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Muscle for life

The #1 Reason “Fat Burning Foods” Don’t Work (and What Does)

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The #1 Reason “Fat Burning Foods” Don’t Work (and What Does)

If you’re having trouble losing fat or just want to lose it faster, “fat burning foods” can’t help you…but this article can.

 

What if I told you that any food could technically be a “fat burning food”?

Yes…any food.

  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Bacon
  • Cheese
  • French fries

No, I’m not joking.

You can eat foods like those regularly and lose fat with ease.

In fact, what if I told you that the entire paradigm of foods causing or preventing fat loss is cock-eyed?

What if foods don’t have special fat-burning or fat-gaining properties?

“Bullshit,” I hear you saying. “Here comes the sales pitch…”

And normally you’d be right.

If I were like most of the peddlers in this space, this is where I would show a picture of me…

…and try to sell you an overpriced pile of PDFs, pills, and powders.

But that’s not what’s going to happen here.

Instead, I’m going to give you everything you need to know…in this article…for free.

So, grab a glass of water…or Skinny Gerbil Detox Tea or whatever…relax, and let’s have some fun.

Fact: Food Can’t Burn Belly Fat…or Any Other Type of Fat For That Matter

belly fat burning foods

If we’re going to take this journey we might as well start in the belly of the whale, right?

You see, there’s a little problem with the claim that a food burns fat.

Namely…the exact opposite is what generally happens.

That is, food never “burns fat” and, ironically, most foods results in some degree of fat storage.

If this is you right now…

fat burning food scam

…fret not. It will all make sense soon.

And to unravel this conundrum, let’s take a closer look at what actually happens in your body when you eat food.

Immediately after food enters your face, the digestion process begins.

Saliva contains enzymes that start breaking it down on the way to the stomach, which contains other molecules that further help reduce it to its constituent parts.

For example, amino acids come from protein, glucose and glycogen come from carbs, and fatty acids come from dietary fat.

These are all vital nutrients that our cells need to sustain life.

So, the next stop in the food’s transformation into poop is the small intestine, which is where most of the magic happens.

The small intestine has two vital functions:

  1. Continue breaking the food down into usable nutrients.
  2. Absorb these nutrients into the blood.

So, off these nutrients go, through the walls of the small intestine and into the blood.

The next step is getting them into cells for use.

That’s where the hormone insulin comes into play…and when fat storage enters the picture.

And this is where we need to drill deep to get to the bottom of the “fat burning food” myth…

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Insulin Causes Fat Storage…But Doesn’t Make You Fat

list of fat burning foods

Poor insulin.

It works so hard to keep us alive and healthy and what kind of thanks does it get?

Mainstream diet “gurus” demonize it as an evil hormone designed to turn all humans into Type-2 diabetic blobs.

Insulin apparently has an accomplice in this conspiracy as well: the carbohydrate.

Carbs are like insulin’s Trojan Horse, we’re told.

You see the doughnut. Look at its moist, sexy curves. And it even has sprinkles.

You watch helplessly as your hand floats toward it. Into your mouth the pastry goes…and then all hell breaks loose.

Your pancreas laughs maniacally, your insulin levels surge, and you’re now one step closer to disease and dysfunction.

Or are you?

What if I told you that whole story is actually bullshit?

What if I told you that…

Insulin doesn’t make you fat or sick. Overeating and sedentary living does.

You see, much of insulin’s bad reputation stems from the fact that it inhibits the breakdown of fat cells and stimulates the creation of body fat.

That is, insulin tells the body to stop burning its fat stores and instead, absorb some of the nutrients from the meal you just ate and turn them into body fat.

This makes insulin an easy target and scapegoat for obesity and sickness.

The “logic” goes like this:

High-carb diet = high insulin levels = burn less and store more fat = get fatter and fatter over time

And then, as a corollary:

Low-carb diet = low insulin levels = burn more and store less fat = stay lean

Simple, plausible positions like these are easy to sell, especially when you know how to cherry pick scientific research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hence the mainstream orgy of insulin- and carb-hating.

Well, it’s true that insulin causes fat cells to absorb fatty acids and glucose and thus expand…but, as I said earlier, that’s not what causes you to get fatter over time.

Overeating does.

If that has you scratching (or shaking) your noggin, it will all become clear after we quickly review the principles of energy balance.

The Real Way Food Causes You to Gain and Lose Fat

foods that accelerate fat burning

Energy balance refers to the relationship between the amount of energy you burn and eat.

  • A positive energy balance is a state wherein you’re feeding more energy than your body burns, and this results in fat gain.
  • A negative energy balance is the opposite state–one wherein you’re feeding your body less energy than it burns–and it results in fat loss.

This probably isn’t news to you but what you may not know is how it applies to each and every meal you eat.

You see, there are two other food-related states that your body can be in:

  • A “fed” state.

When your body is digesting, processing, and absorbing food, it’s in a fed, or “postprandial,” state. (Post means “after” and prandial means “having to do with a meal”).

It’s during this time when the body is in “fat storage mode.”

  • A “fasted” state.

Once the body has finished processing and absorbing the food, it enters a fasted, or “postabsorptive,” state (“after absorption”).

With its food energy depleted, your body must turn to its fat stores to get the energy it needs to keep its trillions of cells functioning.

It’s during this time when the body is in “fat burning mode.”

Every day your body alternates between fed and fasted states, storing and burning fat.

Here’s a simple visualization of this:

metabolism boosting foods

  • If the green and blue portions balance out every day–if you store just as much fat as you burn–your total fat mass stays the same.
  • If, however, you store more fat than you burn, your total fat mass increases (you get fatter). And if you burn more fat than you store, it decreases (you get leaner).

This is the fundamental mechanism underlying fat storage and fat loss and it takes precedence over anything related to insulin or any other hormones in the body.

The bottom line is this:

You can’t get fatter unless you feed your body more energy than it burns, and you can’t get leaner unless you feed it less energy than it burns.

It doesn’t matter how many carbs you eat or how “clean” or “unclean” your diet is. This is the first law of thermodynamics at work.

The energy stores of batteries can’t be increased without the provision of a surplus of energy to store, and neither can fat stores.

That’s why research shows that so long as people eat less energy than they burn, they lose fat equally well on high-carbohydrate or low-carbohydrate diets.

That’s why Professor Mark Haub was able to lose 27 pounds on a “convenience store diet” consisting mainly of Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes, Doritos, and Oreos. He simply fed his body less energy than it burned.

“Fat Burning Food” = Oxymoron

abdominal fat burning foods

As you can see, the very idea that certain foods trigger fat burning is fundamentally wrong.

When you eat food–any food–two things happen:

  1. Fat burning mechanisms are impaired
  2. Fat storage mechanisms are enhanced. 

The amount of fat storage that actually occurs after you eat a meal depends on what you eat.

Thus, when we’re talking an individual meal, a high-protein and/or high-carbohydrate meal will result in less immediate fat gain than a high-fat meal.

(This is good to know for “cheat meals” and refeeding, by the way.)

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “If that’s the case then what if I eat nothing but protein and carbs every day? Would that mean I can’t get fatter no matter how much I eat?”

Well, I applaud your creativity…but no, that won’t work.

Fatty acids are vital for cell maintenance, hormone production, insulin sensitivity, and more, and your body has a backup plan to get them in case you can’t or won’t eat dietary fat. It simply converts other substances you do provide (amino acids and glucose) into these fatty acids.

This is why research shows that a surplus of energy results in fat storage regardless of which macronutrient is emphasized or deemphasized.

Can Certain Foods Boost Your Metabolism Though?

belly fat burning foods list

Unlike the claim that certain foods directly simulate fat burning, there’s some truth here.

Yes, some types of food cost more energy to process than others (this is known as the thermic effect of food), and thereby “boost your metabolism.”

In this way, all food you eat “speeds up your metabolism.” 

That said, the magazine article that claims eating very specific foods like tuna, celery, grapefruit, lemon, hot peppers, and lime will dramatically accelerate your fat loss is wrong.

Some foods (spices, mainly) have mild metabolic effects in addition to the inherent thermic effects, but they’re very slight–almost to the point of irrelevancy.

Furthermore, many of the foods that make the “top 10 fat-burning foods” lists have no such effects, like…

  • Tuna
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Honey
  • Whole grains
  • Broccoli
  • Apples
  • Celery

Just about every food that appears on these lists has no metabolic benefits and none confer benefits large enough to, in and of themselves, matter.

The real way to maximize the “metabolic advantage” of food is to eat a high-protein diet.

Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrate and fat and is very filling as well, which is why research shows that high-protein diets are best for maximizing fat loss.

Similar effects have been seen in high-carbohydrate diets as well because although the thermic effect of carbohydrate is lower than protein, it’s higher than dietary fat.

This is one of the reasons why, calorie for calorie, high-carb diets can result in more fat loss than high-fat diets.

What About “Detox” Foods? Can They Help You Lose Weight?

detox foods

The yoga girl swears by a 3-day water cleanse.

The smiley doctor guy says a juice diet can give you a shiny new liver.

The raw food weirdo gushes about the wonders of eating everything uncooked.

And don’t get me started about the Instagram “models” smugly posing with their green smoothies and kale chips.

The more you look, the more cleanses and detox programs you find, with each one apparently better than the last.

The problem, however, is all of them are missing the forest for the trees.

While it’s true your body is regularly exposed to a wide variety of toxic substances, and while some of them are particularly nasty and can accumulate in body fat, there’s no evidence that trendy “cleanses” and “detox diets” help mitigate the damage or rid the body of toxins.

That is, yes, your body has a certain amount of harmful chemicals deposited in its fat stores, but no, drinking a bunch of lemonade for a week isn’t going to do anything about it.

Now, the strongest selling point for many detox regimens is rapid weight loss. Some people would do just about anything short of amputation to lose 20+ pounds in a month.

Here’s the reality though…

A temporary “juice cleanse” or raw food diet or other form of restrictive eating usually entails taking in very few calories. This amounts to starvation dieting, which induces weight loss (of course), but comes with quite a few negative side effects.

Don’t resort to such weight loss extremes. They’re completely unnecessary.

The Bottom Line on Fat Burning Foods

fat burning diet

Alas, the “secret” to effortless weight loss has nothing to do with eating a special collection of foods.

It’s more about, well, not eating, than anything else–not eating as much food as your body wants (calorie restriction).

That said, there are definitely right and wrong ways of going about it. The wrong way is all too common:

This makes for an all-around miserable experience and is the fast track to a skinny fat physique.

Instead, when the goal is losing fat and preserving–or even building–muscle, you want to go about things very differently:

  • Moderate calorie restriction
  • Little or no food restriction (flexible dieting)
  • High protein intake
  • Low amounts of cardio
  • Moderate amounts of resistance training
  • Smart supplementation

This makes a world of difference.

It creates a powerful and positive synergism. You enjoy your diet. You’re never starved or deprived. You lose fat and not muscle. It really doesn’t get any better.

Another often overlooked benefit is this appraoch is the incredible peace of mind that you gain. Once you’ve experienced its fruits once, and see that you can change your body composition at will, you’ll know this is it.

No more guru chasing. No more fad diets. No more failed hopes.

That’s what I want for you. That’s why I do what I do.

 

What’s your take on “fat burning foods”? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

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  • db

    Love the article but why use these images of overly big guys that most likely are doing drugs. Im pretty sure the vast majority of your users are not going for that look and neither are interested in drugs.

    • Glad you liked it and while those guys may be on drugs they’re not OVERLY big or lean/dry. I just like their proportions, haha.

      • Michael

        I’ll have to disagree that “the vast majority of your readers aren’t going for that look”… If that look can be accomplished naturally, SIGN ME UP!

  • Steven Scott

    You have a talent for making nutrition lectures surprisingly funny.

  • Anne Murphy

    I think that there is a missing point here. Many people who are attempting to “diet” have carbohydrate addictions and a certain level of insulin resistance, and fail miserably on even moderate carbohydrate diets due to hypoglycemia and dopamine/serotonin deficiencies. Until these neurotransmitter imbalances are corrected through their appropriate amino acid precursors (and not some pharma pill that only pumps out, not restores mind you), they fail miserably at restricting food intake, hence why they find it easier to follow higher fat, lower carbohydrate plans and avoid trigger foods entirely that they love to binge on. I’m not saying that Mike is wrong, but if this condition exists, I feel that this underlying condition needs to be addressed first.

    • Yup that’s out there. Good point Anne!

      • Anne Murphy

        Thanks fellow nerd :). I love your blog!

      • Jeff Sperla

        I also thought that was a good point Anne. When talking about disease(i.e. Diabetes 2) you can’t leave out the pyschological component. Why are we eating all this sugar, when we know it makes us unhealthy? I think if these people focused less on macronutrient proportions, and more on how to tailor an exercise program that fits them, they might find that their “addiction” is less of an issues. Don’t get me wrong though, I do beleive sugar addiction is worth noting.

        My question is, does lifting weights actually improve your insulin sensitivity? I’ve seen some research that shows that people who exercise, actually have less of an appetite. This is certainitly true for me. Whenever work out, especially lift, I always find it much easier to restrict my food intake. I have no idea why.

    • Erika

      So, Anne, how do you know if you have insulin resistance and how do you correct the dopamine/serotonin deficiencies? I can restrict food intake, but find that it is really hard to lose weight. Usually I end up always feeling a medium level of hunger and become grumpy and so fatigued that I can hardly focus my attention. Would this be a clue that I have insulin resistance? I am really tired of yo-yo dieting, but it happens since I compete. My swings are getting more severe lately and I am trying to find a good balance and answers to why I feel so horrible at times. I tried a ketogenic diet and actually was less hungry, more energize and able to focus, but just couldn’t stick to the diet the way I needed to and felt it just wasn’t right due to the lack of true variation in the diet.

      • Anne Murphy

        You could ask your doctor to prescribe a blood sugar test or buy a testing meter at CVS. I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Julia Ross i I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Julia Ross’ The Mood Cure Diet. She prescribes amino acid therapy based on questionnaires that can pinpoint serotonin dopamine And gaba deficiencies. What I can tell you about my experience with low-carb diets is you really need to spend the extra time in preparation meaning that picking up a book on simple Paleo recipes and trying to find interesting things that make you salivate helps. I’m a big fan of the quest cookie dough bars too!! The important thing is to get enough healthy fat and I just happen to love coconuts. Thai food coconut milk protein shakes and macaroons are some of my favorites . I hope this helps! But the most important thing is to correct your serotonin and dopamine which you most likely have first. The supplements changed my life. It’s like I’m on happy pills all the time

        • Anne Murphy

          FYI glutamine works wondersfor blood sugar issues

        • Erika

          Funny, I LOVE quest bars too and ate the cookie dough one this morning. My problem isn’t preparation, it is constant interruption of life and lack of willpower. I travel once a month and each time I am meeting up with friends for dinner and trying to find something that works on the ketogenic diet at times can be difficult on top of the temptation while out with friends. All my friends like to wait until I get off a diet and even some still give me crap when I try to stick to my diet saying I am in training. On the flip side, I just am tired of dieting, which is why I am having Mike create my diet that incorporates all the foods I love, so I don’t have to go ‘off’ and ‘on’ a diet, but just keep eating what I love. Crossing my fingers I can stick to it and that I don’t run into fatigue issues, etc. I actually think there is probably nothing wrong with me except eating poorly and exercising too much in times of desperation for my bodybuilding contests. Thanks for the suggestion, I am going to pick up the book you suggested for sure!

          • Anne Murphy

            Mike is the man! I am thrilled you are in great hands and support you in this wonderful journey!!! Best, Anne

          • Erika

            Thanks, yes, I do love all his information. It is science/research based, which is important to me and I am looking forward to my plan and working with his team. 🙂

          • Glad to hear it Erika. Don’t worry–we’ll get it figured out.

          • Erika

            Thanks, Mike. I actually read the Keto article you sent already. 🙂 I think the one thing most nutritionists get wrong with me is they think I am afraid of carbs. I am not afraid of carbs at all. I just hate that they are high calorie and low for satiety. I simply hate being hungry and I find that more carbs usually means feeling more hungry for me. Protein and fat help me feel full, carbs make me want more food with one exception – oatmeal. Got my diet today, so I am going to start Sunday after I get my grocery shopping in. 🙂

          • Okay cool. I hear you. Most people find them more satiating than fats but there are the exceptions.

          • Thanks Anne. 🙂

  • Marc

    How can you say food quality doesn’t matter? Do you really think your body uses 200 calories of Twinkies, 200 of broccoli and 200 of egg yolks the exact same way? They all have different effects on the body, some of those effects include fat burning via various hormonal and other responses. Yes, you can lose weight eating only 1600 calories on Twinkies, but I argue you’d lose fat faster eating 1900 calories of clean nutritious food.

  • I agree with everything you wrote, but one point you didn’t mention: for many people (especially as one gets older) eating carbs (especially the junk kind) makes them hungry, which is a big factor in why they over-eat.

    So cutting back on junk carbs (i.e. most junk food) can help simply by reducing the craving for more. Healthy (unprocessed) food is much better in many ways, including feeling full and less ravenous for longer.

  • bill

    I wanted to check to see if I have this right. My understanding is that you want a balance of protein, carbs, and fat along with fiber. If you consume more than you need of any one of these, your body will want to store the excess as fat. For example, if you ate a pound of steak, but your body only required 3 ounces, it will want to store the excess as fat, especially if you also consumed what you needed in the carbs and fat categories. If your not getting the required amount of any one in particular, you run the risk of your body not having the required building blocks to build well functioning cells that you are constantly replacing. So that delicious donut will provide almost no nutrients, but plenty of useless calories, meaning your body is actually ‘starving’ while it is getting fat. If you have the right balance, but still create a calorie deficit, you’ve found the healthiest way to lose weight.

    • Not quite. It has to do with the energy contained in the food more than anything else.

      Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/best-diet-plan/

      We care about the macronutrients for body composition reasons (we want to lose fat and preserve muscle). But fat loss is driven by the calorie deficit, period.

      And yes you’re right that dieting to lose fat is mild starvation but it’s not necessarily unhealthy when done properly.

  • acirpr

    Right on, Mike!! Wish people could understand that. Oh, wait, they will now! 🙂

  • Bobby Fox

    You wrote my theory of life in one great article. People trying to lose weight always say, “chicken is healthy, right?, or things like: “…but its healthy.” And I tell em, but why even eat anything? People don’t understand… I’m an advocate of IF for losing weight, and this article hints at fasting rather than grazing food all day. Keep up the good material!

  • Jeff Sperla

    The funny thing is, most people don’t actually no what happens to fat after you burn it. I didn’t, so I asked and the question and looked it up. When you “burn” fat, it actually primarily turns into CO2 and water. Mostly CO2. So if you want to burn fat, you need to exhale it. The best way to do this is to exercise, not eat. Those yogis do a lot of exhaling, and hey, they look pretty fit. Maybe there’s something to that as well 🙂 Ok that’s just anecdotal but yah, I thought maybe some readers might be interested in that.

    -Jeff

    • Chris

      This sounded far fetched, so I was surprised to find it was actually true! “Researchers showed that during weight loss, 84 percent of the fat that is lost turns into carbon dioxide and leaves the body through the lungs, whereas the remaining 16 percent becomes water”. This co2 and water being the result of fat being broken down by exercise and daily life, aka TDEE. So raise your TDEE and watch what you eat and breathe away your wobbly bits 🙂

    • Yeah I’m familiar with that. Thanks for sharing Jeff.

  • Pink

    Cortisol. I say to give your body whatever it is craving, and eat the best salads that you can think of. Protein,carbs,etc. It’s all good. Moderation. Do not give yourself an aneurysm. Know what you are doing and fix it.

  • Jason

    Dammit, Mike, why does there have to be such contradictory information out there? I’m two weeks into a ketogenic diet, and I’ve lost all but the last five pounds or so that I’m looking to lose. The two pounds that are hiding my abs are the only thing left that I really care about — are you telling me that I could balance my macros and skip ketosis all together?? Why does ketosis make so much chemical sense when they explain it the way they do, then?

  • Antonis

    Great article! No lies here….
    Thanks Mike!

  • Sandra Mendoza

    We need more people like you in the fitness world, Mike. Great article.

  • Patrick Shanahan

    Mike I used your advise and added 10 lbs of muscle but now would like more definition.i am going to embrace the fasted training for a while (ordered your Forge to aid in keeping the muscles).
    I’m 55 and feel the best ever TKS very much.
    Any advise as I proceed ?

  • Dean Mignola

    Hi Mike, As usual, the article is spot on. The only tweak I’d suggest is that the point you made at the beginning about keeping fat intake low is so important that it should be included in the bullet points at the end. While I’m in better shape that most guys my age (52), I have that skinny/fat thing. Reducing my fat intake (while supplementing with Omega 3) is finally reducing that last little layer around the lower belly and hips.

  • Janie Hannan-Kearl

    Great article as usual! I read your book and think it’s awesome! I actually do better not tracking everything I eat because then I get obsessive and think about food too often and then end up over eating at times. I just kinda know intuitively what to eat after tracking for months. Lots of protein 😁 and fruit and ocarionally potatoes are my go -to carb choice with some Kodiac protein pancakes some mornings or oats. Still have a weakness for Peanut butter lol.

  • Andy

    Hi Mike .Heard a lot of hype about increasing Leptin levels to increase fat burning ?? Any truth to this or maybe you could do an article on it?

  • Crissy

    I do agree with most of what you write. However, I did do the 10 day lemonaide cleanse (master cleaner diet) and it was the BEST thing I’ve ever done for my body/health. I did not do it for losing weight, but I was previously so tired all the time and just felt bad. I ate a horrible diet, as an average American would eat. However, after the cleanse, I felt AMAZING! I was no longer tired, I was craving vegetables when I hated them before and actually wanted to drink water instead of pop. It definitely changed my body and made a profound difference in it within. Just wanted to share because a cleanse can be very very rewarding, even if it doesn’t cause weight loss.

  • Severina Var

    Mike, thank you for your web page, books and knowledge sharing! I love the simple, entertaining and motivational way how you explain and breakdown everything. You give another perspective on healthy eating, exercises and metabolism. Great job!

    • YW! Glad you’re enjoying everything. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words and support!

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Enozia Vakil

    Super interesting! I also read that mint can be an amazing metabolism booster!
    http://www.beautyjunctiononline.com/10-ways-mint-benefits-weight-loss/

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