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I used to think that I couldn’t lose body fat and gain muscle because I had a hormone imbalance or because I was insulin resistant. And I wish I knew that my body isn’t broken, even if I have or had those issues! In fact, I can still use the same laws of science that apply to everyone else, to achieve a healthier body composition… and so can you!

It took me years to finally realize that the simple answer to this dilemma was focusing on building muscle and eating enough protein. In this article, Il walk you through exactly why muscle is the organ of longevity, why protein plays such a critical role in maintaining and building muscle, and much more. 

A CALORIE REALLY IS JUST A CALORIE

In a purely literal sense, a calorie really is just a calorie, no matter where it comes from. That’s not to say that an *excess* (balance is key) of processed foods can’t contribute to gut overgrowths & inflammation… or that getting most of your calories from hyper-palatable, processed foods can’t mess with your reward centers and blood sugar regulation, making us crave more of them, which is especially tough if you’ve always used food to cope like me. 

But at the end of the day, insulin resistance or hormone issues like PCOS do not *technically* have an effect on the equation of calories in, calories out. Protein is a tiny exception here because it DOES have a thermic effect, meaning your body uses energy to process it – and in the lens of building muscle and reversing insulin resistance long term, a calorie that comes from protein is a LOT more satiating and valuable in terms of your goals!

WHY HORMONES MATTER

Now, here’s the nuance. Hormones like insulin or ghrelin for example DO make you hungrier. They make your cravings sometimes unbearable! Hormones like estrogen or cortisol matter too, but not because they change your ability to process calories. Rather, they change WHERE your body stores fat or loses it from, and can absolutely affect your mental health or even thyroid function when they’re out of balance. 

And of course, we know that low thyroid hormone can reduce the amount of calories you burn, making it much harder to actually enter a calorie deficit. Getting your thyroid properly tested and treated should never be overlooked. I have a full article and podcast on this. This nuance is why I teach holistic health – these things matter, but even for me, I got too lost in them and didn’t reach my goals for too long because I was ignoring not just calories but the one thing that lets us eat MORE calories – MUSCLE! 

Honestly, the fact that calories are an unchangeable law brings me comfort because it puts the power back into my hands versus a fad diet or supplement. You don’t need to intermittent fast, you don’t need to go keto, there is no one magical diet, AND guess what? Even though they matter, you don’t need to keep decreasing your calories lower and lower to lose fat and meet your body composition goals. You don’t even need to count them if that doesn’t feel good, as long as you prioritize muscle mass and the protein intake that protects it. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING MUSCLE

All you need to focus on right now is actually building muscle through strength training 2-3x per week, and eating enough PROTEIN throughout the day to fuel yourself, stay satisfied, and actually stimulate that muscle synthesis! 

The more muscle you build, the more insulin sensitive you’ll become, and the more calories you’ll burn at rest. In fact, muscle is THE MOST INSULIN SENSITIVE TISSUE IN THE BODY!  How cool is that?! Eventually, you’ll be able to eat MORE food without gaining body fat, and will actually start losing it as you preserve your muscle with protein intake. As you lose fat (which produces its own estrogen and inflammatory cell signaling proteins) and build muscle, your cortisol, estrogen, and thus even thyroid hormones will be better balanced as well. 

While a calorie *is* just a calorie (and no matter what, overeating for your personal needs prevents fat loss), the quality and source of those calories matter. Especially in a protein lens, quality and source matter for your well-being, your longevity, your microbiome, and the rate at which you’ll develop muscle. Whole foods will always be better for the above than processed, but you also don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time – 80/20 is key. 

Just simply be consistent and have balance! The answer is always somewhere in the middle of all the camps you hear from on the internet. Be mindful of this big picture, and the many nuances involved, and focus on protein intake and getting stronger, vs eating less and less food or searching for the “perfect” diet. 

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