Exclusive Excerpt: Why We Struggle to Lose Weight
This exclusive exerpt is from John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein's new book, "Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha." The views expressed herein are theirs and theirs alone.
Your body is broken.
That was the four-word conclusion that we came to about two years ago. In truth, it wasn’t like it suddenly dawned on us that our industry sucked at what it is designed to do. There was no “A-ha!” moment where everything suddenly became clear. Our frustrating reality is something that has been building for a long time. But it wasn’t until we sat down together, looked at all the problems in health and fitness, that we determined why you were struggling and what could be done to fix it.
The bottom line is simple and frustrating: The approach being shared in the mainstream just wasn’t working. An “eat less and exercise more” philosophy is not the solution.
Is the problem the type of exercise you perform? No. It’s a severe disruption of the internal functioning of your body and a deep hormonal problem that is making your efforts to drop weight backfire.
These are not unsubstantiated claims. Our approach to fat loss is the culmination of more than 10 years of real life experience, along with two years of research and testing prior to writing Engineering the Alpha. In the process, we conducted thousands of interviews, dissected hundreds of published research articles, and tested 300 people who went through all the steps of the program we created. The final product was a real world guide to an unreal life.
The Problem: Metabolic Slowdown
At their core, most programs aimed at fat loss are based on a single thing — what we call "energy deficit." Simply put, you need to burn more calories than you take in. It’s this principle that allowed Kansas State professor Mark Haub to drop weight on his highly publicized Twinkie Diet. In fact, it’s upon this principle that all diets theoretically function.
For someone like Haub, who wants to drop from 33 percent body fat to 25 percent body fat while subsisting on a few Twinkies a day, that principle works. As a matter of fact, it works for just about everyone who starts any diet at all, Twinkies or not—for a little while, at least.
The truth is that at some point, fat loss stops, and for most people, that point is sooner rather than later. After a few successful weeks of dieting, the scale stops moving.
No matter how long you’ve been on a diet or how close you are to your goal, a tangible determinant of success is how balanced your hormones are. When you’re in a calorie-reduced state for an extended period of time, your body eventually starts to rebel against you. This is because leptin (a hunger hormone) drops dramatically . And just like that—bam—fat loss stops dead. This is what’s often referred to as starvation mode.
Sadly, almost every man who has ever tried to exercise and diet has experienced this phenomenon. Had Haub (a professor of nutrition) stayed on his nutrition plan of snack cakes and irony, he would have hit the unfortunate wall with a crash. But it’s not limited to gimmick diets. Even people on “regular” diet programs reach a point where fat loss stops.
Once you get to a certain level of leanness, other hormones come into play. For example, estrogen keeps men from developing their testosterone-fueled physique, instead resulting in, well, man boobs. Insulin (or rather, resistance to it) keeps love handles right where they are: attached to the waist — or even worse — causes metabolic syndrome and threatens to shorten life. And perhaps worst, stress-enhanced cortisol keeps your abs covered in flab — because it’s cortisol that prevents people from losing belly fat.
Ever known anyone who was just trying to lose the last few pounds? Of course you do. Those people are likely the victims of their hormones. And unless they do something about it, those last few pounds will be there for the long haul—their adipose tissue will adapt, making it harder and harder to drop those pounds.
Something else to consider is that these things don’t just affect the way you look; they affect everything else, starting with your health. Here’s a brief list: insulin resistance is the first step to diabetes; high estrogen is a factor in a host of cancers; and belly fat resulting from cortisol has been linked with metabolic disorder, heart disease, and brain degradation. Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, all three hormones can lead to erectile issues in men.
Not addressing these hormones isn’t just keeping you fat; it could also hurt you. But if you reprogram your hormones, you literally have the chance to upgrade the way you look, feel, and age.
The Solution: Resetting Your Hormones
So what does it take to reprogram your hormonal environment? There are several natural steps that can make a big difference in how everything in your body functions. In fact, there’s so much research — and the changes in our test subjects were so dramatic — that we felt obligated to write a book about it all.
But if there’s a “best” place to start, the easy answer is sleep. That’s right — not your diet or your workout. It’s emphasizing rest and understanding how poor sleep is crushing your hormones in ways that impact everything from your hunger to effectiveness of the reps and sets you perform at the gym.
The truth is our “busy lives” result in about 30 percent of adults sleeping less than 6 hours per night. This causes a variety of hormonal issues that disrupt diet and exercise plans. To understand why less sleep hurts the body, it’s best to start with how more sleep helps. When you sleep around 7 to 8 hours per night, you increase growth hormone, according to researchers in Oregon . That offsets increasing levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is naturally produced in all people. When you don’t sleep enough, though, cortisol levels can start to take over your life, and it creates a vicious cycle.
High cortisol creates interruptions in sleep patterns. In other words, it makes you sleep like crap and wake up feeling even worse. And poor rest means your cortisol becomes elevated even more, which will ensure that your sleep will continue to get worse. What’s more, less sleep also robs you of your testosterone, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association . And we’re not talking a tiny drop; the researchers indicated that poor quality sleep could cause up to a 15 percent decrease in testosterone — giving you one more reason to focus on your rest.
What’s most amazing — and scary — is that the changes to testosterone (an important hormone for men and women, too) were almost instant. After just one week, the researchers noted the drop in testosterone, as well as the study subjects feeling more moody, having less vigor, and struggling with concentration. Even worse was that the highest drops occurred during the afternoon hours and into the late evening (around 10 p.m.). So, lower testosterone will peak when you need it most to concentrate, work, and perform in bed.
But we’re just scratching the surface. Research published in the American Journal of Human Biology found a direct link between a lack of sleep, overeating, and obesity . Many people think the reason less sleep leads to more eating is because when you sleep less, you’re awake longer: the more hours you’re up, the more time you have to eat. The real reason is that a lack of sleep impacts hormone levels and brain functioning in a way that pushes you toward more food — and in particular the bad foods you know you should avoid.
Lack of sleep also causes insulin resistance, meaning that every type of food you eat — and especially carbs — will be more likely to be stored as fat as opposed to used as energy or promoting muscle growth. And on the flip side, more rest promotes growth hormone, which can improve insulin sensitivity following your nighttime fast. (Because you can’t eat in your sleep.)
Leaving you with one very simple and powerful objective: Sleep more and you can elevate testosterone and growth hormone, while lowering cortisol and insulin.
Will that fix everything? No. But it will start building an environment that is more conducive to fat loss, tame your hunger, improve your recovery, and prime your body to make it easier to drop weight.
Photo (bottom) courtesy of John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein.
Learn more about "Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha" on Amazon.
- The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Klok, M.D., Jakobsdottir, S., Drent, M. Department of Edocrinology, VU University. Obesity Review. 2007 Jan;8(1):21-34⤴
- Effects of growth hormone on pulmonary function, sleep quality, behavior, cognition, growth velocity, body composition, and resting energy expenditure in Prader-Willi syndrome. Haqq, A.M., Stadler, D.D., Jackson, R.H., et al. Department of Pediatrics, Oregon Health and Science University. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2003 May;88(5):2206-12.⤴
- Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. Leproult, R., Van Cauter, E. JAMA. 2011 Jun 1;305(21):2173-4.⤴
- Does inadequate sleep play a role in vulnerability to obesity? Knutson, K.L. Section of Pulmonary/Critical Care, University of Chicago. American Journal of Human Biology. 2012 May-Jun;24(3):361-71.⤴