Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Want to beat the blob? Then read this blog!
If you’ve recently resolved to lose excess body fat – for whatever reason, aesthetic or health – you’ve made a wise decision. Here’s why:
‘Carrying excess body fat is the number-one risk factor for type 2 diabetes; up to 90% of those who develop the disease are overweight.’
(Greger 2017 – How Not To Die – pp106)
‘People who are overweight also are highly likely to face a host of medical problems’ which include ‘elevated cholesterol levels . . . glucose intolerance . . . type 2 diabetes [and] sleep apnea.’
(Campbell 2005 – The China Study – pp137)
‘[Being overweight leads] to more and more related health issues like diabetes and knee arthritis and even breast cancer, the rate of which increases by a third for each increase in trouser and skirt size.’
(Spector 2015 – The Diet Myth – pp4)
‘Obesity has been associated with both physical health problems (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint trauma, cancer, hypertension and mortality) and psychological problems (low self-esteem, poor self-image) . . .’
(Curtis 2000 – Health Psychology – pp112)
‘Sixty-eight percent of people die from just three conditions that involve fatty degeneration: cardiovascular disease (48%), cancer (22.4%), and diabetes (1.8%). These deaths are the result of eating habits based on ignorance and misconceptions.’
(Udo Erasmus – Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill – 1993)
One of the most common health/fitness related searches on the web is: how do I lose fat?
It’s not without irony that, of all the health and fitness related content on the web, across all media streams, the vast majority is geared towards answering that question: how do I lose fat?
It’s a greater irony still that, though the question continues to be asked, and though every day more information attempting to answer it is introduced into the public domain (case in point), we’re getting fatter (collectively as a civilisation).
According to a journal in Science, a leading knowledge and research publication, obesity has risen to epidemic proportions and over 22% of people are now obese.
What’s with the glaring contradiction? Why are we getting fatter as a population? And why do we find it so difficult to fight fat?
These are some of the questions that this article will attempt to shine light on. But it doesn't stop there. Accompanying the why is the how - that is: how you can lose weight safely, effectively and without the need to adopt a fad diet or implement unsustainable lifestyle interventions.
Quick Fat FAQ! – Below you’ll find some frequently asked questions about fat
Does fat turn into muscle?
No! Where this notion came from I couldn’t rightly say but it is untrue: fat definitely does not ‘turn’ into muscle. However, excessive subcutaneous fat, the stuff that accumulates under the skin, does conceal muscle much the way a thick duvet conceals the person sleeping underneath it.
If we peel back the duvet the person will be revealed. The same is true of fat: if we follow the principals outlined in this article – observing clean dietary practices, exercising daily, restricting calorie intake – fat cells will shrink and the muscle concealed beneath will be miraculously revealed.
When fat is burned how does it leave the body?
Fat doesn’t actually ‘leave’ the body – it’s not a demonic spirit that needs exorcising. Fat is latent fuel, potential energy, stored in specifically evolved cells – known as adipocytes. When we exercise the body metabolises – or burns – that latent fuel much the same way a car consumes petrol during the process of combustion. And like petrol in that analogy fat provides us with the energy to sustain aerobic activity for extensive periods of time.
The problem arises when we consume more fuel than we need. This inevitably results in excess fat storage. If we were to over-fill a car the petrol would merely pour out over the floor because it has limited fuel storage capacity. You with me?
Unfortunately fat doesn’t do this. Instead it will continue to accumulate in the adipocytes. As far as I am aware there is no known upper limit of how much fat a person can store, but the fattest – or heaviest – person ever recorded weighed an astonishing 442kg! That’s nearly half a ton.
What fat is good for you?
In the 20th Century fat was villainised. A medical doctor misinterpreted the cause of obesity and waged a one man war against fat. He didn't realise that not all fats are created equal. When food producing corporations caught wind of this they responded with a slew of ‘fat reduced’ consumables. Since then the social consciousness has been more or less indoctrinated into one of the most pernicious dietary misunderstandings ever propagated. And, ironically, during the time when the Western diet was all but purged of fat, obesity skyrocketed.
But some sober minded scientists are trying to turn the tide on fat. For fat is an immensely important nutrient. Did you know that ‘the human brain is a 3-pound (1.4-kilogram) mass of jelly-like fats and tissues’ (National Geographic).
Fat not only insulates the brain but it also coats the axons through which electrical signals – aka the stuff of thought – travel. Myelin is an insulating sheath that surrounds the nerves (think of the rubber coating that insulates electrical wires). Without myelin the electrical signal cannot travel along the axon. This results in a loss of motor function or a breakdown of the transmission of the electrical signals that we use to command and control the body. (Excuse the gross simplification of that explanation.)
So what am I saying here? I think you well know.
Fat is essential and we should not purge it from our diet. But we should be mindful of the nutritional sources from which it is derived. It has long been recognised that fat from animal protein, processed meats and refined carbohydrates is detrimental to health. Although fats from nuts, seeds, oils (olive, hemp, linseed) and avocados are exceptional good for us. And, what’s more, they do not behave the same way as bad fats.
For example, olive oil, which is high in polyunsaturated fat, does not cling to the arterial walls or coagulate in the blood like saturated fat from, say, eggs does. The fats from nuts, seeds and other natural sources behave the same way as olive oil.
What fat is bad for you?
As mentioned above fat from animal food sources – so meat, eggs, dairy – has been identified by nutritional scientists as inferior and detrimental to health. The author of the profoundly impactful book The China Study, Dr T. Colin Campbell, talks about how they use casein, a protein derived from milk, to accelerate cancer cell proliferation.
In laboratory studies researchers found that they could literally ‘switch’ cancer on by soaking it in casein, which acts somewhat like a food source to cancer cells. Because I am not able to do this highly important research the justice it deserves, I encourage the reader to listen to Dr Campbell explain this process.
Where does fat accumulate on the body?
Evolution, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that men store fat around their abdomen and woman around their hips and thighs. These are the primary physiographical locations that the two sexes store fat. This gives overweight men the classic ‘apple’ shape and woman the classic ‘pear’ shape (a somewhat ironic use of names don’t you think?). But of course the human body possess the biological capacity to store fat in many other locations. And though fat cells are located between the knee and the navel they extend further afield.
So why are we getting fatter and why do people continue to pester Google with that question: how do I lose fat?
Of course, as with any complex multifaceted conundrum, there is no one answer. That question is Hydra-headed and when one head is lopped off with an answer another two seem to grow in its place. However, I have attempted to identify a range of reasons that could account for the general confusion amongst people trying to reduce body fat. They include:
Misinformation – I’m always surprised by just how much contradictory information there is on the web; it’s truly staggering. For example, I recently discovered an article on weight loss written by the good people at Avocadu – a blogging behemoth.
According to the author of this article to lose weight we ought to consume more protein. And though there was not a single research citation to support this contention, the reader was advised to eat more protein-packed foods – such as meat, eggs*, fish, dairy and (if you’re a veggie) protein shakes!
*A 24-year longitudinal study in the USA ... found that men who consumed high levels of cholesterol in their diet were twice as likely to develop lung cancer compared with men who consumed low levels of cholesterol. The authors concluded by suggesting that this effect could be traced to dietary cholesterol found in eggs.'
(Curtis 2000 - Health Psychology - pp110)
Yet, there is an edifice of research that shows a clear link between animal protein and cancer, animal protein and diabetes (more specifically the saturated fat that surrounds that protein), animal protein and obesity.
The incessant barrage of misinformation only serves to daze and confuse the poor pilgrim looking to lose a few pounds. This inevitably results in unshakeable apathy. I’ve spoken with many people who have given up on trying to be healthier because they are sick to death with the goal posts forever moving.
Directing attention towards less effective fat fighting methods. It’s not about exercise! It’s about what you put in your mouth! Few people realise that health and weight loss are more affected by the foods we eat than the number of calories we burn.
Yes the two are complimentary but diet and nutrition play by far a greater role in fat loss. ‘Our diet is the number-one cause of premature death and the number one cause of disability,’ writes Dr Greger, author of How Not To Die and principal propagator of the plant based diet movement. Thus if you desire to ditch a few pounds start with what you shovel into your cake-hole!
Too much time spent theorising over the problem of fat loss and not enough time invested in implementing – trial and error-style – interventions that could make a difference. We must remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all gig. And though there are certain principals that everyone should adopt – such a plant based diet and daily exercise – you have to forge your own fat loss path.
The only way you can do this is by experimenting. Research fat loss methods (but be careful not to get pulled in by preposterous fads like the Atkins diet), trial them for a fixed period of time, say a month, and see how you get on. If they yield positive results adopt the method. If not, you know what to do.
Ingrained erroneous beliefs. Ever heard this one: I train to eat; or: as long as I exercise I can eat what I want? Well we’ve known these assumptions to be wrong since the Second World War. When conducting autopsies on fallen soldiers one doctor noticed that, even though these were fit young men, who carried little to no subcutaneous fat, their internal organs were caked in visceral fat (see video below).
The doctor couldn’t at first comprehend what he was seeing. Though the soldiers presented the surface appearance of lean healthy men their insides reflected that of sedentary living 60 year olds. This just didn’t add up.
But the doctor quickly realised that the high-calorie ration packs – which can contain over 6000 calories (thrice the daily limit for a male) – were causing excessive visceral fat build-up. Visceral (internal) fat is much more harmful to health than subcutaneous (external) fat. Internal fat is what surrounds our organs and clogs up our arteries and heart.
The doctor’s findings dispelled the erroneous belief that exercise alone eradicates fat. But unfortunately these findings didn’t received the public interest that they deserved. Instead they slowly faded into obscurity and in their place poppycock notions took root.
Perhaps the most pernicious one being that exercise is the panacea to all unhealthy lifestyle habits. The notion that you can eat what you like because you exercise ought to sound as absurd as the notion that you can smoke because you exercise, or enjoy a bottle of whisky a night because you go gym three times a week.
How to lose fat
To get rid of excess fat and keep rid of it, you’ve got to take a holistic approach. It’s simply not enough just to do more exercise. A holistic approach encompasses the following four lifestyle factors:
2: Daily exercise
4: Removing or reducing processed foods
Together we’ll briefly take a look at each factor.
1: Diet: What we eat plays by far the greatest role in weight loss. Studies have shown that transitioning to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective and safest methods of turning the tide of fat. Why? Well it’s almost impossible to accumulate fat on a diet that consists of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and clean liquids (water, green teas, fresh ground coffee).
And the great thing about adopting such a diet is the health benefits it confers. Not only will you lose weight but you’ll also significantly reduce your chances of developing many of the nasty diseases that are currently plaguing the West.
It has been ‘estimated that nutritional factors account for 60 per cent of all cancer in woman and 40 per cent of all cancer in men’ and ‘poor dietary practices are associated with cancers of the breast, stomach, uterus, endometrium, rectum, colon, kidneys, samll intestines, pancreas, liver, ovary, bladder, prostate, mouth, pharynx, thyroid and oesophagus,’ (Curtis 2000).
2: Daily exercise: It’s old hat that we shouldn’t exercise every day. This erroneous assumption arose from the belief that if we train every day we will impede the body’s ability to repair damaged tissue. However, research has shown that, whilst this is true in people who are performing the same exercises day in day out, if we vary our training regime then we can remain active whilst also giving our body the time it needs to heal damaged muscle tissue.
If you’re not a fan of exercise and you struggle to find motivation for one training session a week, let alone seven, don’t fret! A daily exercise regime is not as imposing as it might at first sound. For example, a light 30 minute jog (or fast pace walk) in the morning or whole-body circuit training session will more than suffice.
Also, for many it is possible to ‘engineer’ exercise into the mechanics of daily life. A couple of years ago I got rid of my car and bought a pushbike. And I’ve not once regretted the decision. I often ask myself: Why didn’t I do this sooner! Now I actually enjoy the six mile commute to work. No traffic. No polluting. And an extra 40 minutes of exercise!
So look to see where you can factor some fitness into your life. Want to learn more about the benefits of exercise?
3: Fasting – fasting or ‘restricted calorie intake’ is an enormously healthy lifestyle practice and an excellent way to encourage the body to consume excess fat. But there are many more benefits associated with fasting which include:
Improved blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance
Helps to reduce inflammation
Has been shown to boost brain function
Aids weight loss
Could slow the ageing process
Could decrease the decay of the telomeres
4: Reducing or removing processed foods from our diet: This factor is arguably an extension of the first. But I believe it should be treated separately. Why? In his book The starch Solution, Dr John McDougall brings our attention to the head-scratching paradox of overweight vegetarians and vegans.
It seems impossible. How can someone who lives off vegetation get fat?
Well what few people recognise is that we grass eaters can still pig-out on packets of crisps, chocolate and super refined carbohydrates without transgressing the tenants of our dietary religion. After all, the commandment Thou shalt not consume the flesh of an animal offers no instruction about French fries and beer.
But we all know processed foods are bad for our health. And we all know that not only do processed foods pollute our bodies but that they also can contribute to weight gain and obesity. The reason why they are so disastrous to our health is because processed foods are both energy dense and addictive.
It’s no secret that food industries have engineered their toxic products to manipulate the ‘pleasure centres’ within our brains, ‘the so called dopamine reward system,’ (Greger 2017 – pp400). This, of course, is a disastrous combination: a plentiful supply of addictive energy-laden food. Is it any wonder then that the fattest nations consume the most processed food?
It is for this reason why, if you are serious about losing weight, you must drastically reduce your consumption of processed foods and adopt clean eating principals.
By incorporating the above four factors into your lifestyle you are almost guaranteed to lose weight. Other than extreme quick-fix methods – such as surgery or synthetic potions – there are no known fat loss methods that work as well as healthy dietary habits, daily exercise, fasting and ridding your life of processed foods.
And if you decide to adopt these lifestyle habits you’ll not only shed that unwanted weight but also drastically improve your health, reduce your susceptibility to many debilitating diseases and extend your lifespan. So what are you waiting for?
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.