By ICG® Master Trainer Joan Kent
Some of your students may be severely limiting the amount of fat they eat — both good and bad — to lose weight. That”™s likely to increase their consumption of carbohydrates — both good and bad. Because “bad carbs” can bring on some negative health consequences, it might pay to look at this.
Articles in science journals reference the “sugar/fat seesaw”, although research hasn”™t really published an explanation for it. As the name implies, the sugar/fat seesaw is an inverse relation in dietary sugars and fats. I”™d like to suggest a possible explanation for the phenomenon, in the interest of better nutrition balance for students.
When fat first enters the intestine, a hormone called CCK (cholecystokinin) is released. CCK is the most powerful satiety hormone in the body. Satiety is the feeling that we”™ve had enough food and don”™t need to keep eating. Fats activate a substantial release of CCK. CCK also curbs the desire for carbs. So, if fat is reduced too much (low-fat this, nonfat that, and so on), the desire for carbs may escalate.
Second, both sugars and fats trigger the release of beta-endorphin. That”™s the brain chemical associated with the Runner”™s High. As everyone who enjoys indoor cycling knows, you don”™t have to run to get that high. Any solid cycling workout will do the trick, and the more intense the class, the greater the beta-endorphin effect.
There”™s some evidence that the brain gets acclimated to a given level of beta-endorphin and that reducing beta-endorphin levels can cause withdrawal. It follows that strict limiting of fats might increase the desire for sugars as a sort of “beta-endorphin compensation.”
The third point involves saturated fat. Sat fats generate an insulin release, just like carbs. Cutting fats severely could decrease saturated fat severely. From a health perspective, that”™s OK, but it could raise the desire for carbs, especially the ones that cause high insulin release.
Basically, it”™s linear: the more insulin we release, the more serotonin the brain makes. Serotonin is a brain chemical best known for its antidepressant effect, but it also has other functions. High levels of serotonin have been shown to reduce carb consumption. The very, very low-carb Atkins Diet makes use of this fact to keep people away from carbs. Much of the fat they push is saturated. Between the CCK and the insulin/serotonin, the desire for carbs drops.
So what does all of this have to do with the diets of indoor cycling students?
“Good” fats, typically unsaturated ones like omega-3s and omega-9s, have health benefits in the body. These include anti-inflammatory effects and reductions in heart disease, joint pain, diabetic complications, and lots more. We don”™t want our students to eliminate those benefits along with the fats they cut.
When someone tries to lose weight on a very low-fat diet — and I do see clients who are still avoiding fats big-time — major changes happen. CCK, beta-endorphin, and serotonin go down. The desire for carbs goes up, and — as suggested above — the most appealing carbs are the ones that set off the highest insulin secretion. Unfortunately, those are usually “bad” carbs, such as sugar and white flour. High levels of insulin are directly linked to serious health conditions (more on this in a future post).
The best solution — along with regular workouts! — is a good balance that includes some healthful fat with each meal or snack. The fats might be avocado, olive oil, fish or fish oil, seeds, raw walnuts, almonds or other raw nuts. Adding a small amount of good fat to each meal or snack will increase CCK and beta-endorphin, making sugars and junky carbs less appealing.
Another plus is that a little more fat in a student”™s diet can increase endurance. Studies on runners have shown this, but, once again, runners aren”™t the only ones who benefit.
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