Fat loss isn't just about what you eat, it's equally about what your body does with your food once you eat it.
Your fat loss and fat storage are controlled almost entirely by your endocrine system – the system that produces, releases, and regulates your hormones. If those hormones are out of balance (fat storage hormones too high and fat loss hormones too low), you'll have a hard time losing fat, no matter how much time you spend working out.
This usually leads to a self-defeating and exhausting cycle of cutting calories and doubling workouts. But if you'll follow this advice, you'll be able to "reset" your hormones and start losing that stored fat, without starving or running yourself into the ground.
Which Hormones are Involved and How They Work.
There are several hormones involved in deciding whether your body burns calories or stored fat as fuel or whether it stores them as fat. Other hormones regulate hunger and satiety and effect your fat loss by either helping you or hurting you when it comes to cravings.
The fat-storage hormone you need to be most concerned about is cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and is released when you're stressed, but also when you work out too long (which causes oxidative stress) and when you don't sleep enough.
Insulin is a double-edged sword. Insulin transports glycogen through the muscle cell walls so that it can be burned as energy. However, if you're eating more than your muscles need, the balance will then be taken to the fat cells for storage. Also, if your insulin levels consistently spike due to poor eating habits, your cells become less receptive to it and unable to get and burn that fuel. You want some insulin in your bloodstream, but not too much.
Testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) are normally associated with bodybuilding, but we all have them and their task is to repair and build muscle. When you do strength-training properly, both of these hormones are released and at the same time, cortisol is decreased. This is so that more of the calories you take in are used as fuel for the repair and recovery process.
Ghrelin and leptin are the hunger/satiety hormones. Ghrelin tells us we're hungry and leptin tells us we're full. Leptin also signals that we have enough stored body fat to get by and don't need to store any more. When our ghrelin levels are too high, we crave junk and we tend to keep eating when we're already full. Leptin and ghrelin work on a seesaw. When one is high, the other is low.
So how do you maximize the fat loss hormones and minimize the fat storage hormones?
1. Limit your processed foods or eliminate them altogether.
High sugar/flour content produces a huge spike in blood glucose and requires more insulin to deliver that blood glucose to the liver. Repeated consumption of processed foods can lead to insulin resistance and make it increasingly more difficult for insulin to do its job.
Also, processed foods are high in trans-fats, which have been shown to disrupt out leptin/ghrelin balance within just a few days.
2. Eat your sweets and carbs with some fat and/or fiber.
When you drink a glass of apple juice, the sugars hit your bloodstream almost immediately and almost all at once. When you eat an apple, the fiber content slows the absorption of sugar and in doing that, slows the release of insulin into the bloodstream.
Go ahead and have those dried cranberries if that's what you really must have. But have them with some celery and almond butter or a handful of nuts.
3. Get more sleep.
Getting less than eight hours sleep for even one night will increase both your cortisol and your ghrelin levels. Try to get eight hours minimum, and also try to go to sleep at roughly the same time each night (within 1 hour).
4. Add more muscle.
Strength training releases both testosterone and human growth hormone. When they go up, cortisol goes down. Also, the more lean muscle you have, the less ghrelin your body releases.
Follow these five tips and within 2-3 weeks, you will begin to notice an increase in your fat loss, particularly around the abs. No dieting, no extra hours on the elliptical. Just working with your body instead of against it and enabling it to handle fat the way it was designed.