When I did a complete 180 of my diet about two years ago, it was mostly because I learned this simple (yet surprisingly not well-known) fact:
The human body can run on one of two energy sources: sugar or fat.
Which is better? After brief consideration of some more facts, I’ll let you be the judge…
Side effects of a sugar burner:
- A sugar burner can’t burn stored fat for energy. This means that any fat cells currently present in the body are there to stay. In the sugar-burning state, the body is completely busy burning sugar; thus, it cannot burn fat stores. This leads to both weight gain and an increased risk of chronic illness.
- A sugar burner doesn’t burn dietary fat for energy. When a person in the sugar-burning state consumes fat, the body doesn’t burn it off. Rather, the body exclusively burns sugars and/or carbohydrates and stores the dietary fat, which accumulates and again contributes to both weight gain and an increased risk of chronic illness.
- A sugar burner is constantly hungry and experiences periods of withdrawal (in the form of lightheadedness, headaches, etc.) when not eating. When a person in this state goes a few hours without food or skips an entire meal, he or she becomes outrageously hungry. Humans evolved burning fat for energy, but see numbers 1 and 2 above: this person burns sugar, not fat. Thus, once all of the blood sugar from the person’s sugar-centric diet is all used up, hunger pangs set in. Constant eating is a must. (At one point in my life when I thought I was eating the “healthiest,” I was, in fact, in a constant sugar-burning state. I was hungry and angry–hangry!–all the time! See this prior blog post to read about my experience.)
Side effects of a fat burner:
- A fat burner can burn stored fat for energy. Therefore, a person in this state can say SEE YA to any extra body fat he or she has gained (and likely tried to lose, possibly unsuccessfully) over the years once and for all. This person can finally achieve his or her optimal weight, which reduces his or her risk of chronic illness.
- A fat burner does burn dietary fat for energy. Since the body runs on fat as its fuel source, it must burn up the fat this person eats rather than storing it on the body, which–you guessed it!–leads to both optimal weight and a reduced risk of chronic illness.
- A fat burner feels fine when not eating for several hours and even skipping meals. A person in this state is no longer dependent on the availability of food for his or her happiness or energy. When this person skips a meal, his or her body still eats. But how? See #1! This person’s body eats up any stored fat for its energy.
So, to summarize, you can choose between these two options: 1) You can be the type of person who easily packs on extra pounds and is always anxiously anticipating the next meal, probably while experiencing lightheaded-ness, headaches, and moodiness OR 2) You can be the type of person who is a fat-burning powerhouse (meaning you easily drop any extra weight and/or maintain the most optimal body weight) and is not dependent on constant snacks and meals to feel amazing. Oh, and for option #2, don’t forget to throw in that side of “reduced risk for chronic illness”!
How do you know if you’re currently a sugar burner or a fat burner?
First, consider your diet overall. What do you eat, predominately? If refined carbohydrates (see a comprehensive list of refined carbs here), sugars (both refined and natural), and grains make up a sizable portion of your diet, you’re likely a sugar burner.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you hungry the moment you wake up each morning?
- If you were to skip breakfast, would you feel lightheaded, unfocused, and/or headache-y?
- Between meals, do you feel hunger pangs and eat snacks?
- Do you find yourself saying or thinking, “I’m starving! If I don’t eat as soon as possible, it’s not going to be pretty…”
- Do you have have to eat something before you exercise?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re likely a sugar burner, which is really no surprise at all. Currently, most Americans are sugar burners, which is one of the primary reasons–if not the primary reason–chronic illness is on the rise. Any American following the government’s MyPlate guidelines and eating foods that fall under the Standard American Diet–a diet centered on processed foods, whole grains, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, vegetable oils, refined sugars, etc.–will inevitably be a sugar burner. (Note: The “sugar” in “sugar burner” pertains to refined grains, as well, because these lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin after meals. So, you can think of cereal, bread, pasta, and the like as foods that prevent your body from switching into its desired and optimized fat-burning mode.)
Two years ago, I chose option #2–the path to becoming a fat burner–and I’ve never looked back. I can’t even explain in words how much better I feel; it’s something that you’d have to experience for yourself.
Whether you realize it or not, your body is begging you to allow it to burn fat, not sugar.
In this era of fast food and quick snacks, we consume overwhelming amounts of refined carbohydrates that throw our bodies out of whack and create havoc in our organs. (Enter: the long and ever-growing list of chronic illnesses including diabetes, autoimmune disease, heart disease, etc.) In the evolutionary scheme of things, we did not have access to these fast carbs, and we were better off! It’s no coincidence that the rise in sugar consumption mirrors the rise in obesity.
It’s also no coincidence that the rise in obesity mirrors the rise in chronic illness. Our bodies are evolutionary predisposed to consume whole foods and healthy fats, and they absolutely thrive in the fat-burning state.
Still not convinced? Check out this article by Mark Sisson, godfather of the primal health movement, for a comprehensive explanation as to why humans are–and always have been–better off burning fat than sugar.
Ready to become a fat-adapted, fat-burning powerhouse?
Here’s the recipe for success: EAT healthy fats, carbohydrates, and (minimal) sugar in the form of whole foods (e.g., meat, veggies, fruit, fish, cheese, etc.). DON’T EAT refined carbohydrates and sugar or grains. It’s that simple.
Since grocery stores are filled with processed foods, grains, and other garbage, what should be simple can feel extremely challenging.
Fortunately, websites like dietdoctor.com are filled with resources in the form of visuals and guides to help you on your journey. Here is one of my favorite images from the site:
Take a close look at that spread and notice that there is no space for bread (made from highly processed wheat no matter what “whole grain” promises it makes), cereal (absolute empty, unfulfilling calories), candy bars, ice cream, energy bars, sugary granola, run-of-the-mill crackers, etc.
Clearly, the fat-adapted diet is more simple and less sexy than the diet you’re probably eating right now. Possibly, this recipe for success even seems “un-fun” to you. Again, you’d have to experience the benefits for yourself to realize that your improved health, mental clarity, and mood completely outweigh any perceived sacrifices. If refusing to give up that bowl of cereal is keeping you in a sugar-burning state and keeping those extra 20 pounds on your waistline BUT eating two hard boiled eggs instead could help bump you towards the most optimal health you’ve ever experienced, isn’t the sacrifice actually eating the cereal? When you reframe your diet, you must also reframe your thinking to focus on what you’ll gain rather than what you’ll lose. (Well, there’s one loss you can focus on: the incredible weight loss you’ll experience!) Also, remember that there is always a time and place for treats if you live in “The Bliss of 80-20“! Once you’re established in a fat-burning state, the occasional scoop of ice cream is not going to permanently bump you out of it. However, it’s important to be honest with yourself and to make treats the exception, not the norm.
I’m all in! How long will it take me to become fat-adapted?
Really, it depends on several factors. See this informative article by expert Dr. David Ludwig: “Adapting to Fat on a Low-Carb Diet“
It can take several weeks, so don’t give up if you don’t feel the results right away. And, unfortunately, you may feel worse before you feel better. Since your body is going to have to completely revamp and learn how to burn fat rather than sugar, you may experience what some people have named the “keto flu.” Just knowing that this is a possible–but short-lived!–side effect will help you to maintain focus and determination; if you feel terrible at first, it’s a great sign that you’re on the right track!
Final thought: Think it’s impossible to exercise in the absence of carbs?
Think again! More and more ultra athletes are realizing the benefits of performing in a fat-adapted state. Chances are you’re not an ultra athlete; you probably spend about an hour at the gym. Thus, you’ll be just fine! If an ultra runner can race in the fat-adapted state, you can certainly make it through your hour-long workout in the same state. The goos and bars and energy drinks at box gyms are just a tiny piece of a large web of marketing lies. Don’t be fooled! Grab a handful of almonds and a bottle of water and hop on that treadmill. (Or, better yet, when you’re completely fat-adapted, don’t grab any snack at all and exercise on an empty stomach. It’s totally possible–and even preferable–for many athletes. Trust me!)
Once you’ve transformed yourself into a fat-adapted, fat-burning beast, please share your experience in the comments!
In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!
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