There are a couple major things that almost nobody in the weight loss industry tells you.
The first is that your mindset is going to be the single greatest determining factor in your weight loss success or failure. In other words, weight loss is more about your relationship with your own body and what you feed it, than it is about pounds lifted and pounds shed.
Finding your Why is non-negotiable when it comes to weight loss. What we’ve found with our clients is that the Why should never just be ‘weight loss.’ Wanting to lose weight just isn’t enough. A truly focused and specific Why like ‘because I want to be able to safely pick up my grandbabies when I’m older’ is WAY more powerful.
The second thing is that you need to get comfortable with slow progress. This flies in the face of what we’ve all been told about weight loss. The truth is that fast weight loss is actually muscle loss, not fat loss.
When you use how quickly the numbers on the scale go down as your benchmark for progress, you’ll always be searching for other ways to lose weight, which often look like feeling hungry all the time and losing precious muscle-mass. Healthy, sustainable weight loss takes time, because it’s actually not even weight loss at all - and if that’s blown your mind, keep reading to find out what we mean by such an outrageous statement (the weight loss gurus are readying to @ us, we can feel it) .
Our bodies are not math equations–they’re biology projects (that is, a complex metabolism informed by every aspect of our lifestyle). Thinking of achieving our weight loss goals like solving a math equation may feel more straightforward, but we’ve been approaching weight loss like an equation for decades only to find that it’s >90% ineffective.
Research and experience have proven this approach to be totally, blatantly, emphatically - wrong.
Calories are not king (or queen, or any kind of monarch really). It is true that you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. What isn’t true is that this should be done with the intentional “eat less, exercise more” method that we’ve all been taught.
When it comes to weight loss, blood sugar is king–it comes first. Managing your blood sugar ensures that your body is able to burn fat while maintaining stable energy levels and a controllable appetite.
When you start to truly understand the science behind weight loss and how your body works, you’ll see why counting calories isn’t the best strategy. If it was, people wouldn’t still be searching for the “fabled” secret to weight loss!
When we eat carbs, the body breaks them down into sugar, or glucose, which then enters the bloodstream. This is what we mean by “blood sugar.” Next, the pancreas releases the storage hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to pick up sugar and deliver it to muscle, liver, and fat cells to either be used as energy there-and-then or stored for later.
High blood sugar spikes occur due to large amounts of carbs triggering a rush of insulin into the bloodstream. This is significant for two reasons:
Constantly hitting our bodies with more carbs than it can handle leads to chronically elevated insulin levels. Over time this can lead to insulin resistance and overall heightened blood sugar levels.
Having large amounts of insulin in the bloodstream blocks the body from burning fat.
When blood sugar levels are all over the place, they wreak all kinds of havoc on our body. We have a particular name for this – the blood sugar rollercoaster.
Are you struggling with cravings? Energy crashed throughout the day? Reaching for that 3rd or 4th (or 5th…) cup of coffee? Wondering why you have zero willpower to stop eating at night? Well then friends, you are on what we like to call the blood sugar rollercoaster!
The good news is, once you hop off, you will instantly start to feel better. The problem isn’t you. The problem is that the way we have been taught to eat to lose weight is actually totally wrong, and your body is screaming at you to STOP!
Let’s walk through a scenario that involves taking the blood sugar roller coaster for a ride you never asked to go on.
You wake up in the morning, go straight to your favorite healthy breakfast spot, and order an acai bowl. The bowl is healthy–full of micronutrients with its acai, pineapple, banana, blueberries, honey, granola, and coconut–right? YUM!
But hol’ up a minute - that acai bowl was loaded with 105g of carbohydrates and 49g of sugar! Sure, it’s natural sugar. But, it’s still sugar. And at a macronutrient level, your body is going to recognize it as sugar.
So, as the acai bowl starts to digest, your blood sugar spikes as carbohydrates are converted to glucose. The pancreas releases insulin to mop up all the glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is first dropped off into muscle and liver cells, as this is where energy from carbs are stored. Once those stores are full, leftover glucose is stored in fat cells. That’s right–even your fancy acai bowl will be stored as fat if it has nowhere else to go.
As insulin stuffs excess glucose into cells, our blood sugar levels start to crash. The crash makes us feel tired, groggy, and hungry–already. You just ate two hours ago, yet already you’re starting to feel a grumble in your stomach? Wtf!
Often after a blood sugar crash, we’ll reach for anything to feel normal again. An apple? A Perfect bar? A vanilla latte? A handful of M&Ms? Doesn’t really matter - any of these will cause blood sugar to spike right back up. And then we start the cycle all over again.
Recap: Blood sugar goes up › insulin is released › glucose is shuffled in the muscle, liver, and fat cells › blood sugar levels drop › you start to feel lethargic › your brain tells you that you need more sugar › you dive headfirst into more carbs. Ouch.
Continuous glucose monitoring is how many diabetic people keep an eye on their blood sugar levels 24/7. It lets them see how much insulin their body needs, and when. However, in recent years, these devices have also become available to non-diabetic people who are interested in learning about their blood sugar levels.
Even though only 10% of the US population are diabetic, it’s estimated that more than 1/3 of the population suffers from higher than normal glucose levels. And while there are a lot of reasons one might experience weight loss resistance, one of the top reasons we’ve come across in our experience is uncontrolled blood sugar levels. So yeah, being able to monitor your glucose levels, with or without a prescription from a doctor, is a pretty empowering way to take charge of your own health.
Companies like Levels and NutriSense sell these monitors online without a required prescription. The monitor comes in the mail with instructions on how to insert it into the skin (it’s really simple and pain free!) and sync with an app to monitor blood sugar levels.
Being able to see this data in real time can help you experiment with your food and lifestyle choices, meal-by-meal and minute-by-minute. Being able to track your blood sugar levels yourself can help you catch blood sugar abnormalities early and use lifestyle interventions–like controlling blood sugar through PHFF–to help avoid having to go on medication.
However, a population that we do not recommend voluntary continuous glucose monitoring to is anyone with a history of eating disorders or obsessive behaviors around tracking data/numbers. The point of using a CGM is to feel empowered, not controlled, by a device.
Sugar doesn’t make you fat, per se. No specific food or nutrient “makes you fat.” Rather, the overconsumption of any food will cause weight gain, so it’s important to pay attention to what types of food tend to cause overconsumption. Sugar is one of those foods.
As we’ve already covered, an excess of sugar will take you for a ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster. When your blood sugar spikes, it inevitably crashes, causing your brain to sound the alarm that you need more sugar. This wild ride also floods your body with insulin, which tells the body to store more energy as fat.
Carbohydrates–the least satiating macronutrient–are another prime example. While protein, fat, and fiber turn hunger hormones off and satisfied hormones on, carbs do not. Have you ever noticed that when you sit down with a bag of potato chips or popcorn, you can just eat…and eat…and eat…until suddenly you’re STUFFED? Bet you’ve never done that with a bowl of hard-boiled eggs! OK, fine, that doesn’t sound as delicious as a bag of movie theater popcorn–but what about a well-prepared, buttery steak, or any other high protein food you love?
Despite tasting great, you’ve probably noticed that these types of foods fill you up pretty quickly. We don’t know about you, but we’ve never overeaten a chicken breast (no matter how well-prepared it was!)
Alright, it’s time to address one of the most common misconceptions about losing weight: the role that metabolism plays in weight loss. Like “eat your greens” or “you only use 10% of your brain”, having a “fast metabolism” is a phrase that everybody thinks they understand, but when you ask them what it actually means, they’re usually stumped. At best they might say “it’s how many calories I burn in a day.” That’s definitely on the right track, but it’s really far more complex than that, and it can be very helpful to understand why.
A textbook will tell you that metabolism is a series of chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism.
We’ll tell you that metabolism is how your body uses what you eat to function properly. How efficiently your body uses what you eat determines how fast or slow your metabolism is.
It’s tempting to think of metabolism as something that solely dictates our weight. And sure, it certainly plays a big role in our body’s ability to burn and store fat. But at any given time, the body is undergoing thousands of chemical reactions to make sure you stay alive and well, and each of these chemical reactions requires calories from the food we eat.
The body is always building (anabolism) or breaking down (catabolism). When we eat food, it gets broken down into molecules that our body then uses for energy. That energy is then used to repair or build cells. When we consume more calories than our body is able to use to repair or build, they are simply stored as fat.
When we say that we have a “slow metabolism,” it means that our body is not utilizing all the calories we’re taking in. This may be because we’re overconsuming, but it may also mean that something is not quite right in the body that is causing it to underutilize calories. When the body underutilizes calories, we tend to experience side effects like fatigue, weight gain, weight loss resistance, and hormone imbalances.
When we say we have a “fast metabolism,” it generally means that our body is doing an A+ gold-star job at utilizing the calories we’re taking in. Someone with an active metabolism typically doesn’t worry about weight gain because their body is metabolically flexible. Their metabolism is providing them with steady energy levels throughout the day, so the body doesn’t have any calories left to store as fat (or any reason to, since there’s no worry about where the next meal is coming from).
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to fast or slow metabolism, but some of the main ones are age, weight, lean body mass, how much exercise you get and the types of exercises you do, blood sugar management, inflammation levels, and thyroid health.
“Boost your metabolism with our product!” is an AMAZING marketing tagline–why wouldn’t you want to boost your metabolism?
But “boosting your metabolism” is so much more than taking a pill or adding cayenne to your morning smoothie. “Boosting your metabolism” is a long game, not a quick fix. And it’s certainly not something you should be interested in solely because you want to lose a few pounds.
Your metabolism is your body’s lifeline.
Why does your heart beat? Metabolism.
Why do your lungs contract? Metabolism.
Why are your legs able to move when you go to walk? Itchy leg syndrome…jk, it’s still metabolism.
Without it, your body would be unable to produce the energy needed to fuel every. single. function. in your body.
If you want to hack your metabolic health for weight loss, it’s far more important to understand how your metabolism works than it is to consume products promising to just “boost your metabolism.” Sorry, but just boost it bro isn’t good enough.
Some are, some aren’t. The question isn’t really “are they right?” or “are they wrong?” It’s–“do these articles teach me something?”
Every single person reading this page has a metabolism, they’re all just functioning at different levels. So when you understand the ins and outs of how your body burns and stores energy, you can start to look at your own life–and body–to see where you might be falling short. And once you know that, you’ll have some clear focus points for what to change to set weight loss goals that you’re likely to actually meet.
The first and best secret to weight loss is to ignore everything you have ever heard about losing weight. Just throw it out.
Depending on which study you look at, we KNOW that ~90% of diets “fail”–at best. So the “eat less and move more” advice that’s been shoved down our throats clearly does not work. And this is for two main reasons:
Mentally, it’s not sustainable. We’re emotional beings and we love food. Food tastes good. Food creates memories. Food is–at the end of the day–a lot more than just “food”. Associating terms like “good” and “bad” with food creates a complex in our minds that eventually leads to guilt, shame, and obsession. This is typically when we start to see the “shame spiral” with food kick in, which is often accompanied by cycles of over- and under-eating.
Biologically, it’s not sustainable, either. You’ve gone on a diet, you’ve distorted your thinking around food and your body, and now you’re going to run into what we call “misery and metabolic issues.”
We like to use a car analogy for this. When there isn’t enough fuel available to get from point A to point B every day, you’ve got to find a different route, or you’re going to run out of gas (or swap your car out for a hybrid). Something has to give.
After about 3–4 months of under-eating through dieting, your metabolism will start to adapt and “slow down”. So while your body might typically need 2000 calories to run, if you’ve been eating 1500 calories for 4 months, your body is going to start only requiring 1500 calories to run. If you want to continue to lose weight…you’re going to have to continue to eat less and less. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can’t restrict anymore–then what?
At this point, you’ve become metabolically inflexible. Which brings us to what the real secret of sustained and effective weight loss – metabolic flexibility.
Metabolic flexibility is when you can go on vacation, enjoy yourself, and not come back 10 pounds heavier. It’s where weekends don’t throw you off track because you had a couple of cocktails. It’s how you can take a couple of weeks off from working out and…nothing happens.
So why aren’t more people talking about how to become metabolically flexible? It’s because the diet industry profits off of keeping you metabolically inflexible. It really is the best kept weight loss secret.
Let’s see what happens when we stop looking to the diet industry for questionable advice and start thinking for ourselves about what all of this means in terms of our blood sugar, metabolism, and weight loss goals.
When we consume carbohydrates, those carbohydrates are broken down in sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. And when blood sugar levels are high, the pancreas releases a bolus of the body’s storage hormone, insulin. It’s insulin’s job to scoop up all the sugar in the bloodstream and put it somewhere—your liver, muscle, or adipose tissue (aka your body fat).
Glucose is GOOD for your liver and muscle tissue. But once those stores are maxed, take one guess where the rest of it goes. Yep—your fat stores.
Now, don’t read this and think we are demonizing carbs—we are not! What you’re going to find is that we actually love carbs—in the appropriate amount for you.
Weight loss is easy to sell. Eat less + exercise more = lose weight. But this simple equation of weight loss is not fat loss. Traditional diets don’t focus on fat loss because it’s slow. Instead, the promise is quick weight loss, which often means muscle loss… because that sells more products.
Have you ever been on a diet where you reduce your target number of calories every time you drop weight on the scale? If you weigh less, you require fewer calories, right?
This is true to some extent, like when you’re losing massive amounts of body weight. But skeletal muscle mass is our metabolic money–the less we have, the less we have to burn. So with traditional diets that focus on weight loss (muscle or fat, they’ll take either), one has to continually decrease their calories as their metabolic money burns.
This is NOT what you want AT ALL. You can only go so low before you either stop losing weight, or go crazy because your calories have gotten so low that the regimen has become impossible to maintain.
Managing your blood sugar has a major impact on your cortisol and stress response, and this is directly related to belly fat! High cortisol can increase fat storage, especially in our mid-section.
It’s important to note that cortisol isn’t all bad! But prolonged, increased amounts of cortisol certainly is. Some major contributors to this include having coffee as your breakfast, under-eating while over-exercising, long periods of intermittent fasting, and prolonged dieting. All of these also impact blood sugar!
Listen, we are not here to get into the calories vs. hormones debate. Calories matter. Hormones matter. But when you have no knowledge of how your hormones play a role in fat loss, you might as well forget about calories altogether.
Matter of fact, you’re not going to need to pay a whole lot of attention to calories at all once you start taking control of some key hormones involved in fat loss.
When we’re on the blood sugar rollercoaster, we can’t trust our hunger hormones. They aren’t firing correctly, and they’re all over the place because our metabolism is in chaos.
This craziness is what causes people to rely on apps and bogus appetite suppressants. We’ve been taught that our body is not to be trusted–and unfortunately, when we aren’t managing our blood sugar, it kind of can’t!
That’s why it’s crucial to understand the biology at play–so we can get back to the point of working with our body, rather than always fighting against it.
It’s time to take the fear out of insulin. People are so scared of their bodies needing to use insulin, but it’s essential for us to survive, and it’s there for a reason! We’re meant to eat carbs, and when we eat them balanced (like when we’re eating with PHFF in mind), our body uses them like it’s supposed to. We only run into issues with insulin when our blood sugar isn’t balanced consistently.
Insulin’s job is to take glucose and transport it to your cells for safe keeping. You can’t have sugar just floating around in the blood–it’s got to go somewhere. So, when you eat carbs or sugar (because carbs break down into sugars in our bodies), your body releases insulin to come and scoop it all up from your blood. It then delivers it to muscle and liver cells to be stored as energy.
This is great. Unfortunately, those energy stores aren’t that big. So anything leftover is going to head to our fat cells instead. When we eat a lot of sugary, starchy foods, our blood sugar levels stay elevated longer than they need to, which means more and more insulin is cranked out.
Insulin works overtime (like, college student the night before their assignment’s due overtime) when you have a diet high in sugar and starch. It also sticks around for up to 6 hours after eating, so you can imagine that if it’s constantly being fired off, you’ll have insulin hanging around pretty much 24/7. When this happens, the insulin receptors on your cells get worn out and they stop recognizing it. They clock out. This quiet quitting is insulin resistance.
When your liver and muscle cells stop taking in glucose, it just goes to your fat cells instead–all of it. And unfortunately, your fat cells are always open for business, which means weight gain. They’re like “Come on in, the water’s fine!” It doesn’t help that one of the most lucrative locations for this fat-storing spree is the belly.
The bottom line? We’ve got to lower insulin levels. We can do that through diet alone, although sometimes it does require the help of medication.
Glucagon is released when insulin isn’t present and when our blood sugar levels are nice and steady; it tells our body to start burning fat!
The problem is, when we have insulin present all the time from eating too many carbs, glucagon is nowhere to be found. It’s the yin to insulin’s yang–we can’t have both present in our blood at the same time. And since insulin sticks around a long time after a blood sugar spike, many people never go into glucagon’s fat burning mode until the middle of the night.
Leptin is in charge of energy balance. In other words, it sends signals to your brain that you’ve had enough food.
When you reach the point that you don’t need any more food to maintain your weight, leptin tells your brain that you’re full and satisfied. Leptin puts the stoppers on our desire to eat and is amazingly good at it.
The problem is that our bodies can become leptin resistant. This is when leptin and the brain have a communication breakdown. They file for divorce, and it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate any further progress regarding weight loss.
How does this happen? Simply being overweight can cause leptin resistance, because the more body fat you have, the more leptin you produce. It can also be caused by chronic inflammation, which itself can be caused by things like poor gut health, processed food, seed oils, and autoimmune disease. See how everything’s connected?
Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty and stops when the stomach becomes stretched. In other words, it tells us when it’s time to eat again.
Ghrelin works in tandem with leptin, with ghrelin being the short term appetite controller, where leptin is the long term weight controller. Ghrelin levels tend to be lower in those with obesity, and the theory is that this can actually make people feel more hungry.
First of all, it triggers insulin to shuffle glucose into cells to deal with short term stress, and this makes total sense. Think about a time when you were driving—and maybe you were tired and spacing out—and suddenly the car in front of you slams on their brakes. Suddenly, you’re WIDE awake, and you slam on your brakes in the nick of time. Are you still feeling tired and spacey after that moment? No.
The idea though is then when the crisis is over, the glucose is burned off, and eventually you return to your chill state. The problem is that your body doesn’t distinguish between a near car accident and marital issues, financial stress, or an international pandemic.
So you end up in a situation where your body just keeps churning out cortisol as if you’re constantly almost getting into a car accident.
Because cortisol also triggers the release of insulin, that hormone remains elevated as well. And at this point I think we can agree this is not good for your waistline.
OK, and I wish I was done. But I’m not. Stay with me here. This chronic high cortisol which leads to chronic high insulin which can lead to insulin resistance ALSO triggers a signal to your brain that your cells are not getting glucose (aka energy), so what happens? You crave sugar and carbs. I mean...what do you guys crave when you’re stressed out? Sugar and carbs, right?
And…there’s more! The fat cells in your stomach have more receptors for cortisol, which is why you’ve maybe heard before that elevated cortisol causes increased belly fat. Cortisol also controls your sleep cycle, and sleep affects everything that has to do with your metabolism.
So yeah, cortisol may be the stress hormone, but it’s also very much a weight gain hormone.
Now that you understand what and how hormones impact weight loss, you can feel equipped and empowered on your weight journey without tracking every morsel of food that goes into your mouth.
Blood sugar isn’t the only battlefield where the war for weight loss is fought but it’s for sure the best one to start on. Getting blood sugar right makes the entire body work better and feel better, making all of future weight loss efforts far easier.
The ancient general Sun Tzu taught “to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” Approaching weight loss from the typical “eat less and exercise more” angle is striking at what is strong. Understanding your body and taking the easy wins that doing so offers us first is striking at what is weak. And that’s what winning looks like, bb.
If learning about the role of blood sugar in weight loss made your mind explode, and you’re starting to think, “What ELSE have I been doing to sabotage my weight loss efforts all these years?” then you’ll definitely want to download our free '5 Healthy Habits to Break to Lose Weight' guide.
Every week, Megan pops into your inbox with whatever's on her mind. Think of it like a voice memo from your bestie except that it's an email and jam-packed with useful information. This isn't a regular newsletter. This is a cool newsletter.