Weight Loss

Myth-busting: You can’t get Fat if you Don’t Eat Fat

Oh if I had a penny every time that I have heard this myth… I actually heard a nurse advising a patient this a few years ago when I knew nothing at all about food and nutrition. I cringed then.

Fats are one of the main macronutrients that make up our diet. None of the macros should be avoided, but the government recommends that we eat them in different proportions because they have different functions in our bodies and different effects on our health. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, which is the highest of all the macronutrients so it does makes sense to keep an eye on it when you’re trying to lose body fat. The UK government recommends that no more than 30% of our daily calories come from fats, but in the UK the current average caloric intake for fats is more like 42% of our diet. It is something that as a nation we need to make an effort to reduce.

Fat has different purposes in the body including protecting our vital organs, insulation, making the ’covers’ that go round our nerve cells and energy. It’s pretty important and by no means should it be cut out of our diets. When eaten to excess, fat is stored in the body. However, it is not as simple as you eat fat, it doesn’t get used so that same fat gets sent to the hips, stomach or wherever it is that you don’t like it being stored. In order to use fats, our body has to break them down. Fat molecules, or triglycerides (as 99% of the fats that we eat are this kind of fat) are too big to be absorbed and transported around the body, so they are broken down into their smaller components: glycerol and fatty acids. From there, they absorbed and end up in the blood stream where they are sent off to be used and the excess are then sent to the body’s fat cells (called apodicytes if you really want to know!) where the glycerol and fatty acids reform into triglycerides – so the fat that you store is made from all the different fats that you have eaten that day.

What about Carbohydrate and protein?

Both carbohydrate and protein if eaten to excess (and by excess I mean more energy is obtained by them than your body needs) will be stored as fat.

When your body has more carbohydrate than it needs, it will store some of it as glycogen in the muscles and liver. However, once these limited stores are full, then your body converts the carbohydrate into fat and stores it in the fat cells – it now has the same form that the fat that you ate and stored does. With protein, something similar happens. Excess protein cannot be stored in the body (although how great would it be if excess protein went to your glutes) so your body excretes the nitrogen it contains and converts the rest into energy. Like any other energy, and I’m sure you’re spotting a theme here, it is either used immediately, stored as glycogen or transported to the fat cells to be stored as fat.

When it comes to fat loss, the important thing is energy balance: calories in vs calories out. It is not fat or any one macronutrient which makes your body store excess fat but excess calories. Quite simply, if you eat more energy than you are using, your body will store it as fat.

I hope that this myth is well and truly busted! What health and fitness myths have you heard?

Weight Loss Wellness

Why Slow and Steady wins the Race

The evenings are getting lighter, the clocks going back are nearly upon us and we’re all starting to think about our summer holidays. Invariably, thoughts then turn to ‘beach bodies’, ‘how to get fit quick’ and basically how to lose half our body weight in… ohhhh I don’t know….three weeks?!

In this post I want to speak to you about sudden, drastic weight loss. The type where Sarah from tells you that she’s lost 6 lb in a week. The kind of weight loss that if we aren’t achieveing we think that we’re failing in our diets and promptly give up diving in to the Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and putting on more weight than we started with.

Let me let you into a little secret…when somebody is losing more than 1 kg a week (2.2lb), they aren’t just losing fat. It is not possible to lose any more and if you do lose more weight than that in a week, then it won’t be fat. It’ll be glycogen, water and protein (i.e. muscle). Losing weight and losing fat are two different things. Weight can be anything, chop of an arm and you lose weight, but it isn’t going to affect your body composition.

Why is losing more than 1kg per Week Damaging?

Well, first of all, from a psychological point of view it’s going to be pretty damaging. Water and glycogen weight can fluctuate by up to 1 kg so it’s likely that at some point you are going to put that back on, at least partially. If initially, you do see big changes on the scale (and just to reiterate…this is weight not fat), then this will not be sustained. Think about how you are going to feel when you ‘just’ see a modest weight loss of 1-2 lb, probably not too good.

Losing more than a kilogram per week means that you are almost certainly going to be losing those bootie gains you worked so hard for. To lose 2kg of fat in a week you would have to cut 14,000 calories from your diet in a week. Now, for a lot of women that may be what they need to achieve energy balance (i.e. where the amount of calories that you eat is the same as the amount of calories that you are using). Are you telling me that you didn’t eat or drink anything apart from water all week? That’s highly unlikely, and dangerous if true. However, there are less calories stored in a kilo of muscle. This means that when you burn muscle you lose more weight for fewer calories. Now this might sound like a good, thing but it isn’t because muscle takes up a lot less space than fat so you won’t actually get much thinner. Plus having muscle is awesome for the following reasons:

  • being strong feels so good;
  • muscle is more metabolically active which means that it uses more calories just to keep you alive;
  • muscle looks good. I mean if you’re in this for aesthetics then you probably realise that heroin chic is not so chic. Why just be skinny when you can be wonder woman?

When in a calorie deficit, your body burns muscle rather than fat where it can. Although this seems counterproductive, you can’t really blame your body because it is simply trying to keep you alive. From an evolutionary point of view, when you are in a calorie deficit your body panics and does all it can to ration its energy. One of the ways that it does this is by burning muscle for fuel. This serves two purposes: firstly it accesses fuel and secondly, muscles are expensive to run. They use up more energy just existing than fat does so if your body can get rid of some muscle, the amount of energy that it needs to stay alive is lower. In terms of your brain trying to keep you alive when it thinks that food is scarce, this is a win-win.

This whole burning muscle for fuel phenomenon is exactly the reason why most personal trainers recommend weight training when you are in a calorie deficit. If you keep training your muscles, then your body recognises that you need them and you should maintain a higher proportion of muscle. So rather than training to gain muscle when you are in a calorie deficit, you are actually training to keep what you already have.

So my advice to you is if you want to lose weight, take the sensible slow and steady route of losing 0.5-1kg (1-2 lb) per week.

What advise would you give to somebody to help them lose weight sensibly?