When I was asked me to share the secrets of my book, The Look Great Naked Diet: Change Your Set Point, Change Your Life with the FitnessRx community, I was only too happy to oblige. Of all the books I have written, this one was truly a labor of love.
There is so much conflicting information about diet and nutrition that the average consumer is totally confused as to what to believe. Just browse the shelves in any bookstore. You’ll see high-carb diets, low-carb diets and even cabbage soup diets, all claiming to be the ultimate in weight-loss regimens. But while almost any diet will allow you to lose weight in the short-term, the vast majority are not designed to help you optimize your genetic potential and get body fat down to the lowest possible levels. To understand why, a little physiology is in order.
The Role of Set Point
The capacity to store fat varies from person to person. Some are able to eat whatever they want without gaining weight, while others seem to pack on the pounds just looking at food. What causes these discrepancies? The answer lies in a phenomenon known as set point.
Simply stated, set point is the body’s way of physiologically regulating your weight. Through various processes, there is a coordinated effort by your body to adjust the intake and expenditure of energy so that a specified amount of fat stores is maintained. Any attempt at deviate from this predetermined level is actively resisted.
The regulation of bodyweight is similar to that of your internal temperature. A change in your temperature is met by appropriate alterations in heat production (i.e., shivering) or heat losses (i.e., sweating) to defend the set point temperature and return it to a “normal” level. The major difference here is that while body temperature is more or less the same for all people (approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), bodyweight varies significantly between individuals.
Your set point can be traced back to the dawn of man. During Paleolithic times (i.e., the caveman era), food was scarce. There were no supermarkets or grocery stores that stocked an assortment of your favorite goodies. If you wanted to eat, you had to be proactive and fend for yourself. Humans were hunters and gatherers, chasing down wild game with primitive implements and scavenging the wild for nuts and berries.
These types of conditions persisted throughout the ages. In the recorded history of the more developed Middle East, Europe or China, there was never a long period of uninterrupted food abundance, whereas famines were regular and frequent. Days or even weeks could go by without having a meal.
In order to deal with these continual feast-famine cycles, the human body developed an affinity to store food (in the form of body fat) when it was available and then use the fat reserves for fuel during periods of deprivation. This generally followed a seasonal pattern. Our ancestors would fatten up during the warm summer months when there was an abundance of food, so that they would have enough stored energy to endure the frigid winter months when food was scarce.
As you might expect, thin people were at a significant disadvantage during periods of extended famine. Without an adequate reserve of fat, they eventually ran out of the energy necessary to sustain bodily functions, ultimately dying off. Those who survived tended to carry “fat” genes – genes that evolved to efficiently store body fat and resist losing it. And it’s these same genes that were passed down through the ages and inherited into a large segment of today’s society.
Fast-forward to the present: While our genetics haven’t changed much, our environment has. In the Western world, famine has been all but wiped out. Any time you care you eat, day or night, an abundance of refined, high-fat, calorically dense foods are readily available. And everything from burgers to fries to soft drinks are now supersized so, in addition to the poor quality, there’s an excess of quantity – a surefire combination for gaining weight.
Compounding the problem, advances in technology and transportation have drastically reduced the need for physical activity in everyday life. Our jobs are largely sedentary. Instead of doing physical work and hunting for food, we now spend most of our time behind a desk. Television, streaming services, the Internet and a plethora of other indoor pursuits have eliminated the need to leave our homes for entertainment. The facts are clear: Our bodies still think we are living the lives of our Paleolithic ancestors when, in fact, we have become a nation of interactive couch potatoes.
Regulation of Set Point
Set point is regulated via a hormone called leptin. Produced mainly in adipose tissue (fat cells), leptin acts like a long-term energy gauge for your body. Think of it as a body weight thermostat – a “lipostat” if you will – that monitors how much fat you have and then continually relays this information to your hypothalamus, a pea-sized area near the center of the brain. The amount of leptin secreted is highly correlated to the amount of body fat you carry. As a general rule, the fatter you are, the more leptin you secrete.
Here is an overview of how leptin functions: After being secreted by fat cells, leptin travels through the bloodstream and enters the brain. There, the hypothalamus reads its signal and communicates with other brain centers. These brain centers then compare the amount of fat that you have with the amount of fat you were programmed to have (i.e., your set point) and make adjustments in both appetite and metabolic rate. A decrease in leptin (associated with a loss of body fat) jacks up appetite and suppresses metabolism, while an increase in leptin (associated with gains in body fat) curbs appetite and elevates metabolism. In this way, bodyweight is maintained within a fairly narrow range of your set point.
But rather than acting directly on appetite and metabolic rate, leptin exerts its effects by activating other hormones and neurochemicals. These compounds can be grouped into two basic classes: Orexins, which stimulate appetite and/or suppress metabolism; and anorexins, which promote satiety and/or boost metabolism.
Leptin in Practice
Under conditions of energy balance (caloric intake equates to caloric expenditure), leptin is normally secreted in direct proportion to body fat percentage. But when the set point is threatened, there is an override of normal leptin production, with fluctuations well above those predicted solely on changes in fat mass. During attempts at weight loss, for instance, a 10 percent reduction in bodyweight has been shown to cause more than a 50 percent decrease in circulating leptin. Conversely, a 10 percent weight gain increases leptin in excess of 20 percent. (As you can see, leptin is much more sensitive to weight loss than to weight gain. This makes evolutionary sense, since carrying extra body fat was more advantageous to our Paleolithic ancestors than carrying too little).
Let’s take a look at how the actions of leptin translate into practice. Say your set point is 20 percent body fat and – employing a typical fad diet – you get down to 12 percent. So far, so good, right? Well, not really, at least over the long-term. Perceiving starvation, your body will try to defend against what it believes is a threat to its survival. Leptin levels will fall precipitously, setting off a chain of hormonal and neurochemical events (stimulation of orexins and suppression of anorexins) that results in an increase in appetite and a reduction in energy expenditure. Eventually, you will reach a dietary plateau, become frustrated and succumb to temptation. The end result is a return to your set point (and often an increased set point due to the “yo-yo” effect).
While leptin appears to be the primary regulator of bodyweight set point, it is by no means the only one. Realize that the human body is the most intricate piece of machinery in the world. No device, be it man-made or otherwise, can come close to approximating its intricacies. Accordingly, the pathways controlling food intake have built-in redundancies so the loss of one signaling system is compensated for by the activation of another. In this way, no single system determines your ultimate fate.
Blood sugar (i.e., blood glucose) is perhaps the most important short-term regulator of set point. Blood sugar is derived from the food you eat. After a meal, your body breaks down carbohydrates (and to a lesser extent, protein and fats) into glucose (a simple sugar). Under normal circumstances, the glucose molecules then circulate throughout your bloodstream until they’re taken up in the cells and used for energy.
Since glucose is a primary source of fuel for many bodily tissues, its levels are under tight bodily control. This task is carried out by, as you may have guessed, the hypothalamus, which contains various nerve cells that monitor the amount of circulating blood glucose. When blood glucose falls below a certain threshold, it sends up a red flag that body fuel stores are threatened. The hypothalamus, in turn, initiates a response similar to falling leptin that increases hunger and slows metabolism. After eating a meal, glucose homeostasis is quickly reestablished, and hunger does not manifest again until glucose levels fall below the given threshold.
The blood glucose system works in conjunction with the pancreatic hormone insulin. Insulin is the primary regulator of blood sugar. When blood sugar levels rise following a meal, the beta cells of the pancreas secrete insulin to drive glucose into target cells. Although its main targets are muscle and adipose tissue (fat cells), insulin also acts on the brain, where it binds to insulin receptors in the hypothalamus, exerting similar effects to those of leptin (i.e., increased satiety and elevated metabolic rate). Unfortunately, excess insulin can also cause unwanted body fat storage, making it imperative to keep levels of the hormone in check.
Another system involved in set point regulation is a hormone called ghrelin. Produced in the stomach, ghrelin has been called the “hunger molecule,” with effects diametrically opposite those of leptin. When the stomach is empty, ghrelin signals the hypothalamus to slow down fat utilization and jack up hunger. In this way, it acts as a meal-to-meal control system, influencing the onset and termination of meals.
So, as you can see, the control of set point is an extremely complex entity. Multiple short-term systems interact in a coordinated effort to augment the long-term effects of leptin, maintaining body fat levels within predetermined boundaries.
Conquering Your Set Point
The Look Great Naked Diet is designed to succeed where other diets fail. It focuses on “tricking” your body into believing it should be leaner than it is programmed to be, thereby helping to conquer your set point and achieve super-low levels of body fat (and more importantly, keep fat off over the long haul). Although space limitations prevent a complete discussion of The Look Great Naked Diet protocols, what follows is a brief overview of its approach to the three major macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fat.
Carbs. Despite getting a bad rap these days, carbs are not the enemy. Losing body fat is far more complex than simply eliminating carbs from your diet. In fact, carbs serve multiple functions in the body, including fueling exercise performance, enhancing energy levels, and even regulating leptin function. It’s a matter of choosing the right types and the right amount of carbs.
Although some diets recommend evaluating carbs based on the glycemic index (a measure of how quickly carbs enter the bloodstream), this strategy can be misguided. The glycemic index fails to distinguish whether or not a food has nutritional value. For instance, a carrot has a higher glycemic score than a Snicker’s bar. Which one do you think is more nutritious?
In The Look Great Naked Diet, the carbs you eat are based on nutrient density. Nutrient density takes into account the amount of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, in a carbohydrate. Not only are nutrient-dense carbs insulin friendly, but they supply your body with essential compounds that enhance metabolic function. Moreover, they help increase satiety, filling you up without filling you out. A moderate intake of nutrient-dense carbs supplies your body with needed fuel, conferring a positive effect on set point.
Protein. Protein is the king of all nutrients. If protein intake is not adequate during dieting, cellular function is compromised and your appearance, as well as overall health, suffers. Only by consuming protein in excess of losses can you promote anabolism (muscle and tissue development) and enhance the quality of your physique.
In addition to its anabolic role, protein also has unique metabolic actions. For one, a large percentage of calories from protein are burned off in the digestion process – a phenomenon called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Of all the macronutrients, protein has far and away the highest thermic effect, burning off approximately 25 percent of the calories consumed.
Further, protein tends to curb appetite. During its digestion, protein brings about the secretion of a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK), which acts to suppress the body’s hunger mechanisms. These satiety-inducing effects are pronounced, lasting several hours after a meal. And when appetite isn’t driven by hunger, food choices can more easily be made based on rationale rather than impulse.
In The Look Great Naked Diet, protein intake equates to approximately 1 gram per pound of ideal bodyweight coming from lean protein sources such as white meat poultry, fish, lean red meat and egg whites. Thus, if your goal weight is, say, 120 pounds, you should consume about 120 grams of protein.
Fat. Fats are an essential nutrient and play a vital role in many bodily functions. They are involved in cushioning your internal organs for protection, aiding in the absorption of vitamins, and facilitating the production of cell membranes, hormones and prostaglandins. Physiologically, it would be impossible to survive without the inclusion of fats in your diet. But there are good and bad fats, and consuming the right ones in the right amounts can have a profound effect on body composition.
Saturated fats, abundant in many meats and dairy products, and trans fats, found in a wide array of processed foods, should be eliminated from your diet as much as possible. For all intents and purposes, these fats serve no biological purpose. After consumption, they are either stored as fat in adipose cells throughout your body or become oxidized as fatty deposits in your arteries. Moreover, they tend to decrease leptin and insulin sensitivity, making it harder for these hormones to function optimally.
In The Look Great Naked Diet, you eat primarily mono- and polyunsaturated fats – fats that have a positive effect on your body. Derived mainly from oils, nuts, seeds and vegetables, these fats help maintain cell fluidity, facilitating the passage of nutrients, hormones, and chemical signals into and out of your cells.
The omega-3 fats, a specific type of polyunsaturated fat, are especially important with regard to body composition. They act as fuel partitioners, directing fatty acids away from storage and toward oxidation. One of the ways this is accomplished is through enzyme regulation. Specifically, omega-3s help increase the activity of fat-burning enzymes and suppress the activity of fat- storing enzymes. Additionally, omega-3s increase levels of a class of fat- burning compounds called uncoupling proteins (UCPs). UCPs act on various bodily tissues to heighten thermogenesis, allowing calories to be burned off immediately as heat rather than stored as fat. And omega-3s even have a positive impact on leptin. They counteract the effects of saturated fats, increasing both leptin production and sensitivity. Given these and other benefits, omega-3s should comprise about five percent or more of total calories.
Spinach/mushroom egg white omelet
Stone ground oatmeal with flaxseed oil
Coffee or tea
Banana protein smoothie
Grilled chicken breast
Large salad with olive oil vinaigrette
Broiled salmon steak