I don’t care if you eat “healthy”. I’m sure that more often than not, you probably do. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. No offense. I know your intentions are good. Mine were too. I grew up in a home where my mom very much believed in serving healthy, balanced meals. I studied nutrition. I made “healthy” choices.

Healthy eating and fat loss eating are NOT the same thing. A fat loss way of eating IS a healthy way of eating but the reverse is not necessarily true. I’d argue that the standard definition of “healthy” eating isn’t healthy at all but that’s a a discussion for another day. Today I want to talk about eating for fat loss.

If you consider yourself a healthy eater you might be focusing on getting adequate vitamins and minerals in your diet. You might request brown rice instead of white when ordering out and select low-fat dairy options at the grocery. Kudos for your intentions but that’s not going to transform your shape and help you reach your fat loss goals.

I wrote on Facebook the other day about a conversation I had while on vacation. One of my family members was asking me about Primal and what kinds of foods I eat. She shared that she wants to lose some weight and asked what she should be eating for breakfast. She felt like she was making a good choice – granola with fruit and yogurt – but isn’t getting any results. I explained to her that while that breakfast may be considered “healthy”, it is actually working AGAINST her fat loss goals and she needs a major breakfast overhaul. I’ll tell you why…

One of the greatest determinants of your ability to burn fat is your total carbohydrate intake. I’m not about to advocate a “no carb” diet because it’s not necessary for fat loss and I don’t believe in extremes, but hear me out. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin. Insulin regulates your blood sugar by ushering glucose into your cells. Insulin is a necessary hormone but it is a STORAGE hormone. It signals your body that plenty of energy is available (via the carbs you just ate or those it has previously stored) so it can go ahead and turn off all your fat-burning machinery because that extra fat isn’t needed for energy. At the same time, it takes all those extra carbs from your meal and sends them away to be stored as fat.

For your body to allow stored fat to be burned, insulin MUST be low. What does that mean in terms of your fat loss food choices? You need to watch your carbohydrate intake. A fat loss diet emphasizes to primary components:

  1. Non-starchy vegetables
  2. Quality protein

One of the most straight-forward ways to transition towards a fat loss way of eating is to start eliminating processed foods. Most are very carb-dense and offer very little nutritive value. Focus on whole foods – foods that are exactly as nature intended them.

From there, structure your meals around your non-starchy vegetables and quality proteins. I usually make sure that about ½ my plate is made up of veggies like brussel sprouts, cabbage, asparagus or greens, another ¼ from quality protein and that no more than 2 of my 4 or 5 meals include a small amount of carbohydrate such as sweet potato, quinoa or fruit.

When I am going to enjoy carbohydrates, I make sure that I time them appropriately to maximize fat loss. I have them in my first meal post workout or at my dinner time meal. I almost ALWAYS avoid carbohydrates in the morning. Here’s why:

When you wake up in the morning your body is in peak fat-burning mode. You’ve been fasting overnight and your metabolism is primed. While you were sleeping, cortisol (a stress hormone) was rising. It’s 24-hour peak is around 7am.  If you introduce carbohydrates in the morning, you introduce insulin. Your body is very insulin sensitive after your overnight fast and insulin and cortisol do not play well together. The combination accelerates fat storage. Not only that, but when you raise insulin in the morning (telling your body there is no need for fat burning because fuel sources are readily available via carbohydrates), it limits your body’s ability to burn fat throughout the day.

For that reason, I eat my carbohydrates in the evening when I am less insulin-sensitive and when my cortisol level aren’t at their peak.

Striving for a “healthy, balanced diet” in the traditional sense may not only not help you burn fat, it might actually encourage fat storage. Switching your mindset to focus on the nutritional pillars of a fat loss diet will get you on the fast track to your goals!