Eat less, move more. That’s the theme behind most diets these days. If we just consume fewer calories and put in more hours at the gym, we’ll shed pounds, right?
According to David Ludwig, MD, PhD, leading obesity researcher and professor of nutrition at Harvard University, our time and energy might be better spent paying more attention to what we eat rather than how much we eat. In fact, our diet has the capacity to actually retrain our fat cells to burn more calories, Dr. Ludwig says.
Released January 2016, Dr. Ludwig’s book Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently, explains how and why we can rewire our taste buds and “hack” our fat cells through specific food choices. The result: We can break the cycle of cravings, intense hunger and overeating that cause many of us to gain weight.
So what’s the secret to enabling your body to burn more fat? Here’s the scoop on this latest diet advice.
Cracking Your Fat Cells
Working with your body rather than against it is key to success, says Ludwig. His three-step program called “The Always Hungry Solution” allows you to eat as many calories as you’d like from start to finish of this diet. Your goal: Never go hungry and fill up on foods that enable you to burn fat, rather than store fat.
“Insulin is like a Miracle Grow for your fat cells.”
So what causes your body to hoard calories as fat, rather than use them for energy?
It all has to do with insulin, a hormone your pancreas secretes when you are digesting foods. “Insulin is like a Miracle Grow for your fat cells,” Ludwig says.
When you eat a meal full of processed carbohydrates like breads and bakery goods, your insulin level skyrockets as your body digests the carbs in your food and immediately stores the glucose (sugar) from your food in your fat cells. And when your body can’t access the calories in your fat cells? Hunger strikes! Your body experiences an energy crisis and it will demand food, stat. If you’re reaching for more processed carbs like bagels or pastas to stay satiated, the vicious hunger cycle won’t stop.
Your solution: Eat more fat. “The fastest way to lower insulin levels is to substitute fat for processed carbohydrates,” says Ludwig. Seems counterintuitive that fatty foods can help you lose weight, right? Catch is: They have to be healthy sources of fat (think: olive oil and avocados, not Reese’s and Doritos). Foods rich in fat will help you feel satiated, and they won’t trigger the insulin high and crash that most processed carbs do. Without insulin highs and lows, your blood sugar will be more stable and your body can access the fuel it’s storing in your fat cells.
How to Get Started
In Always Hungry, Dr. Ludwig outlines his three-phase program for losing weight for good. His book is filled with tips on how to dine out and still eat healthy, nourishing recipes created by his wife, a professional chef, and insights on how to tap into your own motivation.
Overall, the diet’s emphasis on fatty foods like avocado and nut butters is similar to the Whole 30, but followers are still allowed to eat dairy, beans and slow-digesting carbohydrates that are usually off the table for Paleo-type diets. A seven-day prep phase (which includes taking body measurements, cleaning your pantry and preparing meals) helps set you up for success, and then you’ll launch into the three phases of the diet:
For two weeks, you’ll eat a diet consisting of 50 percent fat, 25 percent carbs and 25 percent protein. All grain products, added sugars and potatoes are off limits, and you have the option to follow these detailed menus. (Still on the table: fruits and natural carbs like beans and legumes.) The low-carb approach is meant to jump start weight loss and help you conquer cravings.
The length of this phase could last anywhere from several weeks to six months, depends on how much weight you want to lose. You’ll consume 40 percent of your calories from fat, 35 percent carbs and 25 percent protein. During this period, you can add in slow-digesting carbs like brown rice, quinoa and oats.
This is the lifestyle, or maintenance phase. You’ll aim to eat a diet comprised of roughly 40 percent fat, 40 percent carbs and 20 percent protein. (This ratio is very similar to the Mediterranean Diet.)
Some people can lose two or three pounds a week on this program, while others will lose less, Ludwig notes. “The biggest obstacle is expectations from diets that promise sensational weight loss,” says Ludwig. What you need: A radically different attitude to eating and living well. Part of the reason the Always Hungry Solution works for some might be the gentle approach it takes to eating. “When you put biology on your side, you accomplish the most with the least amount of effort,” says Ludwig.