By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
You and most of us who live in Western societies, and increasingly also people in China, share one affliction of affluence --- we are fat. In fact, we are fatter than ever, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legions of books have been written to help us escape the maddening calculus of gaining and losing weight. Fortunes have been built in this pursuit --- just look at Weight Watchers Inc and Jenny Craig.
But in a recent almost accidental review of some studies on an entirely different subject I came across a tidbit that may just be the answer to the lifelong mystery of why some people stay effortlessly skinny while others of us struggle to lose even half a pound. It's your liver.
Why Your Liver Is the Key to Weight Loss
Your liver is sort of a forgotten organ, unless you are a heavy drinker. But your liver is a major heavy lifter when it comes to the smooth functioning of your body. Your liver is a tireless worker. It is responsible for cleansing, sifting, filtering, every single thing you put in your mouth, fluid or solid.
Your liver never gets a rest. And that's the point.
You see, after you eat anything, your body converts it to usable energy. Ultimately, the food source makes its way to your liver.
After you eat, food is stored as glycogen, a type of sugar, in your liver.
It takes up to 12 hours after you eat for your liver to clear out all the glycogen.
Now, here's the magic. After all the glycogen is cleared out, your body starts to burn fat.
Letting Your Liver Clear Out By Delaying Breakfast Can Help You Shed Weight Pretty Easily
Here is what I discovered. If I just delay breakfast by an hour or so, I lose weight.
Why? The liver clears out the glycogen 12 hours after I ate dinner the night before. If I eat at 7 or 8PM, by the time I wake up at 7 AM, the liver is just about finished clearing out the glycogen.
Back when I didn't know any better, I would start to eat breakfast shortly after waking up.
As a result, my liver never got to the point where all the glycogen was squeezed out. So my body never switched to burning fat as an energy source.
Now that I delay eating anything until around 11AM, my liver is triggering the burning of fat for about 2 hours a day and I am dropping about 2 pounds a week.
A Deeper Dive into the Science of What's Going On
Your body keeps very careful track of the amount of carbohydrates in your blood stream. One of the reasons carbohydrates are so important is that your brain only uses carbohydrates, specifically glycogen, as a food source.
When you sleep, your body is in a fasting, non-eating state. After you break your fast by eating the aptly named meal "breakfast", your body's glycogen needs are met by the carbohydrates you eat.
So great is your body's need to maintain your blood sugar levels --- to keep that brain alive and well-fed --- that it has a back up plan. If at anytime your blood circulating levels of glucose fall below 2.5 to 3 mmol, you begin to feel dizzy, which is a screaming alert to tell you to "eat some carbs!".
Actually, more accurately, your body is screaming " give me something, anything, I can use to make some glycogen with, please!"
You see, your body can make sugar out of anything, even proteins. The only catch is that, when it makes sugar out of protein, the yield of glycogen is pretty pathetic. You end up only produces about 1500 kcalories of glycogen energy from a diet that consists only of protein. We know this from experiments done with arctic-inhabitants including Eskimos, Indians and Lapps whose diets consist of a meat and fat mixture called "pemmican".
If you deny your body carbohydrates at a point when the glycogen levels circulating in your blood are low, your body begins to bake a carbohydrate cake using whatever ingredients it has available, drawing down on amino acids and glycogen stored in your muscles and fat cells.
What Should You First Eat to Break Your Fast
Okay, so you have made it to 11AM without eating. Your liver is empty of glycogen. Now, should you feed your body a quick carb? Or should you hold back on the carbs and force your body to use proteins to create glycogen?
If you don't eat any foods that your body can use to make carbohydrates, your body will perceive this as starvation. The starvation response is powerful. Your body then adopts a starvation set of rules; One of the primary rules is "hang on to glucose because this fool is trying to starve us!"
As a result, if you fast for too long, your body will have a higher blood glucose count the next time you eat than it normally would have registered.
The better approach is to feed your body a good, slow-acting carbohydrate source such as an apple, plus some protein such as an egg white, plus a little fat such as olive oil (cook your egg with it) or a handful of nuts.
This kind of small, balanced breakfast will not make your body kick into glycogen hyper-storage.
You can safely lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week, just by following this liver-friendly way of eating.