Exercise Science

8 Factors of Burning Fat

What to eat and how much to eat for optimum health and for your ideal body shape and size.

It can all seem a little confusing and an overwhelming area to explore. Right now you could pick up a book that says to eat bucket-loads of carbohydrates as they are essential for energy and beside it on the shelf will be a book that tells you not to eat carbs because they’ll make you fat and tired.

Any of the following eight factors may be involved. As you read, reflect on your own health and body while you consider each factor. You will soon see the aspects of your body chemistry that you will need to target.

1. Calories
You can’t eat like a piglet and expect your body fat to co-operate. If you eat well and exercise regularly and body fat still poses a problem for you, then your answer is probably not in the calorie department. There will be other aspects of your biochemistry that need to be addressed.

If you do overeat at times even though you know you would be better off not doing so, then getting to the bottom of why you do this could change your life. The reason may be biochemical or emotional.

2. Stress Hormones
The human body makes two dominant stress hormones. They are adrenalin and cortisol. Cortisol is our chronic stress hormone. In other words, we tend to make too much of it when we are stressed for a long time.

Historically, cortisol was designed to save your life when food was scarce so even though food may be abundant for you today, cortisol sends a message to every cell in your body that your metabolism needs to be slowed down so that those precious fat stores can keep you going until the food supply returns.

Cortisol lays fat down around your middle, on the back of your arms and you grow, what I lovingly call, a back verandah. Most people’s response to fat accumulation around their tummies is to go on a diet, which means eating less food. This only confirms to your body what cortisol has driven your body to believe is true, when in fact the opposite is true and food is likely to be abundant for you.

When you restrict your food intake on your “diet” you slow your metabolism even further, making it feel like you only have to look at food for weight to go on! If cortisol is a contributing factor to your weight gain, going on a calorie restricted diet is not your answer. Sorting out your cortisol is and there are numerous

3. Sex Hormones
The major sex hormones for women are estrogen and progesterone, with testosterone also playing a role. The balance of these hormones can influence whether you are storing fat or burning it. Estrogen lays down fat. Progesterone on the other hand, is essential for us to be able to access body fat to burn it. Reproductively, progesterone’s job is to hold the lining of the uterus in place after estrogen has laid it down. Biologically though, progesterone has many functions. It is one of our most powerful anti-anxiety agents. It is also an anti-depressant and a diuretic, which means that it allows us to excrete any excess fluid we may be carrying. It is essential for burning body fat.

I think most women want bucket loads of it forever! If estrogen is far too high for the amount of progesterone being produced, body fat will be stored. It is however essential to get to the bottom of why there is either poor progesterone production or why estrogen is in excess. Some people have excellent progesterone levels but their estrogen is simply far too high to balance the progesterone. The liver plays a central role in whether estrogen levels are appropriate or far too high for body fat to be burnt. Getting this hormonal balance right can change a woman’s life, for not only will she burn body fat far more easily, but her menstrual cycle will cause her, (and those around her!) far less PMT grief! Getting on top of your hormonal balance can change your head-space as well as your body.

4. The Liver
The liver is the second largest organ in the human body after our skin. One of its primary roles is that of detoxification. Detoxification is essentially a transformation process with two phases and during this process the liver decides whether to fully process a substance or recycle (reabsorb) it. The liver has to process things we consume such as alcohol, caffeine and trans fats but also things we absorb through our skin. You only need to think about the way nicotine patches work to realise how effectively we absorb substances through our skin. The liver also has to detoxify substances the body naturally makes, such as cholesterol and sex hormones.

The liver also picks up any shortfall in digestion so if people are suffering from constipation or IBS, the liver will have an additional workload. The best way to imagine how the liver functions, is to compare it to a motorway. When you first drive onto a motorway, you want to go 100km per hour but sometimes you have to crawl along at 30km per hour because the traffic is all banked up. The same thing happens with your liver. You want things to fly through your liver at 100km per hour and be fully dealt with, not crawl through at 30km per hour.

It is when the traffic in the liver gets all banked up that it can impact on how we feel and function every day, including our hormonal balance. Sorting out liver function can also change your life and lead to far more effective fat burning.

+ Do you feel frustrated when you can’t seem to budge the bulge?

+ Maybe you’re doing all the right things, without getting results?

Guess what – fat burning is not always a case of calories in and calories out.

Losing weight and getting fit isn’t a black and white situation. In fact, there are nine contributing factors that you might not have considered. Last week we were lucky enough to get schooled on the first four by our favourite women’s health expert, Dr Libby Weaver, and now we’re back for part 2.

5. The Thyroid
The thyroid gland is a little butterfly shaped gland that sits in your throat area. It makes hormones that play an enormous role in your metabolic rate as well as your temperature regulation.

The thyroid gland can become over active or under active and it is the latter scenario that can lead to weight gain that can be incredibly difficult to shift until this issue is addressed. The thyroid gland is also susceptible to auto-immune diseases, meaning your immune system, which is supposed to defend you from infection, starts to see the thyroid gland as a foreign substance and attacks it leading to a change in its function. Infection and/or poor liver function are two factors that can initiate this process.

It is important to work out the path that lead someone to altered thyroid function because the road that led this to occur is the road that needs to be taken to correct the dysfunction. Like with all health challenges, we need to understand the “why”.

6. Insulin
The pancreas is another gland that makes a hormone intricately linked to body fat burning or accumulation. Insulin, which is a fat storage hormone, is made by the pancreas. We make it when blood glucose levels increase via carbohydrate consumption, caffeine and/or adrenalin (stress). Yet we must consume some carbohydrates as they are vital to the function of our brain, kidneys and red blood cells, in particular. So how do we manage this?

When it comes to body fat accumulation, it is the OVER PRODUCTION and/or big surges of insulin that are the problem, not insulin itself. Many people have excellent blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar levels) inside the normal range, yet they have to make a huge amount of insulin to keep their blood sugar levels within the normal range.

So whether it is on and off surges of insulin throughout the day as your blood sugar flies through the roof and then subsequently plummets and then surges again, or because of your overproduction of insulin, burning body fat for energy will prove difficult.

7. Gut Bacteria
Recent research has found two distinct groups of gut bacteria inhabiting the colon can influence whether you are storing fat or burning it. The big long scientific names for these classes of bugs are Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes.

People with more Bacteroidetes in their large bowel have been shown to burn fat more readily while those with more Firmicutes are more likely to store fat. Even if two people ate the same amount of calories the dominant gut bacterial species can make those calories seem almost like a much larger amount for people with more Firmicutes. Addressing gut health and digestion can change your chemistry to one of fat burning rather than storage.

8. Emotions
Humans store fat when they don’t feel safe, whatever that means to them. We have rules about what it means for us to feel safe, usually in the areas of relationships, finances and work. Trouble is, we don’t usually know what they are. Some of us have had traumatic experiences in life that have led to us to feel unsafe, while others have created meanings about things that happened when they were little that they continue to replay now they are adults. It’s like an itch that constantly gets scratched, only you usually don’t realise why you felt sad or uneasy or why your heart started to race or why your mood has changed “suddenly”.

Getting to the heart of why you do what you do, when you know what you know changes your life, including your health behaviours.


Dr Libby Weaver is an internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and speaker, based in Sydney Australia. Her natural ability to break down even the most complex of concepts into layman’s terms has seen audiences across the world embrace her holistic approach and unique form of education. With abundant knowledge, scientific research and a true desire to help others see their own light and beauty, Dr Libby empowers and inspires people to take charge of their health and happiness.



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