Metabolic damage: Part two

Metabolic damage: Part two

I’m glad you guys enjoyed yesterday’s post on metabolic damage. As promised, here is part two (please read part one if you haven’t already!). This post is a mix of the rest of Phil’s presentation and my own personal experiences.

In the second half of Phil Learney’s presentation at BodyPower, he discussed why it is important to consume carbohydrates. Although a lot of people consume the wrong types of carbohydrates, on the other side of the coin too many people (including almost all of the clients who start working with me) do not eat enough carbohydrates. The media brainwashes us that carbs make you fat, and that low-carb diets are the only way to lose fat. I was recently able to start leaning out while consuming upwards of 175g of carbohydrates a day, but I would have never been able to do that if I hadn’t first undertaken a period of metabolic repair.

A healthy pancreas delivers small doses of insulin throughout the day and extra insulin at meal times. You have to eat carbs to spike insulin, so your body knows how to process carbs. When you follow a low carb diet, your body’s natural insulin response shuts down and glucose (carbs) is stored as subcutaneous fat. This is amplified by the fact that most low-carbers eventually fall off the wagon and binge on a huge amount of sweet, simple carbohydrates – effectively reversing all progress in the process.

It’s not that your body can’t process carbs, it’s that you don’t release enough insulin. I followed a low-carb (50g or less a day) diet for years. It’s no surprise that whenever I ate a single piece of bread I seemed to blow up – my body just didn’t know how to cope. Consequently, this only fuelled my belief that carbs made me fat, so I continued to avoid them instead of sensibly taking the time to repair my insulin response.

Things like this make me angry! (And yes, I know it's basically Paleo, but most average people wouldn't realise how much fat/veggies they should really be eating)

Things like this make me angry! (And yes, I know it’s basically Paleo, but most average people wouldn’t realise how much fat/veggies they should really be eating)

Phil said we should always be striving to be in an anabolic state. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be in muscle-gaining mode, but rather doing everything to ensure our testosterone levels are maximised while our oestrogen levels are minimised. When the body is in a catabolic state – caused by not eating regularly or enough overall – it results in increased fat storage, compromised lean tissue, infertility, mood swings, depression and even polycystic ovarian syndrome.

When you follow a low carb diet, you never stimulate insulin and beta cells are damaged. Binges overstimulate the thyroid glands and cause permanent damage. Many bodybuilding competitors follow restrictive diets and cause long-term damage to their metabolisms. When their shows are over, it is (sadly) completely normal for them to binge for weeks or even months on all the foods they deprived themselves of. Do you think that after following a low-calorie, low carb diet for months on end their bodies are going to know how to process a sudden influx of calories and sugary cabs? Heck no.

Phil recommends having small meals every 2-3 hours as eating less frequent, bigger meals overstimulates the digestive system and thyroid (this is the only part of his talk I didn’t agree with, but as I’ve said before, this approach works for the majority of people). Phil said that feeling hungry is a good sign as it means your metabolism is working, so it’s important to kickstart it with an early breakfast.

Leptin and cheat meals
Leptin is another important hormone in our body which tells us when we need to eat. The amount of leptin in your body reduces as you become leaner. Leptin also tells you when you have had enough to eat, so those with leptin resistance will only stop eating when their stomachs physically can’t hold anymore food (I seem to lack an ‘off’ switch!). That nasty high fructose corn syrup shuts off the part of your body which tells you you’re full – just another reason to avoid junk food!


If your beta cells function properly, a cheat meal will elevate insulin and use up leptin stores, which thereby sky-rockets your metabolism.

However, if your beta cells are dysfunctional, you should not have cheat meals. Under no circumstances should overweight people have cheat meals, according to Phil. This part of his presentation particularly resonated with me – back when I was an aforementioned low carber, I could never get below about 22-23% body fat. I felt that my cheat meals were undoing my entire week’s worth of progress, but I was convinced otherwise by those arguing that one meal alone couldn’t do that.

For anyone wanting to maximise their physical results (which, let’s face it, is almost everyone!), insulin management is critical. To avoid insulin resistance, Phil suggests eating a moderate amount of carbohydrates, reducing stress, training intelligently (exercise is a form of stress, so it’s important to keep workouts shorter than an hour and not go balls-to-the-wall every single time) and avoiding fasting.

I hope you guys enjoyed these posts! Feel free to share your stories of metabolic damage below. I’d be happy to answer any questions as best as I can, having been through it myself.

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