Most people assume that losing weight is a pathway to a healthier lifestyle. But what if your weight loss program was actually making you less healthy? We all understand the extreme scenarios of anorexia and bulimia as being detrimental to health. But what if some of the more popular fads today, like intermittent fasting and keto, are doing more harm than good? In this article from bengreenfieldfitness.com, Ben describes 5 different unhealthy ways to lose weight, and also outlines some healthier options.
You may have already seen the news flash that eating less does not cause weight loss.
And if you read that news flash, you know that eating too few calories in your quest to lose weight can cause some nasty issues – such as neuroendocrine disruption (e.g. hormonal imbalances), lean muscle loss, and a lowering of of your metabolic set point (which can happen in as few as three days of calorie restriction).
It turns out that eating less is just one unhealthy way to lose weight (or not lose weight at all!). In addition to eating less, here are 5 more very unhealthy ways to lose weight.
1. Excessive Fasting
Although fasting can certainly have some life-extending and “cellular cleanup” benefits, you can definitely overdo frequent periods of calorie restriction. Excessive fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and loss of fertility, among a myriad of other hormonal dysregulation symptoms…
…especially among women.
Yes, it may seem sexist or unfair, but it seems that men simply do better heading off into the hills to hunt, gather or fight in a state of calorie restriction – while the same scenario sends many women into a complete metabolic tailspin. You can read a very good article that digs into this issue more at “Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature“. I highly recommend you give it a read if you’re a female and you want to try fasting. I’ve personally found that when it comes to maintaining health and hormonal status for the female clients I train (and many of the very lean guys), a complete 24 hour fast done once or twice per month is far more effective than daily 12-16 hour intermittent fasting (which seems to be all the rage these days).
You can read more about how to fast the right way in the article “How To Customize Your Diet“.
2. Carbohydrate Restriction
Sure, there are certainly neurological and metabolic benefits to high fat intake – and a very high fat ketosis diet can be a cool biohack – but excessive carbohydrate restriction can cause some serious issues. For example, carbohydrates are necessary for proper thyroid activity (specifically conversion of T3 to T4), and also because high concentration of free fatty acids can actually inhibit proper thyroid binding to it’s cell receptor, a very high fat diet that excessively restricts carbohydrates lowers metabolism and causes weight gain by inhibiting thyroid activity.
So how few carbohydrates are too few?
In a healthy, active individual, around 50-100g of daily carbs seems to be a “sweet spot” for maintaining good energy levels and weight loss. In a hard-charging athlete such as an Ironman triathlete, marathoner or Crossfitter, 100-200g of carbohydrates can be necessary. I’ll admit that on an easy rest day I will sometimes eat just 25-50g of carbohydrates, but that’s certainly not a daily practice for me, and if you’re engaging in that level of carbohydrate restriction, I’d highly recommend you pay attention to important markers of metabolism such as morning body temperature, dry, cracked skin, and enormous sugar cravings accompanied by very low energy levels.
3. Endurance Exercise
In the podcast episode “Why Women Gain Weight When Training For Endurance Sports“, Brock and I have the following discussion – which is highly relevant to both male and female endurance athletes, or anyone else churning away with long hours on a treadmill or bicycle:
Brock: Lisa says, “I’ve a question about weight gain during marathon training. I’m a 28 year-old female training for my 4th marathon in June. I run anywhere from 50-70 miles per week at the height of my training and I often eat very clean Paleo with an occasional cheat.” She lifts 2-3 times a week. She’s 5’6’’ and around 130 lbs. “Whenever I train more intensely for marathons, I end up gaining about 10 lbs (same as Erin). So, again goes into a lot more detail about her diet. “I eat low carb high fat for about a month in December when work prevented me from training and I ended up losing 10 lbs in a month then regaining it almost immediately once I resume training.” Those are the important bits from both of those I think.
Ben: Okay. Basically, we’ve got 2 women who are training for marathon and are gaining weight which seems counter intuitive. You would expect at first glance that you would actually lose weight with marathon training but they’re not finding this to be the case and you have this happen a lot when women start training for endurance sports, they gain weight.
Brock: Is this woman in particular?
Ben: Women more than men tend to have this issue. And there are a few different reasons for this. The first is something that can be glaringly obvious but a lot of people don’t really think about it and that is the fact that when you start to train for endurance training, your body enhances its ability to store carbohydrate. You can actually train your body to store up to 60% more carbohydrate. Storage glycogen primarily in your muscles, you really can’t amplify what your liver’s able to store but your muscles are able to store up to 60% more carbohydrate once you start into an endurance training program.
Brock: So this isn’t something you’re specifically training them to do. This is sort of a…
Ben: This is just what the body does. This is a natural response to endurance training because it’s a survival mechanism. You’re telling your body that it is going to be in situations where it has to go for a long periods of time and have access to that carbohydrate to break down.
Brock: Get ready. This may happen again tomorrow or maybe next week.
Ben: Exactly. So it’s like this camel mechanism but glycogen carries up to 4 times its weight in water and so you can easily balloon up just from that carbohydrate and water gain. You tend to get a little salt gain with it as well and unfortunately not what a lot of people want to hear but there’s not a ton that you can do about it because even if you say “okay well, I’m not gonna eat carbohydrate. I’m gonna go low carb, I’m gonna go into ketoses.” What happens is your body is actually able to take the ketones that deliver starch to churn out when you’re on a low carb diet and you’re not getting your body enough carbohydrates. There’s what’s called the glycerol backbone on those ketone bodies – betahydroxybutarate, acetoacetate, or 2 primary ketone bodies you get circulating around in your bloodstream. If your activity levels are high, and you’re in ketosis, what happens is that your liver is still able to make glucose out of those ketone bodies. And technically, if you got some insulin in your bloodstream that glucose can still be converted into some muscle glycogen. And you can maintain fairly high levels of storage carbohydrate while you’re in a state of ketosis. So, yes, going low carb helps a little bit with this scenario, ballooning up when you start endurance sports but you’re still at risk of gaining weight just from this glycogen storage mechanism.
Brock: When we’re talking about weight like just weight on scale, right?
Ben: We’re talking about weight on the scale, not necessarily fat.
Brock: So your pants aren’t fitting necessarily different.
Brock: It’s just your getting on the scale and going “oh man!”
Ben: Exactly. And I think it was either Erin or Lisa who’d mentioned cortisol and of course, that can be an issue even if you’re recovering properly even if you’re getting lots of sleep, what happens is cortisol can cause your body to retain sodium and when you retain sodium, that also is going to cause some fluid retention as well which can also leave you yelling bloated, gaining weight – not necessarily fat but it’s still weight. There is no way for your body when you’re training for marathon and by the way, both Lisa and Erin are running way more miles than I would ever run if training for marathon. I don’t see any reason to run more than 30 miles a week unless you’re trying to be professional marathoners or something of that nature. Your body’s going to churn out cortisol. It’s simply the catabolic nature of endurance training and that also can cause that fluid retention. When women (and we did a full podcast about this, I’ll link to it in the show notes about Why Women Gain Weight as They Get Older and What You Can Do About It) get older, and this can be kind of enhanced a little bit by the catabolic stressful nature of endurance sports, they tend to get a little bit of estrogen dominance and when you get that estrogen dominance going on, that also can cause weight gain for the reasons that we go into great detail on on that podcast that we did. For something like that, you can take care of your liver. Get on a good liver detox formula basically start to clear up the estrogen pathways in the liver. The liver has 2 different detox pathways that it relies upon. One is very reliant upon basically antioxidants – it’s like being on a full spectrum antioxidant. The other one is basically reliant on essentially adding amino acids to the toxins that build up in the liver. And having adequate amino acids and specific kinds of amino acids and also having antioxidants can both help with detoxification in liver and with clearing estrogen a little bit more quickly.
I’ll put a link to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Recommends page in the show notes but some of the things that you’ll see there under the liver detox area would be like Silymarin which is a component of milk thistle extract. So there is one supplement called CapraCleanse that I really like for that like doing 3-6 CapraCleanse a day – good full spectrum antioxidant mix. I’m actually writing an article for the website right now on energy drinks and one of the natural potent antioxidant cocktails that I recommend there is called Lifeshotz. That’s something that I really use, do a pack everyday and that’s got some really good liver support stuff in it too like grape seed extracts and….
Brock: You interviewed the guy who created those.
Ben: Yeah. My personal physician in Coeur D’Alene my naturopathic doctor, he basically was responsible for the formulation on that one. That’s a really good one. You’re gonna find some other stuff on that recommendations page that we’ll link to like calcium d-glucarate, methianine. We’re getting on a good liver detox type of formula can help quite a bit too. And then a couple of other things we already mentioned – compensatory eating when it comes to exercise. So many people think that they’re not engaging in compensatory eating but if you write it down, in many many cases, you simply are. You’re eating way more than what you normally would if you work doing all that marathon training and that adds up pretty quickly and you’d be surprised even if you think that you’re eating the same or fewer calories than before you started training for marathon that you actually are not. And writing it down helps quite a bit or photographing your food also.
Brock: Even just periodically throwing that in even when you’re not training is always a nice way just to remind yourself what you actually are eating ‘cause there’s been studies, lots of studies have shown that people have bad memories about what they actually eat.
Ben: Very bad memories. Yeah. Food recalls is horrible. Alcohol recall is even worse. We actually did have an after party after the triathlon just a few days ago and I think a few of us or so are in recovery mode including myself. So just a couple of other things in terms of liver detox and estrogen turnover, high amounts of coffee, high amounts of tea, that can basically slow down estrogen turnover and cause some of the estrogen dominance weight gain as well so that’s something to be careful with. And then also cruciferous vegetables have a lot of phytoestrogens in them which are basically compounds that simulate a lot of the effects of estrogens and can actually help out a little bit in this case including stuff like broccoli and onions and kale and things of that nature when it comes to estrogen dominance. And Brock is distracted…This is one of the issue with us recording live. What are you looking at?
Brock: (There’s a salamander over …)
Ben: (It’s a frog.) So those are the main things. You’ll see a lot of websites, Shape magazine and Prevention…Women’s Health. They all say “well of course, it’s muscle weight that you’re gaining.” Most women don’t gain muscle when they’re marathon training unless you’re starting from complete novice and you’re doing a ton of hill climbing or something like that, may put on some muscle on your thighs but it’s usually not muscle gain. Typically, you’re talking about fluid retention and cortisol, glycogen retention, some sodium retention, that type of thing.
Brock: Before I got distracted by the frog, I was going get you to clarify cruciferous vegetables. Which ones are we talking about here?
Ben: Broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflowers, stuff like that.
Brock: Really? So these are like what we have normally considered to be like super foods are actually causing some problems.
Ben: No, no, no. They have phytoestrogens in them which can help. They basically occupy the receptor sites that estrogen would normally occupy so they actually help out a little bit too. So those are some of the things that I recommend to both Erin and Lisa and that’s why women tend to gain weight when they start training for endurance sports and some of the things you can do about it. We’ll not only put links to some of these stuff in the show notes for Episode 219 but as usual, we’ll create MyList for it over at facebook.com/BGfitness if you wanna access the MyList. So, there we go.”
Whew. I know that was a mouthful – but it highlights how endurance exercise can lower your metabolism, shove your body into fat storage mode, and increase cortisol and fluid retention. I also discuss some of these issues in the free podcast episode “Top 5 Reasons Athletes Get Fat & What You Can Do About It“.
So while endurance exercise is a necessity if your goal is to cross the finish line of a triathlon or marathon, race a bike 100 miles, or swim across the English Channel, it’s certainly not going to get you the most bang for your weight loss buck.
So what’s a better way to exercise? Stay tuned, because I’ll tell you in the 5 free resources at the end of this article.
One recent and relatively comprehensive weight loss supplement study is titled “Acute Effects of a Thermogenic Nutritional Supplement on Energy Expenditure and Cardiovascular Function at Rest, During Low-Intensity Exercise, and Recovery from Exercise.”, and in this study, researchers examined the effect of a weight loss supplement containing some of the most popular ingredients you’ll find in most weight loss supplements today:
- capsaicin (a component of hot peppers)
- bioperine (an extract of black pepper)
- big doses of niacin (vitamin B3)
The researchers gave men and women of average fitness this weight loss supplement and then measured their metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and their carbohydrate and rate of fat burning for 50 minutes. They then measured all of these same variables during an hour of treadmill walking, and then measured them again during 50 minutes of post-exercise recovery.
Compared to a group that only took a placebo, the weight loss supplement group experienced a resting energy expenditure that was 6% higher, and a post-exercise energy expenditure that was 4-8% higher. Their maximum oxygen consumption during the exercise protocol was also slightly higher, with a small but significant increase in lipid metabolism (fat burning) during exercise.
Voila – fat loss supplements boost your metabolism and make you burn fat faster!
But that’s not all – heart rate and blood pressure were also significantly higher during and after exercise in the weight loss supplement group.
As a matter of fact, any weight loss supplement that contains ingredients such as ephedra, high doses of caffeine, country mallow, or even orlistat (an ingredient in the weight loss supplement Alli) may put you at cardiovascular risk, damage your liver, stress your adrenals and cause intestinal irritation, gut damage and gastrointestinal upset.
That’s not meant to scare you away from taking any weight loss supplement. For example, green tea extract, chromium, and conjugated linoleic acid are all on the safer side of the spectrum (along with the other fat loss supplements on my “approved” list here). But even these are meant to be the icing on the cake, and not some magical weight loss panacea that allows you to gorge on dark chocolate every night.
I recently lost 12 pounds.
In 3 days.
You can find out the nitty-gritty details of this rapid weight loss experience in my “Zen of Managing Poomergencies” article. In my case, a rogue bacteria was to blame.
But you don’t have to travel across the world and go swim in nasty stagnant waste water to get the same unhealthy weight loss effect that bacteria or food poisoning can cause. Even in normal “healthy” populations and fully developed countries such as Australia, UK, and the USA, parasites are extremely common and can lead to nutrient deficiencies, food cravings, a weakened immune system, muscle loss, horrible insomnia, and a host of other health problems.
So how do you know if you have a parasite?
The best way is to test for parasites with a poop test like the CDSA 2.0 With Parasitology Profile from DirectLabs. This test also checks digestion, absorption, gut flora (tiny microorganisms that live in the stomach), immune system of the stomach, metabolic and microbiological markers, several bacterial strains, and your colon environment.
But you can also pay attention to common symptoms of parasites, such as carbohydrate cravings (parasites feed on sugar), frequent bouts of unexplained insomnia (especially during full moon periods, when parasites tend to hatch at night – gross, huh?), and of course, weight loss no matter how much you eat (this may seem like a convenient thing, but trust me – it’s not worth it).
So how do you lose weight the right way?
I’d start with the following five free resources:
1. 3 Pillars of Fat Loss – really comprehensive video lecture that is one of the most recent talks I’ve given on fat loss.
2. 12 Unconventional Ways To Burn Fat (Part 1) – quick, 10 minute Get-Fit Guy audio podcast & article.
3. 12 Unconventional Ways To Burn Fat (Part 2) – quick, 10 minute Get-Fit Guy audio podcast & article.
4. Which Workout Burns The Most Fat? – quick, 10 minute Get-Fit Guy audio podcast & article.
5. Any of the Fat Loss sections of the “Ben Recommends” page – page that lists most of my top go-to tools and resources for fat loss.