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We’ve delved into how it’s time to take a step back and realise exactly how disastrous the ‘calories-are-everything’ weight loss advice has proven to be. Populations around the world are waking up to their own expanding waistlines and alarming belly fat, in realisation of the fact that something in our diets and lifestyles needs to change to successfully find the best way to lose weight.  

The conventional weight loss advice to eat fewer calories carries an estimated failure rate of 99.4%. For morbid obesity, the failure rate is 99.9%(1)

Naturally, reducing calories is not going to help in weight loss if calories aren’t the underlying cause of weight gain. Since not all foods can simply be reduced to their caloric value, let’s take a moment to re-evaluate what we have been told through an alternative lens, to check whether it has any actual scientific backing.   

How does our body decide when to source energy from stored body fat?

Let’s break down the complex mechanism of our metabolism; simply put ⁠— our bodies can fuel themselves with energy derived either from what we eat or from fat stored in our bodies. How do we work with our diets and lifestyles in such a way that our body strategically ends up tapping into stored body fat for energy, resulting in weight loss? 

This is where hormones come into play; they affect the expression of enzymes, and enzymes are basically what govern the biochemical processes happening inside our bodies. Insulin, in particular, determines whether our body utilises stored body fat or carbohydrates (or sugar) to derive energy. 

What is insulin and what is its role in weight loss or gain? 

Whenever we have a meal, the glucose levels in our blood get elevated and that’s the signal for our pancreas to release insulin to curb them. Read all about it here.

The table below gives us a clear idea of hormones and the role they play in either releasing fatty acid or synthesising and storing it. 

So what’s the key takeaway from this table? There are three hormones — cortisol, epinephrine and glucagon — that help move fat out of our fat stores so that they can be “burnt” or utilised for energy. On the other hand, there is just the one hormone, insulin, that essentially inhibits the burning of fat from fat stores — it actually stimulates the enzyme we use to make and store fat.

So insulin stimulates the enzyme we use to make fat, while the other two inhibit it. Isn’t it only natural, then, to stop wasting our time counting calories and focus on balancing the hormone that’s really calling the shots in our physiology?

What is constant insulin exposure doing to us? 

Once we’ve finished digesting our meals, our blood sugar levels and insulin levels both drop. This is the cue for the body to start releasing glycogen, which is nothing but stored sugar in the liver, out into the bloodstream to be used by various organs for energy. In case there isn’t enough glycogen, fat is utilised to create energy(2)

This is a pretty well-oiled mechanism, generally speaking. Could the issue be that in the recent past, people have been being told to eat more regularly — upto six meals a day? Do we need to take a closer look at what happens when insulin levels are continuously high?

Dr. Jason Fung makes a pertinent point in this article(3) where he ponders upon how, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, people consumed a lot of sugar and fattening carbohydrates, but the obesity problem wasn’t as widespread. Dr. Fung summarises it succinctly, “We always forget that proper food choices involve two main questions. The first question we think about constantly – what to eat? The question we always forget is – when to eat? Meal timing turns out to play a very important role in the development of obesity.”

Join us on this train of thought, for a second, where we compare two situations.

In the first, an individual eats three meals a day, without any snacks. Suppose this person has his or her breakfast at 8AM and dinner, the last meal of the day, at 8PM. Sounds like a fairly balanced 12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fasting, right? Insulin levels rise after eating but are comfortably balanced out by the fasting period, even if the person were to consume a lot of refined carbohydrates.

On the other hand, if an individual has a whopping six meals a day and then polishes off a late-night snack to boot — their metabolism never gets a break! Is it any wonder that these kind of eating habits are resulting in the person being awash in insulin?

What is a high-carb diet with constant snacking ultimately leading to?

By constantly stimulating insulin, aren’t we just putting our sugar storage and fat storage machinery into overdrive? What happens when cells begin resisting the effects of insulin on blood sugar levels? 

If any of these lifestyle habits sound familiar to you, it’s probably a good time to sit up and pay attention. A combination of high-frequency eating and a high intake of sugar and carbohydrates through processed foods can result in long, continuous exposure to insulin. If not checked in time, it can lead to the development of an underlying condition called Insulin Resistance(4), over the years.

A whole host of chronic lifestyle issues and diseases such as PCOS, hypertension, obesity, inflammatory and vascular conditions – to name just a few – are being traced back(5) to insulin resistance by experts. Join us on an enquiry into a crucial blind spot in your annual health checkup and the lifestyle changes that can be brought about to lead a healthier life. We also explore which might be the best diet for weight loss here.