July 25, 2012

What is Safe Weight Loss?

Safe Weight LossWhat is safe weight loss?  Many times we use phrases or terms without really defining what we mean.  Safe weight loss involves losing only fat while maintaining muscle mass. Safe weight loss cannot be accomplished with fad diets or severe calorie restriction as these invariably lead to a loss of muscle, and usually water too.

Nutrition and exercise are critical to achieving safe weight loss.  But, for some of you that might not be enough.  Hormone optimization is also critical to safe weight loss and maintenance of a healthy body weight. Safe weight loss does not require any tricks – just a solid plan and the discipline to execute that plan.

You Must Preserve Muscle

Muscle does much more than people think.  Certainly muscle plays a huge role in improving quality of life my enabling us to be mobile, active, and carry-out activities of daily living.  But, muscle plays a significant role in regulating our metabolism. A pound of muscle burns 2 to 3 times as many calories than a pound of fat.  A pound of muscle, at rest, burns between 6 to 10 calories a day, whereas a pound of at burns to 2 to 3 calories a day.

Muscle also regulates metabolism through insulin receptors. More insulin receptors are found in muscle than anywhere else in the body.  So the more muscle you have, the more insulin receptors you have, and the easier it is to manage sugar.  Sugar becomes fattening when it gets deposited into fat cells rather than be burned for energy by muscle.

Monitoring Safe Weight Loss

If you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week you probably are losing fat while preserving muscle.  Adding resistance and strength training to your exercise program will better ensure that you are not losing muscle, and should enable you to gain muscle. This is important to recognize since you can lose 5 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle, and therefore, when you step on the scale you may be depressed or disappointed to see that you did not lose any weight even though you know from how your clothes fit that you lost some fat.

So weighing yourself periodically can be misleading.  It’s best to have your body composition measured before and during your weight loss program.  Body composition takes into account your lean body mass, or non-fat weight. Focus on losing fat, not losing weight.  Steady ongoing weight loss (fat loss) is safer than weight loss programs or plans that tout easy and fast weight loss.

Burning that Fat Off

We’ve talked about maintaining muscle, but what about getting that stubborn awful looking fat off.  That’s where nutrition and eating come into play. To lose fat you will need to decrease your intake of calories, but not too much, and you need to keep your insulin levels low especially between meals by consuming low glycemic foods.

Restricting calories too much sends a message that your body is being starved. The body adjusts to this perceived starving by slowing its metabolism making weight loss more difficult. Not only that, but if there isn’t enough calories from your meals to meet your energy needs your body will tap into both your fat and your muscle to burn calories.  This is what happens to people with cancer or other debilitating chronic disease. They start burning muscle for calories and enter a catabolic state.

In the presence of high insulin fat is unable to release its calories to be burned as fuel.  That’s why it’s important to make your insulin levels drop to  healthy levels between meals – to ensure you can burn calories from fat. If insulin levels are too high your body cannot use the calories stored in fat and this leads to overeating to provide readily available calories for energy.

As Gary Taubes says in his book Why We Get Fat “we don’t get fat because we overeat, we overeat because we get fat” meaning we’re unable to burn calories stored in fat (due too high of insulin levels) so we overeat to fuel our bodies.

Hormone Optimization

Another key to safe weight loss is hormone optimization. The older you get the more likely your hormones are out of balance.  Losing weight involves keeping insulin and cortisol levels low, and sex hormones, thyroid, DHEA, growth hormone, among others at youthful levels (age 30 or so).

See related articles.

“Four Fat-Packing Hormones”

“What’s the Best Way to Measure Body Fat?”

“Low Glycemic Foods”

“How Declining Sex Hormone Levels Lead to Fat Gain”






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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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