Do women really need a different diet plan than men? Isn't it just a calorie balance thing in both men and women?
Hopefully by now I've convinced you that there are very distinct differences between a man and a woman's metabolism. If you haven't had a chance to read Part 1: The Ultimate Guide To Female Fat Loss and Part 2: The Female Fat Loss Workout Plan, I highly recommend you read those before moving into this section!
For many reasons...first, you may not believe what I have to say if you don't understand the science of the female metabolism. Second, the dietary choices you make will work hand-in-hand with the type of activity and workout you implement.
In fact, the success of your female fat loss diet plan will hang on the success of the female fat loss workout plan that you implement!
Don't worry, it'll all come together soon...
Your Weight Is Highly Controlled
This first distinction is an important one. Losing weight is not a process that the body takes lightly because its first job is to prevent you from starving to death. So, to be successful in burning fat we have to successfully convince the body of two things, one is true and one is false...
Signal #1: Food Is Abundant (True)
Yes, we want the body to know that food is abundant. The first way we achieve that is by eating food...
...but, it's not enough to just eat any food. In our modern world, processed food that we eat floods the body with calories so fast that it causes the cells to become deaf to the satiety signals.
We're eating lots of calories, but the metabolism isn't hearing the message that we have lots of energy coming in, it believes that we're starving to death...
It's the same thing that happens when you walk into a room that stinks, and after a few minutes you stop smelling it, not because the stench is gone, rather because your body has adapted and dulled the sense of smell to that specific odor.
When we eat tons of processed food, the calories flood into the blood at an unnatural rate the result is insulin resistance and leptin resistance, which makes the calorie-sensing mechanism in your body deaf to the message that "food is abundant".
So, we must eat REAL food that delivers the calories into the blood slowly. No rocket science here, to make sure the body gets the first signal that food is abundant you must eat lots of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, and eggs.
To bottom line it for you; when you eat real food, in relatively large quantities, you send signals to the body that food is abundant. When you eat lots of refined foods, you develop leptin resistance relatively quickly, which prevents signals of food abundance from reaching the brain. The result is the cells of your body have no idea that an abundance of calories are floating through the system. So, you fail to deliver signal number one.
Likewise, classic "dieting" sends signals that food is not abundant because you're literally starving yourself.
So, my hallucination is that you hear me and you are committed to eating lots of unrefined and natural food. Now that lots of low-density foods are entering the body, we need to send the second signal...if we stop at "food is abundant" without sending the second signal that "energy is needed", you may have some weight loss results but it won't get you to the promised land of fit and lean...
Signal #2: We Need To Liberate & Burn Energy In Order To Capture And Gather The Food
In the modern age, we can dot our finger across our phone screen and twenty minutes later be choking down a week's worth of calories from a local restaurant delivered practically to your lap without spending more than the single calorie it took to get up from your couch and answer the door.
Much to the surprise of many, it wasn't always like this. You use to have to do EVERYTHING! To eat a strawberry, you actually had to grown the damn thing or walk around for hours to find it in the forrest.
Food is unnaturally easy to track down these days and we pay a price for that ease of access.
Who here loves cupcakes?
If you had your favorite cupcake right in front of you, warm and moist, and I could issue you a Presidential pardon for the calories, guaranteeing you that not a single calorie would be stored as fat, what is the likelihood that tonight you'd be eating a cupcake? 100% is my guess.
Now, what if you had to make that cupcake...and I'm not talking about from a box of cupcake mix. I'm saying, you'd have to raise the chickens that make the eggs, gather the eggs, gather the wheat, mill the wheat to flour, churn the milk into butter, grind up the sugarcane, etc.
Same Presidential pardon for the calories, the only difference is you have to make EVERYTHING from the eggs to the flour! What are the chances that tonight you will be eating a cupcake? 0% is my guess.
When we were cave-people we had a deal with nature, "burn some, eat some." There was a price we had to pay to eat in movement and that price had to be paid in advance, and we were healthier for it.Click to tweet
The environment has changed, but the contract is still in place...
In order to burn fat we need the body to prioritize the production of muscle and the manufacturing of heat and energy.
The body needs to know that you need to manufacture energy in perpetuity. If you eat food and sit all day, the message is that food is so abundant that you don't need to go far or work hard to get it, thus you need not burn the precious energy that you're consuming...instead, the body does the prudent thing, it stores the energy that's coming in to be used later in case of emergency, famine, or winter.
The "emergency" never comes and so we get fatter and fatter.
We want to send signals that we must work HARD to survive right now. We want to send signals that we need to be strong and energetic to survive our environment so that strength, energy, and endurance are BIGGER survival needs than having hips, butt, or thighs full of stored fat.
How do we do that?
We workout hard! We do strength training to signal that we need more muscle to survive. We do HIIT to signal that lions are everywhere and we need tons of energy to bolt away quickly and survive the harsh environment filled with predators. We need to send signals that we need to fuel lots of walking to gather berries and chase down animals.
That's why your exercise and activity program are so vitally important. If you send signal #1 (food is abundant) without signal #2 (energy and muscle is needed) then you get fatter rather than stronger, because in the absence of predators and food gathering, famine becomes the biggest threat.
Through strength training and HIIT you are training the metabolism that predators and competition are bigger threats than famine. The result is your body gets good at making muscle, storing sugar, and producing energy and bad at storing fat.Click to tweet
If you send signal #2 (energy is needed) without simultaneously sendind signal #1 (food is abundant) then you lose weight at the expense of muscle, which slows starvation during the percieved famine.
Just because you're in a calorie deficit doesn't mean you're burning fat. In the scenario when you are jogging a lot and dieting to lose weight, the body breaks down muscle for fuel rather than fat. Even if you lose weight, you'll look in the mirror and you'll see someone who is "skinny-fat".
So there you have it...eat lots of real food and exercise as we discussed in the part 2 of this series. Doing that will send the two signals in big ways that will turn you into a muscle-building, fat-burning Betty.
Now that we've discussed the two signals, let's get into the 5 steps of upgrading your female fat loss diet plan.
The 5 Rules Of The Female Fat Loss Diet Plan
I could, of course, fill a book on way that you can upgrade your diet to increase the burning of fat and we have spoken at length about strategies and tactics for improving your diet in our podcast Cut The Fat Podcast.
In this article, I will give you five ways to make big changes relatively quickly. Starting with the first rule, which, I will admit, is redundant and not about diet at all, go figure...
Rule #1: Trigger Muscle Repair & Recovery Before You Worry About Diet
This rule is so vitally important that I'm going to revisit it even though I did a whole article about it and just spend a few paragraphs hashing it out.
The body is capable of ridiculous amounts of fat loss when it is busy digesting real food and building lots of muscle. If you don't get this, you'll never be fully satisfied with the results even a "good" fat loss focused diet will deliver.
As you move closer to forty, and later into menopause, sending these muscle-building signals becomes exponentially more important.
A pound of muscle burns three times as many calories each day compared to a pound of fat (6 calories versus 2). If you build 10 pounds of muscle and lose 10 pounds of fat, you'll burn 40 more calories per day at rest.
I know, that's not much. People are often shocked to hear just how little the metabolism increases by building muscle.
The metabolic benefits of building muscle doesn't end there though...
Muscle is made up of protein, fat, and sugar building blocks. So, if we add up the energy locked away in the muscle building blocks, it amounts to about 700 calories per pound (think about the amount of calories in a 1 pound steak). So, in building that 10 pounds of muscle, 7,000 calories from food you consumed is locked away.
There is also an energetic cost to building a pound of muscle. Although it's hard to find hard numbers backed by research, I've seen 2,800 calories are burned in the manufacturing of a single pound of muscle. That means you'll burn 28,000 calories making ten pounds of muscle in addition to the 7,000 calories locked away in the muscle itself, and then you get the dividends paid daily in the form of 40 extra calories being burned just to maintain those 10 lbs of muscle.
Wait, there's more...
Most people are not bed-bound, so odds are if you build 10 pounds of muscle you're going to move that muscle through physical activity and with each contraction, you "waste" calories that would not have otherwise been burned if the muscle did not exist. It has been proven that muscular bodies are quite inefficient in burning energy (a good thing if your goal is burning fat) and waste a lot of energy in movement. This is great for burning fat, and explains why the body is so quick to get rid of muscle when you follow a classic starvation diet. Muscle is expensive.
Finally, you have the hard-to-measure metabolic benefits of building and keeping more muscle...
- More energy to exercise and move - When you have more muscle, you will work harder and longer during exercise.
- Glycogen storage - When you have more muscle, you store more sugar which means you can eat more sugar and carbs with less consequence to your fat cells and insulin sensitivity
- Slower aging due to more mitochondria - Healthy bodies have lots of healthy mitochondria (energy plants of the body) - more muscle leads to more and healthier mitochondria
- Less insulin resistance - When you have lots of muscle that means there are more insulin receptors and less insulin floating around to activate lipoprotein lipase to store fat
- More confidence - More muscle usually leads to more confidence in your body, which increases the likelihood that you will do more healthy stuff
- More resistance to injury and illness - Less muscle breeds instability in joints and weakness in the body of the muscle. This means less muscle may predispose you to injury.
We've said before that just because you're in a calorie deficit doesn't mean that you're buring fat. Your body can, and often does, burn muscle and even organs as fuel when you are in a calorie deficit.
Likewise, just because you're in a calorie excess doesn't mean that you're storing fat. If you give the right stimulus, your body can use those calories to lay down and build new muscle just like wood can be used to build a fire or build a house.
I have a theory...
When the body is in an "anabolic" state, it is building up. When it is in a "catabolic" state, the body is breaking down. Most of us are walking around in a catabolic state where a calorie deficit will burn muscle more than it will burn fat when we are functioning in a calorie deficit.
If we can trigger "muscle mode" through resistance training, metabolic resistance training, and HIIT, then we can send the body into a perpetual state of muscle growth and repair. When the body is in muscle mode, a few hundred extra calories in excess of our metabolic needs may actually lead to more muscle growth rather than the growth of fat stores.
For example, let's say we're a jogger and haven't touched a weight in years. Our body is likely not in muscle mode and we probably are losing the standard 5% of muscle mass per decade after thirty.
If we have a 200 calorie excess, the body doesn't care about laying new muscle because there's no stimulus to do so. So, over the next month, you'll divert those calories into fat cells where you can gain almost 2 pounds a month.
Now, let's say you are a listener of Cut The Fat Podcast and you've overhauled your workout plan to prioritize resistance training and HIIT over cardio. Your body is in muscle mode, so when those 200 extra calories enter your body, your metabolism sees it as a great opportunity to build new muscle with those 200 calories. So, you get stronger and fitter rather than fatter.
Now let's say that you're in muscle mode AND you have a 200 calorie deficit. Your body is going to say, let build muscle using the building blocks and fuel that's coming in from food and live off of the fat rather than the muscle. So you can burn fat while simultaneously building muscle, a process that has been proven to take place by bodybuilders all over the world.
Muscle Mode Theory states that when your body is in an anabolic state, it will expend as much fuel as needed to repair muscle and that fuel can and will come from fat not from lean tissue.
If your body is NOT in muscle mode, there is no buffer for calorie excess. If you eat more than you can burn - it's stored as fat. If you eat less than your body's needs, your body will fuel the energetic needs mostly from muscle, not from fat.
Putting your body into muscle mode will buffer any calorie excess you consume by giving the body the very attractive option of building muscle over building fat.
You don't get this option without some form of relatively intense resistance training, which we discussed in Part 2 of this Series The Female Fat Loss Workout Plan.
So, YES, a female fat loss diet plan starts with a rocking metabolic exercise plan! Let's move on...
Rule #2: Feed The Muscle
Ok! Now that you've beat the muscle up using a metabolic resistance training program like Metabolic Renewal by Jade Teta or Life Weights Faster by Jen Sinkler, we need to FEED THE MUSCLE!
This is where a lot of women go wrong with their diet...They simply do not get enough protein in their diets to meet the metabolic demands of their female fat loss workout.
Imagine running out of wood half-way through building your dream home. Do you think you could finish the project?
The same thing happens with muscle, organs, and other tissues when your body doesn't have enough amino acids (building blocks), especially the essential amino acids (the amino acids that your body cannot make), your body will not rebuild and your metabolism will suffer.
It is very common to see women eating insufficient protein especially in women who are on a classic low-calorie diet. This becomes doubly important when you implement a resistance training program into your female fat loss exercise plan.
I have tried many different amino acid products on the market. Hands down the most effective amino blends is the Perfect Amino XP. Warning: It ain't tasty but it IS effective. Women who started using the Perfect Amino XP product report much better recovery from exercise, healthier immune systems, more energy, and even thicker hair! The recommended dose is 2 scoops once daily (after workouts on days that you exercise and in the morning on days that you do not exercise).
99% of Perfect Amino XP is used in repair and building of lean tissue and thus does not store as fat (unlike other protein powders that can be burned and stored as energy).
Most of your protein intake should come from food and not powders, if you eat three meals daily you should consume one to two palm-sized portions of protein per meal depending on activity level.
Some people like to add protein shakes or bars between meals, although you can experiment with protein supplements between meals, it may be unnecessary for most women unless you are working out a lot and those workouts are super intense. These types of protein snacks are also great for people who get famished if they skip a snack.
One strategy that we recommend in many women, which will overlap with the next rule, is replacing some of the carb calories with protein calories. So, you might toss out the bread and double up the chicken breast in your meal.
Let's move on to the next...
Rule #3: SELECTIVELY Starve The Fat
One thing is clear...you cannot starve fat by starving the body of food and calories. We discussed this in detail already when we spoke about the two signals we send to burn fat. (Review: Food is abundant and we need energy to go get it)
You must selectively starve the fat without starving the rest of the body.
You lower insulin levels.
I don't care what camp you come from; keto, paleo, low-fat, low-carb, Weight Watchers, etc. If you successfully burn fat without losing muscle, it's because you optimized insulin levels to the point where the fat was selectively starved away.
Without optimizing insulin, body fat will not shrink - at least, not without also shrinking the muscle.
Now, there are many roads to the promised land of optimizing insulin. This means that many different strategies can work and often do work to lower insulin to below the fat loss threshold. These can include ketogenic lifestyle, paleo, low-carb, Atkins, and many more.
For the most part, these lifestyle shifts accomplish the goal of lower insulin and blood sugar by decreasing the quantity of carb intake and/or increasing the quality of carbs by eating lower-glycemic load foods.
Now, here's where things get interesting...
You can follow the "black art of weight loss" of burning fat without changing exercise habits simply by driving insulin levels super low with a ketogenic diet. It's an attractive proposition, burn fat without moving a muscle...and, it does work to burn fat.
The problem is living life without carbs sucks. For many, it sucks so much that it reaches the realm of impossibility as far as sustainability is concerned.
If, however, you are exercising/working out by following the guidelines of set in the Female Fat Loss Workout Plan, you should be able to eat carbs strategically and still lose weight. In fact, carbs can be an asset in such a program because startegically raising insulin when the body is in "muscle mode" can cause muscle to grow at the expense of fat.
So, you don't end up losing 50 pounds and wondering why you look "skinny-fat" in the mirror.
This means that if you are a carb lover, implementing a Female Fat Loss Workout Plan will go a long way to make your new lifestyle sustainable because it won't be a carb-free existence and when you look in the mirror you'll gasp in awe of your thin AND fit body.
It should also be noted that most people's body (not all, but most) view constant ketogenic living as another form of starvation and because of that "metabolic interpretation" your metabolism may shut down the thyroid as a way to slow down the process of starving to death.
Carb "refeeding" can prevent this misinterpretation from occurring in many people, thus preventing the dreaded keto plateau.
Cortisol can also go up if you don't give the body some carbs from time to time.
Look, many of you do not need to go full on keto to burn large quantities of fat. You just need to stop eating so much refined food, nurture your muscle with more protein and healthy fat, start eating real food, and following the exercise guidelines previously discussed.
Here's a great article on how to do a "Carb-Refeed" in order to prevent plateaus and trigger muscle growth.
Rule #4: Eat (or Don't Eat) To Optimize Growth Hormone
How, what, and when you eat (or don't eat) can and will influence your body's ability to produce the most important anti-aging and fat-burning hormone in your body.
First, remember from the first part of this series, insulin antagonizes growth hormone production. Thus when insulin is high, growth hormone can not be optimized within the body.
We've already talked about insulin from the perspective of "what" you eat. In this part we'll discuss how the "what" and "when" you DON'T eat will influence your growth hormone production.
I will also remind you that this information becomes more important as you reach and cross forty because by this point in your life, your growth hormone level seems to reach a tipping point where you can feel the negative effects of lower growth hormone, which is partially due to lower estrogen levels.
Now, if you're exercising as we discussed earlier, then you have already taken steps to positively impact your growth hormone levels. Metabolic resistance training, conventional resistance training, and HIIT will cause your body to squeeze more growth hormone into circulation, sometimes dramatically impacting your growth hormone production in a good way...
In this section I want to introduce you to the 3-hour rule...
The 3-Hour Rule states that you should not eat three hours before bed to allow insulin to drop to a baseline resulting in a higher growth hormone peak during sleep.Click to tweet
You see, most of your growth hormone will be manufactured while you sleep (especially between 11 pm and 1 am). If insulin levels are high during this time (which happens when you eat before bed...especially carbs) then the insulin will antagonize growth hormone production and you miss a HUGE opportunity to burn fat and rejuvenate your body.
Missing this growth hormone window does more than just prevent you from optimizing fat-burn, it also can explain why you wake up groggy and unrested. Finally, missing this window can also slow your recovery from exercise and leave you feeling sore and stiff for longer after workouts.
In a nutshell, when growth hormone drops, the muscles stiffen, the joints begin to ache, bones get weaker, skin sags, and insulin receptors begin to disappear from the cell membrane. All unwanted hallmarks of premature aging.
The 3-Hour Rule is simple...don't eat within 3 hours of bedtime to optimize growth hormone. - Cut The Fat PodcastClick to tweet
I often hear a lot of "weight loss experts" claiming that fasting at night doesn't influence weight as long as you eat less than you burn in a day, but they're missing the link to growth hormone. They are so blinded by the "calories-in, calories-out" model of weight loss that they forget that hormones drive the boat and influence how the calories you eat are distributed, used, burned, or stored.
...that's a golden nugget.
Fasting for 3-hours before bed will optimize growth hormone and the result is more fat loss, more energy, more recovery, and better sleep.
On to the next...
Rule #5: Optimize Your Metabolic Engines
Within your cells you have many tiny little engines called mitochondria. These mitochondria power your metabolism and when they’re healthy...your metabolism rocks!
Beyond the benefits to metabolism, your mitochondria are considered the most important factor in aging. Practically every chronic disease associated with aging is linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. So, if we rejuvenate the mitochondria we can literally reverse pre-mature aging on many levels.
Does this excite you as it excites me?
So how do you keep them healthy?
To understand how to make your mitochondria healthy, you have to understand what makes them sick...
Power production has a cost. Just like the benefits of driving a car leads to the consequence of producing exhaust, your mitochondria produce a form of metabolic exhaust called “free radicals”.
Luckily, your body has a defense system in place to protect from normal metabolic demands. These defenses are called antioxidants.
There’s a problem, however....
Your mitochondria were designed during caveman days when dietary excess was rare and something happens when you consume large quantities of refined calories. Your poor little mitochondria can’t keep up and the result is large quantities of free-radicals that overwhelm your antioxidant defenses. The mitochondria then get damaged to the point where they become dysfunctional.
Here’s where things get really ugly...
When enough mitochondria become dysfunctional it triggers a form of cellular suicide that literally causes your cells to eat themselves.
This is what we see in age-related muscle loss called sarcopenia. It’s why you are losing 5% of your muscle mass every decade after the age of thirty. It's why organs begin to fail and skin begins to wrinkle...
The bottom line is excess calorie intake is the number one cause of mitochondrial and cellular dysfunction.
Said another way, binging is very bad for you and your metabolism for reasons beyond the fat that is stored from excess calories. So, as basic as it sounds, "don’t eat a lot refined calories" is good advice. Your mitochondria thank you in advance.
The next thing that causes mitochondrial deficiency and dysfunction is the act of continuously starving yourself.
Mitochondria require lots of nutrients to fire on all cylinders. If you starve yourself of vital nutrients, first, you lose muscle at an accelerated rate, which is your bodies largest depot of mitochondria, then you don’t nourish the mitochondria that remain so they do not reward you with energy and youthfulness.
So, at the risk of oversimplifying...
Eat food. Not too much. Not too little. Mostly plants. With healthy protein and fat for strenght and recovery.Click to tweet
Now that we have nourished the mitochondria with the right amount of nutrition, I’m going to confuse you a bit...
The next strategy to SUPERCHARGE your mitochondria is...wait for it..."fasting".
I know, I know...I just told you that eating too little is bad for the mitochondria. How then am I suggesting that you should stop eating altogether?
The answer is “HORMESIS”.
HORMESIS is the principle that a small amount of toxicity is actually good for the body...
For example, exercise is good for you because exercise is bad for you. When you exercise, your mitochondria work much harder and thus start producing so much exhaust (free-radicals) that it actually stresses your cells out!
This stress activates a process called NRF-2, which causes the cells to start making lots of antioxidants and simultaneously triggers a detoxification process that cleans up and rejuvenates the cells.
As these protective and clean up processes get activated, the cell starts getting rid of the old, damaged mitochondria and triggers the production of brand new, and super-healthy mitochondria.
So, exercise causes a short burst of toxicity that ultimately strengthens the cells of the body!
The same thing happens when a well-nourished body fasts for a short period of 16+ hours. The same pathways are activated in a big way, which cleans up the body of old, damaged cells and mitochondria and triggers the manufacturing of new, healthy cells and mitochondria.
Fasting, when done in an otherwise well-nourished body, reverses age and turns an average metabolism into a super metabolism.
For a complete and enlightening discussion on how fasting works and how to implement it for best effects, check out the best-seller EAT, STOP, EAT by Brad Pillon it is truely one of the best referenced and insightful books written on the subject of fasting for fat loss.
Fasting is the great equalizer. It helps your metabolism to recover from years of abuse. It helps to lower insulin resistance while unclogging the metabolism for optimal fat loss.
For many fasting can be a game-changer, but as with everything in fat loss, you do what works for you. So, experiment with fasting. If it works, great, if it doesn't work then tweak it or move on.
For some women, fasting can activate a process of binging that can actually cause them to gain weight rather than lose it. This may be worse for women who are early on in their fat loss journey because their bodies are better at releasing fat than at burning that fat. So, fasting might cause an avalanch of fat release into the blood that it can't process and burn, thus worsening the insulin resistance.
So, the rule of thumb is early in your weight loss journey, focus on building simple habits and consistency. Then as you get more and more healthy and fit, you can utilize fasting as an approach to keep the fat burning.
In the mean time, I might recommend loading the gun by learning about fasting from Brad Pillon's awesome book, Eat, Stop, Eat. Then when you're ready, you'll know how to jump into action.
By the way, the 3-hour window before bed, which we covered in rule #4, is a form of microfasting. So, you could start with the 3-hour rule and work up to fasting from dinner through lunch the next day (16 hours). There are many ways to fast, for the most part they can all work well if implemented on top of an otherwise nourishing and healthy diet.
Test it out and see. Remember the ultimate fat loss rule, as stated by Dr. Jade Teta, "Do what works for you." If fasting helps, do more of it. If it doesn't, do less of it.
The biggest thing people do wrong about fasting is they use fasting on top of dieting. So, they eat a low-calorie diet on non-fasting days, and then stack fasting on top of the low-calorie diet. The result is slow starvation. For fasting to work, you need to eat lots of good food when you're not fasting. Don't try to diet and fast together. Fasting will only make your metabolism worse.