The indulgent season of Christmas is just around the corner. So if you want to lose fat before the feast, see what Nutritional Director Rick Hay has to say about these surprising reasons you aren’t losing weight
It’s coming to the end of the year and you are still struggling to shift the pounds, that new year resolution didn’t work out then?
You’re not alone and despite everyone’s best efforts sometimes the weight-loss journey can come to an almighty STOP. The plateau. Could it be small lifestyle changes that you can make now that could help you shift some unwanted pounds before the Christmas feast?
Nutritional Director Rick Hay reveals five reasons you might not be losing weight, and you may just be surprised.
1. That trusty cup of coffee
Does it seem unlikely that you could ever get by without your must-have morning coffee? Are you as moody as the Grinch before you have your daily intravenous caffeine injection? Nowadays, coffee is an intrinsic part of modern life.
However, you might need to re-think how many cups of coffee you are having a day. Cutting down on coffee could actually help you reverse the direction of that dial on the bathroom scales.
‘Coffee is a nervous system stimulant,’ says Nutritional Director Rick Hay. ‘Amongst its many effects on the body, coffee can accelerate the pace of various body functions and, in so doing, our blood sugar levels drop to generate the energy necessary for such functions’.
You may think that means coffee can help you burn calories faster, that is sort of correct – but it’s not the full story.
‘When our blood sugar levels drop, our brains instantly get us to eat something to reset to those correct levels,’ explains Hay.
However, once we start eating, there is a delay between the point we have actually eaten enough and the brain getting the message that we are well fed, this means we end up eating more than we actually need to.
‘Our bodies also release glucose into our bloodstream from the glycogen stored in our muscles and liver. Again there is a small delay between the point at which our system recognises that the low blood sugars have been fixed and the point it signals to the liver and muscles to stop releasing sugar into the blood.
‘Ultimately, the result of these two mishaps is that you get sugar spikes in the blood which leads to insulin release from the pancreas,’ warns Hay.
Insulin is the hormone that promotes fat storage so if you get these sugar spikes often, it will have a negative effect on your waist line.
Try replacing your coffee with drinking green tea throughout the day. ‘This gives you small doses of gentle caffeine which won’t spike your blood sugar,’ says Hay. ‘And, it’s proven to increase metabolism too.’ Healthista loves Pukka Lean Matcha Green Tea £2.79 from Tesco.
2. Your hard-core training programme
To explain how the thermodynamics of exercise and foods go, let’s go back to the start. As far as food goes, carbohydrates are the first ones to be used as fuel because they release energy really fast.
Only when your body depletes its own stock of carbohydrates to virtually zero does it go into finding alternative sources of energy. That’s when you start burning fats.
‘If you go for a fast and explosive sprint, the very first thing your body will burn is its muscle creatine phosphate stores, but they only last for about 20-30 seconds,’ says Hay.
‘The body then needs to look for something else if you continue to exercise. This is where carbohydrates come into play. Carbohydrates are efficient sources of energy because they release energy fast.
‘Gram by gram, fats release more energy (9kcal per gram) compared to carbohydrates (4kcal per gram) however, they do so at a slower rate, so it is not a very efficient process’.
This doesn’t mean however that you should shun carbs before exercising, Hay explains. ‘Your body is constantly trying to synchronise what it burns with how fast it is burning energy at any given point in time’. This is where you can synchronise your activity to the rate at which the body specifically burns fat, with minimum effort but maximum satisfaction.
But how can you do that? The key here is to actually slow yourself down, not speed yourself up. It may sound crazy but it is true.
‘The body takes a lot longer to process and extract energy from fats than it does from carbs’ says Hay. ‘So if you exercise at near maximum performance, it will burn carbs in preference to fats because the compatibility between the rhythm of exercise and the rate of energy released from carbohydrates is near optimum’.
Hence the reason to slow things down and not exercise at maximum performance for your whole workout.
LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State training. Unlike its more famous cousin HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), which relies on short bouts of near-exhaustion exercise, LISS relies on low intensity, gentler forms of exercise performed for longer periods.
The idea here is to take your performance to about 70% of your maximum performance level. ‘This sort of training is much better synchronised to the rate at which your body extracts energy from fats and so it chooses to burn fats in preference to carbs and proteins’ asserts Hay.
Stop HIITing and start LISSing to melt away those unloved love handles.
3. Salt and sweeteners
Sodium is a mineral the body uses to control the amount of water present in our system. The more sodium is accumulated in our bodies, the more water is kept and not excreted in our urine, which may make your body retain extra fluid.
Now, don’t go crazy and completely cut out all the sodium from your diet. Sodium is an important component of cell metabolism and, as such, all cells must contain it.
That is not to say that a little added salt to your food to make it tasty is prohibited, that’s not the case at all but restricting it is certainly beneficial.
When we say salt, people immediately assume salty, savoury foods. But artificial sweeteners for example, especially sodium saccharide and sodium cyclamate, are abundant yet relatively unkown sources of sodium, which sugar-free foods and drinks are often full of.
Hay suggests that we limit the addition of salt to our food by using herbs and spices instead. Go sweetener-free whenever possible, especially when drinking tea and coffee. If you absolutely must add a little sweetness to your drinks, go for natural, healthy alternatives such as honey, palm sugar, agave or even molasses. These still contain a lot of sugar but they also have health benefits and little or no sodium.
Inflammation is the process by which the body enters a repair mode when it feels like it is either being attacked (from the outside or the inside) or when it identifies tissue damage. Two key substances are released by the body during inflammation, called histamine, which is a compound released in response to allergy symptoms and the stress hormone cortisol.
Increased histamine levels lead to fluid retention and when inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, the body starts producing cortisol.
‘Cortisol causes the carbohydrates stored in our muscles as glycogen to be released into our bloodstream and those trigger the release of insulin,’ explains Hay.
Acute inflammation histamine causes short-term weight gain mainly through the retention of fluids, cortisol actually causes an increase in fat tissue.
‘Stress too promotes the release of ghrelin and this starts a snowballing effect in your system,’ explains Hay.
‘As you eat more from the increased appetite you will release extra ghrelin, your weight goes up and so do your stress levels as a consequence. This, in turn, causes an extra batch of ghrelin to be released and on goes the stress-ghrelin-weight gain cycle’.
The liver is the body’s main detoxification organ and, amongst its many functions, it is also involved in histamine clearance.
‘Bitter herbs have a particularly high affinity for the liver and herbs. Milk thistle for example can speed up the process of histamine clearance. Not only that but a compound in milk thistle, namely silibinin, speeds up the process of histamine clearance from the body,’ says Hay.
A study has shown that milk thistle can actually help attenuate histamine release by cells of our immune system called mast cells. Another study even reported on how silibinin can subdue mast cell-mediated anaphylaxis-like reactions. Milk thistle is essentially a gentle and natural anti-histamine and can be very helpful with mild allergies.
4. Your bottle of sparkling water
So, you are probably thinking ‘I know this already, sugary fizzy drinks are not only bad for your weight, they are bad for your health in general.’ But it might not only be down to the sugar they contain.
A study published on the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice in 2017 showed that the carbon dioxide in fizzy drinks can affect weight gain by increasing ghrelin release.
Ghrelin, more commonly known as the hunger hormone, is a hormone produced mainly in the stomach and one amongst its many effects is an increase in appetite. It is ghrelin that controls your appetite in the short-term by alerting you it’s time to eat.
‘With regards to carbonated drinks, the solution is simple. Just go for their de-gassed, boring-but-safe counterparts. And yep, I’m afraid I’m going to burst the proverbial bubble here because that includes sparkling water,’ says Hay.
This study showed that, even though sparkling water doesn’t contain any sugars, or artificial sweeteners for that matter, the carbon dioxide itself, the gas that gives the sparkle to your water, can itself lead to an increase in weight via ghrelin release.
‘So the safest bet here is to simply dump it altogether and drink plain filtered water,’ says Hay.
5. The air you breathe
What? Pollution? How on earth can pollution affect weight? Well, it turns out in many ways. But then if every breath we take makes us a little heavier, surely there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell we are going to get any closer to our target weights, right?
‘There is increasing evidence to suggest that pollution can even affect our weight’ says Hay.
A Beijing study published in 2016 reported that chronic exposure to air-borne particulate pollution can increase the risk of obesity and metabolic syndromes such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
The pollution-induced weight gain was associated with the activation of pro-inflammatory pathways and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been shown to be one of the culprits in the development of various metabolic syndromes including Type 2 Diabetes.
Another study published in the world-renowed scientific journal ‘Nature’ reported on how persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs) can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance-related glucose intolerance and, again, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic syndromes.
Rick says ‘the fact of the matter is that it’s virtually impossible to avoid exposure to air pollution and chemicals such as POPs. They have permeated every nook and cranny of our environment. They were banned in the 80’s but their effects persist. We can, however, adopt habits to limit their negative effects.
Studies have shown that fish and meat (e.g beef, pork, and chicken) are the main food sources of POP exposure (e.g. PCBs). The results of the study suggest that food items such as vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, rice, seaweed, pulses, nuts, and tea, which are rich in dietary fibre, are associated with lower levels of PCBs in the sera of mothers and foetuses.
Organic foods will avoid chemicals such as pesticides from entering your body and their nutritional benefits are two-fold: the toxins that invade your body through food are neutralised by important chemical resources found in your body such as the calcium in your bones.
Going organic means that not only are you limiting the ingestion of these harmful chemicals, you are also ingesting foods at their nutritional optimum.