More to Dropping Body Fat Than Calories


By: Tony Ferrao – January 2013

So, you’re looking to drop some body fat and some inches from the waist line? You know the answer is diet and exercise, but do you know the variables involved in the equation? Let’s focus specifically with diet and nutrition. Are you a calorie counter?

Think about the concept of counting the average amount of energy in a very specific amount and type of food you want to eat. Now think of every other animal on this planet that lives and eats in their natural environment. Have you ever seen a tiger in the wild with a pocket guide on how many calories are in an adult gazelle? How would the tiger measure his serving? How does it calculate the calories and know when to stop munching on the gazelle? These same questions come to mind when you think about humans before we knew as much about food energy as we do now. The answer is hormones and enzymes!

Body weight, as much of what happens in our bodies, is regulated by hormones and feedback systems. And the food energy that is found in carbohydrates, protein and fats is converted to fuel that cells can actually use by substances called enzymes, which act as catalysts in a chemical reaction. Remember high school chemistry?

Still focused on calories? Let’s say the average adult woman should consume between 1200 to 1500 calories a day. Take into account that a large Big Mac meal is 1370 calories, which puts you right in your range with great efficiency. One meal and done! Men could super-size it and be fine! Or, let’s save the money and just eat butter in an amount equal to the exact calories you should eat.

I think we all know that is definitely not the way to go for proper nutrition, but it fits the calorie range so nicely! So, it’s not all about the calories, then, right? Right!

As with most things, quality is better than quantity. The quality of the food has to do more with nutrient content, both variety and density of nutrients, than with calories. Nutrition is all about delivering nutrients to the body without negatively affecting hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that allow tissues and cells of the body to communicate with each other for various processes to happen, like altering metabolism.

Insulin is a hormone that most people are familiar with. Its primary job is to get liver, muscle and fat cells to take sugar in from the blood stream. In the cells of the muscles and liver, sugar is stored as glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate. In the fat (adipose) cells it is stored as triglycerides (fat).

This process is very natural and important. Moreover, insulin should have a limited and part-time job with us. Unfortunately, it is a hormone that works over-time more often than not, unless you are limiting foods that call on insulin regularly. According to Leninger’s Principles of Biochemistry, 5th edition, “High blood glucose elicits the release of insulin, which speeds the uptake of glucose by tissues and favors the storage of fuels as glycogen and triacyglycerols, while inhibiting fatty acid mobilization in adipose tissue.” Said another way eating more carbohydrates than the muscle and liver can store in specific finite amounts will cause fat cells to take up the excess carbohydrate as fat in unlimited amounts. Scary, huh?

As for the enzymes that convert food energy to cellular energy, there is one in particular to consider when an increase in fat metabolism is wanted, AMPK. That is Adenosine Monophosphate Kinase. Don’t worry it won’t be on the test. This enzyme basically tracks energy levels in the cells. When the energy levels drop, AMPK is activated to replenish the cellular energy in a similar way to recharging batteries. As you can imagine, this is a very important enzyme! What’s interesting is that research from Colorado State University shows this enzyme responds best to low carbohydrate diets, regardless of how many calories are consumed. And you want this enzyme active, as it promotes increased fat metabolism and an increase in total number of mitochondria, the part of the cell that acts as the energy plant!

So, if you are looking to drop some body fat it is more important to look at the quality of the food you are choosing than the amount of calories in just anything. When you eat a diet based on clean and natural foods, your body’s hormones will regulate metabolism and body fat. Just like the tiger in the wild.

To keep insulin production low and maximize AMPK, you must avoid foods with high concentrations of carbohydrates, like sugar, grains, potatoes, bread, pastries, processed foods, cereals and pasta. Instead chose fresh fruits, leafy greens and other vegetables that are high in nutrients and low in carbohydrates. Don’t worry about getting “enough” carbohydrates in your diet. Your body can produce them through a process called gluconeogenesis, anyway.