By Charles Poliquin
A lack of discipline may be the most harmful trait if you are trying to lose weight. But, even if you are motivated and disciplined, you need to ensure you aren’t getting sidetracked by making common errors that will halt your progress and are easy to avoid.
There are hundreds of lists on the internet of common errors people make when trying to lose weight. They are all similar, most include ten things to avoid, and you might be surprised to find out that they are mostly right on. These lists provide a useful basic guide to use when trying to lose weight, but what they don’t do is get at the harder to solve mistakes that keep you from seeing results in improving your body composition.
For example, did you know that for weight loss and health it’s much better to choose the “whole fat” version of dairy products than the “fat free” option? Almost all foods that have had the fat removed from them and are labeled “fat free” are going to be more contaminated, contain fewer nutrients, and discourage fat loss to a much greater degree than the whole fat option. This is especially true with dairy products because the whole milk version of yogurt or milk will naturally provide conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which protects against prostate and breast cancer. In contrast, fat free dairy products have what I often call a “cancer inducing” effect.
I’ve had many a client with the best of intentions for weight loss make critical but common errors, that when solved, allow them to achieve amazing results. This is my top ten list of things you can do to avoid common pitfalls that get in the way of you achieving a lean body composition. This list assumes that you aren’t doing any of the following things that are obviously going to impede weight loss and cause poor health: smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, taking diet pills, drinking your calories (soda, juice, sports drinks), or trying to lose weight without exercising. If you are doing any of these things, stop now, and then start making the changes on this list.
Tip 1: Don’t Eliminate Fat
Eliminating fat or eating a very low fat diet is a common error that people are encouraged to make by food marketing. Eliminating fat intake to get rid of fat from the body may seem like a good idea at first glance, but when you understand the role of fat in the body, you realize getting too little of it is a bad idea. Of course, removing “very bad” fats, also known as trans fats, from the diet is essential because they will make you fat and then they will kill you.
You need a decent amount of good fat in the diet because all the cells in the body are made up of two layers of lipids or fats, which will be composed of good fats or bad fats depending on the type you eat. If the cell lipid layers are made up of healthy fats, it will make them more sensitive to insulin and allow the receptors to bind more easily, which is necessary for good metabolism and energy production.
Increasing the sensitivity of your cells to insulin is important because it will allow the glucose to enter the cell and get burned as fuel. But, if you eat large amounts of trans-fats or have a severe imbalance between the omega-6 and -3 fats in your diet, your cell lipid layers will be made up of those fats. Lipid layers made of unhealthy fats lead to unhealthy cells and greater insulin resistance, which produces fat gain and puts you at risk for diabetes.
Tip 2: Do Get A Balanced Fat Intake
To get a balanced fat intake you want to get a large quantity of omega-3 fats that are balanced with omega-6 fats. Ideally, you’ll get a near equal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Most people get way to many omega-6 fats because they are abundantly found in our diets in the form of the most commonly used vegetable oils (corn, sesame, safflower, peanut, etc.). Omega-3 fatty acids are those that commonly come from fish oil (often referred to as DHA, EPA and ALA), but they also can be gotten from grass-fed beef and wild meats. This is why I suggest two things you can do for better insulin health and body composition are to take a high dose of omega-3s and eat meats and fish that have a high concentration of these fats.
Tip 3: Get Rid of Stress and Lower Cortisol Levels
To lose fat, it’s essential that you minimize stress to lower your cortisol levels. It is well established that chronically high cortisol results in fat gain, particularly around the middle. This means that no matter how much you exercise or eat healthy, you won’t lose weight if your cortisol is elevated because of how cortisol makes the body insensitive to insulin.
One recent study looked at the relationship between cortisol levels, insulin sensitivity, and visceral belly fat in men. Men with more belly fat produced far more cortisol throughout the day and had decreased insulin sensitivity than those with less belly fat. Interestingly, subcutaneous fat—the jiggly kind that’s right below the skin—was not related to insulin or cortisol levels. Researchers suggest both external stress and internal physiological stress (in the form of chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract) are the cause of the elevated cortisol.
Problems with the gastrointestinal tract result in altered neurotransmitter production, which makes you feel tired, unmotivated, and depressed. It can also elevate anxiety, making you over-responsive to stress. At the same time, poor gut health will produce chronic inflammation in the intestines, putting stress on them and raising cortisol. The combination means chronically high cortisol and persistent strain on the body from multiple sources. If you have any experience with fat loss, you know that the body is most agreeable about giving up its fat stores when it is calm and not stressed or overly stimulated.
Tip 4: Fix Your Gut With a Probiotic
Fix your gut health and support digestion by taking a probiotic to lose fat, have more energy, and feel better. Probiotics are the tiny bacteria that naturally occur in the gastrointestinal tract and are commonly found in dairy products such as yogurt.
It’s very difficult to lose weight if you don’t have a healthy gut for two interrelated reasons. First, more than half of the neurotransmitters that send messages from the brain to cells and hormone receptors throughout the body are made in the gastrointestinal lining. If your gut is not healthy, it will negatively affect the production of the neurotransmitters, leading to poor cognitive function, low mood, feelings of depression, and low motivation. A bad outlook and lack of drive will make you less motivated to exercise and take the action necessary for you to make progress toward reaching your goals.
The second reason gut health is essential is that it will improve digestion and help you feel better. You will actually feel more energetic because your neurotransmitters will be firing at optimal levels, and your metabolism will be supported so that nutrients and energy sources are getting broken down, absorbed, and used by the body in the most effective manner. Additionally, research shows probiotic supplementation helps lower anxiety and stress levels, which leads to less secretion of cortisol.
Several studies have shown that poor gut health makes the body produce more cortisol, directly affecting insulin health and resulting in visceral belly fat gain. For example, in the study mentioned in Tip #3, the overweight men in the study were put on a high-protein diet with a probiotic supplement for six months, and then had their body fat, cortisol levels, and insulin sensitivity retested. The men significantly lost belly fat, improved insulin sensitivity, and had lower cortisol levels. Researchers suggest that poor gut health had caused chronic inflammation in the intestines, which led to the elevated cortisol and the belly fat gain. The probiotic supplement treated the inflammation in the intestines, helped to lower cortisol, and in conjunction with the high-protein diet, helped induce weight loss.
Tip 5: Support Digestion With HCL: Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies
Another trick for supporting digestion and fat loss is to make sure you have adequate stomach acid to break down food. Take a hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplement to improve acid levels in the stomach and allow your body to completely break down food. The increased acid levels in the stomach will improve the absorption of protein, calcium, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, iron, and other basic nutrients.
Better digestion and absorption of protein and nutrients will support protein synthesis and the development of lean body mass, while helping you avoid deficiencies that can cause poor health and hinder weight loss attempts. For example, one study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that low stomach acid hindered the digestion of codfish protein in mice. Along with less protein absorption, there was evidence of the development of protein allergies in the mice population over time.
Researchers suggest that the Western population’s overuse of antacid medications—to counter acid reflux, which is typically produced by a poor diet—results in chronically low stomach acid, which in turn hampers digestion, and the absorption of protein. They caution against the use of antacids and encourage the population to modify diet and raise stomach acid levels for better protein absorption.
I use an HCL supplement in which the HCL comes from betaine because betaine is known to stimulate protein synthesis and support athletic performance. Additionally, my DigestForce 2.0 has pancreatic enzymes for elevated nutrient absorption.
Tip 6: Eat Breakfast With Protein In It: No Cereal AllowedSkipping breakfast and missing meals will set you up to fail to lose weight. Eating breakfast is one of the simplest, healthiest things you can do to feel better and have more energy, but there’s one catch. You have to eat protein at breakfast. Eating cereal for breakfast is a common pitfall that is often not addressed by the media or mainstream health professionals.
Cereal is bad for breakfast because it’s typically packed with sugar and additives. In the rare case that you can find a cereal that doesn’t have added sugar, cereal tends to be low in protein. Even if you find an organic cereal that appears to contain a nice dose of protein, these high-protein cereals contain natural preservatives that wreck havoc on neurotransmitter production.
Remember, in Tip #4, I mentioned the importance of gut health and the neurotransmitters for brain function. Setting the neurotransmitters up for the day is the reason a high-quality protein breakfast is essential. The macronutrient content of the food you eat for breakfast will prime the chemicals that send messages from the brain to all your muscles and tissue throughout the whole day.
If you set your neurotransmitters up with a high-carb cereal, orange juice, and a banana, you’ll trigger a big insulin response, elevate serotonin and end up feeling low energy and foggy in the brain soon after. It’s very difficult to reverse the poor brain function and sluggishness that goes with a high-carb breakfast, and people tend to counter these feelings of tiredness and with caffeine, which raises cortisol and causes a new round of problems such as anxiety, an excited sympathetic nervous system, and poor energy production.
The answer is to get a high-quality protein that is slowly digested. A breakfast that includes meat and nuts is my favorite because it will provide a nice dose of protein and “good” fats to start the engine and keep you going throughout the day. Plus, the nuts contain almost no carbs, meaning that with the meat, you will have a very moderate insulin response, which will allow for a constant blood sugar level.
Tip #7: Take A Very Cautious Approach To The Science and Health MediaBe very cautious about what you learn from the science and health media. Health, fitness, and diet information from the media is commonly misrepresented with the facts being presented in a way that feed on our desire for intrigue and quick, easy solutions. Equally concerning, media is fueled by business interests, meaning that the information presented is influenced by those interests.
If you look back over how a number of important scientific studies were presented by the media in 2011, it becomes apparent that you have to be very cautious about what you believe. For example, in November a study about vitamin D was presented at the annual conference of the American Heart Association that showed that taking too much vitamin D produced risk of atrial fibrillation. The study provided useful information about how to achieve the ideal vitamin D status for health as well as how to avoid overdosing and reaching a possibly toxic level.
For example, you want to ensure your vitamin D levels are between 41 and 80 ng/ml and avoid going over 100 ng/ml. The only cases of individuals achieving levels over 100 ng/ml are when there has been a dispensing error such that they were taking more than ten times the recommended dose of 5,000 IUs a day.
This study was reported by many mainstream news companies including MSN, USA Today, and NBC. In the vast majority of the stories about the study, no context for the information was provided, such as details about what “excess vitamin D” means, or how an individual might achieve such levels. Rather, they tended to alarm readers with insufficient information and suggest that individuals should discontinue vitamin D supplements, or that they should only use a very low dose of vitamin D (a common recommendation is 400 IUs a day).
Another example of media misrepresentation is the issue of whether aerobic or strength training is preferred for fat loss. One study this year compared the effects of aerobic training with strength training on visceral belly fat loss. It was widely reported in the media with headlines such as “Jogging Beats Strength Training for Losing Belly Fat,” or “Aerobic Exercise the Most Effective Way to Lose Belly Fat.”
The problem is that the study design had a major flaw—the amount of volume of exercise was not equivalent or even comparable between the aerobic and strength training programs tested. Not one article that I read reported the fact that the aerobic training was performed at 80 percent of maximal for 45 minutes, while the strength training program consisted of exercises on Cybex machines and did not include a 1RM. This means the study design did not account for the amount of weight lifted in the program—a major error that makes it impossible to compare programs that are not matched for the amount of work performed.
Additionally, the media reports failed to differentiate between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat that resides deep inside the body in the abdominal trunk and surrounds the organs. It is a primary indicator of diabetes and heart disease risk. Subcutaneous fat is the jiggly fat that is right below the skin, which you can pinch with your fingers. This difference is an important element that the public should understand if they want to gain information about how to improve their health, fitness, and body composition.
To avoid having the media hamper your weight loss progress, find a source of information that you trust. It’s not that you should ignore science and health reporting, but it’s necessary to be skeptical, and occasionally you will have to do your own research, or find a source you trust that will review the research for you!
Tip 8: Do Not Trust The U.S. RDV or Nutrition LabelsThe U.S. Recommended Daily Value, or what is now called Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), is the amount of a given nutrient that the U.S. Department of Agriculture thinks you need each day. If you want to lose weight, the value is useless.
Even if you don’t want to lose weight, it is not ideal for health, and the new DRI is confusing because it gives no suggestion for fat intake, aside from suggesting that adults consume between 12 and 17 grams of omega-6 fats and 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3s a day. This is an example of the skewed ratio I referred to in Tip #2. A number of research studies have shown that the skewed ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s is linked to higher rates of obesity, cancer, inflammatory and immune disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Apparently the USDA wasn’t aware of this data.
One positive thing about the new U.S. DRI is that it has lowered the carb recommendations from 300 grams per day for adults to 130 grams per day. That’s a vast amount, but it is more in line with what I would suggest for weight loss. The problem is that the DRI only increased protein recommendations by three grams a day from 53 to 56, which will likely leave most people hungry and confused.
Take note that in the U.S., nutrition labels include nutrition suggestions based on old recommendations from the USDA that assume the average American needs either 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day. Within the calorie-based framework, macronutrient suggestions are made such that for the 2,000 calorie diet, you are supposed to get 300 grams of carbs, 53 grams of protein, and 65 grams of fat. This is a whopping amount of carbs for the average person, even if they are doing large amounts of endurance or high-intensity exercise daily. The point is that nutrition labels can tell you the macronutrient content of foods, but don’t become more confused by the dietary suggestions included on the label.
Naturally, you do need a plan for what you are going to eat if you intend to lose weight. The key is to identify the macronutrient content that supports your body and does not include foods that you are intolerant of. An intolerance is a food that you are allergic to and your body is not able to digest completely. There are severe allergic reactions such as in the case of a nut allergy that is very dangerous, and there are less severe allergies that cause fat gain and poor insulin health.
For example, some people are allergic to gluten and need to avoid it, whereas others are intolerant of gluten and will feel much better and have a leaner body composition if they avoid it. Similarly, most people will be healthier and leaner if they limit carbs and avoid all wheat-based carbs, but this does not mean that everyone is intolerant to wheat-based carbs.
The best way I can suggest to identify food intolerances is to get a BioSignature Modulation. This is the method I have developed to identify the best foods for each person and determine individual detoxification and supplement needs. If you are unable to have BioSignature done, the key is to identify a dietary lifestyle that will support your weight loss goals. Research shows that generally, a high-protein, low-carb diet that is gluten and wheat free will produce the best fat loss results.
Tip 9: Focus On Detoxification
Detoxification is critical for weight loss because there are so many pollutants and endocrine-altering substances in our food and water. By detoxifying, I do not mean fasting or doing a onetime detox. Rather, you want to focus on detoxifying your body on a regular basis because you are exposed to dangerous substances daily.
The two simplest things you can do to detoxify the body are to drink a lot water daily (at the very least two liters a day) and to eat an adequate amount of fiber. In addition, there are many nutrients you can take to help the body continually eliminate heavy metals and toxins that cause oxidative stress and alter hormones. For example, green tea can help detoxify liver and it is known for preventing liver damage from alcohol. Carnitine is a powerful brain nutrient that not only supports fat burning by helping fat enter the cell to be burned for energy, but also helps detoxify the brain of heavy metals.
A little gem I’ll throw out there for you is that if you pair carnitine with adequate omega-3 fat intake, you’ll raise levels of the hormone dopamine, which will make you feel more motivated and have more self-initiative—essential for trying to lose weight.
The ginkgo plant is another excellent detoxifier and it has a great track record, having been used in traditional medicine for over 4,000 years. Ginkgo resists pollution, meaning that it will help you to detoxify contaminants from the body and resist the stress that is caused by toxins. Other potent detoxifiers include omega-3 fish oils, probiotics, and performing high levels of physical activity and exercise. The key is to focus on flushing the body regularly by doing the little things such as drinking lots of water, eating fiber and supplementing with nutrients that provide multiple benefits including detoxification.
Tip #10 Don’t Forget To Strength Train. Be As Active As Possible
There’s no reason you should not be doing some sort of strength training if you are trying to lose weight. In fact, there’s no reason that anyone should not be doing strength training. Even people who are confined to a bed in a nursing home can perform some form of resistance training. There’s nothing bad about training as long as you learn proper form and have a reasonable plan of progression.
Strength training is essential for weight loss because it will burn fat, burn calories, improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, and make you stronger. Strength training is preferred over aerobic training that is done on cardio machines such as a treadmill because it will produce a more favorable muscle building response and burn more fat.
Additionally, there’s evidence that aerobic training done on cardio machines blunts insulin sensitivity and glucose delivery into the cell, meaning that if you perform it, you may actually be putting yourself at greater risk of diabetes and inducing less fat burning. This is because the electromagnetic frequency that is produced by electrical power, as in the case of with an electrical treadmill or bike, has been found to increase plasma glucose and decrease insulin sensitivity, causing fat gain, poor metabolism, and accelerating nerve damage and cellular aging. Actually, any time you are exposed to dirty electricity or the electromagnetic field from electrical power (from TVs, appliances, cell and cordless phones, wireless routers, cell phone towers), you put yourself at risk for decreased insulin health. The point is to minimize exposure, particularly when you are exercising and need to maximize energy production.
Another reason to perform strength training instead of aerobic exercise is that research shows “the effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible,” according to one research review. Even though aerobic exercise doesn’t cause much fat loss, anaerobic interval training at a higher intensity than steady-state aerobic training is well proven to induce significant fat loss. Similarly, strength training targets the anaerobic energy system and will help you lose fat. Plus, strength training improves lean mass and builds muscle, which in turn raises your metabolism to support a leaner body composition.
For best results, perform a periodized strength training program that changes regularly so you are not doing the same thing for longer than two months. Include anaerobic intervals and you’ll improve your conditioning, burn fat, lose weight, and improve cardiovascular and pulmonary health. Try to be as active as possible throughout the day because regular physical activity is shown to maintain insulin health, while being sedentary even if you workout once a day, causes “robust negative changes” in post-meal glucose uptake, according to one study. Less glucose uptake means that glucose or sugar that is in your blood is not getting into the cell to be used for energy. Rather, the glucose is hanging out in the blood and will be turned into fat in the body. In the meantime it will cause nerve damage and aging