TOP 10 REASONS WE GET FAT

The most common questions I get from clients are about body fat. Why am I gaining body fat even though I train so hard? I barely eat anything so why can’t I drop any weight? It goes on and on and that is why I put this together for a general understanding on my take of the top reasons we gain weight and body fat or just can’t drop weight and body fat. 

 

CALORIC INTAKE

Yes calories do matter when you are looking to drop weight and body fat. It isn’t as simple as calories in/out but nevertheless  caloric intake matters. Then of coarse the source of calories are even more important. Just because you are within your caloric allotment at the end of the day doesn’t mean they are the right calories. Processed food and very low quality food is nowhere near the same as nutrient dense calories with the proper macronutrient ratios. Taking in too many calories daily is an obvious reason for gaining weight but it can be just as harmful to not take in sufficient calories daily especially when you are training hard. I have played with most popular dieting modalities and tools like fasting,nutrient timing,etc and we are all different and have different needs but the bottom line is that setting a proper daily caloric intake and macro ratio daily is a must to get to your goals. When you cut too many calories(800-1200) a day for 4 weeks or more you can fall into starvation syndrome and actually gain body fat while losing muscle mass. On top of that you will most likely have some of the following issues;

-Thyroid downregulation(lower conversion of T3 to active T4)
-Loss of muscle mass
-Decrease in testosterone and hormone imbalances

A free way to get a relatively accurate number to start tracking is using the Harris-Benedict equation. This will calculate your BMR(basal metabolic rate) which is basically how many calories you would burn daily at rest.

Now you have your BMR so apply that number to your activity level below.

Now you have your BMR so apply that number to your activity level below.

Now you have your number so start tracking it!

Now you have your number so start tracking it!

I like to use MyFitnessPal for clients to track their calories and macronutrient ratios since it seems to be the easiest to use and has the largest database. I advocate a low carbohydrate approach for most clients trying to live a healthy lifestyle. If you are a pro athlete of some sort and are training far above and beyond the average person then of coarse there will be much more room for carbohydrate intake. What works for me personally,even when I am training very intensely is a ratio of;

50% High Quality Fats

30% Protein

20% Carbohydrates(low glycemic fruits & vegetables)

Again we all have different needs and need to play with this to find our best balance as individuals. You can eat all the quality greens you like and I usually have 6 servings a day of dark leafy greens. I personally have incorporated a mix of Dr. Jack Kruse's Epi-Paleo diet and Dr. Brant Contrite's great book on living a neurogenesis lifestyle. This way of eating works best for me and they are based on very nutrient dense foods and quality fats that work best for brain function and long term neurological health. As far as nutrient timing and number of meals per day,that all varies per individual and your lifestyle and training needs. You can work that out by experimenting but here I just want people conscious of daily caloric intake and macro ratios.

 

NOT ENOUGH MOVEMENT

 

Lets start by understanding the SAID Principle.

Wikipedia;

In physical rehabilitation and sports training, the SAID principle asserts that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands.[1] In other words, given stressors on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, there will be a Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID).[2]

For example, by only doing pull-ups on the same regular pull-up bar, your body becomes adapted to this specific physical demand, but not necessarily adapted to other climbing patterns or environments.

So basically if you always do the same things and never change it up you will hinder your gains. Any activity and sweat is a positive as far as I'm concerned but if you want to make gains constantly in dropping weight and body fat you have to keep it fresh and keep changing things like exercises,angles,sets,reps,tempo,and flow work indoor/outdoor constantly for best results. I change things up weekly to keep it interesting. You need to completely change your routine at least every 4 weeks.

Examples of routine change;

-Which days

-Time of day

-Weight training vs. aerobic vs. interval

-Zone 2 vs 3,4,5

-Constantly changing loading angles-push/pull/press,etc

-Routine is good for muscle growth-bad for fat loss

 

CARBOHYDRATES AND INSULIN RESISTANCE

 

I try to make it clear to clients that carbohydrates are not necessary for energy. We can fuel our bodies and brains with protein and the breakdown of quality fats. You can fully fuel even the highest levels of activity and training without a high carbohydrate diet. Again the ratios and the how much of carbohydrate intake is sufficient will vary by individual and your needs and will take some time and experimentation to get it down. I personally train fasted with amino acids and a few supplements in the morning including high dose fish oil with a high amount of omega 3's and DHA. Then I have a pulse feed post workout that consists of a nutrient dense shake with my own concoction that has greens,goat whey protein,MCT oil,and some antioxidants like raw cacao. Two hours later or so I have my lunch and by 6pm I eat a good dinner which is the biggest meal of the day. This works very well for me and due to the higher fat intake I feel well fed but not too full and don't get hungry while feeling great all day. I always include a fermented food like kimchi,sauerkraut,greek yogurt,or kombucha tea daily to help with my digestive health. The problem with the old bodybuilder style of eating 6 meals a day and feeding every two hours is that you constantly have insulin spikes throughout the day. If you are a bodybuilder  you most likely need to feed that often for best result but for the average person it just isn't the healthiest and most effective way not to mention the inconvenience of having to feed every couple hours. Constantly spiking insulin usually ends up leaving you insulin resistant and in an inflammatory state. Studies show people that eat higher amounts of fatty foods including saturated fats like butter,coconut oil,eggs,etc can lose weight and decrease heart disease risk but it has to be in the absence of a high carbohydrate diet! If anything remember the following;

-Carbohydrates not necessary for energy

-High carbohydrate intake=insulin release by pancreas=insulin resistance

-Insulin is a storage hormone

-Chronically elevated levels of insulin=fat storage over fat oxidation

 

STRESS AND CORTISOL

 

Stress comes in many forms and in my opinion is the single most important thing to keep balanced and generally in control. Physical stress is good and needed to get stronger and stay healthy but at the same time if you are chronically stressing yourself physically you will break sooner or later so again find the balance. Mental and emotional stress is more difficult to keep under control in this fast paced always on the go world. If you cannot learn to shut down the mind chatter you will also break in a different way eventually. The good old fight or flight response is of coarse needed to deal with real danger. The issue is that in the modern world we usually don't have to run from a lion or fight off a real threat very often. In our human evolution we had to deal with these things but now its mainly mind made stress. Our thoughts weigh very heavily on us and if we can't get a general control,life just is much harder physically,mentally,and emotionally. When we are always worrying about work,bills,kids,relationships,or just constantly thinking so to speak instead of just shutting down when the mind isn't needed then we end up with chronically high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is made in the adrenal glands. It is called the "stress hormone" because of it's connection to the stress response. Cortisol has many functions and can do things like control blood sugar levels,regulate metabolism,even help fight inflammation. Obviously a crucial hormone that can help overall health and wellbeing. In the morning cortisol is high which helps us wake from sleep and get going and of coarse during and after exercise. The issue is that most of us have way too much circulating cortisol and way too often and then it becomes inflammatory. Getting angry and constantly stressing just adds to it all and over time you will simply break. Cortisol can be tested with a simple saliva test that should be taken multiple times in the day for accuracy and needs to be present in morning and post exercise but not elevated throughout the day. I have tried a few tests with clients and an affordable test that gives you more info than just cortisol can be bought here. Understanding the balance of your sympathetic(fight or flight) and parasympathetic(rest and digest) is very important and another way to track this is with HRV(heart rate variability) tracking and training. I wrote an article on HRV and how I track and you can read it here. For HRV training and relaxation I am a big fan of the HeartMath Inner Balance tool. It is very relaxing and I have clients use it 3x10 daily which is plugging into it for 3 sets of 10 minutes spread out daily. Everyone that uses it regularly tells me it has profound effects on their relaxation and state of mind because you have to be calm and have a steady breathing pattern to activate the vagus nerve and keep it in the green as posed to the red. It's like a fun quick game that really works. So remember this;

Cortisol=liver releases sugar=pancreas releases insulin=insulin resistance=inflammatory state

Keeping stress under control of coarse is easier said than done but things like training wisely and recovering fully will help with the physical side while some mindfulness and adding relaxing activities and meditation can help immensely on the mental/emotional side. I also tell people to list all the main stressors in life being everything from bills to the people you surround yourself with and if these things are killing you slowly in the form of stress then simply eliminate them and get rid of the toxic people in your life. Find some peace daily and you can control cortisol and stress.

 

POOR SLEEP

Right up with daily stress management is quality sleep. This is the other really big one to sort if you want to live a long quality life. We have all experienced what going days without quality sleep feels like and it just breaks you down in many ways and ruins physical and mental performance. I have had clients that just by sorting sleep habits they lost weight and felt immeasurably better day to day in mental clarity and physical energy. No fancy supplements and gimmicks needed,just sort your sleep and you will feel like a new person. The big things that happen during sleep are of coarse the recovery aspects. After about 4 hours of dark sleep melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland. It regulates a number of hormones and maintains the body's circadian rhythms. Then leptin enters the hypothalamus  and thyroid gets upregulated and growth hormone is released. In turn your metabolism increases and you burn fat while you sleep. 

On the other hand when you have poor sleep habits a whole cascade of negative effects fall on the body and brain. For starters a lack of sleep produces ghrelin which stimulates appetite and down regulates leptin. In turn cortisol is increased and testosterone can be decreased. You also get a lower sensitivity of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which are the feel good chemicals and neurotransmitter function decreases considerably. So your mood and emotional states are poor and your physical performance like cognition,speed,and power are greatly reduced. Recommended sleep is between 7-9 hours a night without any carbohydrates for 3-4 hours before bed to avoid an insulin spike that can hinder melatonin production. Unplug at least an hour before sleep without any bright synthetic lighting from TV,tablets,and phones. If your not sleeping enough at night you can supplement with polyphasic sleep(naps) in the short term but I recommend sorting your general sleep at night since most of us don't have time to nap during the day. 

 

FOOD ALLERGIES OR INTOLERANCES

In my 90 day reset the first 4 weeks focuses mainly on your gut and digestive health. I start here because if you have leaky gut syndrome or just poor digestion you will not assimilate your nutrients well and you end up in a constant inflammatory state. The cheapest and easiest way to get away from inflammatory food is just to pay attention to how you feel after you eat certain things. If you can physically feel a problem after you eat certain foods then it's obvious you should stay away from them or prepare them differently. For example if you know when you have dairy it upsets your stomach you probably have an intolerance and should switch to non dairy alternatives like coconut milks,etc. If you constantly have gas,irritable bowel,and/or acid reflux you need to get to work sorting out your gut health right away. To do this without the guesswork I recommend food allergy testing. Usually a simple blood test will do but you can also have skin testing and a trial elimination style diet to see what works best for your nutrient intake. You can ask your doctor for the testing and go over it and that way you can eliminate the foods that don't give you direct feedback right after you eat them. You may have a mild gluten intolerance or nut and soy issues and would never really know without testing. You can educate yourself on the subject and learn more at foodallergy.org. Once you have eliminated the inflammatory foods you can do a mild herbal cleanse and cut out poor quality foods while adding nutrient dense foods that are easily digestible. A quality probiotic and a gut healing protocol is highly recommended at first and down the road just get it all in through fermented foods daily and a solid diet like I do for myself now. 

What to remember;

-Lack of digestive enzymes or improperly prepared food results in food intolerances=undigested food particles=leaky gut=inflammation=fluid retention=hindered weight loss

-Allergic reaction to food proteins(eggs,dairy,shellfish,etc)=Inflammation

-Inflammation=cortisol=fluid retention=insulin resistance

 

LEPTIN INSENSITIVITY

Leptin is called the "Master" hormone that regulates bodyweight. Leptin is a hormone produced in the bodies fat cells and is also called the "satiety hormone" or "starvation hormone". When your leptin is balanced it reduces appetite and you feel full and well fed after an appropriate meal and don't have the constant cravings. Leptin is supposed to tell the brain that we have enough fat stored and that we don't need to eat. That way we burn calories at a normal rate. Leptin has many function but here we are just understanding that if you are leptin insensitive then you will always have craving and not know when you have consumed enough calories. Leading researchers believe that leptin insensitivity is the leading cause of obesity. They also go as far as to say that with leptin issues calories in/out don't even matter. As I have discussed above I believe they do and that of coarse leptin sensitivity is another big issue that needs to be sorted as well as understanding what goes in and out in food consumption as well as energy expenditure. If you feel you may be leptin insensitive then I recommend Dr. Jack Kruse's leptin reset. It is an easy to follow start guide and really works well with the beginning phases of sorting gut health as well. 

What to remember;

-Leptin reduces appetite

-Enlarged adipose fat stores result in leptin desensitization 

-Chronic high calorie intake=chronic high leptin

-High insulin=increase leptin release

-Chronic high leptin=pro-inflammatory state

-Chronic high calorie intake=leptin insensitivity=inflammation

 

LOW THYROID/METABOLISM

Our thyroid hormone acts on many things including the brain,the G.I. tract,the cardiovascular system,bone metabolism,red blood cell metabolism,gall bladder and liver function,steroid hormone production,glucose metabolism,lipid and cholesterol metabolism,protein metabolism,and even body temperature regulation. Obviously it is responsible for a lot and if you are having longstanding issues with weight loss it it surely something to look into for testing. With a properly functioning thyroid the pituitary gland produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone(TSH) which in turn stimulates the thyroid gland to produce T3 & T4. Having an improperly functioning thyroid will very much so impair your metabolic rate and of coarse severely hinder weight loss. Their can be many culprits in low thyroid function including stress which we already spoke about. Other leading reasons are gut health,gluten,selenium deficiencies,excess iodine,and vitamin D deficiencies. All these things can again be tested but again I put an emphasis on stress. Chronic adrenal stress depresses hypothalamus function and pituitary function which both direct thyroid function. Sorting out things like the gut,proper nutrient intake,your activity levels,sleep,and again stress/cortisol can go a long way in sorting thyroid function before you go the medication route. 

 

GENETICS

Of coarse genetics have a place in the discussion of weight management but I find it is used as an excuse a lot of the time. I know a lot of great athletes that have overcome great so called genetic deficiencies to be physical specimens and amazing athletes. I myself was an overweight child with asthma and no athletic talent with parents that are 5'8" and 5'2" respectfully and not muscular or really athletic and I ended up 6'2" at 220lbs with 10% body fat. That is what I like to call hard work,a good mindset,and a quality diet. Genetics of coarse play a role but for example my grandparents lived to be an average of 96 years old and I still have a grandmother alive in Greece that is 96-god bless her. They lived through wars and famine and all kinds of hardship. My take is that after the wars they lived a relatively stress free lifestyle in the villages of southern Greece. They had extremely high quality food that they either grew or raised themselves and didn't have to stress much about bills because they didn't really have any. It was a very simple life with clean air and a LOT of daily activity followed by quality social interaction with the villagers in the evening and a good meal. Everyone that has been to Europe knows they love their naps and sleep and they worked really hard but also rest really hard. I have plenty of family and friends that grew up here in Las Vegas that have longevity in their family and strong genes per say that are in very poor health because of the lifestyle here. So what I am trying to say is,my take on genetics is that it's like holding a stick of dynamite and if you never light the fuse you really are the author of your own story. Of coarse if you are predisposed to certain things you should keep and eye on them and steer a better coarse before you break and try to bandage the problem like most people do. Type 2 diabetes runs in my family so I am conscious of it and that is why I eat a low glycemic diet and eat a very traditional mediterranean diet full of fish,greens,and quality fats. It is relatively cheap to get genetic testing now compared to a few years ago and I still recommend people do it because it is inexpensive now and easily done from home with 23andme. Get tested and be conscious of what you are predisposed to and don't light the fuse!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In conclusion we have access to so may great resources on the subject of weight loss/management. This is my quick take on the big factors and I think if you are looking to finally drop that weight or just get to your ideal body fat percentage you need to educate yourself then apply the knowledge and then steer the coarse and tweak as you go to what works best for you. It may sound complex but the reality is all we have to do is start with a first step and then move along in a positive direction daily. The simplicity of a great book comes to mind from author Tom Rath. His book Eat Move Sleep is a great read in just simplifying and getting started. The title says it all and I recommend it to open your mind to just eating right,moving daily,and getting your rest and recovery. Of coarse he goes over some stress management as well and again I truly emphasize that getting your mind right is the simple most important thing you can do and the rest will fall into place.

If this has been helpful in any way please give me some feedback and I always do my best to get people started on a positive and healthy lifestyle. Anyone that wants a jumpstart please follow this link to a health questionnaire on my site. I give a completely free health consult and assessment to anyone reading my info with no obligation after. All I ask is that if you find any of this helpful please share it so I can get my view and two cents out there. Thank you!

Ares Nikolopoulos

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