Want to lose body fat? Learn how to control insulin
“Body fat cannot be burned as long as insulin is present in the bloodstream. Sugar and starch stimulate insulin. The hormone glucagon is required for the mobilization of fat stores. Glucagon enables the burning of body fat for energy. Glucagon cannot operate in the presence of insulin.” Nora Gedgaudas, Primal Mind, Primal Body
I have a huge library of books. All kinds on all subjects. So many that sometimes one gets lost in the shuffle. This happens quite a bit because when I purchase books typically I will get three or more at a time. Often a good book gets overshadowed by another book purchased at the same time and does not get the attention it deserves.
A few weeks back I wanted to find my copy of an old Bill Starr book, The Strongest Shall Survive. I found my old copy on a lower book shelf that I rarely look through. Next to Bill’s book was a copy of Primal Body – Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. I had zero memory of purchasing this book. I plucked it off the shelf and could not for the life of me remember where or when I bought the book. As I perused the book, I could not believe I had purchased it and not read it: it was chockfull of insights. The premise of the book is twofold…
- we need to shift our metabolism from sugar-burning mode into fat-burning mode
- to accomplish this, we need to eliminate starch and sugar
Nothing more, nothing less. Modern man is obese and unhealthy because modern man has a carb-burning metabolism and lives on sugar. Primal man was lean and healthy because primal man had a fat-burning metabolism and lived on protein and fat.
From the beginning of the human species up until the widespread introduction of agriculture (usually pegged at 10,000 years ago,) all men everywhere had fat-burning metabolisms. For hundreds of thousands of years, primal people primarily existed on the animals they hunted and killed. They would augment animal meat with whatever fruits, vegetables, insects, nuts, berries or wild honey they would happen across – but these foods were accidental and incidental and always occurred in proximity to game.
Primal men would migrate with animal herds, parasitic vampires that clung to the herd’s periphery. Primal men were as nomadic as the animals they followed to survive. Until the advent of formalized agriculture (an eye-blink) carbohydrates played a small part in the human diet. Man evolved and became fully formed hunting and eating animals.
Primal man might on occasion come across some wild fruit or vegetables, perhaps some honey, but this represented an insignificant and irregular part of the ancient’s diet. Protein and fat, derived from wild animals, was the primary source of calories. The hunter-gatherer societies existed for hundreds of thousands of years as mankind fully evolved, eating protein and fat, augmented with a small amount of natural carbohydrates and natural sugars. This high-octane, nutrient-dense diet became the optimal food/fuel for the human body. It still is.
Agriculture changed everything. Humans no longer had to hunt to eat. They no longer had to migrate in synchronization with animal herds. They could settle in one place and grow crops. They could survive on what they planted and harvested. The advent of agriculture created all kinds of foodstuff possibilities. With grains, man created baked goods, beer, wine and liquor. Humans began existing on cheap, low-grade carbohydrate as their primary food-fuel.
All modern heath maladies emerged when man created agriculture and lifted the lid on Pandora’s Box. Before the advent of agriculture there was no obesity, diabetes, clogged arteries or heart disease. Before the advent of agriculture men were larger and stronger, fitter and more muscular. Mankind degraded when the food-fuel of choice shifted from protein and fat to starch and sugar. It was akin to trying to run a 600-horsepower Ferrari 488 on kerosene.
There was a widespread shift in nutrition, a replacement of protein and fat with much cheaper and easier to obtain carbohydrates. Carbs created geographic stability, it was the end of the nomadic lifestyle of hunter-gatherer. Primal societies were replaced with villages, towns and cities.
The core contention, the most profound thing Gedgaudas says is that, other than protein, fat and fibrous carbohydrates, anything you eat or drink is undigested sugar and once consumed is converted into sugar.
This simple Simon, Forest Gump-like profundity, this irreducible Zen factoid, resonated with me. Eat a bagel and it is turned into sugar (6 teaspoons of glucose) by the body. Drink a beer and it is turned into sugar. Eat pasta, a muffin, any starch carb, drink any kind of booze or soda and it becomes sugar when digested. When food or drink is digested and emulsified it is turned into glucose. Excess glucose spikes insulin. No fat burning is possible in the presence of insulin.
The solution is easy. Stop eating anything that isn’t a protein, fat or fiber.
Any nutrients consumed other than protein/fiber/fat are converted to sugar. Sugar spikes insulin. When insulin lingers in the bloodstream, no fat burning is possible. If the system is never clear of insulin, no matter how hard you train, no matter how much cardio you do, no body fat can be mobilized and oxidized. Simple as that.
This nugget of knowledge made everything related to diet and leanness emerge from the fog of opinion into the crystal-clear clarity of useable knowledge. The first order of business for anyone serious about leaning out is to stop eating sugar and starch and purge the bloodstream of insulin. This isn’t rocket science: how do we clear the bloodstream of insulin? Stop eating anything other than protein, fat or fiber carbs. Stop eating anything that gets converted into sugar.
The goal is to shift the metabolism from a sugar-burning (glucose) metabolism into a fat-burning metabolism. How is this accomplished? Deprive the body of sugar.
The clarity of Gedgaudas’ message resonated with me. It clarified reality. Sugar and starch (and trans-fats) are my enemy. The bad news is that it could take 4-6 weeks of strict dietary adherence to shift a metabolism from sugar-burning to fat-burning. That’s a long time. Still, it intrigues me and clarified so many dietary questions. I really feel I now know everything I need to know about dieting.
They have a saying about the card game Texas Hold ‘em, “it takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.” I feel like I just got taught the dietary equivalent of Texas Hold ‘em.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.