Diet variation can be an excellent way to speed up weight loss efforts.
Diet variation is an adaptive technique that takes advantage of the body’s innate desire to survive. I’ve found that when we vary our diet, the hormonal shifts for adaptation trigger the body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
When you look at the eating patterns of people may years ago, you’ll notice that they didn’t eat the same foods 365 days a year. During the cold season they would stockpile meat and animal fat to provided hardy sustenance for energy and it was food that could be stored and used throughout the season. Once spring and summer returned, vegetables and fruit were abundant, which they consumed to their heart’s content. Nature’s perfect timing provided a high-fat diet in the winter for strength, and shifted to a lighter, plant-based diet in warmer months to provide other key nutrients. The variation delivered the nutrition needed to survive each season, thereby keeping them healthy and adapted year-round. This is how our bodies were designed to thrive: eating seasonally, locally, and exclusively whole foods.
Could Eating 5-6 Meals a Day Be Aging You?
Our bodies were also set up to survive and thrive in times of both feast and famine. Eating in correspondence with the seasons was the first thing our ancestors did right (not that they had a choice). In addition, they did not sit down to 3 squares meals plus 2 or 3 snacks per day, at regular time intervals. Their ever-changing environment required them to follow a feast or famine style of life, characterized by alternating periods when food was either in abundance or short supply. Therefore, they ate when food was available and fasted when food was not. Contrary to popular thought, the periods of lack and abundance of food were actually beneficial to their health because the body was designed for it. It’s perfectly natural to be physically uncomfortable at times and experience true hunger, a feeling to which many today are unaccustomed. And going without food for short periods has some extraordinary health benefits, such as re-booting the immune system, improving insulin sensitivity, promoting longevity, repairing the digestive tract, increasing anti-aging Human Growth Hormone (HGH), and most importantly, reducing inflammation, the root cause of most present-day disease.
A modern application of this principle is intermittent fasting (IF). I’ve written a few times about the advantages of IF in previous posts and am a huge believer in fasting as a tool for restoring health. There are different ways to approach fasting: one can choose to eat within a compressed time window each day (daily IF), fast a day or two each week, or do longer block fasts for 4 or more consecutive days. Fasting helps to diminish food cravings, the need to eat on a regular schedule, and can help you look and feel younger (via the boost in HGH).
Become a Fat Burner!
Before our ancestors started growing grains for food, most were in a state of ketosis many times a year. When in a ketotic state, carbohydrate intake is so low that the body shifts over from burning glucose as a primary source of fuel to using fat its own fat stores for energy. Essentially, when in ketosis you become a “fat burner” instead of a “sugar burner.” Our ancestors remained in ketosis during the cold season, eating a low-carbohydrate diet of mostly meat and lots of quality fat, and then naturally shifted out of ketosis in the summer due to the consumption of plentiful seasonal produce.
I think it’s important to point out that healthy humans have the ability to burn both fat and glucose for energy, but because glucose is potentially damaging to the cell it will burn the glucose first to protect itself. Pretty smart, right? But what happens when we consume a high carb diet rich in grains (even whole), fruits, and modern day carbs like sports drinks and bars as our daily routine? You end up stuck in sugar burning mode with no hormonal ability to burn fat for energy.
The constant glucose spikes drives cellular inflammation and our cells ability to hear the hormones we need to burn fat. Thyroid hormone, leptin and insulin all play a significant role in our ability to use our fat for energy. When our cells can’t get the message from these hormones due to an inflamed cell membrane (driven by a constant high carb diet), you can’t burn stored fat despite what you eat and how much you exercise… AKA “weight-loss resistance”.
Today, nearly all of us are stuck in a sugar-burning state, which promotes inflammation and premature aging. The state of ketosis, conversely, helps to slow down the body’s aging process because it downregulates inflammation and oxidative stress. Ketosis also positively impacts many common and chronic health conditions, and I’ve found it to be especially helpful for weight loss resistance. The high intake of good dietary fat helps the brain function better via an increase in ketones, which are the byproduct of fat metabolism and the brain’s preferred source of fuel. Eating lots of good fat also helps to fix the hormone receptors located on the cell membrane (also made of fat) which supports hormone balance to produce weight-loss. Once cellular inflammation is down-regulated remarkable things start to happen, and the body can begin to heal itself.
A permanent keto-adaptation diet is not for everyone; however, utilizing the diet as a tool to move in and out of can be fantastic. There are those who struggle to get into ketosis for reasons such as perimenopause, thyroid conditions, and/or toxicity. There are also those who get in to ketosis that still don’t lose weight. Read on, there is still hope!
But what’s one to do if the ketogenic diet isn’t producing weight-loss? Enter diet variation. I began implementing the method of diet variation because I had clients who were simply not able to keto-adapt or lose weight when in ketosis. In a healthy individual, ketosis should be one of the quickest ways to lose weight; however, if suffering from certain hormonal challenges, typically driven by cellular toxicity, one does not easily shift into the fat burning state. The keto-adaptation phase, i.e. shifting from a sugar burner to a fat burner, normally occurs in 2-3 weeks (confirmed by measuring ketones with a blood ketone meter), but I’ve had clients take as long as 2-3 months before they adapt and get results. However, there are some folks who never fully adapt, and others who do adapt yet disappointingly experience no weight loss or results.
If you’re following the ketogenic diet and not seeing results, you can try incorporate diet variation to “mix it up” and trigger a metabolic shift. This method can work well worked for those who were stuck in a state of weight-loss resistance. Here’s an example of how it works: follow the ketogenic diet for a month or so, then switch to a higher carb version (up to 150 grams/day) for a few weeks, still avoiding grains and sugars but including “safe” starches like berries, sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, etc. Then, once again shift back into the keto diet. Weight loss should start, or resume with each variation.
The Right Kind of Stress Can be Healthy
Another example of the magic of variation for increased health is the principle of stress and rest as it applies to exercise. Consider our ancestors: one day they climbed a mountain to kill a wild beast, and the next day they feasted on the kill and restored by celebrating the achievement. Stress and rest involves periods when the body is pushed to the physical limit (stress), followed by time for the system to recover (rest). Modern translation: if you’re always doing the same routine at the gym or jogging route around the neighborhood, progress will halt as the body soon adapts to a predictable regime. Therefore… Mix. It. Up. Then take time to recover from training. The most efficient and effective exercise regime for rapid weight-loss includes intervals of intense workouts, followed by a day or two of rest when the body is given sufficient time to recover. Periods of proper rest are vital to peak performance, and promote both physical and mental fortification.
A perfect contemporary way to put the stress and rest principle into action is a type of workout called High Interval Intensity Training. It mixes bouts of high intensity, short duration exercise with periods of rest. For example, try sprinting for 30-60 seconds then resting for 60 seconds, and work up to doing this cycle for ten minutes. There’s no need to spend hours pounding the pavement or at the gym. Try following this workout 3-4 times a week—that’s only 40 minutes a week! Burst training is my favorite type of exercise for efficient fat burning, weight-loss, longevity, and even offers anti-aging effects because it helps to boost HGH production. It allows you to work out smarter, not harder, and makes the body very metabolically efficient. A win-win!
Key Takeaways for Implementing Diet Variation:
If you’re looking to lose weight, increase brain function, and decrease inflammation, experiment with the ketogenic diet.
Once in ketosis, switch from the keto diet to a carb diet for a short time.
Continue the diet cycling every few months or weeks, or seasonally to leverage the body’s innate adaptive mechanisms for survival.
Experiment with intermittent fasting (“feast or famine” principle).
Remember to “stress” the body with healthy exercise, and provide adequate rest time for physical and mental restoration.