In part one (How Fast Can I Lose Fat?) we looked at how muscles obtain energy. Initially they draw on their own reserves, stored in glycogen. But when their glycogen stores run low, muscles turn to fat for energy. When it comes to losing fat, we need to understand the rest of the process: how do we cause our fat cells to give up their energy stores?
Fat may or may not give up its stored energy freely, depending on hormonal conditions in the body. The human body uses numerous hormones to manage fat, including epinephrine, glucagon, and vassopressin. All of these help fat cells relinquish their energy stores. One hormone, however, interferes.
Insulin: the Fat Controller
Insulin may be the most important element in losing fat, because it inhibits fat use. High levels of insulin prevent fat cells from giving up their energy, while low levels allow them to release energy freely.
Changes in diet can drive insulin levels down, but the effects may not be immediate. If you have been overweight for a long period of time, you need to keep your insulin levels low long enough for your body to respond.
Insulin Resistance Stops You From Losing Fat
This is thanks to a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when an individual eats large quantities of carbohydrates, processed carbohydrates in particular. When this happens, your muscles store as much sugar as they can in the form of glycogen. It is insulin that tells them to do this. However, when they are full, they stop responding to higher insulin levels.
This causes your pancreas, which produces insulin, to produce even more. And while insulin tells your cells to absorb energy and store it, it also tells your fat cells to hold onto energy and refuse to give it up.
This is one reason why deprivation diets often fail: the dieter’s body isn’t on the diet long enough to break insulin resistance.
The Biggest Key To Losing Fat
So, to lose fat, you need to reduce the insulin in your blood. How do you do this? Since carbohydrates cause insulin levels to rise, reducing your carb intake consistently may cause insulin levels to drop. Everybody (and every body!) is different, so what works on someone else may not work on you. But all things being equal, reducing carbohydrates in your diet causes your insulin levels to drop, allowing your fat cells to release their energy stores.
Of course, simply having that energy available isn’t enough; you need to do something with it. That means exercise.
Managing Insulin to Lose Fat
Research suggests that people do not gain fat because they have become sedentary. Rather, it appears people become sedentary because they no longer have the energy to exercise. And the reason they have lost that energy? Not because they lack the fats and sugars needed to supply it; instead, they lack energy because although their fat cells have stored plenty (even a relatively lean athlete can have almost 50 thousand calories stored in fat alone), those very cells won’t give up their energy stores readily due to high levels of insulin.
This takes us back to the original question: How fast can I lose fat? As mentioned at the start, the safe amount is about one to two pounds a week. However, it’s important to lose those pounds properly.
A low-carb diet may help. However, once you have freed up the energy in fat, it needs to go somewhere. So add a walk to your daily routine, or cycling, or some other means of expending that energy. Gentle exercise is enough. Gradually you will break the cycle of insulin resistance and discover you have more energy – and you’ll be losing fat too.