I hear this complaint often from those in their mid 30's and up: "I used to be able to drop weight easily, I would just stop drinking pop and eat a bit less and poof, I would lose weight. But I can't anymore! I track my calories, eat a lot less and have even begun exercising, but my weight won't budge!"
As the saying goes, if I could have a nickel for every time I heard this, I would be rich. But why do SO many people experience stubborn weight gain and extreme difficulty losing weight as they age? Why is this such a common theme?
Let's begin with a brief primer how our hormones behave and the process of fat accumulation and fat release. In the simplest terms, insulin is THE fat storage hormone. It tells your body to store fat AND hold onto stored fat. Most of us, (not ALL of us, yours truly included) start out our lives out as children being very sensitive to insulin. We have low levels in our body, and our body does not need to secrete much insulin to get sugar into our cells where it needs to go. We enjoy almost an effortless maintenance of our of weight. We are thin despite eating pizza, pop, chips, ice cream without regard. We can eat all day and into the night. We can eat at 3am and not store a bit of fat. Life is great! Effortlessly thin! That is the power of being insulin sensitive- effortless weight maintenance and no weight gain regardless of caloric intake. It is THE reason why thin people can't understand WHY fat people are fat! Because it is just SO easy for them. Congratulations- you have genes that allow you to be insulin sensitive. Not all of us are so lucky!
But, as we age, our cells become LESS sensitive to insulin. Over the years, the level of insulin in our bodies begins to creep up and up and up. Our cells have become resistant to the effects of insulin and our dear pancreas needs to keep working overtime to crank out the right amount of insulin to overcome that resistance, so that our blood sugar level won't get too high.
As our insulin level continues to go higher an higher, something happens in our body. At some point, our insulin level becomes SO chronically high that it pushes us over the threshold into FAT STORAGE mode. The same amount of calories that previously allowed us to be thin, now is making us fat. And it is all due to our high insulin levels. We have now become insulin resistant, and let me tell you, it's a BITCH!
(On a side note: I want you formerly thin folks who have only recently become fat in your 30's, 40's and 50's to understand that some people are BORN with insulin resistance due to their genes- these are the fat kids. So please have some empathy and understanding for them. They are dealing with insulin resistance as a child and all of the emotional disturbances that come with being a fat kid. They have NEVER been able to eat whatever they wanted. They have likely been on diets since the 3rd grade. They NEVER got to enjoy a free pass. They are not lazy gluttons, they are insulin resistant, so stop judging. They are dealing with the same problem you are now, except they are dealing with it as a child. And if not being able to lose weight is causing YOU emotional distress, just image what that fat kid is experiencing! And to add insult to injury, they are being told to just eat less and move more, which does nothing to fix the root cause of the problem, insulin resistance.)
Since you are now experiencing the dreaded insulin resistance and in full blown fat storage mode, simply reducing calories WILL NOT WORK. You need to target lowering your insulin levels! You must change the foods that you eat, not just lower your intake. This is the critical piece that explains WHY lowering your calories does very little to move the needle when you have crossed the line into insulin resistance. You might be lowering your calories, but if you are still eating foods that spike your insulin (namely carbs) and eating multiple times per day (which also spikes insulin), you are STILL not going to lose weight, even at a so called calorie deficit. And this is exactly why the fat kids can't lose weight either!
You need a new approach (and so do the fat kids). You are now part of the 88% of Americans who are insulin resistant. Welcome to the club that NO ONE wants to be a part of! And for those of you lucky enough to be part of the 12% that can still lose weight by simply calorie counting, I want you to know a few things:
1) You may be one of the lucky few who never experiences insulin resistance, and if that is you, fantastic! You are very fortunate. You may never become fat no matter what you eat. That must be fabulous! But, just remember: Just because it is easy for YOU does not mean it is easy for the rest of us, so please try not to judge.
2) You may enjoy a state of low insulin now, but you may not in 5 or 10 years. And if you continue to eat lots of carbs, processed foods and eat frequently throughout the day, you are more likely to get into the "club"- so just be careful! You might want to think about adopting a low carb lifestyle now so that you never have to deal with insulin resistance. Prevention is best!
Thank you for reading and I hope it helps you to better understand the why things are different now. And I also hope it helps you to have some empathy for all those souls dealing with obesity. Be kind and love each other.
~The Carb Recovery Coach™