Colette's Blog

January 5, 2010

Have you ever been the victim of a bully? Most of us have. I’ll bet you have a bully story all your own. Perhaps when you were a kid an older youngster pushed you around or prevented you from using the swings in the playground or grabbed your sandwich at lunch. If you’re lucky, that childhood experience or two has inflicted no lasting damage on your psyche.

But there is another kind of bully, right within your own body, which can damage you on a daily basis, by interfering with your ability (and resolve) to achieve a healthy weight. As a nutritionist, I’ve know about this phenomenon—which inhibits fat burning—for years, but when I heard it referred to as a metabolic bully, I had an “aha” moment. The person who came up with this term is Dr. Stephen Phinney, one of the three authors of The New Atkins for a New You, which will be published in early March. Steve, who is also chair of the Atkins Science Advisory Board, has a wonderful way with words.

Even though I am fortunate enough to have never had a severe weight problem, other than in my first year of college and during my pregnancy when I gained far too much weight, in fact, I’m extremely sensitive to carbohydrates. And because I have the diabetic gene and come from an Italian family in which all the women got fat after the age of 35, I was afraid I too would pork up as the years went by or die young from complications of diabetes, as both my parents did.

I’m sure those issues played a role in my decision to become a nutritionist. Still, for many years, after consuming too many carbs, I would be unable to concentrate, feel bloated and find myself looking constantly at the clock to see whether it was time to eat again. Overindulging in carbs is not just about weight gain, but it wasn’t until I discovered Atkins that I fully understood what was happening in my body.

Which brings us back to the subject at hand: the metabolic bully? In the simplest terms, the metabolic bully rears is ugly head when you exceed your tolerance for carbohydrates. Exactly why that happens and what the results are more complicated, but we’ll take it step by step.

As you know, our bodies run on two sources of energy: fat and carbohydrates. But our default fuel is always carbs. That’s because we have very limited storage space in our body for glucose (sugar), to which carbs quickly convert. Fat, which is actually a more efficient and even fuel, is our backup fuel, in part because we have an almost limitless ability to store fat. By the way, the two sources of fuel are Mother Nature’s ingenious way to protect humankind and other animals. (Bears live off their body fat while hibernating.) Body fat was our insurance policy during times of famine or seasonal food scarcity

Eating too many carbs blocks your body’s ability to burn fat, so as long as you eat this way, you rarely tap into your body’s fat stores. Instead, they remain permanently attached to your hips, thighs, upper arms, and all the other well-upholstered parts of your bod. The overconsumption of carbs acts like a roadblock, standing in the way of fat burning, just as that schoolyard bully blocked your access to the swings or slide all those many years ago. And not only are you unable to lose weight without drastically cutting back on calories, (which leaves you perpetually hungry and vulnerable to falling of the wagon), you’re also plagued with a whole set of side effects from the blood sugar rollercoaster: the uneven energy level, feeling bloated, excessive hunger, cravings for carb foods and inability to concentrate.

But when you control your carb intake, as you do on the Atkins Diet, you encourage your body to burn primarily fat for energy, and you can lose weight and ultimately maintain your healthy new weight—all while feeling pleasantly satisfied by your meals. Just as calling an over-reliance on carbs a metabolic bully makes it easier to understand, we have a term to refer to a primarily fat-burning metabolism: the Atkins Edge. It’s yourally against the metabolic bully, moderating your appetite, reducing or eliminating cravings and giving you a steady stream of energy—all day long.

Think of it this way. The metabolic bully is the bad guy and the Atkins Edge is the good guy. Whose team do you want to be on?

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