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This Is Why You're Fat (And How to Get Thin Forever)Eat More, Cheat More, Lose More--and Keep the Weight Off
By Warner, Jackie
Grand Central Life & StyleCopyright © 2010 Warner, Jackie
All right reserved.
THIS IS WHY YOU’RE FAT
It’s All About Chemistry, Baby
* Three hormones that make you thin
* Four hormones that make you fat
* Balance your hormones naturally
* Outsmart cravings
* Get rid of cellulite
In This Chapter:
Let’s start talking about why you’re fat. Fat control has largely to do with hormones. I always knew that hormones played a large part in how we feel, but I never dreamed that they were so responsible for metabolizing fat and maintaining muscle. Take testosterone, for example. The hormone testosterone is the reason, ladies, that your husbands and boyfriends can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound, while you count calories and can’t lose a pound.
My extreme interest in hormones happened in my late thirties after I went to my doctor, complaining that I felt tired and didn’t have the energy for my usual exercise routine. He did my blood work and found that I was terribly low in progesterone. My blood sugar was also low. I learned that low blood sugar is a precursor to diabetes, which runs in my family, and I learned that low progesterone causes sleeplessness and fatigue.
None of this was acceptable to me, so I started to research natural ways to balance my blood sugar and my hormones. As I researched, I was astonished to find out how much cutting-edge data linked weight management to hormones! Out-of-whack hormones disturb your body chemistry and cause weight gain. When you control your hormones, you can control fat!
Hormones, of course, are powerful chemicals and a crucial part of your inner environment. They impact every area of your life—how you feel, how you act and react, and how you look. When hormones are nicely balanced, your health is great. You enjoy strength, energy, and beauty. But when hormones shift and fluctuate, things can get pretty ugly. Having hormone dysfunction feels like you are constantly fighting a battle and never winning the war. You have constant cravings for unhealthy food, you feel slightly lethargic and depressed, and you don’t have the energy for a real workout.
There are actually four hormones responsible for making you fat and three hormones responsible for making you thin. The secret is to have all seven in balance and operating as they should. That’s when you’ll truly lose weight, without a lot of painful sacrifices, and keep it off. I’m going to tell you what all these hormones are, how they work, and how lifestyle affects their balance, so that you can get thin and healthy. Here’s the deal.
Hormones That Make You Thin
Human Growth Hormone: The Fountain of Youth
One of the greatest get-thin hormones is human growth hormone (HGH). It’s a fat burner that works in the following manner: Normally, your body uses glucose (blood sugar) for energy before it taps into fat for energy. But HGH reprioritizes everything. It forces your body to draw energy from your fat reserves first. This turns you into a fat-burning machine, even during inactive periods like when you’re sleeping. With plenty of HGH in your system, you don’t have to diet all the time.
Another great benefit of HGH is that it helps your body to grow new muscle cells. Normally, you stop making muscle cells after your teen years. If you do resistance training, you’ll increase the size of the muscle cells you do have. The number of muscle cells never grows, however, unless there’s adequate HGH in your body. So HGH helps you get toned and sculpted by creating more muscle cells.
HGH also gives you more energy, a higher sex drive, and youthful skin and hair. HGH is truly a wonder hormone.
But here’s the challenge: HGH starts plummeting through our thirties and forties, making it harder to get toned and look lean. Luckily, diet and exercise actually boost HGH levels, allowing it to rejuvenate and beautify your body.
So how can you naturally raise your hormone levels? It’s not as hard as it may seem. Here’s how I did it.
CUT BACK ON CARBS AT NIGHT
When blood sugar is low, your body pumps out more HGH. The best way to capitalize on this situation is to keep your carbohydrate intake low in the evening. For dinner, have protein and some low-carb veggies, but no carbs like bread, pasta, rice, or potatoes. HGH will then accelerate fat loss by mildly increasing your metabolism and boosting muscle growth while you sleep.
GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
And while I’m talking about sleep, you should know that sleep deprivation almost completely abolishes HGH production. Deep sleep is when the body produces HGH—so you’ve got to get a good night’s sleep every night. What I’ve found is that eating casein-rich foods like low-fat cottage cheese will help you sleep. Also, don’t drink caffeine products past three o’clock, and never sleep with your television on.
EAT HGH BUILDING BLOCKS
These include foods high in the B vitamins, like whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and proteins; the mineral zinc, found in lean proteins; and any protein-rich food. My nutrition program is packed with these nutrients, so you will automatically be eating HGH building blocks.
Many of our foods are loaded with pesticides and chemicals, which lower HGH. To avoid these body-killing substances, eat as many organic foods as you can. I’ll have more to say on this in chapter 6.
Intense workouts improve your body chemistry, including levels of HGH. Sprinting and weight training, both of which are intense training modes, have been shown to increase HGH release, improving your metabolism. The intensity of the training you’ll do on my program will help trigger greater HGH release.
But what about those over-the-counter supplements and pills promising to boost the production of growth hormone sold in health-food stores and over the Internet? There’s no evidence that pills work. Rejuvenation centers sell injectable HGH, but it is very costly and may have some dangerous side effects. So forget pills and injections. Rely on natural ways to increase HGH.
Testosterone: The Muscle Builder
My favorite hormone is testosterone, made in the ovaries and adrenal glands. While mostly associated with men, testosterone is critically important for women. It builds muscle, burns fat, boosts energy, increases sex drive, strengthens bone, lifts depression, and increases optimistic thinking. In women who have normal to high testosterone levels, it produces assertiveness—which is why I know my body produces it in spades.
The aging process makes testosterone levels drop. So do lifestyle factors like diet, alcohol use, smoking, stress levels, and your overall state of health. But this doesn’t mean you’re helpless. You can make your body produce more testosterone in the following ways.
EAT TESTOSTERONE BUILDERS
These include foods rich in beta-carotene (yellow and orange vegetables and green leafy veggies); foods high in B vitamins (found in a wide range of foods like beef, green leafy vegetables, and other veggies); and foods containing boron (fruits, nuts, and legumes). All of these foods cause your body to produce more testosterone. Other testosterone boosters are amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of cells, antibodies, muscle tissue, and enzymes. They’re found mostly in protein foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, and meats, as well as in certain dietary supplements.
WATCH FAT INTAKE
A typical high-fat American diet alters testosterone levels. The journal Modern Medicine conducted a study looking into this. Eleven healthy men, ages twenty-three to thirty-five, who ate a daily, high-fat eight-hundred-calorie meal of a shake containing 57 percent fat, experienced a dramatic 30 percent drop in testosterone levels. Could the same effect occur in women? Medical researchers believe so, since testosterone production relies on the right balance of fat in the diet—not too high, not too low.
If you really want testosterone to make you thin, you do need some fat in your diet, even a little bit of saturated (animal) fat. Saturated fats are essential for keeping testosterone levels up, but they also get stored preferentially as body fat. To get around this and still obtain the testosterone-building benefits, limit your red meat intake to three servings per week and eat more poultry and fish. Eating more monosaturated fats (from nuts, olive oil, avocados) and polyunsaturated fats (fatty fish) is a good idea, too, because they’re burned for fuel, and they don’t make you fat (unless of course you overdose on them). The best testosterone diet is a healthy moderate-fat/high-protein/moderate-carb diet—which is how my nutrition program works. This type of diet creates a hormonal environment in the body that burns fat and puts on lean muscle.
WATCH CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
How much caffeine and alcohol you consume affects your testosterone levels. Drinking more than two cups of coffee or four cans of caffeinated soda a day will make your testosterone levels drop. Ease back on alcohol, too. Frequent drinking blunts testosterone production.
Progesterone: The Slim and Trim Hormone
The third fat-burning hormone you want to balance is progesterone. High levels of progesterone burn more calories—as much as one hundred to three hundred per day! Progesterone is a natural diuretic that reduces bloating. It also helps prevent uterine fibroids and cancer, improves libido, and boosts mental clarity.
Every month, after an egg is released, your body secretes progesterone. If you don’t get pregnant, progesterone levels plunge, triggering a slow metabolism and low blood sugar. When your blood sugar dips, you crave food—usually high-sugar or sweet food—so it’s no wonder you can’t lose weight! Low progesterone also causes insomnia, disrupted sleep, and daytime sleepiness. Now is the time to change your diet and include lots of progesterone-enhancing foods that will make you sleep better and metabolize fat. Balancing progesterone is key to avoiding weight gain and energy drains.
INCLUDE PROGESTERONE-BUILDING FOODS
For optimal progesterone production, your body needs lots of B vitamins, in particular vitamin B6. It’s found in beans, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables, like bananas, avocados, spinach, and tomatoes. The other key nutrient in progesterone production is magnesium. Eat plenty of organic dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, eggs, meat, seeds, nuts, and beans. They are all good sources of magnesium, and they also keep your liver healthy. Poor liver function suppresses progesterone. Once you get started on my program, you’ll find that it works in harmony with the body’s metabolism and ability to make hormones, including progesterone, that regenerate the body.
Four Hormones That Make You Fat
Insulin: Spikes Make You Fat
Insulin is the hormone that, under normal conditions, turns food into energy. But if there’s too much insulin in your system, your body will store fat, and much of what you eat gets packed away as ugly pounds. And the bigger you get, the more insulin your body cranks out. It’s a vicious cycle. How does insulin get too high, anyway, and what can you do to keep it in line?
Insulin rises and falls according to what you eat, particularly carbs. All carbs, whether they’re from chocolate or whole-grain bread, break down in the body into glucose, or blood sugar, which is the fuel for your muscles and brain. Sugary carbs like cookies and some processed starches (such as pasta and white bread) are broken down into glucose rapidly; proteins and fats break down more gradually.
The arrival of glucose in the bloodstream signals the pancreas to make insulin. Sugary foods dump so much glucose into the blood so fast that the pancreas has to pump out extra insulin to drive glucose into cells. Blood sugar levels dip lower than they were before the sugar was eaten. This leads to hunger pangs and eating when we don’t actually need to. Once a hunger pang hits, it’s too late! Your insulin has already dropped so low that the next thing you put in your mouth will be effectively stored away as fat. Insulin spikes and dips make you fat.
Judith Rodin, a pioneering researcher in the psychological and physiological factors of obesity, did an experiment in which she had people drink sugar water to purposely spike their insulin levels. With high insulin, the volunteers actually ate five hundred calories more in one meal! Some studies show that even the sight of sugary, fatty foods can cause an insulin spike that starts a craving in your mind. So the saying “Just looking at those cupcakes makes me fat” is true!
If you eat processed and high-sugar foods (this means breads, too) long enough, your body can become less sensitive to insulin and require more of it just to get glucose escorted into cells. This situation is called insulin resistance. If you’re insulin-resistant, your body isn’t moving the food you eat into your muscles. About 25 percent of all adults are insulin-resistant. One in two people have it if they’re older than forty-five—and overweight.
Insulin resistance is nasty. It causes fatigue, mood swings, memory loss, and weight gain. It makes you sick, with terrible diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
Fortunately, you can eat your way out of insulin problems. If you add in just one right food like oatmeal, in place of one bad food like a bagel, your insulin levels will start to fall right way. There are other foods that, if eaten on the right schedule, will produce an even flow of glucose that will keep you satisfied. You won’t need superhuman willpower to lose fat, because your body won’t feel any cravings. Exercise drives insulin levels down, too. Once you start following my program, your insulin levels will normalize, and your body will stop storing fat.
CRAVINGS: THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND SELF-DESTRUCTIVE EATING
WHETHER YOU’RE REALLY HEAVY or ten to twenty pounds overweight, you know what a struggle it is to try to control your cravings. You may succeed for a few days, but then you just can’t stop yourself. This is not a matter of willpower. It’s a chemistry problem.
Cravings are a sudden obsession with a particular type of food—and they’re triggered mostly by messed-up body chemistry. When levels of the hormone estrogen fall, for example, levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin drop, and appetite increases. And when insulin is too high, you’d kill for a cookie, or maybe a whole box.
This is why it’s so hard to just eat a little bit of something sweet. Your brain is signaling your body to crave more and more of the snack.
Dr. Judith J. Wurtman, a nutritionist at MIT, has shown that eating refined carbs like cake, candy, cookies, or white bread raises serotonin and endorphins in the brain, creating a happy, peaceful state—which is why you turn to carbs when you’re anxious and stressed. These spikes of happy hormones make you calm only in the short term, however. You are literally self-medicating with food.
Some people crave sweets and others, bread. It doesn’t matter, because it all converts quickly to sugar in your body and feeds the cravings more. Fortunately, you can trick your system not to be hungry. Some tips to satisfy cravings the smart way:
* Reach for fruit when a craving hits. Fruit is your best defense against insulin spikes and the resulting cravings.
* Be prepared. If you know that the afternoon is when you’re likely to crave junk, stash healthy snacks in your desk, like carrots, nuts, a low-cal protein bar, celery with peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, or prepackaged foods under 150 calories and five grams of sugar.
* Beware of high-protein diets like Atkins. These ultimately fail because they cause serotonin levels in the brain to fall sharply. You’ll feel moody as a result, and want to reach for sweets and refined carbs as an antidote.
* Move your body. People who exercise regularly rarely have cravings. Why? Working out helps rebalance your hormones and increases feel-good chemicals in your body.
Estrogen: Balance This Hormone and Be Thin
Estrogen is a wonderful hormone. In the right amount, it makes conception and pregnancy possible. It’s also a natural mood lifter and skin toner.
Estrogen works in sync with progesterone, and both hormones need to be in balance. Progesterone is the estrogen police; it helps balance estrogen. In the right ratio, the two hormones help the body burn fat for energy, act as an antidepressant, assist metabolism, and promote sleep. When your body doesn’t have enough progesterone to keep the estrogen in check, you become estrogen-dominant. Unfortunately, in America, we become estrogen-dominant in another way: We are fed foods that cause the problem.
Estrogen dominance can wreak havoc. Too much estrogen in our bodies leads to weight gain, cellulite, and some female cancers. It also slows down your thyroid gland (which controls metabolism). Your metabolic rate drops like mad. There’s more: Estrogen causes water and salt to be retained in bodily tissues. This makes you look soft and spongy. This type of serious bloat not only makes you look bad, but also activates an enzyme that makes your body store fat. You can gain ten to fifty pounds of fat! A young woman can have the slow, screwed-up metabolism of a menopausal woman. Estrogen dominance can also cause anxiety, brain fog, low sex drive, and poor blood sugar control.
Environmental toxins, rampant stress, nutritional deficiencies, and the estrogens leaching into our food supply have turned America into an estrogen-dominant society. Here are a few things that can cause estrogen dominance:
* Processed foods or foods rich in sugar (this includes bread products such as crackers or bagels, too). Processed foods are practically devoid of fiber, and you need fiber in your diet. Fiber from natural foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables moves estrogen out of the body. Without enough dietary fiber, estrogen builds up and increases the hormonal burden on your system.
* Alcohol and caffeine. Having more than two cups of coffee per day increases estrogen. Alcohol impedes the liver’s ability to metabolize estrogen. When the liver fails to break down estrogen, it stays in the body and makes you fat.
* Estrogen compounds are fed to chickens and cattle to increase meat, egg, and dairy production. These estrogens can then get passed on to us when we eat meat, eggs, and poultry, or drink milk. Our bodies are becoming a stew of excessive estrogen stimulation, and it’s wrecking our health!
* Some plastics. Heating up plastics, either by microwaving foods in plastic containers or drinking hot beverages out of plastic cups, releases bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogen compound. BPA then leaches into the food, causing estrogen to be produced. So think twice before heating plastic containers in the microwave or drinking out of plastic cups. When buying bottled water, look for containers that have a number 7 in their recycling code; those don’t usually contain BPA.
ARE YOU ESTROGEN-DOMINANT?
IF THREE OR MORE of these statements fit you, you may be estrogen-dominant and should have your hormone levels tested.
I’m older than thirty-five.
I’ve been gaining weight for no apparent reason.
I have noticeable cellulite.
I suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
My periods are heavy and irregular.
I am often anxious, irritable, and moody.
My eyes and face are often puffy.
I’ve been losing interest in sex.
I have trouble sleeping.
My body retains water.
I have frequent headaches.
I often feel forgetful.
My breasts sometimes feel lumpy.
My breasts sometimes feel tender.
Under normal conditions, hormones do their jobs properly. They’re disassembled by the body and removed from the bloodstream. Environmental estrogens that we ingest from the food supply or get from plastics, however, tend to stay in the body and remain active for much longer periods, where they promote estrogen dominance and make you gain weight. To stabilize your body’s levels of estrogen, you need to reduce its production and assist its breakdown and elimination—all of which you can do by undertaking a natural approach. Here are some suggestions.
Eliminate sugar and highly processed foods. Look for organic meat and dairy products that are certified free of hormones. Boost your intake of whole grains, plant-based proteins, good fats, colorful fruits and vegetables, green tea, and good sweeteners like Truvia, which is a stevia-based sweetener. Stevia is an herb that has been commercialized as a natural sweetener. It is approximately three hundred times sweeter than sugar and has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels.
DRINK WITH CARE
Water (three liters daily) helps cleanse your liver and kidneys, allowing your body to excrete hormones efficiently. Avoid caffeinated beverages; while caffeine produces an initial lift, it also stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol (a stress hormone), worsening anxiety, fatigue, and other symptoms. As for alcohol, consuming too much can compromise the liver’s ability to metabolize estrogen, which can cause estrogen levels to rise. Minimize its use or avoid it altogether.
KEEP STRESS IN CHECK
When women are under severe stress, they’re less likely to ovulate. If you don’t ovulate, you don’t produce progesterone during the second half of your cycle. Without enough progesterone to keep estrogen in check, the negative effects of estrogen can become more pronounced. Stress also raises levels of cortisol, which causes other hormones to get out of balance, and decreases testosterone. Starting a positive and life-changing new program can relieve stress and give you an attitude shift. Stress relief starts when you take control over your life!
Cortisol Creates Stress Fat
Speaking of stress, if you stay stressed out, you’re working against your body’s natural desire to stay thin and healthy! Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands and is the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar, the movement of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into and out of the cells, and muscle function.
A single bout of stress—say, you swerve to avoid a collision on the highway—causes your cortisol level to surge instantly, but it soon returns to normal. Cortisol is meant to help your body respond appropriately to these occasional short-lived alarms. Chronic stress, however, is an unnatural state for the body, and when it’s sustained or frequently repeated, cortisol levels get jammed in high gear.
When exposed to chronic stress, the body is bathed in a flood of cortisol, leading to higher insulin levels and an around-the-clock appetite, typically for sweets and fatty foods. Elevated cortisol stockpiles calories, storing them in fat cells in the tummy for future use. It also causes a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, leading to depression, irritability, and cravings.
Elevated cortisol levels can cause thinning skin, muscle wasting, memory loss, high blood pressure, dizziness, hot flashes, excessive facial hair, and other masculinizing tendencies. That’s not so hot, is it? I know it’s so hard to live stress-free, but you can change what you stress over. You may not be able to control what happens at work or who does what to you, but you do have control over how you respond. Take an active role in balancing your body, and stop freaking out about your weight and food all the time. A healthy response to stress will make you naturally feel less stressed out. A fit and healthy person can easily deal with spiked cortisol, but an unhealthy dieter will gain a slow metabolism.
The good news is you can keep all cortisol hell from breaking loose by eating regular, healthy meals. Foods that keep cortisol in check include casein-rich cottage cheese, green leafy vegetables, whole-grain breads, mushrooms, and fruits, especially berries. Exercise keeps cortisol from taking over your body.
Self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, and over-the-counter drugs to control stress is just masking your stress instead of managing it. Stop the use of these “pick-me-ups” and you’ll get a consistent feeling of well-being. One month into my program and you’ll be less dependent on these things. I have seen it time and again with all of my clients. Your body will naturally start rejecting the bad things you used to rely on. With better habits in place, you’ll be less thrown by cortisol—and you’ll start naturally losing weight.
Leptin: Tame Your Appetite
The fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin. At adequate levels, leptin works as an appetite suppressant. In other words, it tells your brain when it’s time to stop shoving fries in your face. It also keeps your metabolism high and averts drops in testosterone.
But when levels are too low, leptin signals your body to store fat. So obviously, you want to keep levels of leptin high in your body, and there are ways to do that naturally.
EASE BACK ON ASIAN FOOD
Yes, it’s often greasy, but that’s not the only reason it can pack on pounds. According to a study in Obesity, people who eat lots of monosodium glutamate (MSG) are twice as likely to be overweight as those who rarely eat foods with the flavor enhancer. This is because MSG may lower levels of leptin. Next time you order at an Asian restaurant, have them hold the MSG. And check ingredients in foods: MSG is often listed as “hydrolyzed protein.”
FAT-BURNING FACT: LEPTIN HIBERNATES IN WINTER
DOES YOUR APPETITE get ravenous when the temperature plunges? Blame it on leptin. According to a recent study, some people may not process leptin as efficiently during the winter, causing them to gain weight.
Experts aren’t sure why this is the case, but they agree that better leptin production can curb your appetite and make you feel fuller.
Source: The National Institute of Mental Health
LOG ENOUGH ZZZS
Your body produces leptin while you sleep, so skimping on sleep can drastically lower levels.
It takes approximately twenty minutes for leptin to kick in, and you start feeling full. Eat part of your meal, stop, drink a glass of water, wait a few minutes, then continue eating the rest. This trick is especially helpful over the holidays or at restaurants, when there’s more food around to tempt you.
Seafood is known to raise leptin levels in the body, because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Shoot for at least two to three fish meals a week. Not everyone likes fish, of course. An alternative is to supplement with omega-3s. Take one to three grams a day with food.
GET IN SYNC WITH ZINC
Being deficient in zinc results in less leptin. Women need at least nine milligrams daily of this energy-boosting mineral, the amount in most multivitamin-mineral tablets. Zinc-rich foods include poultry and seafood.
The bottom line is that out-of-whack hormones make you fat and keep you fat. Manipulate your hormones and improve your body chemistry through the right foods and exercise, and expect to lose pounds. Once you begin my program, you’ll discover how easy it is to get your hormones under control and manage your weight. You’re the boss of your hormones.
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE to have a dimple-free butt and thighs? But as we age, our bodies tend to develop cellulite. Cellulite is fat that gets trapped between fibers that connect your muscles to your skin. The fibers are like the stitching on a down quilt—cellulite puffs out between them. The more fat you have between fibers, the more visible your cellulite tends to be.
Blame cellulite mostly on estrogen. It causes fat storage in the hips, thighs, and butt in preparation for childbearing. It also makes fat cells stick together, contributing to the dimply effect of cellulite.
But those lumps are also signs of an unhealthy lifestyle. Having cellulite doesn’t mean you’re fat—just toxic. You can greatly minimize cellulite with a few simple lifestyle changes:
* Drink three liters of water with lemon juice throughout the day to prevent water retention and flush the liver—a culprit in cellulite formation.
* Cut fried and processed foods and pass on the Big Macs. These foods ultimately interfere with blood circulation and lymph drainage. Sluggish circulation and drainage prevent sufficient waste and toxin elimination. Lymph builds up and makes cellulite appear worse.
* Go green. Fill up on these cellulite-busting vegetables: celery, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsley, green peppers, and root veggies like turnips and parsnips. These foods nourish the liver and have a detoxifying effect on the body. Asparagus is a great diuretic to help prevent water retention.
* Eat apples. An apple a day can keep cellulite away. The pectin found in apples (and carrots) is an important phytochemical that strengthens the immune and detoxification systems of the body.
* Exercise. It helps by increasing lymph flow. In addition, weight lifting builds more muscle, making the skin overlying your hips and thighs more taut. The tighter your skin, the less obvious the cellulite is.
You Are a Sugar Addict
* Sugar overload and weight gain
* Sugar addiction
* Hidden sugars
* How sugar kills
In This Chapter:
The biggest reason people get fat is sugar. I work with overweight clients who tell me all the time, “I don’t really like sweets.” After surveying their diets, I see that they’re loaded with bread, yogurt, and cereals—all foods that are laced with hidden sugars. They don’t eat plain oatmeal, for example; they eat a bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal containing eleven grams of sugar. If this sounds like your dietary habits, trust me, you’re addicted to sugar, whether you realize it or not. I know I was.
When I was younger, I was hooked on daily candy, Pop-Tarts, sugary cereal, and soda. Sugar became my number-one coping mechanism; eating it was part of my routine. I liked the instant high I felt, and I looked forward to all my processed goodies throughout the day. I especially loved anything that combined bread and sugar—you know, like doughnuts and cupcakes. Because of my addiction to sugar, I was hyperactive in school and had learning disabilities. But they all cleared up when I decreased sugar in my diet. I now know sugar for what it is: poison to your system.
I’ve said it to my clients a million times: Sugar is the devil. It has zero nutritional value and weakens your immune system. It throws off your metabolic functions and is highly addictive.
Years ago, I came across the book Sugar Blues, in which author William Dufty spelled out his theory that sugar is a drug, not a food. He called the sugar pick-me-up “mortgaged energy,” because “more and more nutrients are required from deep in the body in the attempt to rectify the imbalance” in your system. Once I read that book, I never thought about sugar the same way again. His book led me to design my five-days-on, two-days-off plan, in which you cut out sugar for five days in a row and let your brain and body start functioning normally. You’ll learn more about this in chapter 5.
But let me say this now: You will be so excited when you see how fast you lose weight on this plan—and how wonderful you’ll feel—after you kick your sugar habit. A lot of experts want you to believe that grazing on small amounts of sugar daily is fine. I’m here to tell you it’s not! Sugar is the most damaging ingredient in the American diet. It’s making you fat and sick!
Sugar, Sugar Everywhere
Sugar is the leading food additive in the U.S. food supply and is making us a nation of sugar junkies. You’re fed sugar in almost every product from childbirth on. It’s in practically everything you eat now. In fact, the average American downs thirty teaspoons of added sugar daily! That’s 480 nutritionally empty calories of added sugar every day. As a nation, we’re pushing maximum density. Headlines call it “an epidemic of obesity.” It’s no coincidence that this epidemic has progressed in step with our sugar consumption.
Refined sugar is technically sucrose, or common table sugar. The other sugars you need to be aware of include dextrose (corn sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), maltose (malt sugar), and lactose (milk sugar).
Refined white sugar was once scarce and extremely expensive, a luxury only the wealthy could afford. Early devotees termed it “white gold,” using it only to sweeten the most costly of dishes. The earliest attempts at sugar refining began in the fourth century, in Persia and ancient Arabia, where it was extracted from sugarcane and made into large, golden-brown blocks. Early sugar was less refined—it actually had nutrients in it—and wasn’t made with the nasty chemicals found in today’s counterpart.
You hear sugar advertised as a “natural” food because it’s made from the natural ingredients in sugarcane and sugar beets. Unfortunately, many people have come to equate natural with healthy. There’s nothing natural about sucrose! Ninety percent of the original source (sugarcane or sugar beets) has been removed. The natural brownish color is lightened by chemical bleaching. What’s left is white sugar, stripped of all its minerals and vitamins. Cocaine, too, could be advertised as “made from natural ingredients.” The coca leaf from which it is made is as natural as sugarcane. Both leaf and cane yield similar products—a white crystalline powder with horrible effects.
Sugar isn’t just bad nutrition; it’s health-damaging nutrition. Here’s what I mean: When sugar is found in natural foods and plants (such as apples, berries, or even sugarcane), it comes in a package with the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes needed for its complete digestion. When it’s found in sugar packets or in candy or in the disaster known as high-fructose corn syrup, it contains nothing of any good. The body actually has to borrow from its stores of nutrients in order to process it. Sugar literally eats up the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. This depresses your immune system, and that’s why sugar can make you so sick.
Your Brain on Sugar
When you eat refined sugar, it goes straight to your intestines, bypassing any chemical breakdown in your body. From the intestines, it’s absorbed right into the bloodstream. Your blood glucose level spikes fast. Your brain registers this sugar hit with a drug-like reaction. Sugar triggers the release of the same natural brain opioids released when shooting heroin, which are associated with positive feelings such as pleasure, energy, and euphoria. That release makes most people feel good, but it makes sugar-addicted people feel absolutely high. And when sugar is taken away, you get the same withdrawal signs, including “the shakes” and changes in brain chemistry, as those caused by withdrawal from heroin, nicotine, or booze. As drugs do, sugar stimulates the reward pathways of the brain.
When you’re addicted to sugar, you need more to feel better. Your life starts being focused on getting a sugar fix. And by the way, when I talk about sugar, I don’t just mean candy and cookies. I’m also talking about carbohydrates that are quickly converted to sugar, such as bagels, breads, croutons, rolls, crackers, and more. Their rapid conversion to sugar causes a corresponding hike in insulin. High insulin prevents the breakdown of body fat.
When you’re on sugar, the brain signals insulin to rush in and hold down the sugar. Glucose levels then plummet. The adrenal glands have to step in to release fat-producing cortisol to get them back up again. Blood sugar levels crash. You feel tired, irritable, jumpy, and mentally sluggish. The body’s specially balanced mechanisms are just not designed to cope with these sudden, rapid changes in sugar levels.
There is a built-in biological reason that we crave sugary foods. Back when we were foraging through the forest for any little nut or berry as cave dwellers, we developed a genetic predisposition for certain foods. Generally, the fruits and vegetables that tasted sweet were healthy, so we ate them. Foods that tasted bitter were often poisonous. Our instinct for sweetness ensured that we got the nutrients necessary to survive. Of course, our caveman ancestors never ate sugar as pure white sugar. The sweetness of nature for them came embedded in fruits and other plants. In today’s world, processed foods loaded with sugar are a common staple. So if you want to get thin, repeat after me: Eat like a cave woman.
Sure, I’ll admit that alcohol and drug addictions seem like worse threats—but are they? When you find out how sugar is linked to disease and depression, you will think again. If you think you’re sick now, here are the horrifying facts of what’s to come if you keep eating sugar.
Sugar Makes You Fat
Excess sugar wreaks havoc on every organ in the body. Initially, it’s stored in the liver in the form of glycogen. But the liver can hold only so much before it inflates like a balloon. When the liver’s storage capacity gets maxed out, glycogen is expelled in the form of fatty acids. These travel to every part of the body and lodge themselves in our fatty areas: the belly, hips and butt, breasts, and thighs. After these areas are filled, the remaining fatty acids get dealt out to the major organs, including the heart and kidneys. Fat nestles there, releasing toxic chemicals that damage arteries, blood vessels, and organs. Sugar also causes a sluggish metabolism—not to mention the worthless calories it adds. When calories go up, so does your weight.
Not only does ordinary sugar make you fat, so does another common additive in processed foods: high-fructose corn syrup. Made from cornstarch, high-fructose corn syrup is found in everything from cereals to protein bars to breads. The big problem with this crap is that it’s quickly metabolized as fat and prevents the body from knowing it’s full. This is why you can sit down with a box of cookies or chips and eat them until they’re gone.
Fructose as a naturally occurring fruit sugar—found, for example, in an apple—is absolutely fine because it’s surrounded with healthful nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber. But when fructose is extracted, refined, and made into a liquid sweetener, it’s a poison. Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are nightmares, and people eat too much of both.
Sugar Grows Cancer
Does it feel like everywhere you turn, someone else is getting cancer? Or maybe that someone is you. One in three people will get cancer in their lifetime. I don’t like those odds! My mother fought it with chemotherapy, and I promise you, it is one of the nastiest diseases that you can deal with. We all have cells in our bodies that, under favorable conditions, could mutate into cancer anytime. One of those conditions is a high-sugar diet.
Cancer cells multiply rapidly. This process requires a lot of energy. To get enough energy, cancer cells supercharge themselves with glucose. Cancer cells love sugar. Sugar makes tumors grow. You can help stop cells from mutating into cancer through diet and exercise. The most important dietary change you can make will be to greatly decrease the toxin sugar in your diet.
Sugar, of course, jacks up insulin levels. Insulin problems—too much or too little—go far, far beyond diabetes. Insulin stimulates cell growth. Unfortunately, cancer cells have six to ten times the number of insulin receptors—molecules that grab on to the hormone—as normal cells. So if extra insulin hits a preexisting cancer cell, it makes a bad thing deadly. For cancer, insulin is like pouring gasoline on a fire. All this contributes to a greater risk of cancer, because cancer cells thrive when sugar is available.
Here’s a partial list of cancers you may be at greater risk of because of sugar:
* Breast cancer. The chance of a woman having breast cancer at some point during her life is about one in eight. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. A study conducted in Italy and published in 2006 in Annals of Oncology found that breast cancer rates coincided with high sugar consumption in thousands of women. The more sugar women ate, the higher their risk. Another study showed that women who are overweight and have high blood sugar tend to develop a very aggressive type of breast cancer that usually kills. This research was published in 2003 in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. Is eating too much sugar worth losing your breasts, or your life?
* Pancreatic cancer. This is the most lethal of cancers, killing about thirty thousand Americans each year. It usually spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in the early stages. High insulin levels are thought to trigger this horrible cancer.
* Colon cancer. This is the third most common cancer among men and women, and has a higher death rate than both breast and prostate cancers. In a study from Harvard, people who ate sugar-infused junk like breads, cereals, cookies, cakes, and other sweets made with white flour were nearly three times more likely to get colon cancer than those who rarely ate those foods. The link between diet and colon cancer is just too strong to ignore.
* Stomach cancer. Pure white sugar without fiber, minerals, and vitamins irritates the lining of the stomach and intestinal walls. This increases the risk of stomach cancer, a deadly cancer that kills six out of ten patients.
* Endometrial cancer. This is the most common female gynecological cancer in the United States. A risk factor is estrogen. We talked about how estrogen dominance makes you fat, but it may also increase the risk of getting this cancer. Look at your diet: If it’s high in processed foods, you’re in trouble.
This is just the short list of cancers that may be caused in part by sugar. Cancer is a painful disease, and chemo is something you should want to avoid in life at all costs. It harms your body, and you may never fully recover. If this information doesn’t make you want to give up sugar, I don’t know what will!
Sugar Gives You Wrinkles
Sugar makes you fat and may increase your risk of cancer. Guess what else? It ages your skin and causes wrinkles.
In a process called glycation, eating sugar attacks collagen and elastin, both key proteins that make your skin look young. Glycation makes them less elastic and more brittle so they break. Your skin can’t snap back. That’s when fine lines and wrinkles appear, and they don’t go away. You’re stuck with them.
But it gets worse. Collagen and elastin start to mutate, creating harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These build up and cause further inflammation and damage to your collagen and elastin. Sugar actively ages you.
Ditching sugar will make you look and feel ten years younger. Save your money on expensive plastic surgery remedies to look more youthful, and put it into healthier, whole foods and treats.
OD ON SUGAR, and you set yourself up for, ironically, low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. The symptoms hit a few hours after a sugar binge: dizziness, weakness, tremors, sweating, even heart palpitations. Because sugar is broken down so fast, the rush of insulin quickly depletes the glucose, and there’s nothing left in reserve. You’re in a state of low blood sugar. About one in every one thousand Americans is walking around with it. It’s not only diabetics who need to be concerned with hypoglycemia. It’s everyone. Low blood sugar causes:
* Weight gain
* Slow metabolism
* Irritability and depression
* Constant cravings
* Mental confusion
* Recurrent yeast infections
* Chronic fatigue
* Damage to vital organs
* Coma and death (in uncontrolled diabetes)
Sugar Kills Your Immune System
Sugar wrecks your immune system. Eating just a few teaspoons of sugar can cripple the capacity of certain white blood cells called neutrophils to engulf and destroy bacteria. Neutrophils make up 65 percent of the total white blood cells in circulation. With neutrophils out of commission, you’re vulnerable to developing colds, flu, infections—even chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). With CFS, you feel inexplicably run-down and unrefreshed by sleep. You will not have the energy for intense workouts. And you will want to eat more. You’re as healthy as your immune system. Give up sugar!
Sugar Makes You Stupid
Our brains are very sensitive and react to quick chemical changes within the body, including those caused by too much sugar. Researchers now report that people who have even slightly elevated blood sugar concentrations also have short-term memory impairment. Researchers at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, New York, tested thirty people without any history of memory problems. They found that when volunteers were given an infusion of pure sugar, they couldn’t recall the details of a brief story that had been read to them. Recall was worse if a person didn’t metabolize sugar well—which is usually the case if you eat too much sugar.
What was going on? Scientists think that high-sugar diets disturb blood sugar metabolism. When blood sugar is out of whack, or you have trouble metabolizing sugar, this shrinks memory areas in the brain.
You can change the course at any time by eating differently. Don’t be stupid; don’t get stupid. Get off sugar!
To Avoid Sugar, You Have to Know Where It Hides
Okay, you understand that sugar is a major weight gainer, disease causer, and chronic fatiguer. Now let’s talk about how it’s cleverly hidden in virtually everything we eat, especially packaged and processed foods, from breads and crackers to soups, sauces, and entrées—and even diet foods and low-fat foods. But first, here’s my guideline for sugar: Choose foods with five grams of sugar per serving or less. The body doesn’t register anything five grams and under, so that is optimal.
Popular breakfast cereals are among the worst offenders. For example, start your day with a supposedly good-for-you cup of raisin bran, and you’ve ingested twenty grams of sugar—about the same as gobbling nine Hershey’s Kisses. Special K’s Fruit and Yogurt cereal, another product disguised as healthy, contains eleven grams of sugar. As for hot cereals, a packet of Quaker sweetened instant oatmeal—like Maple & Brown Sugar or Apples & Cinnamon—includes some thirteen grams of sugar, almost all of it table sugar. Then, when you add a cup of nonfat milk, you are adding fourteen more grams of sugar in the form of lactose. Don’t eat this crap! Only get the plain oats that have no sugar. You can add cinnamon, blueberries, and Truvia (a stevia-based sweetener) for sweetening.
Of course, children’s cereals are nothing more than candy. A 2008 analysis by Consumer Reports found that eleven popular breakfast cereals contain at least 40 percent sugar by weight. That’s at least as much sugar as you’d get in a glazed doughnut at the doughnut shop. The analysis was based on a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association.
As for the bagel you grab every morning, unless you get whole wheat or multigrain, your bagel is essentially three to five 1-ounce slices of nutritionally dead white bread. Some specialty bagels, such as Dutch apple & raisin bagels, contain thirty-three grams of sugar. That’s the same amount you get in a piece of chocolate cake!
Sugar hides in foods under clever names like beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltodextrin, maltitol (a sugar alcohol), mannitol (a sugar alcohol), sorbitol (a sugar alcohol), sucrose, and turbinado sugar. These sugars are in everything from protein bars and shakes to breads and dairy. Don’t waste your time looking at the ingredients on the label. You’re just going to be overwhelmed. Eat only the foods that have five grams or under per serving, and you will be fine.
ARE YOU A SUGAR ADDICT?
Sugar addiction is serious. To see if you’re really hooked, take this questionnaire. Answer yes or no to the questions below, and be as honest as you can.
Do you snack frequently on sweet foods or drink sweet beverages between meals?
Do you often feel shaky, weak, or irritable after eating sugary foods?
Do you eat sugary desserts most days of the week?
Would you describe yourself as chronically tired most days of the week?
Do you usually put sugar in coffee or tea?
Do you use sweet condiments (jams, jellies, syrups, and the like) daily?
At parties, do you gravitate toward the sweets?
When you were a kid, did your parents give you sweets for being good?
After eating sweets, do you feel euphoric, only to have your mood plunge afterward?
When you get cravings, are they mostly for bread or sweets?
Do you suffer from frequent headaches?
Do you usually grab a doughnut or bagel for breakfast?
Do you drink soft drinks almost daily?
When you go to the snack counter at the movies, do you usually buy candy?
If you order an alcoholic beverage, is it usually something sweet like a piña colada or frozen margarita?
If you answered yes to three or more questions, the chances are that you are a sugar addict.
One of the biggest places sugar hides is in fat-free foods like cakes, cookies, ice cream, salad dressings, and snacks. These foods often contain more sugar (and sometimes more calories!) than the regular versions. Why? Manufacturers took the fat out of food and boosted the sugar to give it flavor. A SnackWell devil’s food cookie has fifty calories and no fat. A Keebler Soft Batch cookie has eighty calories and 3.5 grams of fat. Which cookie has more sugar? The SnackWell with seven grams, compared with five grams in the Keebler. Remember, fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does.
Excerpted from This Is Why You're Fat (And How to Get Thin Forever) by Warner, Jackie Copyright © 2010 by Warner, Jackie. Excerpted by permission.
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