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The Secret to Fat Loss

Before I give you the secret to fat loss(actually 2) I want to give you an overall view of weight loss and hormones.

This is an excerpt from an article written by Helen Kollias at Precision Nutrition. It includes my “what to do” regarding fat loss at the end of this post.

Appetite hormones: Why self-control is not the problem

Myth: Weight loss is all about self-control.

People berate themselves or are judged by others for carrying a few extra pounds. To be fat means you’re weak-willed, spineless, and/or impulsive.

Fact: Powerful hormones control our perception of appetite and hunger, as well as our eating behavior.

While you still have the option of self-control, your body definitely has a strong voice in the matter. And willpower breaks down easily under stress; when blood sugar is low; and/or in environments that don’t support weight loss (like an office where everyone has a candy dish and it seems like someone has a birthday cake every day).

Here are some of the more well-known hormones that influence appetite, hunger, and satiety.

Hormone Effects
Cholecystokinin (CCK) Released in the small intestine when fats and proteins are eaten. Receptors that respond to CCK are not only found in the gut but also in the brain. In the brain CCK depresses hunger, meaning the more CCK you have floating around the less hungry you are, and the less you’re likely to eat. This is why a lower-carb, higher-protein, higher-fat diet tends to make people feel fuller longer.
Glucagon-like peptide-1
Delays stomach emptying time that may make you feel more full.
Gastric inhibitory polypeptide YY
Secreted by small bowel and colon in response to food. Inhibits hunger.
Leptin  Mostly released by fat; decreases hunger. If you want to lose weight you’d want to have more leptin.
Ghrelin  Made mostly in the stomach; acts on the brain (hypothalamus) to stimulate hunger. If you want to lose weight, you want less ghrelin.

The ideal hormone combo to suppress appetite and help you lose weight would be:

  • more CCK, GLP-1, PYY, and leptin
  • less ghrelin

What happens to hormones over the long haul?

The study I’m reviewing looks at what happens to appetite hormones after 10 weeks of dieting up to a year later. Yup, your lemon-cayenne diet from last year may be making you feel more hungry this year.

Sumithran P, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, Purcell K, Shulkes A, Kriketos A, Proietto J. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-604.


This year-long study involved 50 people with BMI between 27 and 40 (classified as overweight and obese), who went on a crazy low-calorie diet for 10 weeks (though the researchers called it a very-low energy diet).

What’s a crazy low-calorie diet? Oh, say 500-550 kcal for people that had an average weight of 95 kg (209 lb), which is one-third of their basal metabolic rate.

To live without moving at all, these volunteers would need about 1700 kcal on average. No question they were really hungry and needed a hell of a lot of willpower to stay on this diet.

Basal metabolic rate.

BMR is the amount of energy you need to live when at rest. The most common equation to calculate BMR is the Harris-Benedict equation.

The problem with calorie math

This intake of 500-550 kcal means that each day these volunteers are eating at least 1200 kcal less than they need.

Since fat has 3600 kcal/pound, you could use basic (and flawed) calorie counting to figure they should lose a pound (0.45 kg) of fat every three days. At the end of 10 weeks (70 days) they should lose just over 23 pounds (10.6 kg), or 11% body weight in fat.

The problem with thinking of yourself as just fat that’s burned like a candle is that you overlook things like hormones that through evolution respond to starvation by storing calories more efficiently.

A few hundred years ago, it was a good thing that your body responded to starvation by storing as much fat as possible. Thrifty hormones saved lives. Now when starvation is self-induced in a sea of food it causes problems for fat loss.


During the first 10 weeks of the study, when the volunteers were eating a very low calorie diet, they lost 9.4 kg (20.7 lb) of fat and 4.1 kg (9 lb) of lean body mass, but that didn’t last over the next year.

As the year went on after the diet, they slowly gained half the weight they lost. At first glance, that doesn’t sound too bad. They lost a fair bit of weight in a short period, and then a year later, they were still ahead of the game.

Hormonal effects: short term

The problem is what happens to these volunteers’ hormones — the hormones like leptin, ghrelin, peptide YY, etc. — that regulate appetite, hunger, and satiety.

After 10 weeks of starvation the volunteers had less leptin, peptide YY, and cholecystrokinin, as well as more ghrelin and gastric inhibitory polypeptide. The result: The volunteers felt more hungry. Cue the need for even more willpower to keep the weight off. Sound familiar?

Hormonal effects: long term

We knew that crash dieting messes up appetite regulatory hormones for a short period, but until now, nobody had looked at the long-term effects of very low calories on these hormones.

Why didn’t anyone look at what happened a year or more later?

Well, it’s hard to get people signed up for a year-long anything, let alone having them go on a starvation diet for over two months first. Plus, it’s a bit of a surprise that a short-term diet would do much a year later. These scientists must have had to convince a lot of people that this study was worth doing.

One year after dieting the volunteers still had less leptin, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin; and more ghrelin, gastric inhibitory polypeptide and pancreatic polypeptide.

What happened to hunger? Still higher after a year. Think about that. A full year after dieting, the volunteers still felt more hungry. No surprise that most dieters regain weight lost and more… eventually.


If you try to lose weight quickly, you’ll end up trying to lose it every year instead of taking a year to lose the weight once.

It’s clear that very low calorie dieting has long term impact on hunger and appetite hormones lasting at least a year. Now imagine what multiple crash diets might do.

By the way, stringent and chronic restriction also affects hormones that control gastric motility (the speed at which food is processed) and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals).

Thus, if you regularly “diet”, not only do you end up always hungry, you have indigestion and “brain hamsters” like anxiety or depression, and you rarely feel psychologically satisfied by eating — you always want more, or have strong cravings. Show me a “professional dieter” and I’ll show you someone who feels generally lousy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Hormonal disruption is strong stuff.

Could yo-yo dieting lead to cumulative changes in appetite regulation hormones? Very likely. Several years of yo-yo dieting later, you may feel much more hungry than when you started. Good luck with willpower then. End of article. Read the article in it’s entirety here.

What should you do for fat loss?

If you have been on a VLCD(very low calorie diet)or worse several, then your hormones are probably out of whack. Which is why your fat loss may be stagnant or non-existent. Even it was has been a few years, we honestly don’t know how long it may last.

What can you do?

The first thing to do is to begin to eat a normal caloric intake for you. This varies for everyone but there are some general guidelines to follow. The method I typically use for a sedentary individual is about 10Kcal per pound of body weight if fat loss is your goal. If you weigh 150 pounds your daily intake would be 1500kcal/day. This is where you would start. This is where the secrets for fat loss are…From there you measure and adjust. Yep, not really a big secret . You have to know if what you’re doing is working and the way to do it…measure! This means weight, fat loss, and subjective measures(see below). If you start there, measure, and find it’s not working…adjust! Adjustments can be physical activity, caloric intake, adjusting macros, nutrient timing, cycling calories or carbs.

If you are active(which of course I recommend) 3-4 days per week, you will need to increase calories to 12-14Kcal per pound. Typically, I do not have clients count calories. This is for a few reasons which I will dive into on a future post.

We focus so much on weight loss normally that we often over look the entire picture. Start with the caloric increase and see what happens. Not just with the scale but also with subjective measures such as: How do you feel? What is your attitude like? Has your sleep habits changed? Do you have more patience? More energy and vigor? Sex drive? These are all positive signs that your hormones are improving. This is the beginning of healthy!!

Balance in life is where healthy lives. It doesn’t have to be based around going without, spending hours and hours at the gym. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress, water, body type, all of  these things play a role in your hormone levels and in turn overall health.

Want to be the super mom or dad that’s full of energy and confidence? Apply here for my Body Revolution program and together we’ll find that healthy, vibrant you!

Need some help figuring out how many calories you should be consuming? Email me and I’ll help you out.

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