The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this:
Reducing your carbohydrate intake lowers your insulin levels. Since insulin keeps fat locked into adipose tissue, lowering insulin can increase the amount of fat released to be burned for energy.
For the portion of the overweight/obese population with insulin resistance and chronically-elevated insulin levels, this is a fairly accurate description of why low-carb diets work so well. When you’re an insulin-resistant hyper responder in whom even a baked potato can cause elevated, protracted spikes in insulin that hamper fat-burning for long periods of time, or a person living under the backdrop of perpetually-elevated insulin, dropping the most insulinogenic foods can be your way out of obesity.
A few years back, I wrote an article explaining 17 possible reasons why you’re not losing weight. It was a troubleshooting guide of sorts, aimed at helping people identify some of things they may be doing (or not doing) that’s causing their stalled fat loss. The etiology of obesity and weight gain is multifactorial, and can be complex. Additionally, we’re all unique human beings. So it can be difficult to pin down one simple cause – or even seventeen simple causes. While unwanted fat loss comes effortlessly to most people that eat according to the Primal eating strategy – as the success stories and hundreds of thousands of positive user experiences indicate – sometimes we inadvertently sabotage our best efforts, stray from best practices, or don’t fully grok what we need to do to become efficient fat-burners. So let’s take a look at nine more possible reasons, shall we?
There’s a good reason so many people (mostly the sugar-burners, whose disparate group includes fruitarians, veg*ans, HEDers, body-builders, most MDs, the USDA and virtually every RD program in the country) can’t seem to grasp why a lower carb, Primal approach to eating is a better choice for health and fitness: their fundamental paradigm – the core theory that underpins everything else in that belief system – is flawed. They remain slaves to the antiquated notion that glucose is the king of fuels, so they live their lives in a fear of running low. The truth is, fat is the preferred fuel of human metabolism and has been for most of human evolution. Under normal human circumstances, we actually require only minimal amounts of glucose, most or all of which can be supplied by the liver as needed on a daily basis. The simple SAD fact that carbs/glucose are so readily available and cheap today doesn’t mean that we should depend on them as a primary source of fuel or revere them so highly. In fact, it is this blind allegiance to the “Carb Paradigm” that has driven so many of us to experience the vast array of metabolic problems that threaten to overwhelm our health care system.
There’s been a lot more talk in the mainstream recently about “caveman” diets and barefoot training. Primal/Paleo/Evo seems to be gaining in popularity and may be nearing the critical mass needed to garner mainstream appreciation. John Durant appeared on Stephen Colbert last week, Art De Vany was featured in Der Spiegel, Born to Run is a NYT Bestseller and my book recently made the top ten Health and Fitness titles on Amazon. Even so, we Primal types still get those occasional looks of derision or incomprehension when we show up at the gym with our Fives on and a bag of homemade jerky hanging off our belt to do a quick 15 minute HIIT session. I think there’s a sense among outsiders that the Grok fairy tale trumps the science within the Primal crowd – that the notion of living like a caveman is a cute ideal but irrelevant in a 21st century high-tech context. Of course, it’s not true; science always leads the way here at MDA and on most Primal/Paleo/Evo sites. But even with the science completely supporting the idea that we ought to emulate our hunter-gatherer ancestors in many aspects of life, I still hear things like, “I trust my doctor too much to give up the statins and start eating fats.” Or “I’m lazy, undisciplined, and I love good food too much to be able to change this late in my life.” Hey, me too! So for those of you who are looking for more detailed rationale why living Primal is best for everyone (including your doubting spouse and your parents), here are my 10 Real-Life Reasons Why the Primal Blueprint Works for Me.
I find that grain bashing makes for a tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying meal.
You all know how much I love doing it, though. But no matter how often I sit down to dine on the stuff (and I’ve done it with great gusto in the past), I always leave the table feeling like I left something behind. Like maybe I wasn’t harsh enough about the danger of gluten, or I failed to really convey just how much I hated lectins. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the mere mention of grains was eliciting a crazy insulin-esque response and throwing my satiety hormones all out of whack. I was filling up on anti-grain talk, but I just couldn’t fill that void for long.
Well, I’ve got the hunger today, and this time I aim to stuff myself to the point of perpetual sickness. I don’t ever want to have to look at another anti-grain argument again (yeah, right). If things get a little disjointed, or if I descend into bullet points and sentence fragments, it’s only because the hunger has taken over and I’ve decided to dispense with the pleasantries in order to lay it all out at once.
Do the Math
In my recent Context of Calories post, I explained how the different macronutrients we eat at each meal (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) have different effects in the body. I suggested that, despite their raw calorie values, it’s far more important to get a lasting intuitive sense of how much of each macronutrient you need and when you need it (or not).
But how do you do that? How do you figure out the proper number of calories – and breakdown of fats, protein and carbs – to accomplish your fitness and health goals? To lose weight? Lose fat? Gain muscle? Maintain status quo? Run marathons?
In fact, most popular daily diets look at overall calories as the main factor in weight loss and weight gain. The age-old conservation of energy Conventional Wisdom says that “a calorie is a calorie.” From there most diet gurus generally prescribe some formulaic one-size-fits-all breakdown of fats, protein and carbs. A classically trained Registered Dietician will tell you that protein should be around 10-15% of calories, carbs should be 60% (and mostly from whole grains) and fat under 30%. This macronutrient breakdown stays the same regardless of how much weight you need to lose or what other goals you might have. Barry Sears has his 40/30/30 “Zone” diet. The USDA bases everything on a choice of between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. But, as I said earlier, it’s not that simple. Calories do have context.