Five Things I Learned From The Secret Life of Fat

Sylvia Tara, PhD has given the frustrated world of struggling weight losers a bushel of gifts in her new book, The Secret Life of Fat.

Like many of us, Tara has struggled with keeping fat at bay most of her life. The experiences she describes are the same ones that I have been facing my entire adult life. Through years of experimentation, I find that I have to keep my caloric intake around only 1400 calories in order not to gain weight. Panicked friends make a habit of telling me that I’m starving myself and no good can come from eating so little.

It turns out that Tara has come to the same conclusion about her weight and maintains the same daily input that I do. She is a trained biochemist, which vindicates the ways I have been keeping my fat at bay all these years. It’s also one of the reasons Tara is so good at explaining the latest research on fat and diets in a way that lay people can understand.

Here are five “takeaways” from The Secret Life of Fat:

1. Eat the Pulp, too.

Have you noticed that the Juicing craze has lost its luster? The juices of most vegetables are loaded with naturally occurring sugars that are absorbed right through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream, which carries it to your pancreas. The pancreas reacts to this onslaught of sugar with a ton of insulin. The insulin converts the sugar into fats, including dangerous triglycerides, that ends up sitting around your vital organs.

It turns out that the pulp of most fruits and vegetables is fibrous, and fiber absorbs water. If you eat the whole food as nature intended the fibrous pulp releases its natural sugars only gradually as it travels through the intestines, avoiding the shock to the pancreas because that is the natural way for the body to digest sugars.

Interestingly the idea of eating as nature intended applies to polished rice. Polished rice has the external coating of rubbed off making the carbohydrates inside each grain of rice easier for your body to digest quickly. Since our bodies process carbohydrates into sugars almost immediately, eating rice that without the external coating polished off is probably not a good idea.

2. Sleep Well

After reading Tara’s book, I was surprised to learn that my life struggles with insomnia contribute to the challenge of losing fat. It turns out that lack of hormones have a lot to do with the way we experience feelings of fullness and satiation. Lack of sleep lowers the hormone leptin and increases ghrelin, a combination researchers find that leads to metabolic changes leading to overeating and obesity.

Additionally, being awake late at night is associated with eating and drinking. For one thing, there is not a lot to do at two or three in the morning and the temptation to eat a little something can be overwhelming. If you find yourself awake try reading or writing and avoid computers and TV — the wavelength of electronic displays tends to keep us awake.

Also, there is a certain logic in drinking alcohol to force sleep, even though it is notorious for putting on weight. Yes, alcohol is a depressant and will put your to sleep, but it won’t keep you asleep unless you drink until you pass out. Drinking alcohol to go to sleep just ensures that you will awake up in a few hour later more wide-awake than ever.

The iron clad rule must be no eating or drinking, (aside from water), after dinner.

3. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting will result in weight loss, and that is no surprise. After all, fasting is simply not eating for an extended time. When no calories are entering the system there is nothing to be turned into fat, so even the most modest of everyday activities results in fat loss.

The problem is that extended fasting is not a good long-term fat loss strategy. Not eating for days signals your metabolism that times are hard and your body reacts by hanging on to every bit of nutrition that comes its way. You might be encouraged when you see you weigh less while you are fasting, but as soon as you start eating again — no matter how gradually — your body will turn everything it possibly can into fat.

What about intermittent fasting, that is, eating for only portions of the day? This weight loss strategy is quickly catching on and has the backing of nutritional research. The idea is to fast only for portions of a day.

For example, your daily fast might begin right after dinner and last for 18 hours because you skip breakfast. By skipping breakfast, the “eating day” lasts only from about noon to six or seven in the evening.

Not eating anything for 18 hours might sound like a daily dietary water boarding session, but it is not that bad. It is simply extending the “fast” we naturally experience while we are sleeping.

And…well…there is a trick that makes it very easy to integrate intermittent fasting into your life.

For some reason it is a lot easier to fast for 18 hours a day if your body is not processing loads of carbohydrates. I’m not sure why this is, but I found that I could routinely fast on a daily basis only when I had already reduced carbs and replaced them with oils and fats.

This brings a word of caution. Avoid the temptation of eating carbs after you have successfully reduced them in your diet. Like addictive drugs, carbs start a cascade of biochemical changes that are an invitation for fat to return.

4. Mind your Biome

Most people have a vague idea that their intestines digest food, extracting nutrients and distributing them throughout the body while anything that unusable turns into waste. That the basic idea, but there is a lot more to it.

Think of the digestive process as one huge biological process operating at the level of cells and hormones. Our intestines are filled with a colony of bacteria that digests our food. This colony was not there when we were born — viruses and bacteria from the environment created it when we started eating solid food when we were babies. (This is why the stuff that fills a diaper does not smell bad until after weaning.)

We do not naturally have enzymes that can break down complex sugars called polysaccharides, but we pick them up in the food we eat as babies. These polysaccharides are a kind of bacteria that convert complex plant based sugars into simple sugars our digestive system can turn into energy.

You might think that your skin or lungs are the biggest organ exposed to the external environment, but it is actually your digestive tract. Our digestive tract is about 30 feet long and averages a little more than an inch in diameter. I did the math and was astounded at the surface area. The number I got was so impressive I will not share it here. You do the math. (Hint: about the same square footage as a “tiny house”.)

One last biome related surprise courtesy of Sylvia Tara:

As amazing as it sounds, recent nutritional research finds that a virus found in chickens can cause the biome to change resulting in obesity. Yes, it is possible to become obese by catching a particular virus from a chicken.

5. Schedule sleep, exercise and meals

If you have read this far it should now be obvious that eating whatever seems appealing no matter what time of day with no regard for future consequences is a great way to gain weight and eventually become obese. Creating and maintaining structure is vitally important if we want to stay healthy and control weight.

There is an interesting psychological aspect to creating a daily structure around eating, nutrition and exercise. Many people object to the idea of creating structure because of issues of control — they feel as if they lose control over their lives if they follow a strict routine.

However, their lives are already out of control. If they had control of their lives, they would not be doing the things that make them fat and uncomfortable. Creating structure is not lack of control; it is a method of exerting control over our bad habits, poor decision making and impulsive behaviors. It seems to me that is the definition of control.

Creating structure is just a matter of creating habits, and habits are easy to establish. Just do the same thing every day for a month and a habit will appear. Go to bed at the same time every night, eat meals at the same time every day, and establish an exercise regimen for the same time every day. Do that for a month and you have a structured routine.

Of course, routines always get interference, but a well-established routine can weather occasional interference.

Develop an evening routine before going to bed as well. Repeat that evening routine every day and you will find sleep comes faster and deeper. We all have the occasional sleepless night, but we can usually power through the next day.

Eat only at meal times, (you are supposed to be hungry right before lunch or dinner), get exercise at the same time every day. It is a good thing to incorporate change into the routine as well. Maybe you will do cardio and strength training on alternate days, or eat fish on Mondays and Fridays. We are omnivores and that means variety in all things.

Buy it at Amazon: The Secret Life of Fat

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