things directly from me.
Here is my blog on CBL for Paleo Crossfit type folks. There is a download link on that page and also one on the sidebar.
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.