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Most people in the United States need to lose weight. Although fat loss is a popular subject of self-help books and magazine stories, it’s not a simple one to convey. In fact, most fat-loss programs fail’and those who do lose weight often gain it all back. Statistically, dieters eventually gain more weight than they initially lose. Many people fall out of diets due to excessive restrictions or because they reach a point at which they can’t lose more weight, or both.
People often confuse weight loss with fat loss, as the two subjects appear to be bound together. It’s important to understand that fat loss is the process that leads to weight loss’and not the other way around.
More people today than ever before suffer from myriad problems related to excessive bodyfat, including sluggish metabolism, insulin resistance, high cholesterol and impaired performance.
Of special concern is the issue of stubborn fat, which generally resists fat-burning actions and can’t be removed even by hard diet and exercise. That’s why it’s called stubborn fat. It’s a modern problem of almost epidemic proportions. Both men and women of all age groups suffer from the inability to lose stubborn fat, primarily as a result of misunderstanding what it is and therefore not addressing the problem correctly.
The subject of fat loss gets even more complicated when it comes to athletes and bodybuilders. In spite of hard training and diets, many active people are still battling their bodyfat. Desperate to be ‘lean and mean’ or at the top of their sport, competitive and highly active men and women resort to extreme diet and training methods that often leave them with a low basal metabolic rate, fatigue and loss of strength, not to mention the inability to stay lean.
Let me say up front that the only way to effectively address the issue of fat loss, including the elimination of stubborn fat, is to start by understanding the biological principles of fat metabolism’how and why fat gain or fat loss occurs. That’s the key to realizing that fat tissue serves other functions aside from storing energy, which is the reason it accumulates.
Why We Get Fat
The biological principle of fat loss is very simple: Taking away the responsibilities of fat tissue will take away the reason for its existence. Do that, and you’ll be able to lose bodyfat with astonishing efficiency, and, most important, stay lean while not giving your body reason to induce a future fat gain rebound.
Fat loss is part of a biological process that forces the body to break storage fat and release fatty acid for final use. Nonetheless, as simple as it may sound, fat burning isn’t just about burning fat. In fact, as you’re about to see, the so-called burning of fat tissue, in particular stubborn fat, requires first the elimination of some metabolic problems that initially cause fat gain. If not solved, certain metabolic impairments, such as high toxicity or insulin resistance, may give fat tissue a reason to accumulate while resisting being burned.
The body gains or loses fat as part of a regulatory mechanism that helps protect it from three major problems:
1) The accumulation of toxins that can damage vital organs.
2) The accumulation of lipids and cholesterol that can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
3) Declining estrogen levels (especially for women) that can lead to an array of metabolic problems, including loss of bone mass, cognitive difficulties, impaired sexual performance and reproductive aging.
In other words, fat gain could be regarded as a desperate attempt by the body to protect itself from high toxin levels, insulin resistance and low estrogen levels. Therefore, any method that will help eliminate the above problems would likely remove some of the major biological reasons for fat gain and help speed fat loss.
Taking away the reasons for the existence of fat is a mission that, at first glance, seems to be impossible. Certain amounts of bodyfat are necessary for survival, so it would be quite impossible to eliminate it completely. Nevertheless, by eliminating the reasons for fat accumulation, you may be able to reduce your bodyfat to a minimum biological set point at which the body still performs at its best.
Two Kinds of Fat
There are two kinds of fat tissue in the body, each with a distinct sensitivity to fat breakdown, or lipolysis: subcutaneous fat, which is found under the skin, and visceral fat, which is internal.
Subcutaneous fat tends to be insulin sensitive and therefore more resistant to fat burning, whereas visceral fat is more insulin resistant and has a greater affinity for adrenal fat-burning stimulation than subcutaneous fat. The two fat-tissue types balance each other’s breakdown.
The more visceral fat you have, the more fatty acids it will release, and, consequently, the more resistant your subcutaneous fat will be. Due to its fast reaction to adrenal stimulation followed by fat-tissue breakdown and the release of fatty acids to the liver, visceral fat is presumably most dangerous to those individuals who are prone to heart disease and diabetes. Having a lot of visceral fat and its related flux of released fatty acids may cause fatty liver (hepatic hyperlipidemia) and consequent insulin resistance.
It’s also important to note that the accumulation of visceral fat is often associated with the formation of stubborn fat under the skin. In a likely attempt to balance visceral fat’s greater release of fatty acids to the liver, the subcutaneous fat tends to be more resistant to fat burning and becomes stubborn.
Delayed Fat Loss
Another reason for the confusion about fat loss is so-called delayed fat loss. People who suffer from the accumulation of visceral fat often don’t see any changes in subcutaneous fat, in spite of strict diet and exercise. The reason is that visceral fat responds first to the fat-burning actions’diet and exercise’whereas subcutaneous fat burning is delayed. Those who have higher visceral-fat levels need to burn it first before changes can occur in the fat under the skin.
For bodybuilders and people who want to reach extreme leanness, it’s critically important to realize that the higher the visceral-fat percentage, the longer it will take to notice a change in body composition and overall body definition.
Fat and the Survival Mechanism
Researchers believe that fat metabolism is likely controlled by a primal biological feedback mechanism that helps humans survive in extreme conditions such as starvation, cold or exposure to prolonged and intense physical stress. It’s also been suggested that bodyfat may protect the body from the adverse effects of insulin resistance and diabetes, overall toxicity and declining estrogen’and that the body may be preprogrammed to protect itself from the adverse effects of chronic overfeeding or underfeeding by regulating the rate of fat breakdown or fat gain accordingly.
Most important, the survival-like control mechanism is constantly influenced by the body’s ability to use fat and produce energy. The greater the body’s ability to use fat and energy, the lower plasma, liver lipids and cholesterol will be, and the more fat will likely be mobilized for energy. On the other hand, the lower the body’s ability to use fat and energy, the more lipids and cholesterol will likely accumulate, and as a result, the more the fat tissue may be resistant to burning.
Simply put, high fat utilization and high energy expenditure are the key principles of effective fat loss.
Insulin resistance is a metabolic state that could be caused by the accumulation of lipids and cholesterol in the liver and plasma. Hyperlipidemia and fatty liver decrease fat and glucose use, thereby establishing a state of insulin resistance. As mentioned above, the body tries to protect itself from insulin resistance by inducing fat gain, which is a desperate attempt to prevent further accumulation of fatty acids in the blood, liver and other tissues. In other words, fat gain is a process that protects the body from insulin resistance and vice versa. As absurd as it may seem, excessive fat breakdown, in particular the breakdown of visceral fat, may lead to over-accumulation of lipids in plasma and the liver, thereby causing a state of insulin resistance. So having more visceral fat may cause insulin resistance, which may further inhibit fat loss, and promote the formation of stubborn fat.
Detox to Burn More Fat
In addition to protecting the body from insulin resistance, fat gain protects the body from the accumulation of toxins. Fat is a storage organ for toxins, and as such, fat tissue protects vital organs from damage. Therefore, any method that effectively removes toxins from the body will likely take away the reason for fat accumulation and accelerate the rate of fat burning. In other words, detoxification can help you lose fat.
All the above leads to the conclusion that the primal biological principles of fat loss are:
‘Increased fat utilization
‘Increased energy turnover
‘Increased overall detoxification
The Cell: A Fat-Burning Machine
Most fat use occurs in the mitochondria. The more mitochondrial enzymes there are, the more efficient fat use will be. Since muscle is the largest mitochondrial-containing tissue, it’s been suggested that muscle composition directly affects fat use. It appears as if certain muscle-fiber types have superior fat-burning capabilities over others. To be more specific, slow-twitch fibers can metabolize fat more efficiently than fast-twitch fibers, which is likely due to their greater mitochondrial concentration. So to get better at burning fat, you should incorporate special training strategies that help develop muscles that have a greater metabolic capacity to use fat as fuel. Endurance training, together with strength and speed exercise, can help develop muscle fibers with superior performance capabilities and increase fat-burning capacity.
Energy turnover is a term that describes the overall energy that the body uses. High energy turnover equals a high overall metabolic rate’high energy expenditure and high food consumption. High energy turnover at the cellular level is also an indication of high fuel use. When energy turnover is high, carb and fat use increase, thus preventing insulin resistance and the accumulation of lipids and cholesterol in the blood and tissue. You can achieve that metabolic state by incorporating into your program cycles of physical training and rest periods plus feeding cycles that supply all essential nutrients and calories needed to fuel the highly primed metabolic machine.
Periodic overeating can help increase the body’s basal metabolic rate, thus facilitating a state of high energy turnover; however, you should control that overeating, generally cycling it with periodic undereating to prevent a state of chronic overfeeding that can lead to fat gain.
Cycling between days of high carbs and low carbs, as well as days of undereating and days of overeating, will likely induce temporary states of low insulin impact and negative energy balance, respectively, while keeping the overall metabolic rate from falling. Creating those temporary states of low insulin and negative energy balance in a highly energized body can help induce effective fat loss.
It’s important to note that overtraining and insufficient nutrition may initially cause weight loss; however, in the long run a resultant metabolic decline may lead to a fat-gain rebound.
Fat Burning and Toxins
The most effective natural method of removing toxins from the body is to fast or undereat. When you minimize food consumption, the body has more energy to shift toward cleansing. Digestive stress robs the body of vital energy that can be used for other metabolic purposes, not to mention the fact that less food means less exposure to dietary toxins. Nevertheless, effective detox often increases toxin release and, therefore, may cause a temporary elevation of toxin levels in the blood. So it’s important to supplement and nourish the body with antioxidants.
It’s also important to note that fat loss releases toxins as well. From that aspect any extreme fat-loss method, including crash diets, may adversely cause an overwhelming increase in blood toxin levels, thereby forcing the body to induce a fat-gain rebound to reabsorb the toxins being released. It’s better to lose fat gradually and avoid overtoxicity and recurring fat gain.
Any metabolic process that somehow increases toxicity may inhibit fat loss. Food chemicals, pesticides, plastic derivatives, an excess of alcohol and chronic constipation may altogether significantly increase toxin levels and can overwhelm the liver’s ability to detoxify, a condition that’s often associated with increased estrogenic activity and stubborn fat gain.
In addition to the biological principles of fat loss, some other factors that may affect fat loss are thus worth practical attention.
Some people may develop insulin resistance because of a deficiency in the amino acid L-carnitine and its related enzymes. Carnitine deficiencies may cause accumulation of unoxidized fatty acids that may decrease insulin sensitivity. In a related matter, overconsumption of processed and simple carbs may adversely affect insulin-receptor sensitivity, thereby leading to hyperinsulinemia, or high insulin levels. Chronic insulin stimulation, which can be caused by eating frequent carb meals during the day, may increase insulin resistance toward the end of the day. Therefore, eating carnitine-rich foods such as meat and eggs, or supplementing with L-carnitine may help support fat use and therefore help speed the fat-loss process. In addition, limiting carb consumption to one meal per day, as well as cycling between days of low carbs and days of moderate carbs, may help stabilize insulin sensitivity and facilitate effective fat loss.
Next month I’ll discuss how to regulate temperature to burn more bodyfat and how carb manipulation can get you leaner faster.
Editor’s note: Ori Hofmekler is the author of the books The Warrior Diet and Maximum Muscle & Minimum Fat, published by Dragon Door Publications (www.dragondoor.com). For more information or consultations, contact him at [email protected], www.warriordiet.com or by phone at 1-866-WAR-DIET. IM