Everyone knows that being fat is unattractive.
Lately there have been a fair amount of attempts to shame men into being attracted to fat women, but since most men don't find shame to be enticing, this hasn't been effective at all and is unlikely to be in the future. And while some women carry fat better than others, for every woman, there is a level of body fat at which she becomes unattractive.
There is also a great deal of argument as to whether being fat is unhealthy or not, but since people will move heaven and earth to avoid being ugly, when they won't lift a finger to avoid dying twenty years sooner, this really doesn't matter much.
Suffice to say that you don't want to be fat.
And yet, despite the fact that women desire desperately not to be fat, and try very hard not to be, still many, many women are... in fact many more than there were in previous generations. Which makes it overwhelmingly likely that some of you reading this are fat. And that still more, perhaps even most, are fatter than you would like to be.
Now, our culture, society, and indeed medical profession has very simple instructions for not being fat: Eat less, move more. They will tell you that your body is a receptacle for something called a "calorie", and that if you eat more of these "calories" than you burn while moving around, they are going to be stored as fat. And that thus fat loss, or fat gain, is a simple matter of arithmetic.
Now, anyone whose brain has not been surgically replaced with a cauliflower can tell that this is wrong, even if they are not a macho arrogant jerk like me, and therefore are not willing to argue with the food industry, the government, the medical profession, and a whole bunch of know-it-alls quoting from what they learned in the University of It Stands to Reason, or possibly the Post-Graduate School of I Read in a Book Somewhere.
Why? Because huge numbers of people are fat now, and fifty years ago, they weren't. "Calories" didn't come into existence fifty years ago. Neither did gluttony and sloth. Unless you want to try explaining how we, for no apparent reason, birthed several successive generations who were lazier and greedier than every generation before, this simply doesn't add up.
Neither does it add up with your own experience. You know who you are. You've counted "calories". And it kinda-sorta worked. For a while. But it was really hard. And unsustainable. And you quit. Then you blamed yourself, instead of the idea, because surely if you had only stuck to it, it would have worked.
Except a program that 99% of people cannot stick to needs to take the blame for its own failures. We cannot make people fit again by simply demanding a better class of human being, with more "willpower". "Just have more willpower" isn't any easier than "just don't be fat". That's silly.
Additionally, your great-grandmother did not count "calories", because she didn't know what a "calorie" was. And she didn't do "zumba", either. Because even I don't know what that is, and please don't tell me.
So we are going to start from the basic idea that you can be slim and proportionate your whole life without ever knowing what a "calorie" is, much less counting one.
And we are going to talk about what researchers (NOT physicians, physicians are a bunch of coconuts) know about how the body stores and uses fat.
So what IS fat, anyway? Well, fat is bunch of organic stuff that your body can burn for fuel, and can store in some of your cells so you don't die when you have nothing to eat.
And right there is the answer. But you don't see it yet, because getting the answer isn't the hard part... it's asking the right question. Often the answer to our problems are right there, but we can't see them because we don't understand the problem yet.
So fat is FOR keeping you alive when you don't have anything to eat. Duh. If your body had chlorophyll, or solar panels, or plugged into a wall, and thus had a constant inflow of energy, you wouldn't need the capacity to store it at all. Your hair dryer doesn't have a battery in it, but your laptop does. That's because your hair dryer is designed to work in an environment where energy is always available, and your laptop is designed to function without an outside source of energy for at least some period of time.
So now we know that your body is designed to store fat. That's supposed to happen. And your body is also designed to burn fat. That's supposed to happen, too. And that between these two processes, you're not supposed to get so skinny you can't sustain your body temperature, and you die of cold, or so fat you can't run or climb, and you die of sabertooth tigers. You're supposed to gain a little fat, and lose a little, over and over again.
Now, your body, despite what the "calorie" people will tell you, is not a box. It doesn't just have things in it because you put them there. In order to store fat, an active biochemical set of events has to happen to turn things into fat and put them in fat (adipose) cells. In order to burn fat, another set has to happen to order to unpack the fat and send it to muscle cells.
You body doesn't get fat just because some things are lying around, and it doesn't get thin just because you're low on fuel. It gets fat, or thin, on purpose. There are control mechanisms, and things that trigger them.
So if your body is storing too much, and unpacking too little, so that you gradually expand like a balloon, than its because there is a switch (metaphorically speaking) that is stuck in one position.
Well, researchers know what this switch is, and now you will, too, because that's what we need to know.
The "switch" is two hormones: insulin, and glucagon.
Insulin stimulates cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream. Some need it to have this happen at all, some don't, but the important thing here is that adipose (fatty) cells turn this glucose (sugar) into triglycerides (fat), and store it. Beta cells in the pancreas release insulin when blood sugar is high.
Glucagon stimulates adipose cells to unpack triglycerides (fat), and release it into the blood. Other cells can burn this directly, and the liver can also convert it into glucose (sugar). Alpha cells in the pancreas release glucagon when blood sugar is low.
The important thing to understand here is that you can't have both these hormones high at once. So when your blood sugar is above a certain level, insulin stays high, and you can't burn fat, no matter how much you have, because you can't get it out of your cells.
That's the stuck switch.
If your blood sugar is too high, your insulin stays high, and you can't burn fat, you can only store it.
This is what happens when you calorie-restrict. You're eating small meals, but since you keep eating, your blood sugar stays high enough to prevent the release of glucagon in any significant amount. So if you have less energy coming in, but you can't unpack stored energy, you have to burn less, because it's physically impossible to burn energy you haven't got.
You've got loads of fat in your butt, but you're short of fuel, because you can't get it from your butt into your blood. You're hungry, and your metabolism slows to a glacial speed, because you're short of fuel.
This is why calorie-restricting diets fail. They're inefficient, because your metabolism is tanked, and they're impossible to stick to, because your brain thinks you're starving. Your brain can only see your blood, not your butt.
So what to do?
Do what this system was evolved for. Your body fat isn't evolved to sustain you when you eat a salad and a small bun. It's for when you have no food. If, instead of six small meals that don't add up to a lot of calories, you eat nothing, then your insulin will go low, all that fat can be unpacked from your butt, and you won't be hungry anymore, because why on earth would your body unpack less than it wants, now that you can unpack something?
In other words, you stop eating tiny meals, and you fast, instead.
When we understand this, we understand why grandma wasn't fat, and you are. It's not because you have less self-control than she did. It's not because she ate more than you do. It's because of what she ate and when.
She ate fat, protein, moderate amounts of starch, and almost no sugar. You eat very little fat, and a whole lot of starch, processed food, and sugar. Guess which one keeps your insulin higher longer?
If you want to be less fat, eat more fat.
She ate at mealtimes, and never in between. She didn't have plastic-wrapped convenience food. She didn't have a microwave oven. If she wanted to eat something, she had to cook it. She and her family ate at mealtimes, and not in between.
You... snack. Throughout the day. So when does insulin have a chance to drop?
If you want to stop looking like a cow, stop grazing like one.
Eating real food at defined mealtimes was enough to keep the people of 1960 thin. But if you're already fat, you have to reverse that switch harder. It's called "intermittent fasting", although it really should be called "intermittent eating", because the idea is to impose long delays between meals. When you run out of sugar, you will unpack the fat.
Sounds like starving yourself, doesn't it? But it isn't. Because "starving" is when you're running out of fuel, not when you're merrily burning it. You're not starving, you're fasting. It sounds scary, but that's only if you believe that you're just going to keep getting hungrier and hungrier when you don't eat. That's not true. You get hungry, and then you enter ketosis (the state where your body unpacks and burns fat), and you're not hungry any more.
All of those stories about medieval people spending days in "fasting and prayer" suddenly make a lot more sense. You don't actually need to shove bread into your face every two hours in order to survive. This works. There's a whole subreddit devoted to it, and you can check it out, it's full of success stories, and you can learn what eating and fasting schedules work for people.
This method works because it's sustainable. Instead of fighting your body, you're doing what your body was designed to do... store fuel, and then use it. With a little practice, you can even decide how fat you want to be. Some level of subcutaneous fat is good for you, and you can get to decide how much looks good on you.
There's a lot more science in this rabbit hole; we could talk about how "sugar" (the white stuff on your table) is poison, but "sugar" (the glucose in your blood) is the energy of life; we could talk about how fruit juice and smoothies are terrible, terrible things, we could talk about how eating anything is a nutrition label is most likely a bad idea; about how butt fat is healthy and belly fat is terrible; about where diabetes really comes from and why "life-saving" insulin injections are really expensive now; about why healthcare is so expensive now and how socialism is not the answer and will only make things far, far worse.
But the important thing to understand is:
- Calories don't matter. Insulin matters.
- It isn't how much you eat, it's what and when.