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How To Burn Fat

The Science Of How This Really Happens

March 3rd, 2012

By , MS, CNS, MMC, Edited By PEERtrainer

"Burn 10 pounds in two weeks without dieting!"

"Research-proven ingredients for rapid weight loss."

"Just 20 minutes three times a week will give you the body of your dreams."

Be honest. At some point, most people looking to burn fat quickly have bought a supplement, tried a diet, or jumped on some hot exercise trend based on some variation of these claims.

And despite the increased cardiovascular health - or whatever - claims, the truth is you bought that supplement or joined a program for one big reason: to burn fat. But what exactly does that term mean?

The Science Of How You Burn Fat:

"Technically we're 'burning' fat every minute of every day" says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of numerous books including The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. "What we're really talking about here is increasing the amount of fat used as fuel that leads to weight or fat loss."

Countless products and programs claim to increase fat burning. So how do you cut through the hyperbolic claims and empty promises to determine the most effective, efficient method? You talk to experts and examine the science. Here's what they suggest.

Why Insulin Is The First "Key" To Burning Fat

Experts agree that controlling insulin levels is the key to burn fat. "The real secret of increasing fat loss is to create a hormonal environment where insulin isn't elevated," says Bowden. "Insulin goes up in response to elevations in blood sugar."

This master hormone doesn't respond to dietary fat. Protein, on the other hand, does raise insulin, but also triggers glucagon, insulin's sister hormone that releases fat.

How Carbs Effect The Fat Burning Process

But carbohydrate and insulin are soul mates, and when you eat that slice of pizza or carrot cake, insulin rises to the occasion. And insulin does one thing really well: it stores fat.

If you want to burn rather than store fat, then, you need to control insulin release. And limiting carbohydrates provides a key to doing that.

Adopting elements of a low-carbohydrate diet optimizes body composition. When insulin levels are high, your fat cells essentially get 'locked' and weight loss becomes fiendishly difficult. When insulin levels drop, it becomes much easier to lose weight.

PEERtrainer has observed from its users, that when you eliminate grains and stick to protein (especially plant-based protein), tons of green vegetables and healthy fats, this lays the groundwork for overcoming weight loss resistance regardless of whatever health situation you are dealing with.

Author Gary Taubes states that "If you doubt insulin regulates fat accumulation in fat cells, you can literally look it up in any good biochemistry or endocrinology...textbook...Insulin puts fat in fat cells. That's what it does. And our insulin levels, for the most part, are determined by the carb-content of our diet -- the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates consumed."

The Role Of Vegetables In The Fat Burning Process

Once you get your insulin levels under control, and optimize the natural fat burning, vegetables play a key role in two ways. First is that consumption of high levels of green vegetables is linked to reduced hunger levels. Vegetables fill you up and are rich in micronutrients which research shows are linked to lower levels of disease. PEERtrainer members have reported for years that increased vegetables have helped with sugar cravings- which helps you control your insulin levels.

Secondly, many plant foods, especially mushrooms function as "angiogenesis inhibitors." Angiogenesis is a process that results in the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels. In cancer, for example, angiogenesis occurs when a tumor grows large enough to need its own blood supply.

What is interesting is that the growth of fat tissue is also dependent on this exact same process! When you increase the amount of vegetables, especially broccoli, mushrooms, onions, greens and berries, you are eating a diet that will result in less fat needing to be burned.

Researchers are now looking into "Pharmacological manipulation of adipose (body fat) tissue (to) offer a novel therapeutic option for the treatment of obesity and related metabolic disorders." Translated into English, that means that drug companies are trying to turn the properties of these foods into drugs.

Important Note: PEERtrainer has seen that certain experts tend to focus on one part of the fat burning equation or another. For example, if you speak with someone like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, they will focus almost exclusively on the role of vegtables in fat burning.

Gary Taubes on the other hand asked us in a discussion as we were preparing this article, "is it the addition of copious green vegetables to the diet or the removal of the refined grains and sugars and maybe starchy vegetables that is responsible for the benefits that people expericence?"

As we look at the research and science, we find ample evidence that both approaches have strong benefits. As we always say, "keep an open mind and see what works for you."

What Other Foods Play A Role In Fat Burning

JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFI, PhD, recommends eating protein at every meal for fat loss. A breakfast smoothie made from plant-based protein, for instance, kick-starts your day's fat burning by balancing blood sugar and insulin levels.

A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also showed a high-protein breakfast reduced ghrelin, a hormone that tells your brain to eat, better than a high-carb breakfast did. Lower ghrelin, coupled with balanced blood sugar levels, mean you're far less likely to make that mid-morning bagel cart or snack machine trip.

Virgin also provides a simple, healthy formula for rapid weight loss that focuses on balancing insulin levels. "Substitute one or two meals a day with this smoothie recipe," she says, which includes rice/pea protein powder (plant-based not whey-based), fiber, berries, spinach/kale and unsweetened coconut milk. Then make dinner lean protein, tons of green vegetables, and good fat like avocado or coconut.

Calorie Restriction and Fat Burning

There is absolutely no question that restricting calories plays a key role in the fat burning process. Many people, especially in the fitness community, are of the view that one must achieve and then maintain a calorie deficit. There is solid research that shows that calorie restriction leads to reduction in total body fat.

The problem with this view is that if this is the only approach you take, you'll find it very difficult to maintain that calorie deficit. The key to getting rid of body fat is to be open to as many scientifically proven paths as possible, which is the point of this article.

The Three Ways That Fiber Helps The Fat Burning Process

Fiber is something that also plays a key role in the fat burning process. Fiber does this in at least three ways: it suppresses ghrelin, delays stomach emptying, and buffers incoming sugar to balance insulin levels.

A study in Nutrition Reviews showed a mere 14 grams of fiber a day helped people lose an additional four pounds over as many months, even when they made no other dietary modifications. This can be a challenge, but when you add fiber to the diet successfully, it helps you in so many different ways.

Why Essential Fatty Acids Are "Essential" For Fat Burning

Nutritionist Esther Blum recommends a fat-burning cocktail that combines a one-to-five ratio of l-carnitine to omega-3 fatty acids. "Omega-3s turn on the genes that burn fat and turn off the genes that store fat," she says. "And by boosting your carnitine levels, fat burning will increase and you will raise your metabolism, have more energy, and increase serotonin levels to offset cravings."

None of these supplements alone will melt away the pounds. But combined with a lower-carbohydrate diet and the right exercise, supplements like fiber and green tea can provide a boost to your fat loss. And even if they don't, you'll still get numerous other health benefits.

How Much Exercise Is Really Needed To Burn Fat?

Exercise provides cardiovascular, immune, and numerous other benefits. But be honest: you spend hours on elliptical machines and spin classes primarily to burn fat.

Virgin says people waste hours on useless aerobic exercise when a combination of burst training and resistance exercise can help you most effectively burn fat. She believes this combination is the most effective, efficient exercise you can do.

Related PEERtrainer Article: How To Train Your Body To Use Fat For Energy

Virgin combines weights and burst training in her 4 x 4 Workouts, which you can complete in just 15 minutes.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), or burst training, involves short (20 to 60 second) bursts at a high intensity where oxygen demand is much higher than your body can supply. The ensuing metabolic "stress" means your body burns more fat in less time.

Remember Rocky and the stairs? That's burst training: intense exercise coupled with active recovery. For instance, you might run, then walk at a fast pace, then run again.

Studies validate burst training to be incredibly effective for fat burning. One in the journal Metabolism, for instance, showed that HIIT proves more effective than low- to moderate-intensity exercise and promotes fat burning. Another study in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded that two weeks of HIIT increased fat burning in moderately active women.

How Sleep and Stress Influence Fat Burning

You eat a protein-rich, lower-carbohydrate diet, consume tons of fiber and green tea, and complete Virgin's 15-minute workout four times a week. But clocking in five hours of sleep, coupled with stress piled on from the job from hell, can seriously derail those fat-burning efforts.

"Add in the calories from sleep and stress," says Jade Teta, ND. "You can't eat them and they don't have calories, but if you don't manage these two critical factors you will overeat the wrong things more often and still not feel satisfied."

Excessive stress, for instance, raises cortisol, which stores fat. You can't eliminate stress, but you can learn how to better manage it. For one, you might change your approach and see a situation as challenging rather than stressful. Numerous other techniques, including yoga class, meditation, or hypnosis CD, can lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.

Related PEERtrainer Article: The Foundational Element Of Exercise Motivation

Most experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep every night for optimal fat burning. Numerous fat-burning hormones become out of whack with too little sleep. Ghrelin increases, for instance, triggering you to eat more. Insulin levels also rise, which means you store more fat. And leptin, which tells your brain to stop eating, decreases with too little sleep, so you eat more food throughout the day.

FAQ: How To Burn Fat Naturally?

In order to burn fat naturally, you really rely on the steps outlined in this article. The first point of this article is that your body actually does burn fat naturally. So as long as you keep insulin levels down, and make sure to eat plenty of foods that help to prevent fat deposits from "taking on a life of their own" you are going to naturally burn fat, without any need of any special pill.

FAQ: Which Foods Help You Burn Fat?

This is a list of foods that have been shown to have anti-angiogenic properties. As you recall from the discussion above, the growth of fat tissue is dependent on the growth of new blood vessels to feed that new tissue. When you consume foods that have been shown to slow or stop this process, this helps you burn fat. This list is from Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Super Immunity.

Allium vegetables (The Entire Onion Family)
All Types Of Berries
Black Rice
Citrus Fruits
Cruciferous Vegetables
Flax Seeds
Green Tea
Omega-3 Fats

Related PEERtrainer Article: The 3 Things You Must Do To Burn Belly Fat

Related PEERtrainer Article: A Normal Person's Guide To Building Muscle

Related PEERtrainer Article: The Foods That Cause And Prevent Inflammation

Related PEERtrainer Article: Why Pea/Rice Protein Beats Whey and Soy For Weight Loss

What is interesting about this list of foods is that they also are shown to help fight tumor growth. Many people have responded to this list and asked for some tips on how to eat more of these foods. The (free) PEERtrainer Cheat System is an easy to use system to help you make these changes. Most PEERtrainer Recipes also feature most of these foods.

FAQ: How Do You Burn Fat Quickly?

If you are looking to learn how to burn fat quickly, in a healthy way, you simply need to follow the process outlined in this article, to a very strict degree. That means removing any food that 1) raises insulin levels and 2) causes an auti-immune or allergic reaction. And it means dramatically increasing the foods on the list above, while maintaining proper protein levels.

This process is essentially a nutritional cleanse. If you want to learn the basics of a nutritional cleanse, watch this video. If you want to join a nutritional cleanse run by PEERtrainer, this page has the details and next starting date.

PEERtrainer Note: To Get JJ Virgin's complete Webinar outlining the foods you eat and the foods you avoid on a cleanse, enter your email here and we will send you the full class. We will also send you a free copy of the PEERtrainer Cheat System, which is an easy to follow natural weight loss plan.


What has been your experience in this area. For you has it been more of a "reduce sugar" thing or more of a "add vegetables" thing? Or a mix of both?

Share This With A Friend:


Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.

Hill AM, et al. Can EGCG reduce abdominal fat in obese subjects? J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Aug;26(4):396S-402S.

Howarth NC, et al. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39.

Patel SR, et al. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 15;164(10):947-54.

Tremblay A, et al. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.

Talanian JL, et al. Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. J Appl Physiol. 2007 Apr;102(4):1439-47.


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