In part one and part two of this blog series, I explained that the calorie model of weight loss has failed miserably as a strategy for long-term body change. I have argued that it does not work, not because it is wrong, but rather because it is incomplete. Calories matter, but hormones matter more.
Calories don't control metabolism -- hormones do. Calories don't determine what type of weight you will lose and where you may lose it from -- hormones do. Calories have little influence over hunger, cravings, energy and mood -- but hormones do.
Using the phrase "count your hormones" was a way to grab your attention, and in this blog I am going to teach you exactly how to do this.
Here is the scenario for you. When you start off on a hormonal approach to fat loss, you realize that eating becomes a matter of eating more of the right things rather than less of anything. And because everyone is different, the right things can vary from person to person. For example, perhaps you know someone who eats large amounts of fat and protein, lost a ton of weight and is able to maintain that weight loss effortlessly. Perhaps you know others who have adopted a completely vegetarian diet, and were also able to attain and maintain body change.
They were successful because they stumbled across an approach that matched their metabolic expression, psychological sensitivities and personal preferences. But these people are in the minority. The rest of us are not so fortunate. We have tried a ton of programs, and still can't find the solution. This is because most of us continue to take a calories-first approach rather than a hormones-first approach to diet change.
The first step in a hormones-first approach is to begin eating not a lower calorie diet, but a smarter calorie diet. I have my patients start by eating as much lean protein as they like, as many low-sugar fruits as they wish (e.g., apples, pears, berries), and unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables. I then suggest limiting all starchy foods to no more than five to 15 bites at each of the three major meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), depending on their tolerance.
From there, they learn to pay attention to how hungry they feel from meal to meal, what the strength and prevalence of their cravings are, and how much energy they have. I have them rank these sensations on a 1-to-10 scale, with 1 being low and 10 being high. The ideal state is for hunger and cravings to both be less than 5, and for energy to be 6 or better.
At my company, Metabolic Effect, we call this the HEC score (pronounced "heck" for hunger, energy and cravings). If any one of these biofeedback sensations do not meet this criteria, the detective work continues. Starches may be adjusted up or down. Timing starches in the morning or post-workout may be considered. Fat and dairy foods may be increased, decreased or eliminated. Eating frequency may be adjusted. The goal is to eat in a way that balances these HEC sensations first. When you do, you know this way of eating can be maintained forever.
Once HEC is balanced, then it is time to see if you are losing fat. If you are successful, you have just found your fat-loss formula. If you are not, it is time to play detective again. You must once again adjust your diet accordingly. Meal frequency, fat content, starchy carbohydrate bites and other dietary parameters are adjusted until the inches begin to decrease. The ultimate goal is HEC balanced and fat loss achieved. This approach requires you being a detective, not a dieter.
When you are losing fat and HEC is balanced, you have found a lifestyle for body change that can be followed forever, rather than a diet you do temporarily. It is now time to assess calories. This is where people are very surprised. They often find that without even trying -- and without the typical starvation response of a calories-first approach -- they are naturally in a calorie deficit. Less frequently, they may find they are consuming more calories on average than they were previously. Either way, it does not matter because they are in a balanced metabolic state and losing weight. Calories are irrelevant.
So, to recap counting your hormones rather than your calories means taking a hormones-first approach, not a calories-first approach. Rather than indiscriminately cutting calories and dealing with the constant hunger, unrelenting cravings and low energy that come with it, use food to balance these sensations so you are operating from a place of strength. And in doing this, it will enable you to stick with the program. Here is how to do it:
- Change your approach to eating more foods that suppress hunger, control cravings and elevate energy. We call these "fat-loss foods," not because they have magic fat-burning properties, but because they make it more likely you can achieve the two requirements for fat loss -- balanced hormones and a caloric deficit.
- Measure your HEC score daily, and adjust your diet so that you achieve hunger and cravings consistently below 5 and energy consistently above 6.
- Measure fat loss. This is most easily accomplished by assessing inches lost, not pounds shed. If you are not losing fat, adjust your food approach while maintaining your HEC score in the balanced zone. Be the detective, not the dieter.
- When you have achieved a balanced HEC score and fat loss, you have found what I call your "metabolic effect." The best part? This process helps you reliably navigate the inevitable metabolic changes of pregnancy, menopause, stress and aging.
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