If you have been following this series, you would be shaking your head by now – having tried all kinds of diets but failing to keep your weight in check. Following initial success, your hunger and craving for carbs will increase within a few weeks into your regimen. What’s going on here?
As mentioned earlier, any meal containing a substantial amount of refined carbs is followed by a rise in blood sugar and a resultant release of insulin. This promptly helps in their digestion but diverts the consumed fat and proteins towards fat cells. As long as there is significant insulin in the blood, nothing other than carbs can be used by the body as fuel, and fat breakdown is inhibited. Repeated exposure to carbs, and genetic predisposition leads to a state of insulin resistance, where higher levels of insulin are required for the same carb load. This leads to hyperinsulinaemia (high insulin levels in the blood), pushing our metabolism into a carb-burning mode. Essentially, fats and proteins cannot be utilised and are regularly packed off in the fat cells while glucose is used for energy. Simple carbs are easily digested in 2-3 hours, and so, there is a blood sugar dip every couple of hours after a carb meal.
Attempting to cut carbs at this stage is very difficult – the body wants only carbs, leaving the individual with two choices; either she overeats carbs and has enough energy but gains weight, or she starves and has lethargy and fatigue and still fails to lose weight as high insulin prevents fat loss. Effectively the body is suffering from starvation in the midst of plenty; there are enough fat reserves to provide energy but fat cannot be broken down due to excess insulin.
This condition plagues a large chunk of our population, especially middle aged people (females more than males). The logical solution here is to restore insulin sensitivity. This can happen through refined carb restriction, which implies replacing them with fats and proteins. Further, fasting is a big help, 6-12 hours or more (within limits as prescribed by a physician) without any food is the best way to improve insulin sensitivity, especially in the liver. Exercise can help too –walking, running, swimming, weightlifting – all of them improve the insulin sensitivity of the muscles. In most cases, this restores a healthy balance, where fats and proteins are effectively metabolised by the body and resulting in fat loss. Of course, it is important to continue to consume fibre and vitamin rich carbs-veggies, especially leafy ones, salads and some fruit.
There may be individuals who have been insulin resistant for so long that they may not lose much weight despite the above interventions. They need to recognise that adopting healthy eating and exercise is a lifestyle change that is a reward in itself. These provide weight loss (at least some), increased strength and energy and improved immunity, even if one cannot be perfectly slim. And if one succeeds in making this the practise of a lifetime, sooner or later, the reward will come. Long term practice of healthy eating will result in optimal utilisation of all components of the diet, and a healthy, fit and energetic body will be the result.
This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: What is Nutrition. Next week I will do a deep-dive on “Guide to Healthy Diet and Effective Weight Loss Exercise”. Stay tuned.
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