I want you to think of your metabolism as a furnace over which you have complete control. The goal is to make that fire burn hot and bright, burning off calories at a faster rate than you can imagine. If you wait too long to throw wood into the fire, it will go out. If you throw too much wood on the fire all at once, you will smother the fire. That wood I'm talking about is the fuel you put into your body – food.
If we were to write the 10 Commandments of Nutrition, the FIRST would be to keep your furnace burning bright – this equates to stabilizing your blood sugar – and doing this ALONE will immediately improve your energy levels and raise the speed and efficiency with which you burn through calories.
Let’s look at one of the biggest myths when it comes to the best nutrition for your body – the myth that diets work.
Myth: To Lose Weight, Go On a Low-Calorie Diet
Reality: True in the VERY short-term, COMPLETELY false in the long-term.
While eating fewer calories than you burn each day will cause you to lose weight initially, the weight loss will plateau quickly. Losing weight by restricting calories is problematic in a number of ways.
Most low-calorie diets will cause more muscle loss than fat loss. And this will cause your body to burn fewer calories. But that’s not even the worst of it. Soon, your body will recognize that it is not getting the calories that it needs to function properly and it will set into a motion a whole array of protection mechanisms. Your internal “calorie thermostat” will reset so that the body burns even fewer calories and it will try to store whatever calories it can as fat (survival mode). Fat is metabolically cheap, it takes nothing to sustain. Muscle, on the other hand, is metabolically expensive, so it is the first to go.
The fact is, your body does not know that you are trying to look great in a swimsuit this summer; it just knows that it is not getting enough calories, that you are starving and not getting the nutrition you need to thrive.
The result of all of this is that your metabolism slows further and further. And at the same time, hormones in your body start telling your brain that you are starving until eventually you go “off” the diet. This is not a matter of poor willpower. Not in the least. It is a biological imperative - chemicals in your body telling you to EAT, to get the calories you need to function and thrive. And as soon as you do, as soon as you start eating more again (and likely bingeing from being “starved” for so long), the weight comes back, and then some. You’ve done this before. Does the weight come back slowly? No. It seems like with that first slice of pizza and bowl of ice cream, the weight it took you weeks or months to lose just shows right back up. And then some. And worse, the weight is stored in the form of fat, you have less muscle (so you are “softer”) and your metabolism is slower so you are fighting an uphill battle. DIETS MAKE YOU FAT.
STOP: Time to take a nutrition inventory. For three days, write down everything you eat and drink AND at what time. It will look something like this:
7 AM – 3 eggs, scrambled. 1 piece whole-grain toast. Coffee with Stevia and 2% milk. 16 ounces of water.
10 AM – Yogurt with a handful of granola and 20 blueberries, 16 ounces of water.
1 PM – Salad with spinach, red peppers, walnuts, feta cheese and a grilled chicken breast. 8 ounces water.
4 PM – 1 handful of roasted, unsalted almonds, 16 ounces of water.
730 PM – 8 oz pork chop cooked in 2 tablespoons of olive oil with fresh herbs. 1 cup brown rice. 2 cups broccoli.
830 PM – 2 oz of 70% dark chocolate, 8 ounces of water.
[Once you have completed your food journal, continue reading. The next section is on “Supportive” nutrition. You will want to start fixing your nutrition by comparing the concepts below to your food journal. Do not try to make many changes at once. Take them one at a time. If you are not eating breakfast soon after getting up, start doing so. If you are then not eating every three to three and a half hours, start doing that. Next start to look at WHAT you are eating. Start subtracting some of the poor choices and making some better ones.
Eating To Stoke The Furnace (Cont’d)
If a strong, lean body is the goal, instead of dieting you will want to eat “supportively”; that is, to eat in a way that supports lean muscle development and releases and burns fat. It is essential to recognize that calories are not “bad”. Calories are the fuel that your body uses to function and thrive. Almost everyone who does my program eats more calories than they have in the past, all while burning fat at a rate they never imagined possible.
Supportive eating is very simple. Make sure you are eating frequently, every 3 to 3.5 hours. This keeps your furnace burning. And it keeps your blood sugar level stable so that your body is in fat-burning mode.
A little Science:
It is essential to understand that when you don’t eat often enough, when you are hungry, your blood sugar levels are too low. In this condition, as soon as you eat (especially carbs and sugars), your blood sugar levels spike. When this happens, your pancreas must over-release insulin to take the sugar out of your blood so you don’t die. In this state, the pancreas cannot release its other hormone, glucagon, which is the PRIMARY FAT RELEASE HORMONE in your body. So, the fat around your problem areas is effectively locked in, no matter what you do. Even if you run on the treadmill for an hour. Even if you do a hard spinning class. It is IMPOSSIBE to release (and therefore burn) body fat when your body is in this state. Go back and read that again!
On the next two pages are the “Guides to Supportive Nutrition” which I have been giving my clients for many years. The first one is about HOW you will want to be eating and the second is about WHAT you should be eating. Most of what you eat most of the time should be the things listed there as ‘best” and “good” foods. These are real foods, the kind that are most healthy and best for improving your metabolism. Michael Pollan, a prolific writer, journalist and food activist, has said: If your grandmother would not recognize something as food, it's not food" Words to the wise.
Greg Rothman, MS PT, is a fitness professional, writer and the owner of Empower Fitness in NYC. He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has twenty years of experience in the fitness and rehabilitation fields. He believes that absolutely anyone can have the body of their dreams once they understand how to eat and exercise in a way that supports their goals. It is his mission to Empower as many people as possible to do just that. His “Recession-Proof” Fitness Programs are an affordable way to find dramatic physical change over the course of 10 weeks. Greg is happy to hear from you if you have questions about any topic related to fitness or nutrition, and can be found at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com.