Anyone can get fat-adapted by changing their food choices and eating schedule in ways that encourage continual low insulin levels.
Fat adaptation refers to your body’s ability to convert fat to energy. When you’re fat-adapted, your body is less dependent on quick-energy foods like carbohydrates. Instead, it taps into your energy-rich body fat to power your day.
With that energy source now readily available, you experience less hunger, sustained energy, and better fat loss. This blog post shares how to get fat adapted and four things that can knock you off course.
Fat Adaptation At-A-Glance
- When you are fat-adapted, your body prefers running on fat – from your diet or body – rather than carbs.
- To move from a carb-adapted to a fat-adapted metabolism, your cells must develop new fat-burning enzymes and pathways. This requires time.
- Mistakes that slow progress include eating a low-fat diet, inconsistent effort, trying to force change, and giving in to temptation before the transition is complete.
Want to Get Fat Adapted? AVOID These 4 Things [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- What fat adaptation is, and how to achieve it.
- Four things to avoid if you are trying to get fat adapted.
- Solutions/helpful tips to help you avoid those things.
How to Get Fat Adapted
It makes sense to use fat as fuel. Your body can only store a few days’ worth of sugar, but it has many weeks of energy stored in body fat.
To better understand that, consider this – Inside your body right now, there are roughly 2,000 calories of glycogen or stored sugar. But, according to Suzanne Eberle’s book, Endurance Sports Nutrition, “Even those who are lean and mean have enough fat stored in muscle fibers and fat cells to supply up to 100,000 calories – enough for over 100 hours of marathon running!” (1)
How efficiently your body burns fat is largely dependent on the hormone insulin. Insulin levels increase when you eat certain foods, with carbohydrates causing the most significant rise and fats the least. When insulin levels are high, say following a high-carb meal; insulin is secreted to move that food energy into storage. When insulin is low, that stored energy, much of which is in body fat, is released to keep your body powered up.
Two actions that will move you toward this desired low-insulin state are intermittent fasting and eating a low-carb diet. During a fast, there is no food coming in, so insulin levels stay low. With low-carb food choices, there is less of an insulin rise following a meal.
The concept is straightforward. However, for it to work, make sure that you’re eating enough fat.
#1 Avoid Eating a Low-Fat Diet
Keep in mind that the foods you eat provide your body with calories used for energy. That energy is derived mainly from carbohydrates and fat. When you cut carbs, you rob your body of a primary energy source.
Make a concerted effort to get beneficial fats like eggs, avocados, nuts, seeds, meat, fatty fish, full-fat dairy products, and healthy oils like olive and avocado oil into your daily diet. A good target is for dietary fats to make up 50% to 75% of your daily calorie intake.
This dietary fat trains the powerhouses of your cells, called mitochondria, to run on fat. Once fat adaptation is achieved, that fat comes from the foods you eat or from the body fat you carry.
#2 Avoid Inconsistency
The second thing to avoid when getting fat-adapted is inconsistency or on-again/off-again dieting.
When you cut carbs, the low insulin levels allow for the release of water. Therefore, much of the early weight loss is water weight. It’s fun to see the scale drop quickly, but you are going for the big prize—fat-adaptation. That will only happen with consistent effort. Strict adherence to your low-carb diet is especially important during the initial transition period when your cells are learning how to burn fat more efficiently.
This transition period is challenging because you’re withholding the easy carb energy, but your body is not yet completely up to speed on using fat for fuel. It is tempting to just give yourself a bit of relief by having a high-carb meal or snack. That treat will take the edge off of the discomfort, but it also disrupts your progress.
When you give in and eat a high-carb food, you flood your body with easily accessible energy. Your body likes easy, so it puts the challenging task of creating new fat-burning enzymes and pathways on hold, which puts your transition toward becoming a better fat-burner on hold.
Stay consistent with your low-carb, high-fat food choices during the early transition stage. If you do that, you will reap the rewards because once you’ve put in the consistent work to get your body fat adapted, that becomes your default state.
Your body will never lose its ability to use carbohydrates; they will always be an energy source. However, your body will now be metabolically flexible, so you’ll find that you can tolerate occasional high-carb treats, like a piece of birthday cake, and when those carbohydrates are used up, your body returns to burning fat.
How long it takes your body to get fat-adapted depends on your metabolism, carbohydrate tolerance, and fasting and lifestyle habits. Unfortunately, you can’t simplify things by saying something like, “reducing your carb intake to less than 25% of your daily calories will give you a fat-adapted body in one month.” But with consistent effort, you’ll start to notice the signs of fat adaption, like easier fat loss, sustained energy, mental clarity, and less hunger and cravings.
#3 Avoid Forcing Change
Another thing that I notice when people are motivated to improve their metabolism is that they try to force change by changing everything at once. We change the foods we eat, the times we eat, and the amount we eat. And at the same time, we change how we move, going directly from a couch potato to an exercise guru overnight.
It may be true that your health needs a full overhaul. However, you cannot force fat adaptation onto your body. It takes time. There are multiple changes you can make to improve insulin sensitivity and help your body move toward fat adaptation but start with changing your diet by lowering your carb intake and raising your intake of healthy fats. This change will give you the most benefit. When you are comfortable with this dietary change, add intermittent fasting and exercise.
By doing this, instead of forcing change, you allow change to happen by giving your body the elements and time it needs to succeed.
#4 Avoid Temptations
The challenge with time is that we live in a high-carb world. There is a fast food restaurant on every corner, and you can’t even visit the hardware store without walking through the gauntlet of high-carb, grab-and-go snack foods.
When I say that the next thing to do in order to get fat-adapted is to avoid temptation, I hear you saying, easier said than done.
The reality is that we can’t control everything around us, but we can control the environments in which we spend the most time by setting up temptation-free zones.
Here are three things you can do today to keep your living spaces free of temptation:
First, always be thinking, “out of sight, out of mind.” Don’t bring refined snack foods into your house. If family members are unwilling to live without junk food, move any tempting items from your kitchen counters to a less visible shelf in your pantry or refrigerator.
Second, be “no, thank you” ready. Food is a part of social gatherings. When a friend or family member wants to love you with food, artfully say no by making a non-food request, such as “No, thank you. But I would love a glass of water.” The loved one still gets to love you through their actions, and you get to avoid temptation without the fuss.
Third, remove all “secret stashes.” Go through your home, office, or car and remove any junk food or sugary treats. This saves you from needing to rely on willpower, which is a fragile thing. It is easily lost through everyday things like low blood sugar and stress, so clean out hidden stashes before you have to call on willpower to save you.
If you are frustrated by hunger or difficult fat loss, take the actions needed to get your body fat adapted, starting with a shift to a low-carb/high-fat diet. When you are comfortable with your dietary change, incorporate lifestyle changes that help insulin do its job, like fasting and exercise.
And remember that going from being carb-adapted to fat-adapted is a big change that requires time. Set up temptation-free zones, so you don’t have to rely on willpower as you move through this transition.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Eberle, S.G. (2014). Endurance Sports Nutrition (3rd Edition).