We have the power to turn on fat burning via our food choices. That’s pretty powerful stuff. What’s more powerful, in my opinion, is understanding how we’re constantly turning fat burning OFF via our food choices without even knowing it! There is one particular hormone, insulin, that loudly signals our body to turn off all fat burning processes. And many of us, especially those of us who are carrying extra weight, are allowing insulin to shout that message to our bodies allllll the time without knowing it! Today I want to explore how and why insulin sends that message and how we can eat to ensure that insulin does NOT send that message. Our control of our blood sugar and our insulin response is the primary determinant of our weight loss, energy levels, our cravings, hunger, focus, mood and much more. Here’s the bottom line that you need to understand: your body cannot and will not burn fat when insulin is high.
Remember that when we eat carbohydrates, they must be broken down into their smaller building blocks so that our bodies can use them for fuel. In the case of carbohydrates, these building blocks are sugars. To be used for fuel or to be stored, this sugar travels through the blood stream. Insulin is deployed in response to high blood sugar because it is the usher that helps take the sugar to its ultimate storage space. Think about it – insulin is deployed when there is fuel that needs to be stored, right? Those conditions make insulin signal the body, “hey, there’s plenty of fuel here, we are now in storage mode.” That message turns OFF any fat burning machinery. Why? Because burning fat generates extra energy for the body and insulin has signaled the body that there is already an excess of energy. No more is needed! Your body is efficient. The presence of insulin signals the body that there is EXTRA fuel. Your body won’t allow fat burning when there is extra fuel because that would be inefficient and it would flood you with extra energy that there wasn’t any use for. The presence of elevated insulin levels turns OFF fat burning machinery in your body. Get it?
In order to turn on fat burning in your body, two conditions must be met:
- The right hormonal environment
- Less fuel available than your body needs to operate
Most people only focus on #2. They eat less without regard to their hormonal balance. They don’t realize that the hormonal environment is what determines whether or not your body will allow fat burning. If you just create a caloric deficit by eating fewer calories, your body could respond by burning muscle and/or by slowing down your metabolism and signaling the body to hang on even tighter to your stored body fat! There’s another hormone that has to be in play for fat burning to be allowed. And guess what? That hormone, glucagon, can’t do its job if insulin is hanging around. Glucagon works opposite of insulin. Where insulin is deployed in response to excess fuel and facilitates storage, glucagon is deployed when there isn’t enough fuel and facilitates the breakdown of body fat to provide fuel for the body. Remember, since insulin signals the body that there is an excess of fuel, glucagon can’t break down fat under those conditions!
A lot of people will assume this means that we shouldn’t ever eat any carbs if we want to lose weight – that’s just not true – we just have to make sure that we’re eating the right carbs at the right times in the right amounts. So how do we do that? We’ll get there! In our next post we’re going to look a little more closely at insulin before we dive into specific strategies for how to turn on fat burning via the foods we eat.