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For years people have been talking about the ‘fat-burning zone’ as if it is this magical thing you get when you exercise or the place to stay in order to lose weight and keep it off. But when you understand how your metabolism functions you quickly realize that your ‘fat-burning’ zone is something you want happening 24/7.
The only reason you burn calories is to produce energy. God designed your body, specifically your metabolism, to burn calories from three different sources. You can burn calories from the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins (lean muscle), or fats. Those are the only three options available.
Let me say that again, your body is designed to burn calories to produce energy! You produce energy so you can run, jump, throw, and wrestle around, but you also need energy to keep your heart beating, your brain firing and your diaphragm moving so you can keep breathing.
Which one of the three fuel sources is your metabolism burning throughout the day? This is the important question you need to answer to be successful in your weight loss. It’s great to be burning fats during that one hour of the day when you are exercising. However, the key to successfully losing inches and maintaining energy all day begins by ensuring your metabolism is burning calories from stored body fat for the other 23 hours of the day.
Many people who struggle with weight gain, fatigue, cravings, mood swings, hormonal and chemical imbalances are typically burning calories from the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins. Is that you?
WHICH FUEL TO BURN?
The problem isn’t burning calories – the problem is which fuel source are you burning? Test your metabolism and see if it is functioning the way God designed it. You can either hook yourself up to an expensive machine at a testing site or you can look at your body signals (symptoms).
HOW MANY OF THESE APPLY TO YOU?
- Do You struggle with Cravings, Low blood sugar or Hypoglycemia?
- Do you Skip meals or breakfast?
- Do you get Hungry between meals?
- Do you eat more than two hours after waking up in the morning?
- Are you irritable or moody if meals are delayed?
- Do you get sleepy or energized after a meal?
- Do you get shaky or lightheaded if you don’t eat every couple of hours?
- Do you deal with mid-morning or afternoon slumps?
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep?
- Do you drink coffee, soft drinks, or energy drinks to keep you going?
- Are you using stimulants such as ephedra, ma huang, guarana, kola, bitter oranges?
- Do you regularly eat processed, refined, fast food?
- Do you wait more than an hour to eat after a workout?
- Are you under lots of stress or adrenal fatigue?
If you answered “Yes” to more than a couple of these questions I would suspect you’re predominately burning carbs and proteins instead of stored body fats. In essence your body isn’t functioning the way God designed it. You are always going to have a difficult time losing weight and “keeping it off”. There are other possible health challenges too.
A huge misconception about losing weight and revving up your metabolism is to think that all those calories you are burning are coming from the breakdown of stored body fats. That’s not the case. You can burn calories all day long, but if you are burning carbs and proteins you are going to always struggle with fatigue, weight gain, cravings, mood swings and other hormonal imbalances.
In my book To Burn or Not to Burn – Fat is the Question, I compare your metabolism to a fireplace. You basically create a fire burning three different types of wood; twigs (sugars/carbohydrates), small branches (lean muscle/protein) and big logs (stored fat). God designed your body this way.
The similarity is that you can create a roaring fire, a lot of energy, by always burning twigs and small branches (carbs and proteins). Unfortunately, you can burn through them pretty quickly. This is why people become irritable, lightheaded, moody or start craving things – they burned through all their available carbs and protein. This causes their blood sugar to drop very quickly, which makes them want to eat every few hours.
Burning more calories isn’t necessarily the answer to losing weight. The key is to ensure that your metabolism is burning calories from stored body fat. This will help keep your weight off and your energy up. God designed our body to function without eating every couple of hours. If you eat that often to keep your blood sugar stable your metabolism isn’t functioning the way God designed it.
When you’re burning those big fat logs in a fireplace you don’t have to continually replace them – they’ll burn for hours. This is why your energy stays up and cravings and other symptoms diminish without snacking. You’re burning fats, which keeps your blood sugar stable.
WHERE TO LOOK
Losing weight is not simply about burning more calories than you eat or counting your fat grams or carbohydrates. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be an epidemic of obesity. Weight loss is more than a simple math equation of subtraction and addition.
What regulates your metabolism are hormones. I’m not talking about estrogen and progesterone – so guys don’t stop reading. I’m talking about the hormones that regulate your metabolism.
There are some hormones that trigger your metabolism to burn fats, some tell your body to burn carbs and proteins and some tell your body to store fats. The goal should be to producing enough of the hormones that will keep you in your ‘fat-burning’ zone all the time.
The hormones that affect your metabolism are the ones produced as a result of diet and stress. Any Anatomy and Physiology book will teach you that when you eat and drink - you produce two hormones, insulin and glucagon. When you are under stress you produce cortisol and adrenaline.
Insulin is produced when you eat carbohydrates. If you eat a carbohydrate rich meal, you will produce lots of insulin. Insulin tells your body to store fat. It will actually curtail your body’s ability to burn fat, so you don’t want to produce a lot of this hormone. You need it, it has a very important function and you can’t live without it, but you don’t want to be making too much of it. The same is said about cortisol and adrenaline.
With regards to glucagon - if you eat more protein, you produce more glucagon. This triggers your metabolism to burn fat. This is why there has been a huge success with the low-carb diets…it gets people to eat more protein. This in turn triggers more glucagon so you can burn more fats.
As far as stress goes and how it’s involved with metabolism you need to look at your primary stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Your adrenal glands produce them in response to stress. What’s important to understand is that cortisol and adrenaline trigger your metabolism to burn carbohydrates and proteins. Therefore, if you are constantly under stress and always pumping out more cortisol and adrenaline – you are constantly signaling your metabolism to burn carbs and lean muscle!
God designed the body to handle stress, but not on the run constantly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people on the run from the moment they wake until the time their head hits the pillow. These people don’t realize that all their good dieting and workout efforts are being over-shadowed by all those stress hormones.
FYI: EXERCISE IS A FORM OF PHYSICAL STRESS
The more intense workout that you have then the more cortisol and adrenaline you produce. A key to adding shape and tone to your body is getting your cortisol and adrenaline levels back to normal as quickly as possible after a workout - so it can get out of that ‘catabolic’ breakdown stage and move into the ‘anabolic’ growth and re-build phase.
God didn’t create good or bad hormones. They simply do what they are supposed to do. Too much of anything can be a problem. As the Bible teaches, wine and honey aren’t bad for you, but too much and you could have problems.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
You need to look at how your metabolism is functioning. If you suspect that your metabolism is working against you, have your dieting efforts properly reviewed. Does your diet trigger too much insulin, or not enough glucagon?
Take a look at the stress in your life. If you think stress could be a factor take the stress test and depending on what that reveals, you might want to have your cortisol levels (adrenal glands) tested. This will give you concrete evidence that stress is truly impacting your body.
It’s not simply diet and exercise, stress could be that other piece of that weight loss puzzle that could be throwing your metabolism off. Don’t get hoodwinked into thinking all you have to do is burn more calories. It’s more involved than that.
Dr. Len Lopez
is a nutrition and fitness expert and creator of The Work Horse Fitness Trainer
. His diverse background in sports medicine, strength training, nutrition and natural medicine gives him additional insight in helping his patients and clients reach their health and fitness goals. Go to his blog
to learn more or get a second opinion.
Now that you have finished reading this article use the COMMENTS feature below to ask a question and interact directly with the author Dr. Len Lopez.