Thursday, October 25, 2012
I left things kind of vague in my last blog because I wanted to try this out for a couple of weeks before getting too detailed. It resulted in some very good questions, though. So I'll explain the concept of what I'm attempting.
Those of us who do low-carb primarily focus on lowering insulin levels in order to induce fat loss. However, there is another hormone that is instrumental in adipose fat tissue levels: leptin.
We are very complex biologic systems, so there are tons of biochemical interactions. The gist of it is insulin and leptin are hormones that directly effect the amount of adipose fat tissue we carry.
Elevated insulin levels turns on fat storage. Too much insulin circulating chronically can lead to insulin resistance.
Leptin is one of the hormones involved with hunger and satiety. It is also responsible for up and down regulating metabolic burn. The amount of leptin circulating is proportional to the amount of fat we have. Leptin lets the brain know that we have sufficient fat stores, so no need to eat anymore. Low leptin makes us more hungry, and slows down calorie burn.
However, just like insulin, when levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time, we can become leptin resistant. Our satiety switch doesn't work. We become chronically obese, and we can't burn fat. We have too much fat, and yet our brain keeps telling us to eat more and more.
I remember when I used to battle with 'willpower' to stop eating. It was always a losing fight. It's chemical. Obesity is a miscommunication of hormones that chronically increases fat and prevents fat burn.
Here are some ways leptin is lowered:
- Very low calorie diets
- Very low carb diets
- Insufficient sleep
- Strenuous exercise
Ever felt crazy hungry after a hard workout? Yep, that's lowered leptin levels compelling you to eat.
So how do you raise leptin?
Well, the bad news is leptin levels drop at a much faster rate than it increases. Once leptin levels crash, it is very hard to raise.
I've only recently started exploring the leptin theory, so I don't know all the ins and outs. The only thing I've seen on how to raise leptin is to not be hungry. When we feel 'full', enough leptin is triggered for our brains to say 'stop'.
- If you restrict calories, periodically have a high calorie day.
- If you low-carb, periodically have a high carb meal.
- Eat lots of fiber so you feel full, and leptin is stimulated.
- Have a rest day to clear out cortisol and other stressors (more about 'rest' days later!).
Once leptin levels plummet, it's an uphill, against the wind battle to restore it. So it's best not to get into that situation. This is but one reason why anorexics gain fat at an accelerated rate if they go back to eating 'normal' after prolonged severe calorie restriction.
Never EVER starve yourself to lose weight.
This might also be why chronic cardio goers tend to plateau despite vigorous exercise. Leptin lowers metabolic rate to counteract increased energy expended and decreased calorie consumption.
This is the idea behind carb cycling. Very low carb/calorie days clears out elevated insulin levels, but also drops leptin. High carb/calorie days raises leptin, but also raises insulin. Thus follow with very low carb. Wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.
Presumably this works better for people near goal weight because they are less likely to have issues with insulin resistance, which is a primary block to fat burn. For people just starting weight loss, an 'induction' period is a very good idea so there is a clean slate.
Some people may call this a 'cheat day'. I caution against that as an excuse to binge. I plan to use my high carb days to eat mainly starches: potatoes, sweet potatoes or rice.
As for why to sync up high carb with high intensity workouts, one reason might be because HIIT depletes glycogen stores. The more strenuous the workout, the more glycogen burned (and the more leptin dropped!). High carb/calorie, in theory, should replenish glycogen, and offset some leptin drop. Carbs/calories are used in a beneficial way, and hopefully less likely to be stored as fat.
This is what I'm attempting for the next few weeks. In my case, I'm hoping it will up-regulate metabolic burn.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
When you get into the single digits left for weight loss goals, losing even .5% bodyfat is cause for celebration and dancing in the streets. I *only* have 7-8lbs to lose as a goal milestone, but I've been stuck for over 3 months.
When I had 40lbs to lose, just cutting out soda and walking more was enough to lose weight.
When I had 30lbs to lose, I needed to eat cleaner. I eliminated processed and fast foods.
When I had 20lbs to lose, I had to cut back carbohydrates. 160g carbs was simply too high for me. Eating less than 100g carbs trimmed off fat nicely.
Now that I have less than 10lbs to lose, what to do?
I'm experimenting with carb cycling. This is a technique used by bodybuilders to trim fat before competition. While I am not even close to a bodybuilder, I thought it might do the trick to kick start fat burn again.
Basically it works by alternating no carb, low carb, and high carb days. No carb clears out fat storage hormones (insulin). High carb resets leptin and muscle growth hormones. Both of which can get out of whack on very low carb and very high carb diets. Carb cycling, the theory goes, juggles the hormones around to optimize fat loss. It's supposed to work better when a person is already at normal or low body fat levels. So I'm giving it a try.
I'm also upping the intensity of my workouts with circuit training to increase both calorie burn and resistance. I'm all about efficiency, and circuit training is more bang for the time buck. It's been pretty brutal this week, but I think it's working.
My plan is something like this:
No carb (less than 40g): Veggies/Protein
Low Carb (less than 80g): Veggies/Protein/Fruit
High Carb (approx 100-120g): Veggies/Protein/Fruit/Starch
"No carb" isn't exactly 0, and "high carb" isn't exactly high for my purposes.
It's cycled like this:
Mon: No Carb
Tues: Low Carb
Weds: High Carb
Thurs: No Carb
Fri: No Carb
Sat: Low Carb
Sun: High Carb
That means a couple of days a week and on weekends I can indulge in a side of mashed potatoes, rice, bread or even a small dessert.
My exercise routine is alternating between short, high intensity (elliptical/spinning/circuit x30mins) and long, low intensity (walking/cycling x1hr+) - 3x HIIT and 4x LIIT.
I'll let you know in a few weeks if this does the trick.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I can't believe October is almost over. How did it go so fast?
Here in the south, the weather is just now getting lovely. DH and I have been enjoying weekend walks on the beaches without fear of blistering sunburns.
For my October goals, I've done pretty well on my diet. After eating a bunch of birthday cakes in September, I went through a few weeks of reboot.
Exercise, though, I'd only rate myself as fair. While DH and have been getting our weekend exercise, I need a stronger effort on the weekdays. I retooled my plan starting yesterday. My schedule is going to look something like this:
Monday: 30 mins HIIT elliptical (done!)
Tuesday: 30 Day Shred DVD (done!)
Wednesday: 60 mins indoor cycling
Thursday: 30 Day Shred DVD
Friday: 30 mins HIIT elliptical
Saturday: 2+ hour beach cycling
Sunday: Easy walk around park or beach
I'm mixing it up. I'll be doing my best to carry this routine into November, hopefully heading off any weight gain going into the holidays!
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I enjoy watching TV shows on my iPod Touch while working out. I'll be honest and admit that I find treadmills, ellipticals and the like to be a drag. I'd much rather be on my real bike with the wind in my face, but as we all know, realities of modern life doesn't make that possible regularly. So, in order to get my exercise, I have to do what makes it bearable. That means TV, movies or music on my iPod. TV shows are ideal for getting my 30-45 minute workouts done.
I watched "Lost", "Desperate Housewives", "Heroes", and "Battlestar Galactica" during my workouts in the past. But I don't watch a lot of network TV, so I'm out of the loop on what's the latest and greatest. I'm not a big fan of reality TV. The last reality TV show I watched was "Real World: Seattle"!
Are there any shows you are particularly enjoying these days? Since I will be watching them in a public place, the show needs to be PG-13, so no HBO series, unfortunately!
Monday, October 15, 2012
Over the years, I've experimented with intense exercise for short periods and low intensity for long periods for weight loss. 30 minutes 'jogging' on the elliptical versus 1 or 2 hours cycling, for example. Which one was better?
In the beginning when I first started, it was either. Just getting up and doing anything seemed to work. But I eventually reached diminishing returns.
These days, a mix of both is ideal. From my observation, though, I'm going to say low intensity exercise for longer time works better for losing fat.
There's a lot of controversy about the so called 'fat burning zone'. Exercising at low intensity burns a higher percentage of fat than high intensity. But high intensity burns more calories.
From my perspective, HI helps more in maintenance as the calories burned will be less likely to persist as stored fat. But when weight loss is the goal, LI is ideal for trimming off stored fat.
However, LI exercise requires more time invested, which is prohibitive for many people with jobs and families to juggle. Higher intensity exercise can reap benefit in 30 minutes. Studies consistently show that the true fat burning efficiency from low intensity exercise doesn't kick in until at least a hour. This seems to explain why my 4 hour day hikes on the weekends used to shred fat at a superior rate to my weekday gym rat schedule.
Spark and most dietary opinions believe that short but high intensity exercise is just as good as long and low intensity. There are countless articles about the 'fat burning zone' myth. If you are short on time, definitely some exercise is better than none, and I am certainly a fan of HIIT. However, my personal opinion is to not completely dismiss the low intensity exercises. Just make sure to do them for a longer period of time. A two hour walk on the beach or at the park with the dog or kids may just be the trick to boost a weight loss stall.
But as I've repeatedly stressed, the best exercise still won't reap reward without a good diet to go with it.
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