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How People Get Fat & How To Stop It!

Detractors of low-carb, or anyone who believes there’s more to it than Calories, often say quite firmly:

Calories are the  bottom line!

This is usually followed up with:

The laws of thermodynamics cannot be violated!

No kidding? Do they really think we’ve never heard of the laws of thermodynamics, or that we believe in magic or something?

So to them, everyone else is a quack. It’s not that they know something we don’t, it’s that they haven’t taken the time to actually learn what we’re saying.

In short, I agree with the statement that ‘Calories are king’. This was what Anthony Colpo has been saying for quite some time, and in my opinion, he done a lot of people a good service by saying it.

Some people were under the impression that so long as they ate low carb, they could eat as much as they wanted and still lose fat. In fact, some were/are under the misguided impression that you can low-carb your way to a six-pack, irrespective of Calories. I think Colpo puts that to bed in his book The Fat Loss Bible.

So if Calories are king when it comes to getting lean, why go on a carb-cycling diet? 2 reasons:

  1. Preservation of muscle mass
  2. Satiation

I cover body composition quite thoroughly in Total Six Pack Abs 2, presenting studies proving that you’ll keep more muscle mass on my diet. You’ll also limit, but not completely eradicate, hunger. So I’ll let the book deal with those issues, let’s focus on Calories for now.

Let’s say that you could clone yourself, and that both of you want to lose some weight. You lock yourselves into a metabolic ward and eat the exact same amount of Calories, but with differing macro nutrients, would you lose the same amount of weight? In my opinion, yes you would.

There may be something of a metabolic advantage for the low-carber, meaning that he loses a little more weight. However, it would be rather small and in fact, may not happen at all. Let’s assume that there is no metabolic advantage for the purpose of this article.

Again, the favorable changes in body composition are enough on their own to warrant taking lower-carb route. Aside from that, we aren’t clones and we don’t live in metabolic wards.

Imagine that you ate a diet that actually stimulated MORE hunger! Imagine the Calories that you ate weren’t reaching the cells to be metabolized as planned, but were shunted off to be stored as fat. You’d get hungry again pretty quickly because the body isn’t sensing that you are eating as much as you really are.

You’d feel that hunger signal again and want to eat. Let’s explain by way of an excellent video from Fat Head the movie.

Like Dr. Eades said, if the food doesn’t reach the cells, we starve at the cellular level. Yes you ate it, but you didn’t benefit from it because you stored it instead.

The cells then say, “Hey, where’s the food”, and the hunger signal kicks in and tells you to eat again prematurely. This is actually unnatural. You should be able to trust your hunger signal.

If it’s unnatural, what’s causing it?

Insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone.

How do we elevate our levels of insulin? Eat lots of carbs, especially refined carbs and sugars. Eating in such a way elevates your blood sugar, and since high blood sugar is toxic, insulin is released to mop it up. If you’re body is not in a hurry for sugar (eg. your glycogen stores are empty), you’ll end up wearing those carbs as fat.

So by eating in such a manner, you’re partitioning more of your Calories off to fat storage. Then you’re left with the dilemma of ignoring your hunger signal, or caving in and eating again. The average Joe will eat again. The average Joe will get fatter.

To make matters worse, eating this way for a number of years can also lead to insulin resistance. This means that your insulin levels have been so high for so long that your cells become resistant to its effects. The body’s response? Produce even more insulin.

So you get even fatter, and you severely increase your risk of becoming diabetic.

So ‘Calories In Calories Out’ holds true. But we need to look to the cellular level for the whole story. The TYPE of Calories coming in affects the ‘Calories Out’ side of the equation. This in turn affects the ‘Calories In’ side of the equation and on and on it goes.

If you want your body to AUTOREGULATE your appetite to normalcy, control your insulin. I am doing this with the GLAD diet for bulking, and I use Total Six Pack Abs for cutting because I want my body to freely release its fat stores…. AND release a lot of it!

As a side note, since we lifters frequently empty our glycogen “tanks”, we can get away with carb-ups, or a higher Glycemic Load than the sedentary guy.

I’ve seen the following time and time again, maybe you have too. A young guy starts lifting and eating pasta, potatoes, bread, and so on like it’s going out of fashion. After all, he needs 500 extra Calories a day to build muscle, right? (he doesn’t). And fat’s bad for you, right? (it isn’t). So this necessitates a very high carb diet.

He’s getting very hungry and is thrilled with this. He thinks his body is demanding all those Calories because he’s building muscle like a needle-using “pro”. However, his body is very much in storage mode – fat storage mode. All those Calories aren’t going towards building muscle; they’re building fat.

In a few months to a year’s time, he’s quite a bit fatter. While he has built a few pounds of muscle, he’s also built a couple stone of fat. 1 stone = 14 pounds.  When he gets sick of holding his gut in in public, he knows it’s time to cut. I just hope he doesn’t go to the same sources for his cut that he did for his bulk. D’oh!

So now you should understand that there is no violation of the laws of thermodynamics. However, it is still true that carbs can make you fat, and now you know why.

So when they say, “It’s all about energy balance, not any particular macronutrient”, you can say that you generally agree, but you’d like them to read this post for the rest of the story.

Eat Smart!


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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James September 1, 2010, 8:19 pm

    Mark. I must commend you on your ability to explain complex topics in a way we can understand.
    I’ve heard arguments back and forth on this for years now. It’s only after reading this that I get it!
    I can’t imagine eating 10 steaks, but I could easily eat 10 desserts hehe, and still be hungry.
    Great work!

  • DAVE September 1, 2010, 9:38 pm


  • Marc September 1, 2010, 10:19 pm

    I read somewhere that the synthesis of carbs to energy within the cell takes about three stages but the same synthesis of fat and protein takes about 26 stages and is inevitably a much slower process. Therefore the energy expended is greater and of course the energy is dripped in slowly and utilised more efficiently by the body without the quick “throw into fat storage” of carbs. Did I imagine this or does it also help explain the “calorie is a calorie” hypothesis and the fat packing consequences of eating carbs without working it off very quickly when compared to fat and protein?

  • Mike September 1, 2010, 10:20 pm

    As a diabetic, I know everything on this site is true as I have done extensive testing on myself.

    Another mistake many people make is to fall into the trap of believing that “lots of exercise” = “lots of weight loss”.

    The media has unfortunately fed into a lot of these myths. Exercise (including weight lifting) has many benefits. Huge amounts of weight loss, however, cannot come from exercise alone! You must change your diet! Weight Lifting does help weight loss more than many other forms of exercise though as more muscle means your body is able to absorb more sugar and therefore produces a smaller insulin spike.

    However, you could spend every waking moment of your life working hard to lose weight and still never succeed if you are sabotaging yourself via a poor diet. Elimination of refined carbohydrates (preferably for good) is the best step to take for permanent weight loss. Removal of coca cola, pepsi, and all other soft drinks from your diet along with fruit juices are a good first step. The second best step to permanent weight loss and optimum health is the removal of other refined carbohydrates such as most pastries and breads (at least limiting bread in take and eating only whole grain breads early in the day if possible) cookies, pizza, french fries, and hamburgers from your diet.

    Of course, you may indulge in any or all of the above if you are able to control your cravings for them and eat them only on rare occasion. If you are diabetic then you should immediately and permanently remove all of the above foods form your diet forever! Whole grain bread early in the am would be the only exception and if diabetic should eat limited quantities.

    Once a person has removed the above from their diet, they should try to determine their nutritional type and stick to a diet that fits their nutritional type. For example, if you feel better on only meats then you should eat a diet consisting mostly of meat. if you feel better on a complex carb diet, then you should eat a diet consisting mostly of complex carbs. If you feel better on a mixed diet of meats and carbs then thats what you should eat.

    One thing that isnt mentioned in the video though is the type of carb you eat! All carbs are not created equal! I have tested this out on myself and I know that if my diet does not consist of any substance that converts immediately to sugar I do not gain fat. I could eat 5 apples or 10 oranges and have very little change in my weight or fat stores. The reason is that complex carbohydrates have tons of fiber usually and fiber slows sugar metabolism whereas modern processed garbage we call food has little to no fiber and is packed with refined sugar and flour.

    So a good way to tell if a food will put on fat is to ask how much sugar the food contains or how much white flour it contains. If the food is packed with either substance you will get fat. Fatty foods do not put fat on your body that is a bunch of garbage! Sugar puts on fat by raising insulin levels telling your body to store fat

  • Jason September 1, 2010, 10:40 pm

    I subscribe to the lower carb and less refined diet, however I just read an article that says high protein causes just as high if not a higher response to insulin than a carbs alone.
    MYTH:A High Carbohydrate Diet Leads to Chronically High Insulin Levels

    FACT:Insulin Is Only Elevated During the Time After a Meal In Healthy Individuals
    If you are interested, my friend wrote this blog.
    Hope this helps to confuse us all! , Sorry.

  • R September 2, 2010, 1:29 am

    Hi Mark,

    I’m new to your articles and find them very easy to read, enjoyable and very informative. As mum of two and now 1 year since the birth of my second child, I’ve made huge healthy changes forever to alter my thinking on food and nutrition. I’ve successfully lost all the baby weight and am now pre-marriage weight! It was done quite quickly through intelligent eating and lots cardio, short but intense training, resistence training, weight training,pilates,yoga, turbulance training, kettlebells-you name it I’m doing it at home early mornng before my boys wake up and duty calls! My biggest problem is tummy pouch plus the saggy mummy tummy! I’m on this personal quest to prove you don’t need to go under the knife to get not only your waist back into shape,but also a six pack too! The tops of my abs are coming along, but its those elusive bottom abs tucked under either fat or loose skin, maybe both that I’m having problems with! What do you recommend?

  • Debbie September 2, 2010, 2:22 am

    Hi there Men of Muscle!
    seems there are not many ladies posting comments.. and so let me say, in addition to insulin, Hormones at the later stages of life play a HUGE role in fat storage. I am in “the pause”, three years and BAM, fat on the belly, fat on my back??? I lift weights three times a week, do metabolic type training etc.
    And I don’t eat processed foods, have not for nearly four years. But my estrogen is low, my free testeterone is near zero and progesterone is zero…meaning building muscle is SUPER hard to do.
    Now I have also realized that fruit is even enough to trigger higher blood sugars, esp. my beloved organic fresh dates.. so very high glycemic. I am not eating any fruit, no sweeteners even stevia and no dried fruit. I am hoping that cutting my sweet carbs and upping my starchy sweet potato/ yam carbs will turn this thing around. I do eat fish, veggies, coconut oil, grass fed beef, yogurt, pastured turkey, farm fresh eggs etc. Pretty clean diet.

    As one of the posters above said, you can exercise all day and night, but if hormones/insulin are out of whack, well, it’s a steeper hill to climb. And your diet needs to be fine tuned to YOUR needs, one size never fits all!
    Regards to all!

  • Rob September 2, 2010, 2:23 am

    Thanks Mark for taking the time to write. Love reading your articles.

  • johnny552 September 2, 2010, 5:25 am

    Perfect Mark!

    After I saw the first few sentences, I was like, “Oh god… Let me guess he’s going to champion low carb again.” I hate hearing people talk about carbs like they are bad for them. I like how you EXPLICITLY state that excess carbs are the problem such as when you mentioned glycogen stores. I didn’t know that a diet like MANS would work for gaining muscle too but I suppose it would work if you are hitting the weights hard and eating enough carbs to power through the workouts? I don’t have a lot of experience with bulking, but I do have experience with losing fat and gaining strength and I’ve found cycling (sim to MANS) to be effective. I’ve had good results with Tom Venuto’s advice of eating 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat with starchy or sugary carbs only for breakfast + first few meals or post workout.

  • James Phillips September 2, 2010, 9:18 am

    Keep in mind James, that most, if not all, desserts contain HFCS which also furthers the cycle by NOT producing insulin. Every macronutrient is affected by insulin to a certain degree, the problem with carbs (not all, of course) is that they can produce TOO MUCH insulin, which of course drives blood sugar TOO FAR down. This low blood sugar is perceived by the body as “needing food”. Hunger is inevitable. You’ll find that when you eat whole wheat breads, pastas, fibrous veggies, fibrous berries etc, you produce enough insulin to perform it’s duty, but not enough to drive blood sugar down to fasting levels within an hour of a meal. This is what causes overeating. Now don’t take this as a pass to eat all the good carbs you want. You still need to burn that energy, or the glycogen “tank” will spill over and that means fat storage. Your body burns fat AND carbs at any given time, but the shift occurs when the intensity levels change. The higher the intensity, the more it will rely on fast burning glucose from glycogen stores. Yes, lower intensities burn more “total” fat, but because the total calories burned is not very significant, nothing really changes, especially when you’re overeating. The fat you burn just gets stored again because you’re not in a caloric deficit. Combine that with a glycogen storage tank that is overflowing, and you’ve got a serious recipe for disaster. Higher intensity weight training burns fat better than low intensity aerobics… Besides, there is no extra benefit to the cardiovascular system beyond 30 minutes of aerobics anyway… If you like cross training – run sprints!

  • Adam September 2, 2010, 11:42 am

    I wish I had 5 thumbs so I could give this article 5 thumbs up. As it is, I’ll give it 2! An awesome, simply brilliant article Mark!

  • an00bis September 2, 2010, 1:35 pm

    I love your articles. After having followed your diet plans for some time now, I have to totally agree with the ideas presented here. I’ve seen it first hand! It’s honestly a pleasure to read these, and I can’t wait for the next article.

    Mark > all.

  • Jason September 2, 2010, 5:01 pm

    @ James Phillips,
    I’m not quite sure I agree with your statement about HFCS. There is no practical difference between high fructose corn syrup and regular sugar, as far as your body is concerned. There are several studies that show variations of weight gain with 12hr periods of HFCS and 24hr periods of HFCS. In regards to insulin, The body produces insulin even in times of low carb and high protein. The bottom line is really to maintain a low or even caloric consumption as it relates to energy expenditure. Like Mark said, Insulin is a friend, but the right carbs are whats most important along with satiety!