Not many years ago I lived on sugar. Six coffees a day each with three or four teaspoons of sugar, consumed with several biscuits (cookies). Between the coffees I ate lollies (candies) all day which I kept on my desk at work. The afternoon was cake and chocolate. Dinner was small serve of meat with vegetables followed by dessert. No wonder I was riddled with cellulite, spongy and flabby by 40. I know about carb cravings.
Maybe you’ve tried “everything” and can’t lose weight. Maybe you’re pretty fit and workout yet can’t get really lean. Maybe you just want to get in GREAT shape.
But the carb cravings keep undermining your progress. You’re not alone.
In this blog I’ll show you 12 proven eating and exercise tweaks to turn things around. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do everything to get results, pick the easier ones first and go from there.
Carbs come in three forms: simple sugars, fiber and complex carbs. Glucose is the simplest type of sugar, often found in fruits. Another example is lactose, found in milk. When large numbers of sugars are joined together, they form polysaccharides and these are found in the foods we typically think of as starchy carbohydrates; bread, potatoes, corn, rice and pasta.
One of the biggest challenges to losing weight is carb cravings. That sudden drop in energy, feeling tired or irritable, the painful hunger pangs and feeling like…. I must eat something NOW.
The problem is we’ve trained our bodies to depend on fast burning carbs for energy.
Living in New Zealand, the winters are cold and we have a log fire. Fast burning carbs are like the kindling; they burn fast and hot. If used alone they need to be replenished often. Whereas fat is like the gum tree logs that burn long and slow; efficiently producing heat (energy) for hours on end.
If given the choice our body will burn carbs first, before fat and last of all protein. This is why managing your fast burning carbs is the key to losing weight.
The fastest burning carb is pure sugar (anything that contains natural or added sugar including sugary drinks and fruit juices) followed by all the processed starchy foods like cakes, bread, cookies and even “healthy” snack bars. Carbs that include a higher percentage of protein, fiber or fat (like dairy and whole grains) digest at a slower rate but still need to be kept in balance.
Fast burning carbs are often referred to as having a high glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how fast they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are rapidly digested resulting in big fluctuations in blood sugar levels (energy highs and lows) making us prone to cravings.
Low-GI foods digest slowly and produce gradual rises in blood sugar. Low GI diets have been shown to improve fat metabolism, control appetite and delay hunger.
The problem is that with our fast paced lifestyle and long days juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s easy reach for processed, quick fix energy foods and drinks to keep us going.
These fast burning carbs can sneak in, even for the healthiest eater. The problem is we burn them up quickly and then our body craves for more….
Here are a few typical signs and symptoms of being a carb (sugar) burner:
- Frequent cravings for starchy and sugary foods.
- Needing a regular “sugar fix” to boost your energy.
- Feeling overly tired late afternoon.
- Pre and post dinner cravings.
- Difficultly losing weight despite eating moderately and exercising regularly.
The energy our body needs comes from three types of food; carbohydrates (sugar), fats (fatty acids) and to a lesser extent, protein (amino acids). The oxygen we breathe oxidizes these nutrients and produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy powerhouse of our body. Oxidation also creates toxic by-products.
Just as some energy sources are cleaner than others (solar energy versus petrol), one nutrient produces higher levels of toxins when oxidized than others. Can you guess which one? Yes carbohydrates!
The toxic load when sugar is metabolized into energy is approximately 30% greater than fat. This toxic load has health implications and has been linked to several degenerative diseases.
The take away is, fat is a cleaner, healthier source of energy production in the body. The trade-off is, when we focus on burning more fat for energy we lose weight more efficiently and our carb cravings are reduced.
- Stable energy all day long.
- No cravings.
- Energy to exercise.
- Better sleep.
- Lower Body Fat %
Bonus Information: One of the main theories of aging is that the toxic build up from carbohydrate oxidation over our lifetime damages the cellular (mitochondrial) function of our body and brain. This is why very low carb diets are sometimes recommended by longevity experts and for various conditions like epilepsy and other chronic diseases. These types of diets must be medically supervised.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to do this, I want to clear up a few misconceptions.
- This is not about extremes. This is about making incremental adjustments to your eating and exercise to boost your fat burning metabolism. We all need a healthy balance of complex carbs (starchy and fibrous), healthy fats and lean protein.
- While healthy fats have many health benefits, especially for women – eating more of them doesn’t make your body burn more fat. This is a common mistake made by many women I talk to. You burn more fat by reducing your fast burning carbohydrates. Any increase in healthy fats are there for their nutritional benefits and to help make up the caloric deficit (together with protein) from the reduced carbs.
- This is not about “low carb”. This is about the type of carbs you’re eating and when (see below).
By managing the types of carbs we eat and when we eat them we can encourage our body to burn more fat as an energy source.
- Include more fibrous carbs.
- Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. Green leafy vegetables are ideal and be generous with your servings (spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy to name a few).
- Green juices (cucumber, spinach, celery and parsley) are great. They are extremely high in antioxidant phytonutrients, which help counteract the toxins produced by the faster burning carbs.
- Remember, when evaluating the carbs in a food it’s the “net carbs” that count; total carbs minus the insoluble fiber that isn’t digested.
- Moderate starchy carbs and eat them during the day (breakfast and lunch).
- Favor low GI carbs and eat them during the day when your energy needs are at their highest.
- For example, steel cut oats with berries for breakfast. Then a small serve of quinoa for lunch together with lean protein. Combine this with fresh salad vegetables sprinkled with a few pumpkin and sunflower seeds, a wee shake of Pink Himalayan rock salt and drizzle with a little flax seed oil and lemon juice.
- Manage your portion sizes.
- Listen to your body. You should be a little hungry before each meal or snack and eat just enough to take the hunger away.
- Include a small amount of healthy fats every day.
- The natural fats found in ground flax seed, nuts (almonds), seeds (sunflower and pumpkin seeds) and avocado are a great choice.
- Medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in small amounts (teaspoon/s) are ideal for dressings, sauces, spreads and cooking. Research shows MCFAs aid weight loss by helping increase feelings of fullness and lead to a reduction in calorie intake when compared to the same amount of calories from all other fats.
- My favorite oils are: coconut oil, flax seed oil and ghee.
- Eating too many sugary or starchy carbs from late afternoon onwards.
- Remember, your body will burn carbs first (before fats or protein). So take advantage of the overnight 8-12 hour window of fasting to eat fewer sugary and starchy carbs in the evening and burn more fat. This tip alone helps many women start losing weight even without reducing their calorie intake.
- Simply shift your sugary and starchy carb intake (fruits, oats, rice, bread, sweet potato, quinoa etc.) to earlier in the day, then limit or eliminate them from late afternoon onwards.
- This strategy prevents that post-dinner heavy feeling and encourages your body to burn more fat overnight while you sleep.
- Quick fix energy drinks, “health foods” and protein bars.
- The majority of energy foods and drinks are high in fast burning carbs.
- Check the labeling for any forms of sugar; corn syrup, rice syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. Note that ingredients are normally listed in order of % from highest to lowest.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol.
- Alcohol is the rocket-fuel that brings your fat loss to a screeching halt. Once consumed, our body places a priority on getting it out of our system, which means our digestion and fat burning metabolism slows right down.
- A lifestyle that includes alcohol several times a week, especially if you restrict your calories to compensate – results in a higher body fat percentage no matter what your weight and makes you more prone to cellulite. See this blog for motivation: The Truth About Alcohol: A Heart to Heart.
- Regular treats in moderation.
- Healthy eating should be balanced and sustainable long term. This means not feeling deprived which leads to the inevitable rebound weight gain. Keep everything in balance and enjoy your treats in small portion sizes 2-3 times a week.
- Being flexible.
- Many women put way to much pressure on themselves trying to be “perfect”. When the inevitable happens and we don’t make the right choices, we feel like all is lost and throw in the towel. Consistency is far more powerful than perfection. Just pick yourself back up and get on track again.
Bonus Training Tips
Exercise for fat loss isn’t just about what burns the most energy during a training session; it’s about what burns the most calories in a 24-hour period.
- Keep your workouts short and intense.
- High-intensity training doesn’t mean going like a crazy banshee. It means effort and exertion; sweating and getting your heart rate up. There are many ways to do this type of training including intervals, circuits and bodyweight toning routines.
- A properly designed workout will adequately fatigue your central nervous system and your muscles within 60 minutes to keep you burning fat for the following 24 hours.
- When workouts extend beyond an hour, cortisol is elevated beyond what’s ideal. If done regularly this will stress the body, inhibit muscle recovery and make you more prone to storing excess calories as fat.
- Increase your lean muscle mass.
- More muscle raises your resting rate metabolism so you burn more calories – even when not working out. We’re not talking about muscle size but muscle density. Strong, tight, firm muscles to shape and tone the body. Many women complain of being “skinny fat” with cellulite but they are simply lacking muscle tone. This can quickly be remedied by doing female specific workouts that build lean muscle.
- Avoid starchy carbs and energy drinks before you train.
- Consuming starchy carbs or sugary power drinks before or during exercise will suppress your fat burning as the body has a quick and available source of energy.
- Have a small pre-workout low-glycemic snack or protein shake instead. This will give you the energy you need to train hard with intensity and increase the use of fat for fuel both during and after your workout (more so than training on an empty stomach).
All of these 12 commonsense eating and exercise tweaks will help you transition from being a carb craver to a fat burner. Remember, you don’t have to do everything to get results, pick the easier ones first and go from there. They key is making small changes and being consistent. You don’t have to be “perfect” to get great results.
I’d like to leave you with one last thought…
Having helped thousands of women get their dream body I’ve found that many (especially as they get older), lose faith in their ability to lose weight, burn off fat and get in great shape. They’ve almost come to accept that cellulite, poor muscle tone and a sluggish metabolism are inevitable and that their “best body” is a thing of the past.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your body has simply changed. Doing what may have worked for you a few years ago (e.g. your crash diet, working out twice a day or doing your fruit juice fast) is simply not going to cut it for you today.
I’m here to encourage you that it’s never too late to make a change. You CAN do this. Take a deep breath, take a step back and make a list of a few simple but powerful things you start doing today based on what we’ve covered in this blog.
I think you will surprise yourself what’s possible and don’t forget to let me know about your progress!
P.S. If you need help with an easy to follow plan based on the tips outlined in this blog please check my Get Lean 12 Week Transformation Program. I’ll personally take you step by step through the process of losing weight and give you the guidance, support and motivation you need to get in great shape.