Permanent Fat Loss Principles: The “Secret” is No Secret

Permanent Fat Loss Principles: The “Secret” is No Secret

Though you trudge away on the treadmill and scrape by on seeds and sprouts, the bathroom scale refuses to budge. But actually, the formula for fat loss is quite simple.

Self-proclaimed health “experts” and hokey fitness gimmick infomercial hosts promise you can cull the kilos (or pare away the pounds) by exercising only three minutes a day.

Then there’s the fine print: Losing “weight” is easy.   LOSING FAT and keeping it off can be downright difficult.  But don’t despair; there is hope! Arm yourself with these fat trimming lifestyle tips and keep it off for life!

Fat Loss Principles For Life

1) Banish Your Bathroom Scale

First things first: banish your bathroom scale and only take it out once every other week.  It is your fat loss foe! It is a traitor that will deceive you (unless you know how to keep it in line).

The media, food companies, and woo-pushing quacks have brainwashed everyone to focus on “weight loss” instead of FAT LOSS with little to no consideration for body composition. This sells products, but it’s the wrong message.

Anyone can “lose weight” by starving themselves on a fad diet but, while you might seemingly “lose weight” on the scale in the beginning, this is not fat loss. It’s mostly glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscle), water, muscle, and maybe a little fat.

And guzzling a so-called “skinny teatox” or “fit tea” loaded with laxatives and diuretics might fool you into thinking you’ve lost fat, but you’ll quickly regain the water and fecal weight as soon as you stop using it.

2) Buy Into Body Composition, Not Just Body Weight

Exercise. Focus on building and maintaining valuable muscle. Muscle is very metabolically active and pays a higher caloric “rent” to sustain itself (even at rest). Fat tissue, on the other hand, is something of a metabolic freeloader which burns comparatively fewer calories.

If after a few months your scale weight hasn’t changed much, you might notice that your clothes fit better.  This is usually a result of an increase in muscle and decrease in fat.

Have a look and compare these two cross sectional thigh scans.

thigh_with_fatthigh_with_fat2The first image shows a strong dense muscle with minimal fat penetrating into the muscle.  The second image shows a weak, wasting muscle which is infiltrated with fat.  The overall surface area is similar, but you can see the drastic difference in composition.

3) Don’t Trust Fibbing Exercise Machines 

Ever seen those “fat burning” or “cardio” buttons on treadmills and stationary bikes?  The irony is the so-called “fat burning” button can keep you fat and the cardio button will help trim your gut and butt.  This is where it gets confusing so pay attention.

In the image below, you can see that a lower intensity (lower VO2) burns proportionally more fat as a fuel source during exercise (fat burn button). The trade off is that you also burn less overall calories per unit of time compared to higher intensities.

At higher exercise intensities (cardio button), you burn more carbohydrate (sugar) as a fuel source (blue dots in the image), but you burn more calories per unit of time.


Comparing apples to apples, if you did 10 minutes on the treadmill on the low-intensity fat loss setting versus 10 minutes on the the higher-intensity cardio setting, you’d actually be better served by the cardio setting.

Independent of the fuel source during exercise, your overall energy (calorie) expenditure is higher. The energy deficit created by exercise is later justified by the body pulling fat out of storage (even when not exercising).

In the long-term, you are served much better by exercising at higher intensities per unit of time and maximizing the energy burn than focusing on which fuel source you’re using during exercise.   The overall CUMULATIVE calorie deficit is what matters and that’s what’s going to have you looking good for the long haul!

If you’re new to exercise and out of shape, then you may need to start off at a slow pace in order to allow your body to adapt.  Progress slowly and work up to higher intensities over time to maximise intensity to enhance energy expenditure.

4) Build Your Fitness Foundation

Following on from above, if you’re completely new to exercise, develop your fitness foundation slowly and gradually progress to higher intensities. Doing too much too soon may leave you sore and discourage you from continuing. Check out my 10 quick tips to get off the exercise rollercoaster and set your fitness foundation in stone.

Start off at a leisurely pace on the bike or treadmill for no more than 20 minutes and do this 3 to 4 days per week.

Depending on how you feel, increase your duration by 5-10 minutes per session each week until you can do 45-60 minutes of non-stop cardio exercise.

5) Integrate Intense Intervals

With your fitness foundation in place, start cranking up the intensity by integrating intervals into your routine (this is key for fat loss). Intervals are higher intensity bursts interspersed within your cardio routine designed to raise your heart rate and crank up the calorie burning control knob.

During your cardio exercise, start off with 1 to 2-minute high intensity bursts and then give yourself 3-4 minutes of active recovery at a lower intensity (keep walking or pedaling).

Perform your intervals at an intensity high enough that you can barely speak to the person next to you, preferably an exercise partner who shares your same fat loss goals.

6) Work Up to High Intensity For Longer

Once you’ve established your fitness foundation and incorporated intervals into your regimen, try to maintain higher intensities for longer durations.  The longer you maintain the higher intensities, the more energy you burn, the more fat you pull out of storage, and the greater your overall fat loss.

7) Lift Weights (or Body Weight). Muscle = Metabolism

Muscle is the machinery that drives your metabolism.  Resistance training is known to enhance muscle size, structure, and function all of which cause a cascade of health benefits.  It doesn’t mean that you need to grunt and groan amongst bespandexed gym gorillas.

Many of the fitness boot camps leverage on calisthenic style exercises which mostly use body weight for resistance.  Muscles don’t have eyes.  As long as you’re stressing your muscles at a level above and beyond that which they’re normally accustomed, you can expect improvements in your appearance and, of course, your metabolic health.

8) Focus on Small Changes For Big Improvements

Avoid radical changes in your diet, as this only sets you up for failure.  Focus instead on making tiny nutrition changes you can live with.  For example, try cutting down on soda, chips, and sweets.

If you drink a liter per day, wean your way down to 500 milliliters, then to 250, and eventually to water.  One little change can translate to big changes in both scale weight and appearance over the long haul.

If you consume 250 calories less and expend 250 calories more with exercise each day, over one calendar year you’d could plausibly strip off about 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of body fat.

Obviously the actual amount of fat loss will vary due to inter-individual differences in genes, habits, and behavioral considerations (see my article: Obesity Genes: Does your DNA predict Body Fat and Weight?).  Small changes are important because they minimise the “famine response” and keep you off the exercise rollercoaster (and then some). As a general rule, healthy FAT LOSS is approximately 1 – 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) per week.

9) “Incidentally Speaking,” Waste Energy with Incidental Activity

The emerging science of inactivity physiology shows that we need to be as inefficient as humanly possible as often as possible.

  • Waste energy at all times of the day outside of your structured exercise sessions.
  • Avoid life’s shortcuts.
  • Nix the elevators. Opt for the stairs.
  • Walk up those steep hills.
  • Take public transit and weigh yourself down with a laptop case or backpack.
  • Use a handbasket at the supermarket instead of a trolley (shopping cart).
  • Use a standing workstation instead of a sit-down desk.

The more energy you blow throughout the day, the greater your overall fat loss.  Every little bit counts and it all contributes to the “bottom line.”

10) Buddy Up

Sure, misery loves company, but so does exercise!  Identify your supporters and saboteurs.   Avoid the saboteurs who will attempt to undermine and derail your efforts out of jealousy.   Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who will either exercise with you on your journey or play the role of cheerleader!  It may also be helpful to join online support networks which will allow you to share your experience with other like-minded people who may be going through the same thing.

11) Make it Fun

It’s the age-old question: What’s the best exercise in the world?  The one you LIKE and the one you’ll do on a regular basis!  I see lots of trainers and exercisers alike debating over which exercise is best, but when it comes right down to it, you just need to find something that will make you more active.   If you like to walk, then walk.  If you like to ride your bike around the neighborhood, then ride your bike.  As mentioned above, intersperse some intervals to crank up the calorie burning control knob!

12) Unfriend the Media

The media is NOT your friend.  Cancel your cable TV subscription or at least stop watching it 20 hours per week. Nix the fluffy celebrity gossip magazines. These types of publications are loaded with unrealistic body images that are merely airbrushed photos meant to provide false hope and sell copies.

13) Fire Your Health Guru

The popularity of social media has led to rampant proliferation of self-styled “health gurus” like the so-called Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe, both of whom have gone down in flames for making outlandish claims with no health science training.

While we all want to believe claims that health nirvana is just one miracle diet, supplement, or infomercial gadget away, the grim reality is that none of this works.

Guru promises of simple solutions to complex problems will likely leave you with complex problems without simple solutions. While not always a guarantee, checking for university qualifications in a health science can increase your chances of getting reliable information that will help you adopt a healthy lifestyle for life.


In all my years as a diet and exercise professional, I can tell you one thing with absolute unequivocal certainty: the secret to permanent fat loss is that THERE IS NO SECRET.

Every client I’ve worked with who has lost weight and kept it off did not rely on slimming wraps (i.e., It Works body wraps). They simply committed themselves to a healthy lifestyle and then stuck with it for the long term. Thing is, we’ve known it all along.

Even the ancient Greeks knew it.  Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

More recent evidence of this can be found on Dr. Rena Wing’s National Weight Control Registry at the University of Rhode Island.

As much as we’d all like to believe in “wishful shrinking,” miracle diets, pills, powders, and infomercial gadgets do not work.  If they did we’d all be thin by now!

Bottom line:  consistency in doing the right thing will always win out over quick-fix fad diets and gimmicks.  Stay the course!  

Is Sugar REALLY That Bad For You? An Honest Answer

Is Sugar REALLY That Bad For You? An Honest Answer

Sugar.  Everyone loves to hate it. But is it REALLY all that bad?

With the exception of fat, no other single nutrient has been more maligned and misrepresented than carbohydrate.

Sugar, as it’s commonly known, has been singularly scapegoated as the culprit behind our expanding waistlines, chronic diseases, and child hyperactivity disorders – among others.

The mass media, ever thirsty for a sensationalized headline, has muddled fact and fiction, referring to sugar as a metabolic poison. Popular diet book authors and purveyors of potions and pills have profited by feeding a confused public small portions of the truth that are meant to serve their sales agendas.

But the question that nobody seems to be asking is, can something that tastes so good REALLY be so bad for health?

Why does everyone believe sugar is bad?

Sugar has been demonised by alarmist book titles like “Sweet Poison” and “I Quit Sugar,” social media, anti-sugar websites, popular magazines, and the personal trainer at your local gym. When lies and half-truths get repeated often enough, they become true in everyone’s minds (much like old wive’s tales).

But to understand what sugar has done to earn its unsavory reputation, you have to first understand what food processing has done to carbohydrate.

Food science technology allows manufacturers to isolate, extract, and manipulate starches and simple sugars, which can then be added to foods to enhance:

  • Flavor
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Sweetness
  • Shelf life

The knee-jerk public reaction is that ALL added sugar is bad news. However, this view does not take into consideration that sugary foods consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, nutrient-rich diet are unlikely to pose any significant harm.

What exactly does “in moderation” mean anyway? 

The word moderation can mean different things to different people so it’s important to draw some lines in the sand and set limits for a frame of reference.

The World Health Organisation recommends adults and children reduce their added sugar intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake, but suggests that a further reduction to 5% (about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day would confer additional health benefits.

Sounds easy enough, but how does our sugar intake ACTUALLY measure up?

Added sugar: recommended vs. actual intakes

Unfortunately, added sugar intake in the United States and Australia far exceeds these recommendations. In the US, added sugar accounts for almost 270 calories, or 13% of daily energy intake. The highest sugar intakes were found in children, adolescents, and young adults and ranged between 15 and 17% of daily energy intake.

is sugar bad?

Sugar Intake: Recommended versus actual intake. Source:

According to recent health survey data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians are consuming 60 grams of added sugar per day (14 level teaspoons of white sugar). Children, adolescents, and young adults were most likely to exceed the WHO recommendations, with males aged 14-18 years found to be consuming 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (and the top 10% of male teenagers consuming as high as 38 teaspoons of free sugars per day).

In both countries, beverage intake was responsible for the highest intakes (including soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, fruit and vegetable juices). Leading food sources included muffins, cakes, and confectionary.

Is sugar making us fat?

Is sugar bad for you? If in a Big Gulp, then yes!While all the alarmists would have you believe that a single granule of the sweet stuff on your tongue will make your ass wider than an axe handle, the evidence clearly shows that the devil is in the dose – and we’re chowing it down by the truckload.

Foods high in refined sugar are also high in calories and low in nutrient density so it’s easy to eat a lot of them. They are less satisfying which can leave you feeling hungrier sooner and more likely to reach for the next doughnut and can of Coke.

Further reading: Check out these articles on satiety and nutrient/energy density.

Before we start pointing fingers, remember that the current obesity epidemic is due to not only the overconsumption of refined, high sugar, high fat, high calorie junk foods, but also the epidemic levels of physical inactivity (i.e., long hours chained to a desk, playing video games, using messaging apps, etc). According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 4 adults is not physically active and 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.

Translation: we’re easily putting down the calories, but we’re not doing enough to burn them off. Sugar is at the scene of the obesity crime, but it clearly isn’t a “lone shooter.”

Sugar 101: back to basics

So what is sugar anyway?

Time to get back to basics. There are six nutrients, three of which provide calories. They are: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

You might be thinking, “hey, wait! Where’s sugar?”

Simply put, sugar IS carbohydrate, but in its most basic form.


The simplest of carbohydrates are called “monosaccharides.” They are:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose


Carbohydrates that contain two monosaccharides are called “disaccharides.”  Common examples are:

  • Sucrose (table sugar) – formed from glucose and fructose
  • Lactose (milk sugar) – formed from glucose and galactose

Both monosaccharides and disaccharides are commonly referred to as sugars. In general, the smaller the molecule, the sweeter the taste.


Long-chain complex carbohydrates (known as polysaccharides) are comparatively less refined and therefore less sweet on your tongue. Examples of polysaccharides include:

  • Starch – this is the carbohydrate stored in plants. Humans have an enzyme called amylase that allows us to break down starch into glucose.
  • Glycogen – this is the storage form of carbohydrate in humans and animals.
  • Cellulose – this is the strong, thick fiber that gives vegetables and fruits their rigid shape and structure. Humans cannot digest it since our enzymes are unable to break the chemical bonds that hold it together.

What are the different types of sugars?

Natural sugars

Natural sugars are “naturally” present in foods. Fructose, for example, is the naturally occurring sugar that gives fruit its sweetness.

As a fruit ripens, longer chain carbohydrates called starches break down into simpler, sweeter sugar molecules. Honey also derives its sweetness from fructose.

Refined sugars

Refined sugars are made via the processing and refining of starches.  In the case of sucrose, the processing of starches in sugar cane or sugar beets produces the sweet tasting white crystals most people recognize as table sugar.

Added sugars

“Added sugars” can be either natural or refined such as those added to foods. Commonly added sugars include table sugar, high fructose corn syrup (controversial and frequently maligned), as well as supposedly healthier sweeteners like agave nectar and honey.

Whoa!  Supposedly healthier? What does that mean? Are honey and agave nectar REALLY healthier than sucrose or high fructose corn syrup?

Is honey healthy?

While it is true that honey, especially raw honey, contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and even amino acids to varying degrees depending on the type, the contribution of these nutrients to a healthful diet if consumed regularly has not been well established.

A current review of the scientific literature shows that the health benefits attributed to honey are often associated with ingesting large amounts (50-80 grams). Thus, the supposed benefits of honey could be due to the additive effect of these trace elements.  If this is true, then honey’s benefits come at a relatively high caloric cost (i.e., high energy, low nutrient density).

A recent report by the Food Safety News found that about two-thirds of commercially produced honey has been filtered to the point that it no longer contains any traces of pollen and can’t be identified as true honey.

Is agave nectar healthier than sugar?

Agave nectar has been shown in mice to moderate weight gain, glucose, and insulin levels compared to sucrose.

In a human study of adults aged 20 to 45, consumption of 50 grams of agave nectar elicited a lower blood glucose response compared to the equivalent amount of sucrose. However, a greater level of nausea was reported in the agave nectar group.

Agave nectar is very high in fructose, almost 85%, which would explain its beneficial effects on blood glucose response, but in the high doses found in many junk foods, it can contribute to obesity and poor health.

Despite some early positive press, agave nectar has lost its shine as a media darling. It’s now been trashed and tossed onto same heap as other refined sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

Once you get past all the marketing hype, most sweeteners, including honey, are surprisingly more alike than they are different. You need only look at their chemical composition to understand why.

Chemical composition of different types of sugar

Chemically speaking, table sugar, the dissacharide derived from sugar cane, is composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose where glucose and fructose occur in equal amounts.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), also a glucose and fructose solution, is made from corn. It is produced as HFCS-42, HFCS-55 or HFCS-90, which contain 42 percent, 55 percent or 90 percent of fructose, respectively.

Likewise, agave nectar is a mixture of glucose and fructose obtained by refining the agave plant.

Even honey is little more than a solution of glucose and fructose, with the exact ratio of glucose to fructose varying from product to product, though often occurring at or near a 1:1 ratio. Pollen is filtered to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, the sweet-tasting end products offer comparatively little nutritional value.

Natural sugar guilty by association

In our zeal to slay the sugar monster, we have thrown out the natural sugar baby with the added sugar bathwater.

Some self-styled nutrition experts have slammed fruit by naively reasoning that because it contains fruit sugar, and fruit sugar contains fructose, it must therefore be bad for you.

What critics consistently neglect to acknowledge is that an orange (which contains fructose the way nature intended) also provides valuable fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and a whole slew of other important micronutrients and phytonutrients.

Because of these other food constituents (fiber in particular), the food leaves the stomach slower and leads to a slower rise in blood sugar (as opposed to a can of Coke).

For more information, check out this article on fruit sugar and health on this site.

Right, so refined sugar may not be good for me, but is it BAD for me?

Based on the current science the best answer to this question is kinda, sorta, maybe, but this ambiguity must be put into context.

Commercially-produced sweeteners are derived from whole foods. At their core, they possess some combination of the naturally occurring sugars, fructose and glucose.

The difference is, when eaten in the original unprocessed whole foods, these sugars and the starches they come from are diluted, distributed, and evenly balanced out by a combination of other healthy nutrients (i.e., fiber, phytonutrients, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals).

The refining process distorts this balance and comes at a high nutritional cost – very high in calories and low in nutrient density Still, the fact that refined sugar isn’t a chock full of wholesome nutrition does not necessarily make it bad for us.

Fructose intake and fatty liver?

Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized in the liver. There are conflicting opinions, but research on fructose suggests that consuming very LARGE AMOUNTS of this monosaccharide may have a negative impact on your health and contribute to conditions like fatty liver in some people. Nearly anything in moderation can potentially be harmful in excess – and sugar is no different (excessive water intake can kill you too).

It is important to note that many of the fructose studies were conducted in rats or on small groups of obese individuals. Therefore, these results may not readily apply to healthy weight or mildly overweight people.

Much of the research to date included the ingestion of pure fructose solutions at very high levels, which are not representative of the amounts consumed in the average diet.

The real take home message here is that findings from available fructose studies do not provide any compelling evidence against moderate consumption against a backdrop of an otherwise diverse and healthy diet.

Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that the facts have been misrepresented by the mainstream media and self-styled nutrition “experts,” usually for a sensationalized story line or as marketing fodder.

So sugar is not a bad, rotten, evil poison after all?

Sugar is sugar is sugar – empty calories that aren’t necessary. For those who are eating a diverse and nutrient dense diet, occasionally drizzling your favorite whole wheat pancakes in a little syrup is probably okay and does not pose any clear or well-established risk to your health.

However, routinely drenching pancakes made from refined white flour in agave nectar and washing it down with a 2-liter bottle of Coke is clearly not going to do your health any favors.

Bottom line: sugar redeemed

The issue with sugar may not be one of “good versus bad” but rather one of “some versus too much.” It has been my experience that people who cut down the added sugar from their diet don’t miss it (this nutritionist included). So, while accustomed to the sweetness of added sugars, when given the chance, tastes buds happily and naturally recalibrate.

This strategy, by default, results in a more nutrient-dense diet which leaves the stomach slower, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, and therefore less likely to overeat. People who lose weight and keep it off through a diet low in refined sugar do so mainly as a result of continued calorie control – and less so because “sugar is a poison.”

Additional Reading

Schneider, Andrew. “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.” Food Safety Network. November 1, 2011.

Hooshmand Shirin, Holloway Brittany, Nemoseck Tricia, Cole Sarah, Petrisko Yumi, Hong Mee Young, and Kern Mark. Effects of Agave Nectar Versus Sucrose on Weight Gain, Adiposity, Blood Glucose, Insulin, and Lipid Responses in Mice. Journal of Medicinal Food. September 2014, 17(9): 1017-1021. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.0162. (link)

Cravinho,A, Hammon, M, Rieger, K, Kern, M. Acute Ingestive Effects of Agave Nectar Versus Sucrose in Healthy Young Adults. The FASEB Journal. 29(1) Supplement 596.17. (link)

Willems, JL & Low, NH. Major Carbohydrate, Polyol, and Oligosaccharide Profiles of Agave Syrup. Application of this Data to Authenticity Analysis. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2012, 60(35): 8745–8754. DOI: 10.1021/jf3027342. (link)

Bogdanov, S., Jurendic, T., Sieber, R., Gallmann, P. Honey for Nutrition and Health: A Review.  J Am. Coll Nutr 2008, 27:677-689. (link)

Rizkalla, S. Health implication of fructose consumption:  A recent review of data.  Nutrition and Metabolism 2010, 7:82. (link)

Stanhope, K., Havel, P. Fructose Consumption:  Recent results and their potential implication.  Ann NY Acad Sci. 2010; 1190: 15-24. (link)

Dolan, L., Potter, S., Burdock, G.  Evidence-Based Review on the Effect of Normal Dietary Consumption of Fructose on Blood Lipids and Body Weight of Overweight and Obese Individuals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010; 50 (10): 889-918. (link)

Obesity Genes: Does Your DNA Predict Body Fat and Weight?

Obesity Genes: Does Your DNA Predict Body Fat and Weight?

Genes are today’s media darling!  You might have a healthy lifestyle, but mainstream headlines are smacking you in the face with a wet mackerel telling you that your genes are in charge.  But is it really this simple? Can your genes accurately predict health and disease? Let’s have a closer look.

Recent estimates from the World Health Organization suggest that there are more than one billion overweight adults in the world.

At least 300 million of these are classified as clinically obese, to the extent that their condition may cause health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (and other less publicised consequences of obesity).

Such statistics are certainly grim, but when viewed from a historical perspective, they should not come as a surprise.

Survival of the fattest

Essentially, our ancient genes are performing precisely as they were designed. They are there to store fat and protect against famine at all costs.

Back in the caveman days, those who could store fat most efficiently during times of food scarcity were the ones to survive the famine and continue to procreate.  Fat genes were selected for and, in fact, favoured over the so-called skinny genes.

Ironically, as much as we loathe fighting the battle of the bulge, it is body fat that contributed to our ancestors’ survival, up to the point of producing us!

Suicide by desk job

The industrial revolution of the late 1800s and early 1900s resulted in a significant reduction in human energy output in the course of the working day. And with the advent of the car, that fell even more.

Then, advances in food processing methods led to a sizable increase in energy intake, mostly in the form of prepackaged foods, high in refined sugar and fat.

And now the technological revolution of the past two decades has unequivocally pushed sedentary lifestyle diseases onto the mainstream health radar.

Unfortunately, our ancient human genome could never have imagined the world in which we live today.

Calories (kilojoules) previously burnt off through hunting, gathering, and fleeing predators are now readily stored as excess body fat.

And therein lies the irony: our formerly protective fat-storing biology has now become a health liability in times of physical inactivity and food over-abundance.

Is calories in vs calories out valid?

So, what’s the solution to our expanding waistlines? For years, we’ve been told weight-loss is simply a result of burning off more energy than you consume. All the experts preach the “calories in vs calories out” gospel.  Exercise more. Eat less. But is the issue really so black and white?

While the calories in vs calories out mantra is technically true, obesity is unquestionably a highly complex condition.  Continuing advances in our understanding of energy balance and weight control suggest an intricate interrelationship between nature and nurture.

Genes, enzymes, and hormones: influence on body weight regulation 

Certain biological influences – such as genes, hormones and enzymes – may partially explain why some skinny people can eat to their heart’s content and never gain a gram; while others live on birdseed and tofu, and still manage to gain weight.

The following sidebar lists a number of novel scientific developments that suggest perhaps there is more to weight control than just cutting back on the late-night snacks.

FTO Gene

In a study of nearly 40,000 people, those with two copies of the FTO gene variant were likely to weigh approximately 3kg more than those without the gene, and 1.2kg more than those with just one copy of the gene.

Tripeptidyl Peptidase 2 Enzyme (TPP II) 

The tripeptidyl peptidase II enzyme has been shown in animal models to stimulate the formation of new fat cells. Even in the case of comparable food intake, mice with the enzyme had greater fat stores than those without it. Because TPP II also plays a role in hunger signaling, therapies aimed at reducing the enzyme could plausibly lead to therapies for increasing perception of post-meal fullness and reducing fat cell formation.

G-protein Inwardly Rectifying K+ Channel Gene (GIRK 4)

Called the G-protein, the Inwardly Rectifying K+ channel (GIRK-4) gene has been linked to adult-onset obesity in animal models. Found in the hypothalamus of the brain and believed to be associated with food regulation and energy expenditure, experimental removal of GIRK-4 in mice results in obesity.  Further studies are warranted to identify the role it plays in human obesity.

Steroyl CoA Desaturase-1 Gene (SCD-1) 

The Steroyl CoA Desaturase-1 (SCD-1) gene encodes an enzyme that hinders fat burning and promotes fat storage in muscle. Obese people with the SCD1 gene have as much as three times the amount of this enzyme, compared to lean people. That is, obese muscle stores more fat and burns less fat. Interestingly, studies on isolated human stomach muscle tissue show that even outside the body, obese cells continue to express this enzyme, suggesting a mechanism for obesity independent of over-eating.

Tartrate Resistant Acid Phosphatase Enzyme (TRAP) 

Tartrate Resistant Acid Phosphatase (TRAP) is an enzyme secreted by immune cells in fat tissue, which plays a role in the formation of new fat cells. Obese individuals have been shown to have greater concentrations of this TRAP enzyme. Future therapies inhibiting TRAP formation may play a role in reducing obesity levels.


Oxyntomodulin is a hormone released by the small intestine. Topping up this hormone signals the brain to decrease appetite and increase activity levels. This is particularly relevant to dieters. The body instinctively tries to conserve energy during weight-loss attempts, but oxyntomodulin appears to counteract this effect.

The common denominator in all of this is that some people are hard-wired to gain fat more easily than others. This may stem from the fact that obese people’s ancestors may have lived in harsh, inhospitable climates and carried forward their fat-storing genes. Under that premise, skinny people’s ancestors might have lived in a temperate, food-abundant region, where fat storage was not so important.

That said, while our genetic heritage does play a role in weight management, there is no doubt that these genes remain servants to the environment. It is well established that when people move from rural to industrialised first-world regions, obesity and its related metabolic diseases follow.

For instance, the Pima Indians – indigenous people who live on both the United States and Mexican side of the border – provide a clear example of the potent influence of environment over biology. Biologically, their gene pool is virtually identical, yet their diets and lifestyles are markedly different.

Pima Indians on the US side, who have adopted a modern, refined diet and woefully inadequate physical activity levels, show an astronomically high incidence of obesity-linked Type 2 diabetes.

However, Pima Indians on the Mexican side of the border still live in relative isolation, practice traditional farming methods involving regular activity, and eat an unprocessed diet.  Not surprisingly, the incidence of obesity and diabetes is nearly non-existent.


This underscores the value of both a moderate diet and a physically active lifestyle. Even if Mother Nature served you a heaping portion of fat-storing genes, enzymes, and hormones, biology is not all-deterministic.

We still have a tremendous amount of control over the extent to which our genes exert their influence. That is, they must be ‘activated’ by overeating and prolonged physical inactivity. The age-old recommendation simply to ‘eat less and exercise more’ is still sound advice when it comes to living well.

Fibbing Food Labels Can Be Fattening Even If “Truthful”

Fibbing Food Labels Can Be Fattening Even If “Truthful”

Food labels can be as fattening as their ingredients if you’re not viewing them with a critical eye. It’s not always what they’re telling you, but more so what they’re not.

Imagine this scenario:

Food label:  Carrots! now fat free!

Consumer: “Whoa! How about that!  I’ll buy three bags!”

Food industry executives: “Cha-ching!”

Food labels: can you trust them?

Hmm, since when did carrots ever have fat in them? The absurdity of the above hypothetical scenario illustrates my view of the proverbial carnival shell game played by food companies, and the carnival goers (consumers) who so willingly continue to blindly throw good money after bad hoping that one of those shells (food labels) contains the magic health bullet.

Are low-carb beers a healthier alternative?

The idea for this article popped into my head when I saw an advertisement for “low-carb” beer.  It got me thinking about the lengths to which food and beverage companies will go to cook up clever marketing campaigns – consumer health be damned.
food labels - low carb myth
Though I’ve been known to imbibe a beer or six from time to time, the idea that it’s “low-carb” is completely off-base and doesn’t take into account the fact that if you drink too much of it on a regular basis, you’re going to get fat.

Even if food chemists sliced off a gram or two of carbohydrate from its “high-carb” cousin, alcohol still provides approximately 7 calories (~29 kJ) per gram. A safe energy estimate for low-carb beer is somewhere around 100 calories and isn’t much different from a regular “high-carb” beer.

Slug down a six pack a day, and when the smoke clears and the dust settles (or the room stops spinning), you’re still on a collision course for a “low-carb” keg around your gut.

The entire marketing campaign is based upon the misguided notion that “carbs make me fat.”  And well, perhaps this is “true” in the minds of obese food marketing executives sitting high atop their ivory towers crafting the next public hoodwinking. After all, it’s not a lie if you believe it yourself.

It’s easier to overeat refined foods

As I mentioned in a previous post regarding media health reporting, a junk food diet high in added refined sugar (soda, chips, candy bars) passes through your stomach more quickly than nutrient dense foods and therefore leaves you feeling hungrier sooner and more likely to consume excess calories.

End result: you get fat. No surprise, just basic laws of thermodynamics at work.

Unfortunately, with the help of the food industry and the anti-sugar brigade, the general public has been led to think carbohydrates are evil metabolic villains poisoning our bodies with absolutely no consideration for the type of carbohydrate (complex, low-glycemic index) or how it fits into an overall balanced diet. Food labels pander to this line of thinking by highlighting their products are “low-carb” or “low-sugar.”

Following on from above, years ago, government health agencies shouted out from the bell tower that we needed to “eat less fat” and we’d all lose weight. Only problem is, what they intended and what people actually heard were two different messages.

People thought they were clever and took the message to the extreme, “well if I don’t eat any fat, then I can’t get fat.”

Food industry: give the people what they think they want

Food products (and food labels) were overhauled, with the fat content drastically reduced but replaced with sweeteners (refined sugar, etc).  People carried on wolfing down “low-fat” foods but, not so surprisingly, waistlines around the world continued to expand.

And the people revolted, “Hey, big bad evil government health agencies, what gives?! I’ve been doing what your stupid sugar industry shill dietitians and doctors told me and my ass is still wider than an axe handle!”

The astutely listening food industry seized the moment and jumped to the podium, “Yes townspeople, we hear you loud and clear!  We shall deliver you from the evils perpetrated upon you by the know-nothing establishment! Carbs HAVE made you fat!  Carbs are poison!  We shall deliver unto you low-carb versions of all your favourite foods sure to warm the cockles of your stomachs!”

The low-carb hysteria is still running strong but global obesity rates are continuing to rise.

Quick-fixes over healthy lifestyle foundations

As I take a step back and use my eye-o-meter to assess the overall health landscape, I believe the public is also partially complicit in the growing obesity problem.  Food industry executives, quack diet book authors, and self-proclaimed fitness gurus hawking infomercial exercise gimmicks have all capitalised on public distrust of the so-called establishment and the desire for quick-fix health solutions, none of which have made one iota of difference to the abysmal state of public health.

You want the secret?  It’s right here in my Permanent Fat Loss Principles article, but the secret is really no secret. We’ve known it all along.

You don’t have to be a nutritional biochemist to eat healthy.  Make small changes you can live with and stick with it for the long-haul. Ditch the low-carb beer, soda, candy, chips, and all kinds of refined crap food.

Exercise? While going to the gym is a step in the right direction, there’s evidence that prolonged sitting (i.e., daily desk job) can “undo” all your hard work and still leave you at risk for health problems.  Ever heard of a standing workstation?  Spend more time on your feet “wasting energy” throughout the day (i.e., standing workstation) and you can expect a more svelte you.

So next time you see a food label trumpeting “chocolate éclairs now low in fat,” always read the fine print…..serving size: 10 milligrams!

Raspberry Ketones Review of Marketing Claims

Raspberry Ketones Review of Marketing Claims

The self-proclaimed weight loss “experts” are at it again touting the latest fashionable supplement du jour.  Raspberry ketones (RK) derived  – not so surprisingly –  from raspberries purportedly help you lose that extra fat once and for all.  Suppliers can’t keep up with the demand since television health evangelist Dr. Oz and supplement-spruiking side-kick Lisa Lynn gave the product the green light to millions of viewers earlier this year.

Sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem, but is it really that easy?  Are raspberry ketones really a “miracle in a bottle” or are such claims treading on thin ice?  In this article, I explore the other side of the marketing hype and dig deep into the science and facts surrounding raspberry ketones.

What are raspberry ketones?

Raspberry ketone, also known as rheosmin is a natural phenolic compound most active in mature red raspberries (rubus idaeus) responsible for their distinctive aroma.  It is also an additive used in perfumes, shampoos, cosmetics and the food industry, plus we’ve been consuming it in REAL raspberries for hundreds of years.

Raspberry ketones are produced naturally in the raspberry fruit via a process called biosynthesis.  The natural quantity of RK found in raspberries is very low.   However, advances in food technology have enabled the compound to be produced synthetically thus making it more commercially abundant.

How do raspberry ketones work and what are the claims?

Respected cardiothoracic surgeon and professor, Dr. Mehmet Oz first made it big on the Oprah Winfrey show but has since swapped his scrubs for a shiny suit and now saturates his popular TV show with fad diets, gimmicks, and supplements “guaranteed” to be your next weight loss solution.  No surprise then that raspberry ketones were given a grandiose reception on a recent show.  Dr. Oz unraveled the wonder of Raspberry Ketones with guest and personal trainer Lisa Lynn.

Who is Lisa Lynn anyway?

Before we go on, who is Lisa Lynn anyway and is she qualified to speak on nutrition?  Her website lists certifications through the International Sports and Sciences Association (ISSA), but there is no mention of any university degrees or coursework in the nutritional sciences (i.e., nutritional biochemistry, physiology, etc).   Moreover, there appears to be a conflict of interest because her “recommendations” for raspberry ketones on Dr. Oz’s show appear to serve her website supplement sales agenda.

A colleague of mine, Joe Cannon, MS, CSCS has also authored a raspberry ketones article and provides more information on Lisa Lynn.

Dr Oz and nutrition advice: “Trust me, I’m a doctor”

It is noteworthy to point out that when a doctor discredits a popular diet or supplement, the main criticism leveled at the dissenter is that doctors receive minimal university nutrition training.  However, if a doctor says a supplement is the latest greatest, then people immediately run out to the shops and sweep the product off the shelves.  While Dr. Oz is clearly an intelligent person, he should have done his homework on raspberry ketones before lending his increasingly-dwindling reputation to this product.

CLAIM:  Raspberry ketones promote weight loss through their fat-burning properties

Raspberry ketones appear to have a similar chemical structure to capsaicin and synephrine which may have a mild fat-mobilizing effect.  This potential weight-loss link prompted the current research which is now being used as “support” for the over-the-top marketing claims for RK.   Unfortunately, this is a common theme in the supplement world with previous substances like pyruvate, caralluma fimbriata, and liproxenol being sold with less than adequate scientific evidence.

CLAIM: Raspberry ketones stimulate the release of adiponectin from fat cells

Adiponectin is a hormone exclusively released by fat cells in adipose tissue and plays an important role in glucose regulation and fat metabolism. It has anti-inflammatory benefits and reduced adiponectin levels are associated with obesity, diabetes, and increased cardiovascular risk.   (More on the role of adiponectin in human disease here).

While it is true that adiponectin has the above protective properties, there is insufficient scientific evidence that raspberry ketones exert a favorable effect on this hormone.  More on this below.

CLAIM: “Raspberry ketone can help in your weight loss efforts, especially when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet of healthy and whole foods.” (

As of this writing, there is no objective scientific evidence that raspberry ketones contribute to weight loss in humans (see below).

The second half of this claim is probably the best advice you could receive.  It is more likely that any associated weight loss would stem from the inclusion of a balanced diet and regular exercise, particularly if you are increasing your energy expenditure above and beyond what you were previously doing.  Unfortunately, most people miss the fine print and end up attributing their hard work and results to raspberry ketones alone – the effects of which are yet to be determined in humans.

Raspberry ketones research 

When Dr. Oz asked Lisa Lynn “How did you find it and why do you think it’s so valuable?” she replied, “research, research, research!”   That might be enough to make most viewers to switch off their boloney detectors, but to which research is she referring?   As I start to uncover the missing pieces to the puzzle, it is absolutely clear that MORE research needs to be done.

What “they” don’t want you to know about raspberry ketones

As of this writing, there is no evidence that raspberry ketones effectively reduce body fat and improve fat metabolism in human beings.  No studies have been conducted involving humans ingesting an oral form of raspberry ketone.  We have no information about the short or long-term effects of using raspberry ketones as a dietary supplement, which involves much higher dosages than that used in other industrial applications.

What?  Only two raspberry ketone studies?

The evidence is limited to only two preliminary studies involving mice, test tubes and cell cultures:

Study 1:

A 2005 Japanese study investigated the effects of raspberry ketones on obese male mice fed a high fat diet.   They wanted to see if:  1) raspberry ketones could prevent obesity; and 2) reduce overall body fat and fat stores around the organs (called visceral fat).  The experimental and placebo groups each contained only six (6) mice.  The PREVENTION Groups were either fed a normal laboratory diet, a high fat diet (approx. 40% of total calories), or a high fat diet plus raspberry ketone (0.5% – 2%) for 10 weeks. The WEIGHT LOSS groups were fed the same high fat diet for 6 weeks and then high fat plus raspberry ketone (1%) for 5 weeks.

Results from this study demonstrated that the addition of raspberry ketone helped reduce body weight and liver fat stores.  A secondary response was that the combination of raspberry ketones with the action of norepinephrine proved better at drawing fat from cells than norepinephrine alone.

To the untrained observer, these results might seemingly warrant a victory lap, but they must be interpreted and put into context for them to be meaningful in a practical sense.


  • This is a rodent study.  These effects have not been tested or observed in human beings.
  • The study used male mice only.  It is not known if there is a gender effect, as this was not tested in female mice.
  • There were only 6 mice in each group (experimental and placebo).   Such a low number may detract from the strength of the statistical calculations.  It is necessary to see human studies with a large number of subjects.  This would increase the statistical integrity of the study and make it more relevant to dieters.
  • These studies were carried out in controlled conditions using rodents.  However, if implemented in free-living humans, there is much more opportunity for variations in diet, activity, and overall adherence to the study protocol which would affect the results.  Thus, human studies are much more cumbersome (though they must still be conducted).
  • Because only two small studies have been conducted, there is no evidence supporting the long-term use of raspberry ketones in humans nor on the effects of different calorie intakes.

Study 2:

This 2010 Korean study investigated the possible mechanism for the anti-obesity action of raspberry ketones.  It demonstrated that by stimulating lipolysis, fatty acid oxidation, and adiponectin secretion, raspberry ketones suppress fat accumulation and improve fat metabolism.  So the effects of raspberry ketones on these processes were determined but the underlying mechanisms were not confirmed. Unfortunately this study was only conducted in controlled conditions in test tubes and with cell cultures. We may see a different response in humans considering the numerous other factors affecting our accumulation of body fat and taking into account individual differences (Park, K.S., 2010).

An Australian study looked at how adiponectin levels can be affected by exercise in humans. It concluded that after short-term, moderate intensity exercise adiponectin levels increased by 260%. These changes were apparent after 1 week of 2-3 short bouts of exercise (Kriketos, A.D. et al, 2004).

So for no cost at all, you can get a more effective response just by exercising at the right intensity and duration.

How much do raspberry ketone supplements cost?

Wholesale raspberry ketones are widely available through Asian manufacturers.

  • Pure Laboratory Raspberry Ketone (Hazardous): Approximately $5000/kg
  • Synthetic Raspberry Ketone Powder: Approximately $10-$50/kg
  • Raspberry Ketone Capsules: Wholesale can be as little as $2.50 for one bottle

Raspberry ketone supplements in Australia

Raspberry ketone supplements have made their way down under and can be purchased for around $50.

The mark ups are huge and you can see why they are so commercially attractive.

The last word on raspberry ketones

Unfortunately raspberry ketones are not the amazing miracle supplement they’re claimed to be. The extrapolated evidence is only speculation and the exact mechanisms for raspberry ketone weight loss are not completely understood and, as of this writing, there is limited independent science to substantiate marketing claims.

The obesity epidemic didn’t happen because of a worldwide raspberry ketone shortage so direct your time, money and energy towards a nutritious diet (low in processed foods) and improving unproductive habits. Support this with evidenced-based exercise and you’re on the right track!

The age-old adage of eat a healthy, low-calorie, nutrient rich diet and get regular exercise still holds true.  There is nothing wrong with taking a dietary supplement, but make sure there is a reasonable body of scientific evidence to support the often overblown marketing claims.

For more specific information, consult a university-trained dietitian or clinical exercise physiologist for reliable information on diet and exercise.


  • Beekwilder J, van der Meer IM, Sibbesen O, Broekgaarden M, Qvist I, Mikkelsen JD, & Hall RD. (2007). Microbial production of natural raspberry ketone. Biotechnology Journal. 2(10), 1270-9.
  • Kriketos AD, Gan SK, Poynten AM, Furler SM, Chisolm DJ, and Campbell LV(2004). Exercise Increases adiponectin levels and insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetes Care. 27, 629-630.