I was recently asked whether going sugar-free will help you lose weight as this is often one of the primary motives of giving up the sweet white stuff that so many of us are hooked on. I imagine most of you are saying that of course it will, how can it not!
Well the answer is slightly more complicated and it has to do with hormones .
There are two ways we can lose weight, firstly through calorie restriction, this is how most diets work and they rely on your will power alone, to keep up the low calorie regime.
This approach is destined to fail as our bodies believe we are in a famine situation and put survival strategies in place such as slowing our metabolism and making us feel inactive, we become coach potatoes. While there there may be an initial fast weight loss this will plateau quickly and as soon as we begin eating again our body will gain weight plus some extra just in case there is another famine any time soon.
The other way is to work with your body so it is able to naturally release the stored energy in your fat cells. Our bodies know how to keep our weight stable and keep us slim, it is part of our primitive bodies innate wisdom that knows if we are slimmer we can escape danger more easily. This mechanism is a feedback loop controlled by the hormone leptin produced by our fat cells. Leptin tells our brain we have too much fat and in response our metabolism speeds up, making us less hungry and want to be more active. The amount of leptin we produce is proportional to the amount of fat we have. As our fat stores reach a healthy level less of the hormone is produced and our food intake adjusts.
So where does being sugar-free fit in? The more sugar we eat the more of the hormone insulin that is released in the body. Insulin is the fat-storage hormone and when this is floating around in the blood almost continually leptin cannot be produced. Insulin's job is to help energy/glucose/sugar move into the cells whether this is for immediate use or for later on i.e. in the muscles or as fat. Many of us have sugar numerous times a day calling on insulin to help pack sugar away and keep it out of our blood. The continuous ups and downs of our blood sugar level is what can create anxiety, stress, moodiness and those terrible energy peaks and troughs.
When we become sugar-free, or at least keep it to a minimal level, our blood sugar has only tiny peaks and troughs and our energy level can keep constant. When insulin is not so present our leptin feedback loop is activated and we are able to use some of the stored energy that is in fat cells to keep our energy level constant and so we begin to lose weight naturally.
It is very common when people start to be sugar-free that they are very hungry. This is because firstly your calorie intake has suddenly reduced but also because your hormones have not rebalanced enough so your fat stores can be used for energy, so on a primitive level you feel you are starving. For this reason I always suggest that people put their weight loss goals aside to begin with to focus on reducing sugar, sorting out balancing their blood sugar and hormones. To begin with this means eating more food not less, particularly good fats and protein. These foods will help heal and repair the body so it can start to work for you not against you.
So in summary yes being sugar-free will help you lose weight but it is a consequence of having a healthy body not as a result of trying.