If I had the chance right now to change one thing in your life that would give you the body that you want - I know exactly what it would be...
I would snap my fingers and eliminate all added sugar from your diet.
Let me tell you why...
That picture up there is when I once lost 15 pounds in one day. It was during an ultra-marathon where I ran for just over 23 hours and consumed very little food. My Garmin lasted for about 20 of those hours and at that time told me I had burned just over 10000 calories.
That translates into about 3lbs of fat (~3500 calories = 1 lb of fat) which is the primary source of energy your body uses during such long distance endurance events. Unfortunately, my body did not just burn fat - it ate its own muscle as well.
In total, the weight loss was a combination of water loss (I was completely dehydrated), muscle loss, and fat loss - and it's really hard on your body. Doing an ultra-marathon is a great experience - but if you don't fuel correctly, you're in for a world of hurt.
More recently, I lived in a place where it was damn near impossible to eat a lot of the foods I usually eat at home in North America. Everything was made from scratch. No processed foods and little to no sugar. I found it very difficult to maintain my weight at 180lbs and hovered around 155lbs for most of my time there even without a lot of cardio-type exercise.
Contrary to how I felt after the ulta-marathon - despite some issues with the quality of the food (I won't go into why I carried toilet paper everywhere...) - I felt really good.
I use those two stories to highlight the fact that exercise alone is not the way to the body of your dreams. Training speeds up the process and sculpts the muscles hidden by all the fat on your body, but you can't rely on exercise to fix the problems you cause yourself by what you put in your mouth.
To put it into perspective - it would take a 180lb person more than an hour of heavy bag training to burn off one McDonald's Big Mac which probably takes about 5 min or less to eat. If the whole process was as simple as calories in and calories out, you simply do not have enough time in your day to create the negative energy balance required through exercise alone to cause massive changes in your body.
The problem is even harder to solve because foods are not all of the same quality. Some things you eat are more lipogenic (apt to be turned into fat).
Well, besides being the most addictive poison and destructive force to society I can think of, sugar comes in three forms:
- Glucose - your body actually loves and needs this sugar. Glucose gets into your body through the carbohydrates you eat. A process called glycolysis extracts the glucose so that it can be used as energy. If it is not used immediately, then it is turned into glycogen for storage to be used later on in your muscles and liver. When your blood sugar falls to low, your liver uses glycolysis to release more glucose into your blood stream or if you don't have any glycogen in storage - it can make some through other processes like gluconeogenesis. The big thing is that glucose levels are monitored by the liver. Like any excess calories - excess amounts of glucose will either be excreted as waste or stored as fat.
- Fructose - is not at all good for you. It can be used as energy like glucose, but it enters the glycolysis process at a place where it bypasses any check to see if it is needed. If it is not needed immediately for energy your liver transforms it into fat. To be clear - there is no issue with the fructose you eat from fruits. Nobody gets fat from eating apples and bananas. It is the high doses of almost pure fructose in foods like sodas and candy that go straight to your waistline or build up in your organs causing fatty livers and so on.
- Sucrose - is a combination of fructose and glucose. This is your table sugar. Your body can use the glucose present as previously described, but again - it must convert any fructose into glucose before it can be used - and we already know that fructose is not your friend.
Further, insulin is released when your blood sugar levels are high. It is used to deal with the high levels of sugar in your blood by either moving it into cells to be used or put into storage (i.e. fat). Fructose doesn't increase insulin production which means your blood sugar levels stay high for extended periods of time. This is what leads to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. Your brain actually registers the high blood sugar levels as a threat and the resulting immune response causes all sorts of problems and damage to cells and even cognitive defects such as those relating to Alzheimers.
Now that you've had a science lesson. Let's just break it down into what matters.
Sugar is poison. Sugar is addictive. Most of us are sugar addicts. We need rehab. We need to stop eating added sugar and processed foods.
I'm going to try and move you quickly through the 5 steps of grief that will inevitably occur when I say you shouldn't eat your twinkies, morning breakfast cereal, favorite dessert, or drink pop ever again. Let's just jump over the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression and move right into acceptance shall we?
Ultimately you need to deal with this loss on an emotional level, but here are the rational, logical reasons that should really resonate with you about sugar:
- There is nothing good in sugar. Sugar adds a lot of added calories to your foods and gives you nothing in return. There are no nutrients - no proteins, essential fats, vitamins, minerals, nothing... It's also bad for your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth love it - so eat sugar and you've got added dental costs in your future.
- Fructose kicks the shit out of your liver. Your liver is usually already full of glucose unless you've just had a really hard exercise session or have depleted it for whatever reason. If it's full - then any fructose overloads it and is automatically tunred into fat.
- Sugar is a poison that will kill you. Really it's true. Sugar will lead to all sorts of health problems such as fatty liver disease, insulin resistance that leads to metabolic syndrome and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, blindness (from diabetes), and even cancer. And it doesn't take forever for this to happen. Fructose has been shown to increase all the bad things like triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL, raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increase abdominal obesity in as little as 10 weeks.
- Sugar will make you fat - quicker. Not only does fructose turn directly into fat, but it doesn't tell your brain that you've had enough. Glucose will eventually signal to your brain that you don't need anymore. Fructose won't so you keep eating more and more and those calories have no where to go so they are added to your body as fat.
- Sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Now I'm not saying you should substitute cocaine for sugar, but in one study - cocaine addicted rats were given the option of drinking sugar water or cocaine-laced water. They chose the sugar. If you're prone to addiction - then even the smallest amounts of sugar could take over your life. While some people might be able to tolerate a little added sugar - those with addictive tendencies shouldn't touch it at all.
I hope that today is the day that I can make one change in your life that will actually have a real and almost immediate effect. It's time for a sugar detox. Stop eating sugar or foods with added sugar - full stop. Don't just cut back. Go cold turkey and cut it out completely. One of two things will happen:
- You will. You'll crave it but after a week you'll discover that you don't crave it nearly as much anymore. You'll start feeling and looking better - even younger. You might even lose some fat. Your body will simply start working better.
- You'll try but the cravings will be so bad or habits so engrained that you'll fall off the wagon in just hours or days. That should scare you at least a bit to think you're so addicted to something that you can't go without it. Unfortunately - sugar is worse than some drugs and way more accessible. The only way to deal with addiction is total abstinence. It might even require the same types of substance abuse programs that exist for other drugs.
Good luck - let me know how your detox goes? Maybe I should start offering the little badges you get for being 1 week, 1 month, 1 year etc... free of sugar...