A Short Primer on How to Lose Weight – What to Eat and When to Eat

//A Short Primer on How to Lose Weight – What to Eat and When to Eat

Here’s a startling truth. I can make you fat. Actually, I can make anybody fat. How? I simply prescribe insulin injections. Giving people extra insulin leads inevitably to weight gain. In type 1 diabetes, when insulin levels are extremely low, patients lose weight no matter how many calories they eat. Give insulin – gain weight. No insulin – lose weight (even to the point of death). The implication is clear. Insulin causes weight gain. Knowing this is crucial, because if insulin causes weight gain, then losing weight depends upon lowering insulin. But instead, we’ve been told to focus obsessively on calories.

The standard (failed) weight loss advice is to restrict a few calories every day by reducing dietary fat and eating multiple times per day. This does not lower insulin much since dietary fat has little insulin effect and eating frequently constantly stimulates insulin secretion. This ‘caloric reduction as primary’ advice has an estimated failure rate of 99.5%. So, if you have tried calorie restriction to lose weight and failed, understand this. You were expected to fail.

So here’s the situation. ‘The Man’ tells you that obesity is a caloric balance and that you should eat less and move more. ‘The Man’ tells you to eat a low fat diet, and to eat 10 times a day. This advice fails virtually everybody. When you fail, ‘The Man’ tells you it’s your own damned fault for being such a lazy assed, floppy willed person. His advice was good, ‘The Man’ tells you. You were just a failure. That’s what ‘The Man’ wants you to believe.

Imagine, though we have a classroom of 100 pupils. One fails. It’s likely his fault. Maybe he played too many video games. But if 99 students fails, then it’s not a problem with the students. The problem is with the teacher. In obesity, the problem of rampant obesity means that it is very obviously not the fault of the people. The fault lies with the official dietary advice.

Understanding that obesity is a hormonal disorder, not a caloric imbalance (as discussed in our last post) means that we must instead focus on the insulin effect rather than the number of calories to successfully lose weight. Reducing insulin depends mostly upon 2 things:

  1. What you eat
  2. When you eat

We often think and talk about the first problem, but both are equally important in lowering insulin levels.

What to eat

The three different macronutrients stimulate insulin to different degrees. Carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates raise insulin the most. Protein also raises insulin significantly, although blood glucose remains stable. Animal proteins stimulate more insulin release compared to plant proteins. Dietary fat raises neither glucose nor insulin.

Most natural foods contain varying combinations of the three macronutrients and therefore raise insulin to varying degrees. For example, refined carbohydrate rich foods like cookies have the greatest effect on raising insulin and glucose. Fat rich foods like salmon have little effect on insulin. This differing ability to stimulate insulin means that foods also differ in their fattening effect. This is only common sense. 100 calories of cookies, is far more fattening than 100 calories of salmon, despite what all the obesity ‘experts’ claim.

The overlap between calories and insulin effect is what causes the confusion between the hormonal (insulin) hypothesis of obesity and the caloric hypothesis of obesity. Many people say that ‘A calorie is a calorie’, which is, of course, true. But that’s not the question I asked. The question is ‘Are all calories equally fattening’? To which the answer is an emphatic no. Insulin stimulating foods like glucose are more fattening than non-insulin stimulating foods like kale, even if you have the same number of calories.

Certain factors increase insulin which encourages weight gain. The most important factors raising insulin are refined carbohydrates, animal proteins, and insulin resistance.  Fructose, from added sugar and fruits can directly cause fatty liver and insulin resistance. This leads the body to increase insulin secretion to compensate.

Other factors decrease insulin, protecting against weight gain. Acids found in fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchee) and vinegar lowers the insulin effect of foods. Animal protein causes secretion of incretin hormones that slows absorption of foods thus lowering insulin. Thus meat has both pro- and anti- insulin effects.Fibre also has this same effect of slowing absorption and insulin effect.

Thus, the main principles for lowering insulin and losing weight would include the following, as detailed in The Obesity Code.

Rules for ‘What to Eat’

  1. Avoid added sugar – causes insulin resistance and high insulin
  2. Eat less refined grains – High insulin effect
  3. Moderate protein – excessive consumption can be fattening
  4. Don’t be afraid of eating natural fats – Low insulin effect
  5. Eat real unprocessed foods – refining increases insulin effects

Funny. That’s precisely the sort of no-nonsense advice your grandmother would have given.

When to eat

The second and equally important part of lowering insulin is understanding the question of ‘when to eat’. All foods can raise insulin, which leads to obesity. But there is another important contributor to high insulin levels outside of food – insulin resistance. This refers to the situation where normal insulin levels are unable to force the blood glucose into the cells. In response, the body raises insulin in a knee-jerk reaction to ‘overcome’ this resistance, and these high levels will drive obesity. But how did insulin resistance develop in the first place?

Our body follows the biologic principle of homeostasis. If exposed to any prolonged stimulus, the body quickly develops resistance. A baby can sleep soundly in a crowded restaurant because the noise is constant, and the baby has become noise ‘resistant’. But that same baby, in a quiet house, will wake instantly at the slightest creak of the floorboards. Since it has been quite, the baby has no ‘resistance’ against noises and thus awakens quickly.

If you listen to loud music constantly, you will become slightly deaf. This ‘resistance’ to loud noises protects the ear from damage. Raising the volume to ‘overcome’ this resistance works but only temporarily. Volume increases and you become progressively more deaf (resistant to loud noise), which leads you to raise the volume again. The solution is not to keep raising the volume, but to shut it off.

Think about the story of the boy who cries wolf. Raising the alarm constantly may work at first but eventually leads to the villagers becoming resistant to the signal. The more the boy cries, the less effect it has. The solution is to stop crying wolf.

Insulin resistance is simply a reaction to too much insulin. The body compensates by raising insulin, but that only makes things worse because higher insulin levels lead to more resistance. This is a vicious cycle.

  • High insulin leads to insulin resistance
  • Insulin resistance leads to higher insulin.

The end result is higher and higher insulin levels, which then drives weight gain and obesity. Therefore, a high insulin level depends on 2 things.

  1. High insulin levels
  2. Persistence of those high levels

Providing extended periods of low insulin levels can prevent the development of insulin resistance. How to provide those low levels? A daily period of fasting.

This may sound strange, but this is the way we used to eat. Suppose you eat breakfast at 8 am and dinner at 6 pm. You eat for 10 hours of the day and fast for 14 hours. This happens every single day, and the reason we use the word ‘break-fast’. This is the meal that breaks our fast implying that fasting is simply a part of everyday life. The body spends roughly equal portions of every day in the fed (insulin high, storing fat) and the fasted state (insulin low, burning fat). Because of this nice balance, weight tends to stay stable over time. Up until the 1980s, this was pretty standard practice and obesity was not a big issue.

Somehow, we moved away from this traditional way of eating and now eat constantly. We are hounded to eat something the minute we get out of bed in the morning whether we are hungry or not, believing that eating white bread and jam is better than eating nothing at all. We are pestered to eat throughout the day and not stop until it is time for bed. Large surveys show that most Americans eat 6-10 times per day. Now our body spends the majority of time in the fed state, and we wonder why we can’t lose weight.

Eating constantly does not provide the critical period of very low insulin to balance the high insulin periods. Persistently high insulin leads to insulin resistance, which leads only to higher insulin. This is the vicious cycle of weight gain that we must break with fasting.

For the boy who cried wolf, which is the better strategy?  Stop crying wolf for a month, and then cry loudly once, or cry wolf constantly, but a little more softly? Similarly, to start burning body fat, you must allow prolonged periods of time of low insulin.

Rules for ‘When to Eat’

  1. Don’t eat all the time (time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting). Stop snacking.
  2. If you want to lose more weight – increase the fasting periods

We often obsess about the foods we should or should not eat, the question of ‘what to eat’. But we often ignore the equally important question of ‘when to eat’. By attacking the insulin problem on both fronts, we have a far higher chance of successfully losing weight.

2018-05-15T12:45:25+00:00 36 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Fung is a Toronto based kidney specialist, having graduated from the University of Toronto and finishing his medical specialty at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001. He is the author of the bestsellers ‘The Obesity Code’ and ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’. He has pioneered the use of therapeutic fasting for weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal in his IDM clinic.

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36 Comments on "A Short Primer on How to Lose Weight – What to Eat and When to Eat"

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Jyoti
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Super article. One can do great if they read just this one post and nothing else about weight loss ever again. Dr Fung you are a hero. You have changed my life. I am a new person now. I actually have hope for my future health.

Richard K Starr
Guest

Dr. Fung, Please review Dr. Benjamin Bikman’s study/talk regarding the effect of protein intake while fasted, on a ketogenic diet, or on the SAD. His results indicate that protein intake on a ketogenic diet do not affect insulin levels at all, but instead raise glucagon. The reason given is that in an already low blood sugar state, the body cannot afford to interrupt gluconeogenisis.
https://youtu.be/z3fO5aTD6JU

Patty Hecht
Guest
I have a friend who is a Type 1.5 LADA diabetic. Her diabetes has more in common with that of a Type 1 diabetic in that her pancreas no longer produces insulin. This means that she has to test her BG several times a day to inject the correct amount of insulin. She says that protein DEFINITELY raises her BG and creates the need for more insulin. Her goal is to inject the least amount of insulin possible, so it is something she focuses upon. She has been eating low carb/keto for 20 years, long before she was diagnosed.
Dana
Guest
I just looked up info about glucagon online and apparently your body produces it in response to a lack of insulin. It in turn stimulates your liver to convert glycogen to glucose which raises your blood sugar. There is no way the protein you eat immediately turns into glucose because it’s got to go through a bunch of other digestive steps first. It’s not like eating starch. This is just her liver acting up and dumping glucose in response to there not being enough insulin in her system. There may be some other intermediate thing going on there too, like… Read more »
Patty Hecht
Guest
I think perhaps there is a typo in your post. Glucagon is released when the blood glucose (not insulin) is too low. I posted a link below which explains the relationship of blood glucose, insulin and glucagon. You will see that protein is also referenced in this link. Excess protein converts to glucose through gluconeogenesis. Depending on one’s metabolic health, some can handle the excess glucose when too much protein is consumed. When one is insulin resistant, pre-diabetic or diabetic, their metabolic health is damaged and they have difficulty processing the glucose from excess protein. While you are correct that… Read more »
donny.
Guest
Bikman looks at the amino acid alanine having little effect on insulin at low glucose levels. Then he looked at protein having little effect on the glucagon/insulin ratio on a low carb diet–it isn’t that insulin didn’t go up, but glucagon went up in tandem, preventing a change in ratio. Still interesting, but not quite the same thing. One interesting thing about the talk for me is that it brings in an important point about all those studies looking at protein’s affect on gluconeogenesis after an overnight fast. In an adapted low carber, you’d expect the glucagon/insulin ratio to remain… Read more »
Richard
Guest

Richard Starr; Personally, although I appreciated all the detail and explanation of the Youtube presentation, I think it only further emphasizes the bottom line type conclusion Dr. Fung has presented. Still, what I enjoyed (!) was this: No, carbs and glucose are not needed for the brain, or if they are, there is still no evidence to support that contention; and the disclaimers as to carbohydrates: Don’t eat bread.

Richard
Guest
Dr. Fung, Thank you for this excellent and illuminating post. I have been looking into this weight and insulin issue since about 2009, after I was told I had a mildly fatty liver, based on an ultrasound test. This was about all I learned, or was told, following being hospitalized for a few days after a bout of severe gastric distress here in the Philippines. I had to look all this up and I then switched to a high saturated fat/ low carb diet. That diet worked, in terms of weight loss, for a while. The second part of this… Read more »
Vanessa Spina
Guest

Couldn’t agree with you more Richard!

Jim
Guest

Clear easy to understand prescription on how to lose weight. Sad that so many people who want to lose weight miss the what and when approach.

Marty Kendall
Guest

While exogenous injected insulin causes fat storage, does the body really raise insulin more than necessary to hold back our stored energy while we use up the energy coming in from our mouth? See https://optimisingnutrition.com/2018/05/03/ted-naimans-dam-fat-storage-insulinographic-explained/

Dana
Guest
We always store energy right after we eat it. Some researcher decades ago tagged food with deuterium (heavy hydrogen), tracked it in the body (with x-rays, I think?) and documented this. The body doesn’t raise insulin “to hold back stored energy.” It raises insulin to cope with the energy you just ate, and it happens that holding back that previously stored energy is a side-effect. Glucose is dangerous in high amounts, so the body has to prioritize clearing out the excess before you start losing eyesight and kidneys and feet. The phenomenon that we store energy right after we eat… Read more »
Vaness Spina
Guest

Brilliant reply Dana

Marty Kendall
Guest
Thanks for your response Dana. Did you get a chance to have a look at the link? I would be interested in your considered thoughts. I think it’s key to understand that insulin is both an anabolic hormone and an anti-catabolic hormone. Management of insulin dosing for Type 1s demonstrates that they need a level of basal insulin regardless of the food they eat. In someone following a low carb diet, this basal insulin comprises around 80% of the daily insulin demand. We always require basal insulin to control the release of stored energy from our system. Our requirement for… Read more »
L Hughes
Guest

Would you be happy for me to use this in printed form to give to some of my UK general practice patients? Very digestible info thank you?

Damian Potesta
Guest

So are you saying to just not snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner? Or are you suggesting skip lunch and just eat breakfast and dinner? I’ve become conditioned to snack between meals but it’s typically things like nuts and sunflower seeds. Do these cause insulin spikes as well?

Mishmash
Guest

Please read the article once again, this time carefully. Every snack/food raises the insulin levels – some more, some less.

Vanessa Spina
Guest

Yes all foods secrete insulin so it’s best to eat to satiaty at meals and fast between meals

Linda
Guest

Is there a way to get these post by email. The article suggests this post is an installment.
Email: ldaaurora@yahoo.com

Carolyn Rommel Questad
Guest
Carolyn Rommel Questad

When I fast longer 16-20 a day ( I’m not diabetic) I notice my testing of BG is high( 115-140) at odd times. Like before or 2+ hours after a meal

Laura
Guest

All thus article is missing is an example day of what and when to eat to accomplish this please

Vlad
Guest

Laura, what worked for me is skipping breakfast and eliminating snacks. I have lunch at 12-12.30, and dinner at around 17.30-18.00. No calories intake after that. If it suits your lifestyle more, you can skip dinner too, or skip an entire day of eating, 2-3 times per week. You have to test and see what works for you.

Regarding what to eat, I recommend you check dietdoctor.com, it has countless recipes and visual representations of what is too much for each type of food.

I wish you well,

John Brown
Guest

Dr. Fung, is low testosterone part of metabolic syndrome? In other words, does lower testosterone affect obesity directly or indirectly by contributing to hyperinsulinemia?

Zane
Guest

Thank you for the informations

Ben
Guest

Amazing post by dr Fung. Thank you dr Fung.

mike
Guest
Chrissy
Guest
In response to Richard’s comment. Excessive protein activates mTor pathway which in turn can lead to weight gain, higher insulin responses and to be blunt,persistently done this can lead to premature aging and even death. Dr Fung being a nephrologist knows only too well the dangers of excessive protein consumption as does Dr Ron Rosedale. There is a fad diet going around ,’the carnivore diet’ and I shudder to think of the damage it will inflict on people who don’t do adequate research when it comes to their health. I’m siding with Drs Aseem Malhotra, Robert Lustig, Ron Rosedale and… Read more »
Dana
Guest

Excess protein does not cause kidney damage in the already healthy. Dr. Fung sees patients having trouble with their kidneys vis-a-vis protein consumption because their kidneys are already damaged. People with kidney damage also can’t process potassium properly anymore. Are you going to tell healthy people to avoid potassium? You’d be irresponsible if you did.

I’ve no use for Rosedale whatsoever. He’s another one of those “safe starch” fanatics. I’d show you a photo of what “safe starches” did to me, but you don’t want to see that. Nobody wants to see that.

Chrissy
Guest
Our teeth were designed to eat both flesh and plant material. If you are concerned about potassium try eating or juicing celery. It has potassium, sodium and magnesium. As I stated earlier even Dr Stephen Phinney, a very well known and respected advocate for a ketogenic lifestyle agrees that up to 50 grams of carbs a day is still in ketosis. The Inuit and Artic nations ate a LOT of fat.. eg: mainly whale, seal etc and they ate their livers which were PURE in those days. We DON’T live in those days anymore!! They also hunted animals,ate livers and… Read more »
Richard
Guest
Chrissy: I am seriously puzzled: my post said nothing about protein. I made no suggestion about eating more protein, or less. I plainly stated in my post only about eating more saturated fat, and fewer carbohydrates. The whole idea is that healthy people who exercise a lot, as I do, need a certain amount of protein. AND NOT “wheat” proteins. But now that we are on this topic, I have no real use for fake science, such as anything that suggests, or even hints, that bread is a great source of nourishment. About the only way that bread and ground… Read more »
Christina
Guest
I don’t appreciate being trolled by someone here: New Reply Intensive Dietary Management (IDM) Today, 3:35 PM You Hi Dana, new reply on the discussion section you’ve been interested in https://idmprogram.com/a-short-primer-on-how-to-lose-weight/#comment-77682 Excess protein does not cause kidney damage in the already healthy. Dr. Fung sees patients having trouble with their kidneys vis-a-vis protein consumption because their kidneys are already damaged. People with kidney damage also can’t process potassium properly anymore. Are you going to tell healthy people to avoid potassium? You’d be irresponsible if you did. I’ve no use for Rosedale whatsoever. He’s another one of those “safe starch” fanatics.… Read more »
Stephen
Guest

I’m having a hard time seeing how @Dana’s response equates to trolling. She didn’t even resort to ad hominem insults as you did @Christina.

At risk of being accused of trolling myself, I have to ask what your statement that “teeth were designed to eat both flesh and plant material” is based on? We have some teeth that are adapted to tear (incisors) and some adapted to grind (molars), but I’m not sure that equates to the type of food they are “designed” for.

Rich
Guest

Sorry but you’re a kidney specialist with expertise in fasting?.. And didn’t site any articles? Garbage.

Libby
Guest

Read Dr. Fung’s book The Obesity Code. It contains the research that backs up his work. Or watch YouTube videos or read his blog. Blindly accepting the theories of modern medicine just because they “say so” is garbage. Following what the gov’t tells us about our diet and exercise without using our own brains is garbage. Just because people have done something for a long time does not make it right.

Kiril
Guest

Rich, your trolling contributes nothing.

Richard
Guest
Well, “site” is a clue…. And calling it “trolling” is one way of expressing issue: Dr. Fung has cited plenty of articles and research in other places. But my main concern with posts like yours is the agenda, as in: What do you want? Who is supporting you in this? What is the point you are trying to make? What exactly is your goal here? Some people, even possibly well-meaning people, are just relentlessly negative. Others, more sinister and annoying, just want to sow confusion, the “FUD” issues. The “site” could even be a way of making your post seem… Read more »