My last blog post was made
almost over a year ago. Last September, I stopped dining out, writing restaurant reviews and eating sumptuously rich food in a bid to invest in my health. My goal was to become stronger and more fit; that involved shedding some a lot of weight and getting more active. To celebrate my return to blogging, and since this is a food blog, I’d like to share with you the four most important nutrition and weight loss lessons I’ve learnt over the last 12 months.
Having done the yo-yo diet thing before, I decided to do things differently, and sought professional help. I paid big (really big!) and worked hard (really hard!) to achieve my goals. I began a strenuous exercise program and made many lifestyle changes, as a result of which I’ve lost
15kg 18kg since September 2013 (WOOT!) My cholesterol level has reduced, my blood sugar has stabilized, and I no longer suffer from acidity. I’m more active, sleep better, feel stronger, and have more stamina. Added bonus: Because I was forced to retrain my palate, I have an increased ability to taste and enjoy every morsel I consume.
I made some big mistakes along the way, but I have learnt from them. And that’s what’s important, right? So without further ado:
1. Losing weight is not the same thing as losing fat. I discovered that fat is the body’s least preferred source of fuel. Bear with me for an oversimplified Metabolism 101:
- Our bodies need fuel in order for us to breathe, move, even sleep.
- That fuel is glucose, released into the blood stream when the sugars and starchy or fibrous carbohydrates we consume are broken down by enzymes.
- Glucose that has not been used is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver
- Since the body can only store up to 270 gm of glycogen at a time, any more than that is converted to triglycerides and stored as fat.
- Excess triglycerides remain in the bloodstream, clogging up the arteries.
2. Deprivation can never be a fitness strategy. Ever. No matter how short-term, and no matter what anyone tells you. Aside from food and exercise, hormones are the single biggest factor in weight loss. Hormones dictate everything from hunger pangs to how and where you store fat. I knew about insulin (released in response to glucose in the bloodstream), and also about the stress hormone cortisol. However, I had no idea that the two were related. Again, a quick biology lesson:
- Cortisol is released in response to stress, but it is also in response to low levels of blood glucose.
- Its role is to trigger fat storage and release ghrelin (the hormone that tells your brain that you are hungry.)
- Strong cravings for sugar or starchy carbohydrates = cortisol in your bloodstream.
- Leptin, a hormone which signals to the brain that you are no longer hungry.
- Leptin does not affect your hunger levels from meal to meal; instead, it regulates satiety over the long term.
- Because it is released from fat cells, the more fat you have, the more leptin is released.
- Overall leptin levels therefore *fall* when you lose fat, resulting in increased hunger levels.
4. Don’t underestimate the need for medical input. This is not really a “nutrition” tip, but it’s important nevertheless. Breathing, sleeping, and eating are life’s most basic building blocks, without which it is impossible to survive. Whenever we see changes in these basic functions, our entire bodies also undergo systemic changes in response – changes that, in my opinion, can only be properly assessed by a medical professional. Fitness trainers and nutritionists are not medical professionals. They have specific domain knowledge, and often fail to see (or lack the expertise to see) the bigger bodily picture. What’s going on inside your body is far more important than the external changes that are taking place.
That’s it folks – my four most important nutritional lessons from the last 12 months. I have one last nugget to share, though, that has nothing at all to do with nutrition:
Ask the right questions, and make sure you’re getting answers. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt is that improving nutritional habits and achieving better health is all about being well-informed – about everything you do to achieve your goals.
To that end, I’d advise you to carefully research the credentials and actual work experience of any professionals you may hire to guide you: nutritionists, fitness trainers, aerobics instructors, lifestyle coaches… anyone at all whose advice you intend to follow. Don’t be swayed by fancy-sounding acronyms; conduct your own research into the various qualifications available in a particular field and understand what it takes to obtain each. For example, I discovered that ACE – one of the most common fitness trainer credentials – is a distance learning program that involves no practical training whatsoever. It merely requires that you be able to pay a fee, memorize the study material, and pass a theoretical examination. Similarly, all nutrition qualifications are not created equal. (FYI: This is apparently one of the best non-medical nutrition qualifications available worldwide, specifically designed for fitness trainers).
Once you have bitten the bullet and hired a nutritionist or a fitness trainer, make it a priority to inform yourself about everything he or she is advising you to do. Ask as many questions as you can, even if they seem silly or irrelevant. A competent professional should not only be patient – he or she should also be well-informed enough to give you credible answers. Double check those answers every now and then via your own reading. Oh, and please… “trust me” is never an acceptable answer – on the contrary, it’s a giant red flag that usually drapes itself over a lack of knowledge.
I’m glad to be back, and I hope you’re glad to see me too! Cheers, and here’s to eating healthily and well.