Are you fat-adapted or a sugar burner?
Are you looking to better balance your body weight? One of the buzz topics in recent years in weight loss camps is this question of “which fuel your body uses?”
Are you fat-adapted?
Or are you a sugar burner?
And what does it all mean?
Both terms refer to your body and its fuel of choice. Are you burning carbs (sugars) or fat? When you’re fat-adapted you are in a metabolic state where you’re able to burn your stored body fat reserves for energy. Fabulous I hear you all cry! However, the typical high-carb Western diet puts most of us squarely in the sugar burner camp, riding the daily rollercoaster of snack attacks, sugar highs and lows, “hangry” cravings (i.e., hungry + angry), and unable to feel truly full after eating. So perhaps it’s time to switch to a better fuel and give our metabolism a break? Why weight! Instead of constantly relying on an influx of carbs, we could use the excess fat on our body as a steady source of fuel.
What are the benefits of being fat-adapted?
Being fat-adapted has many benefits. For people looking to manage their weight it helps balance the hormones involved in eating; leptin, ghrelin and insulin, and as we mentioned resets our metabolism to start burning up fat stores. Elsewhere, it’s an efficient fuel for athletes to sustain energy for longer and having the flexibility to switch between burning carbs (sugars) and fats can give athletes that sporting edge. If you’re not an elite athlete (I wish!), let’s look hormones and weight management.
Hormones are involved in every part of the eating process. Ghrelin “the hunger hormone” tells us when to eat, and leptin “the satiety hormone” tells us when we are full. In the middle we have insulin which manages the food we eat and helps keep blood sugar levels balanced. The trouble is, insulin predominantly responds to sugars (glucose) in carbohydrate foods. Too much sugar sends our blood sugar levels through the roof. The more we rely on carbs the more insulin we have in circulation which slowly and steadily throws your brain’s chemical signals off — including those that let you know you’re full. Can you see where this is going? Hormones are our brain signals so once they stop working efficiently it’s easy to over eat. When we overeat insulin takes all the sugar that we don’t burn off as immediate energy and stores it as fat, hence its nickname as the “fat storing hormone”.
So if you know your diet is rich in carbs (pasta, bread, rice, cakes, biscuits etc) and you rely heavily on snacks to get you through the day to beat those feelings of hunger, the chances are you’re a sugar burner.
Why become fat-adapted?
Our bodies are amazingly adaptable and capable of metabolic flexibility, or switching between using sugar or adipose tissue (aka stored fat), to perform all its daily functions. The more we encourage this flexibility the more energy we feel. If we add in the right exercise, to help build muscle mass, we become even more metabolically efficient which helps with managing weight.
Becoming ‘more’ fat-adapted helps reset our metabolism and can help relieve many of the sensations mentioned above related to eating a carb-heavy diet. Once adapted you may be able to happily go 4-6 hours between meals without feeling hungry. And those cravings we mentioned…under control once you’re eating more of the right foods; quality protein, healthy fats and low glycemic index (low sugar) fruits and vegetables. These foods reduce the sugar intake from carbs and replace them with more high density vitamins and minerals which help you feel fuller for longer.
In short…you should feel fuller for longer and get to burn excess fat stores to help sustain a healthy weight.
How to become fat adapted?
To start moving towards fat-adaptation, you need to tackle these four steps:
- Limit the amount of carbs you eat
- Eat a larger portion of healthy fats
- Monitor your intake of high-quality proteins
- Reduce snacking between meals
Reducing your carb intake helps your body burn off all your remaining carbs and glycogen (sugar) stores. Once empty, it will tap into your excess fat stores to give your metabolism the energy it needs.
Combining protein (meat, fish, eggs, legumes) and healthy fats (oily fish, avocadoes, nuts, seeds) will keep you feel full and energised so you won’t experience those pesky energy crashes, unwanted cravings or that constant growl of hunger in your tummy.
Limiting snacking helps give all those hormones I mentioned a chance to rest. The more they rest between meals the better they are at signalling when we’re really hungry and more importantly when we are full.
You should start to notice changes within 2-3 weeks and the longer you move forward with balancing your carb intake with healthy fats and proteins the more adapted your body will become, opening the doors to all that untapped energy!