Hey you guys.
At this point we’ve covered the big supporting pillars of our fat loss journey – removing processed food, increasing nutrient density, balancing hormones, resistance exercise, sleep and stress-reduction. We’ve talked about low-carb diets and fasting. What now remains are the tips and tricks that we need to be aware of as we get underway – little things that can make all the difference to our success. Not so little after all then.
As we remove processed food, we remove a significant source of hidden sodium from our diet. We’ve always been told to reduce the amount of salt we add to our food, but that’s in the context of food that’s already stuffed to the gunnels with it. And if we then gravitate towards a low-carb, or particularly a ketogenic diet, we are going to start to waste sodium through our kidneys. The end result of all this is that we wind up lacking electrolytes, feeling terrible, weak and distorted – struggling to adapt to a low-carb approach. This is often termed the ‘keto flu’. We might need to add more salt than we think to our food, to add some salt to our drinking water, or to use an electrolyte product to ensure that we get enough sodium.
On the subject of adaption, some people find the process of transitioning to a lower-carb approach, one where they’re relying more on their body fat, easier than others. In Wired To Eat, Robb Wolf recommends a staggered approach whereby we first remove the worst offenders in our diet, before gradually progressing to a lower level of carbohydrates over a few weeks. This is going to minimise any potential issues.
As we established in Part 2, food has the potential to be addictive, and food products are engineered to be exactly that, so it should come as no surprise that some of us struggle to exclude them. The theory of moderators vs abstainers suggests that some of us, moderators, do better if we’re allowed to keep some periodic dose of the bad stuff, where abstainers are better off drawing a line in the sand, and never crossing it.
To my mind, there’s no room for moderation when it comes to hyperpalatable, processed food; no room for cheat days or small portions that fit within our calorie allowance. Why? Because by continually reminding ourselves what these foods taste like, we inhibit our recalibration to the sweetness of whole, unprocessed foods. It’s not that we can just eat fresh fruit and raw honey ad libitum – more on that later – but if we allow ourselves to adjust, we can enjoy those intense flavours just as we did Oreos and ice cream. Every time we bombard our taste buds with enhanced, engineered sweetness, we unpick that recalibration.
Furthermore, in my experience, most of us aren’t genuinely able to moderate effectively. What begins as a modest dessert at the weekend, slowly but surely drifts until we’re having cake with our coffee every day. We have to remember that these foods are designed, and very successfully so, to be impossible to moderate. We’re better off without them, and we need some strategies to help us hold the line:
Now before I go on, it’s worth acknowledging that for some of us, it’s every bit as hard to stop eating our favourite processed food products, as quitting tobacco, alcohol or drugs. We may need professional help to manage that process.
Moving on with our strategies: Firstly, don’t keep the stuff lying around. If it isn’t sitting right there in front of us, we’re far less likely to pick it up and eat it. Our brain can sometimes trick us into having that little taste of something – just that corner of cookie that’s fallen off, or the swipe of a finger through the frosting on the edge of a cake platter. It’s those lapses that seem to trigger hedonistic behaviour, to obliterate our resolve and before we know what we’re doing, we’re eating a piece.
If instead we need to leave the house, and actually buy something, to shop for ingredients and bake, we need to make a far more conscious, deliberate decision. We buy ourselves time in which to make a better choice. I remember when I gave up smoking, that when the cravings hit, if I could resist for ten minutes, they would generally subside.
Once we’ve finished our meal, it pays to get out of the kitchen. If we hang around by the fridge, we’re prolonging the cue to eat. By removing ourselves from that feeding location, we have to make a conscious decision to go back.
If we’re going to a social event, if we know that we’re going to be confronted by these sorts of foods, we might choose to take some fresh fruit with us, to give ourselves something to replace those more harmful options. We might ask our host if that’s ok, not because there’s any suggestion that it won’t be, but because it makes us accountable – if we make this little unnecessary fuss, we will be less likely to then just give in later. It’s perhaps less likely that our host will continually try to tempt us with the double chocolate fudge cake. But we do need to expect that too:
For whatever reason, some people seem to take our dietary choices as a challenge, the breaking of our resolve as some sort of ultimate goal. Our abstinence makes people uncomfortable, and we see this with alcohol as well as food. If we choose not to indulge, perhaps they feel that the implication is that they shouldn’t – expect resistance, anger even. Expect comments about ‘everything in moderation’. Expect to hear how their friend so-and-so lost weight eating ice cream, or how they’ve read that low-carb diets are dangerous. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s usually one that involves you eating whatever they’re eating.
Speaking of accountability, we’re likely to do better if we make ourselves part of a group or community who share our goals. If we can set out on this journey with a friend or family member, we may both be more successful. Robb Wolf’s The Healthy Rebellion is a great example of an online community in which people both support and hold each other accountable as they make these positive changes.
Now where it gets a little more contentious is whether we remove hyper-palatable whole foods, like dairy. When people are stalled, struggling to lose fat, excluding dairy products seems to come up again and again as the key that ultimately unlocks their fat loss. It’s incredibly compulsive, and there’s always more of it: If we eat a steak, when it’s gone, it’s gone, and there’s quite a barrier to eating more – we’d have to cook. But there’s always another slice of cheese or butter in the fridge. It’s much easier to just have a little extra, and although it’s highly nutritious, it’s also very energy-dense. Furthermore, it has an anabolic effect – its sole purpose is to turn small mammals into big mammals, and it’s brilliant at doing that. I’m reticent to suggest that we immediately exclude such a significant source of nutrition, but it’s worth a try if we’re not getting the results we’re after. In any event, we need to be extremely strict with portion control when it comes to dairy.
We’ve also established that fructose has a hyperpalatable element to it – we are hard-wired to overeat fruit. Ancestrally we did fine with this, because we had limited access to the stuff – it was seasonal. If we want to lose fat, while eating a food that we ancestrally used specifically to gain it, we are going to need to retain some of that scarcity. Ideally I think we’d mimic our ancestors’ circannual rhythms, and only eat the fruit that grows at our latitude, at the time that it naturally ripens. But that’s an unrealistic restriction for most people, and we probably just need to be a bit mindful of the frequency, quantity and type of fruit we’re eating.
We also need to remember that the fruit we evolved to eat was very much less sweet than the modern versions that we have modified, and selectively bred to contain ever higher quantities of sugar. For example, at Paignton Zoo in the UK, keepers have stated that they can no longer feed the monkeys bananas – the modern version of the fruit is simply too sugary, and the animals begin to suffer from tooth decay and diabetes.
When I began to reintroduce plant foods, I was surprised to find that I tolerated fruit rather better than I had expected – far better than vegetables in fact. I suppose it makes sense from the standpoint that the fruit is designed for animals to eat as part of that plant’s reproductive strategy – it’s not chemically defended, like leaves, stems and seeds. Within the fruits I tried, I did far better with the local ones – apples, pears and berries, than with tropical fruit, flown-in from abroad. I do find it very difficult to moderate fruit, and I prefer to limit it to one day a week, but without having to hold back too much. That strategy is working very well at the moment.
As we prepare meals, we routinely create hyperpalatable combinations of foods. If we sit down in front of a bowl of totally plain boiled potatoes, or slices of dry toast, how much do we really eat? Not all that much, unless we’re genuinely hungry. But if we add butter, and especially if that butter is salted, we suddenly find ourselves eating a great deal more. We’re taking in more energy in every mouthful, so logically we should eat less, but we don’t, because that combination is giving us a greater dopamine response. We’re no longer concerned with satiety, we’re compulsively hitting that reward centre in our brain.
If we want our satiety signals to kick in, we might need to reconsider what our meals look like. We might need to accept some meals that consist solely of boiled eggs, a steak or a portion of fish. It’s not just a question of reducing calories by leaving things off the plate – we’re more likely to feel satisfied -ready to stop eating – if we keep our meals simple.
While the shape of our meals may change, we need to accept that those around us may not. We’ll constantly be confronted with terrible options, and challenged when we don’t accept them. We need to be prepared for our food to stand out, to make us different. If we visit a restaurant, and order a steak with no sides, it will always be assumed that we’ve made a mistake. Expect the waiter to come back to clarify. Expect there to be some sort of side dish added to the plate. You can say ‘I’d like the ribeye, medium rare, with absolutely nothing else, no sides, nothing else on the plate except for the steak’ and the reply will come ‘Would you like fries with that?’
For most of us, there’s a bit of a delay between eating, and feeling satisfied – receiving that signal to stop. During that gap, we can very easily overeat. Obviously we can count calories initially, but it should really be our goal to move away from the weighing and measuring over time. An alternative strategy is to portion our food for storage, and cook it in those single portions. We can allow ourselves to eat as long as we’re still hungry, but there’s an inherent barrier to doing so – we need to cook a second portion. We may even need to defrost one too.
As we debate this, we’re creating a little delay which is going to give our satiety signalling time to kick in. This strategy allows us to deliberately ask ‘Am I hungry enough to cook another steak? Or to boil a couple of eggs?’ Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps we’re just rather enjoying eating – personally if I’m left in front of a beef roasting joint, I can absent-mindedly snack my way through the whole thing, eating three times as much as I would of a portioned food, before I start to realise that I’ve gone a bit too far, and need to have a sit down.
As we tune in to our satiety, we can start to ask ourselves what we’re hungry for. There are actually five different kinds of hunger. Sometimes it’s nutrients – we’re thinking about lean meat, or fish. Sometimes it’s energy – we’re drawn towards the butter or the fattiest cuts of meat. Those types of hunger can feel quite different, and while we want to feed that nutrient hunger, we might choose to tolerate a little energy hunger as we try to lose fat. We leave just a little of that in place each day, maintaining our calorie deficit. I find energy hunger far easier to tolerate than nutrient hunger. It’s surprising how we can learn to listen to and understand those signals.
And we need to be mindful that we do listen – that we don’t interrupt them. One way in which we commonly close our ears to the messages we’re being sent is to distract ourselves as we eat. We scroll social media, or watch television. In doing so we’re no longer eating mindfully, and we’re at greater risk of overeating, only to realise half an hour later that we’re too full.
As we make these changes, we want to let our new habits forge a new identity. So much of our long-term success comes down to the ability to see ourselves in a different light. Instead of ‘I am a person who struggles with my weight, who can’t resist, who wakes up every day full of regret for what I ate yesterday’ we reinvent ourselves: ‘I am a person who only eats whole foods. I am a person who understands the food I eat: I know which foods trigger me, and I avoid them. There are many things I can’t control in my life, but I can control what I eat, and nobody can take that away from me. I am a person who lifts heavy weights. I am stronger physically, and mentally because of these things’.
As we lose fat, our calorie needs may change. Depending on how much muscle we build, how much fat we lose, what state our hormones and metabolism were in to start with, we may need to re-evaluate our intake. Hopefully we’re going to find that we begin to do this intuitively, without thinking about it.
We should also be aware that we might lose fat, but gain weight. Muscle is heavy. It could be that our scale-weight goes up as we become leaner. It’s likely better not to weigh ourselves, but to gauge our success by the way our clothes fit – with a tape measure rather than a scale.
Finally, as we become very lean, we need to be aware that our body, and indeed our mind may fight back: We may get hungrier, and our metabolic rate may slow. It’s quite normal to cycle up and down around our ideal weight. We can’t just keep losing fat forever, and we have to adjust to eating at maintenance.
So for the time being, that’s it for my How Do We Lose Fat series. I’m going to go and record some interviews with guests from the worlds of research and clinical practice, to bring some further clarification and insight to some of the things we’ve been discussing. If you’re on a journey to lose fat, let me know how it’s going. I’m on Instagram @rustonsboneyard, or you can leave a comment on my YouTube or website articles.
For now, keep cooking.
Disclaimer: I am not qualified to give any sort of medical or dietary advice, and nothing in this material should be considered as such. The opinions expressed here are my own, and for the purposes of discussion only. Please consult a qualified medical professional before undertaking changes to your diet.
Ketogains knowledge articles: https://www.ketogains.com/knowledge/
Ketogains on keto flu and electrolyte imbalances: https://www.ketogains.com/2017/06/keto-flu-electrolyte-imbalances/
Wired To Eat, by Robb Wolf: https://robbwolf.com/wiredtoeat/
Atomic Habits, by James Clear: https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits
Identity-based habits: How to actually stick to your goals this year, by James Clear: https://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits
Eat Like The Animals, What Nature Teaches Us About The Science Of Healthy Eating, by Dr David Raubenheimer and Dr Stephen J Simpson: https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460758694/eat-like-the-animals-what-nature-teaches-us-about-the-science-of-healthy-eating/
Optimising Nutriton: The Satiety Index by Marty Kendall: https://optimisingnutrition.com/calculating-satiety/