EAT LESS SUGAR. This is one of the 10 Easy Habits of Eating Well, Being Well.
Earlier this year, as I was editing the book, I stepped up further on eating less sugar in my every day meals. While I usually have a few chocolates, sweets or an occasional scoop of ice-cream, I reduced these treats even more significantly. I made a decision to cut back further on refined sugar because of several reasons but weight loss was not one of them. Unexpectedly, I lost 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms) in about 2 weeks.
On the surface, this seems straight forward – eat less sugar, eat less calories, weight comes off. Logical? So it would seem. But here’s the twist!
While I stepped down on these sweet treats, I stepped up on more food, including carbohydrates. While I normally have carbohydrates every day, I ate even larger portions of complex carbohydrates in the form of root vegetables, pumpkin, rice and rice noodles. During this time, I also added a little more good quality coconut oil or olive oil into my daily home-cooked meals. I also ate solid portions of protein – such as ¼ of a roast chicken at lunch and at dinner. And I still continued to meet friends outside for delicious lunch and dinners. I wasn’t counting calories at all. So what was going on?
One of the answers lies in managing the body’s insulin response. To understand this better, we’ll need to look at the simple chemical reactions that are happening inside the body when we eat. To keep the key ideas easy to go through, I have deliberately taken a few complex processes and simplified them.
When we eat, the food is digested and broken down into ever simpler forms that can be absorbed by our body’s cells. For example carbohydrates are broken down into ever simpler forms of sugar, ending with absorbable glucose. Proteins are broken down into amino acids. Fat is broken down into fatty acids and monoglycerides. The simple digested food finds its way into the blood stream.
Insulin is produced by the pancreas. It acts like a key, unlocking cells and allowing them to absorb nutrients, use the energy from the food or store the excess. Cells use the energy from the food to allow us to think, move, carry things, exercise and for core organs like our heart, kidneys, lungs and liver to function. Amino acids, vitamins and minerals provide nutrients to repair old cells and rebuild new cells.
What happens when we eat too much and have indulged in a carbohydrate and sugar rich meal? The body stores some of the glucose as glycogen in the muscles and liver. But the muscles and liver can only store a set amount of glucose as glycogen. When there is much more glucose than expected, the body produces even more insulin. Guess what the excess glucose is stored as? If you guessed FAT, you are correct!
Cells that are designed to store fat are unique. There has been a lot of research to study fat cells’ behavior and their apparent limitless ability to store fat. Some of these studies found that the number of fat cells in a human body remained unchanged over the course of a lifetime. Instead, they grow in size to accommodate the amount of additional fat that needs to be stored. Another study found that people who lost weight through fat reduction surgery had the same number of fat cells two years afterwards. Incredibly, new fat cells were created to replace the ones that had been removed through surgery! With studies such as these, researchers had better answers as to why it is so hard for many of us to lose weight and why many dieters seem to gain and lose the same pounds and kilos over and over again.
So what I had I done these last few weeks to trigger weight loss? I had managed my body’s insulin response even better than I had done up to now. Not surprisingly, insulin is often referred to as “the fat storage hormone”.
So could a few pieces of chocolate and sugary treats have made that much difference? In my body’s case, it seems that the answer was a resounding, "YES!"
These foods would have been classified as “high glycemic index foods”, in other words, they result in a faster, more sudden spikes in blood glucose levels when they are eaten regularly. What happened when I had them? I had trained my body to expect these bursts of sugar, to produce more and larger surges in insulin and to store away the excess glucose as fat more quickly and efficiently!
So what happened when I stopped having these sweet treats daily? My body learned very quickly to produce less insulin and in the process, I started storing less of what I was eating as fat. Personally I was surprised at how quickly the weight came off.
Weight loss programs like The Atkins Program work because they strive at removing as much carbohydrates from one’s daily eating as possible. At its core, the eating plan is focused on meals with protein, vegetables and fat/oil. In The Atkins Program, starchy vegetables and roots veggies are discouraged. This form of eating results in two things:
1) It triggers the body to produce a lot less insulin.
2) It triggers a ketogenic response in your body, where your body draws upon existing fat reserves for energy.
People certainly lose weight on The Atkins Program. A few people I know tried it. They lost weight. However, some found it quite restrictive and not sustainable in the long run. Some regained weight once they went off the program. (Note though that the updated Atkin's Program does indeed allow carbohydrates in the diet. Initially all carbs are removed from the diet to put the body into a ketogenic state. Subsequently, a small amount of complex, un-refined carbs are added back, a week at a time until weight loss stops. They describe this as the optimal level of carbs that the dieter's body can handle and recommend that you stick to an amount just below that.)
At the start of this article, I mentioned that I had added larger portions of complex carbohydrates to what I ate. While these were not excessive, I still made sure I was eating enough carbohydrates because I do believe in eating in a balanced way and this means, eating enough protein, fat/oils, vegetables and carbohydrates.
So how did I still manage to lose the weight? Something else interesting was happening to me internally as I enjoyed my meals of complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats together. If you would like to eat carbohydrates every day and still lose weight, please stay tuned for my next blog!
Thank you for reading my blog :)
P.S. I am presently eating more to regain the weight I lost.