What’s the best way to lose weight? Should you reduce the total number of calories in your diet or lower the total glycemic load? There is scientific evidence to support both approaches, so which one should you follow? Well, it turns out that both are important!
Everyone knows that calories are important, but not everyone knows that when you eat those calories you can do three things with them: burn them for energy; store them as fat; or use them to build lean body mass.
What your body does with those calories is determined by the hormones in your body, the most important being insulin. Your insulin level is determined not only by the number of calories you eat, but by the type of calories you eat. This is why what you eat (glycemic load) is as important as how much you eat (calories)!
Insulin is the main driver of fat storage, and you only secrete insulin when your blood sugar goes up. The faster your blood sugar goes up, the more insulin you secrete and the more fat you store.
The glycemic load of a meal is a measure of how fast a meal raises your blood sugar, so it’s really a measure of how much insulin you secrete after a meal, and, therefore, how fattening that meal is.
In general, only meals containing carbohydrates raise your blood sugar and have a positive glycemic load. Meals containing only protein and/or fat do not raise your blood sugar, and, therefore, have a glycemic load of zero.
This means that you do not store the calories in a meal as fat (even if it’s a very high-calorie meal) if it doesn’t have any carbohydrates in it. You’ll need to either burn those calories for energy or use them to build lean body mass.
For example, bacon and eggs have a high number of calories, but aren’t fattening unless you eat them with carbohydrates (toast and potatoes). So if you’re going to eat a high-calorie meal containing fat, make sure it has no carbohydrates!
You store fat mainly during the day when you’re eating (via insulin secretion) and burn fat mainly at night when you’re sleeping (when insulin levels drop). Since your body needs an energy source to keep your organs functioning while you sleep, you start breaking down fat to provide that energy.
A low insulin level is the biggest stimulus for your fat cells to start releasing fat, and this happens at night when you’re not eating. The second biggest stimulus for your fat cells to release fat is a high growth hormone level, so you get a growth hormone surge right after you fall asleep.
Insulin antagonizes growth hormone. Insulin causes you to store fat and growth hormone causes you to burn fat. If you eat foods before bed that spike your blood sugar and give you an insulin surge (i.e., carbohydrates), you will store fat while you’re sleeping instead of breaking down fat, and the growth hormone you secrete will be less effective in burning fat.
When you eat, therefore, can be important as what you eat. Eating carbohydrates before bed is more fattening than eating them for breakfast, so if you’re going to eat carbohydrates, don’t have them with fat and don’t eat them before bed! The Low-Glycal Diet App uses total calories and total glycemic load to calculate the total number of “glycals” in a meal, which is a better predictor of how fattening a meal is.