This post is probably not going to win me a popularity contest, especially if you love your coffee, but if you’ve been struggling to lose weight, then you might want to stick around to hear what I have to say.
Because weight loss is not all about what you eat, but also what you drink.
Now for the purpose of this post, I going to be focussing on coffee, or more specifically caffeine, which let’s face it, can be a saviour for many who work 24/7.
I also want to point out that I’m referring to those who drink copious amounts of coffee a day (as opposed to just 1 or 2 cups), otherwise known as “chronic coffee drinkers” along with those who consume a lot of energy drinks because the caffeine (and sugar content) of these energy drinks are usually off the scale!
Whilst I’m sure you can all appreciate that caffeine can be a saviour at keeping you awake, it may not be doing the same for your waistline, especially if you drink it continually, and here’s why:
1. Each time you drink (or eat) anything that contains caffeine, it stimulates the nervous system to trigger the release of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, leading to an elevation in blood sugar.
Why is that a problem?
Having elevated blood sugar when you’re facing a life or death situation is actually a good thing, because it triggers the pancreas to produce insulin, helping to move this glucose out of the blood and into the cells and muscles where it can be used as a source of energy so that you can run away or “escape” from this impending threat.
The trouble is, you don’t actually have to run away from anything, (thankfully), after drinking a cup of coffee.
You’re perfectly safe. Sitting at your desk doing your thing. Answering emails, taking phone calls … whatever it is for you.
But this can be problematic.
2. If you haven’t burnt off this source of energy (glucose), from running away from the danger that you were facing, it needs to be moved elsewhere because elevated blood sugar can be toxic on the blood vessels.
It’s why leftover or excess blood sugar, gets stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.
The thing is, the muscles and liver can only store so much blood sugar.
Once they’re full, they’re full.
So where does excess blood sugar end up?
In your fat cells, because unlike the muscles and liver which are finite and only have so much storage space, fat cells can expand.
They are able to expand and make room to accommodate excess blood sugar.
It’s why insulin is often referred to as a fat-storage hormone.
3. But what happens when we have an increase in fat storage?
You guessed it.
It leads to an expansion of fat cells – especially around the abdomen region because this is where our life saving organs are located, and the body will instinctively do what it needs to protect them.
Even if it means giving you an expanding waistline which I know you don’t really want!
So you can see how copious cups of coffee (or more specifically caffeine) can cause a stress response, which leads to high blood sugar, high insulin, and ultimately excess fat on the body.
It’s also why stress in itself can lead to weight gain. But I’ll leave that for another post.
So just to summarise it simply:
1. Caffeine -> A spike in Adrenalin/Cortisol
2. A spike in Adrenalin/Cortisol -> High Blood Sugar
2. High Blood Sugar -> High Insulin
3. High Insulin -> Excess blood sugar stored in Liver + Muscles (glycogen)
4. When liver and muscles are “full”, excess blood sugar -> moved into fat cells to increase storage.
5. An increase in Fat Storage -> Increase in Waistline
All from having those copious amounts of cups of coffee!
So if you’re eating healthy, but continuing to gain weight, you may want to take a good look at your coffee intake, or more specifically caffeine intake because it may be adding unwanted stress to your system, preventing you from losing weight.
What to have instead of coffee?
- Alternate with some green tea – whilst it does contain traces of caffeine, it’s usually less, and contains something called l-theanine which helps to offset some of the jitteriness of coffee, whilst still helping to maintain alertness.
- Get moving – in a study of sleep-deprived women, 10 minutes of walking up and down stairs at a regular pace showed to make participants feel more energized than ingesting 50 milligrams of caffeine – which is equivalent to the amount in a can of soda. So more movement and less caffeine is always going to be a good thing!
- Filtered water – dehydration is one of the leading causes of fatigue besides sleep deprivation. So upping your intake of water to around 2 litres a day (more if you exercise) can be a game changer for most shift workers from a fatigue perspective, but will also help with weight loss by providing the cells with sufficient hydration to facilitate the many biochemical processes, especially in the liver and kidneys, that are required to eliminate toxic substances.
- Peppermint tea – helps to loosen up muscles in the digestive tract to keep food moving along so it’s great if you experience constipation (another common shift worker complaint), which can fuel inflammation and weight gain.
- Sprinkle your coffee with a bit of cinnamon – numerous studies have shown that cinnamon helps with blood sugar regulation by improving insulin sensitivity, so rather than quitting completely (which I’m not suggesting by the way) – getting a bit creative with your coffee can be a great option!
P.S: Of course if you’re adding a teaspoon of sugar each time you reach for that cup of coffee, it’s definitely going to be a contributing factor to weight gain as well!
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Lane, J 2011, ‘Caffeine, glucose metabolism, and type 2 diabetes’, Journal of Caffeine Research, vol. 1, no. 1.
Pan, A, Malik, V, Hao, T, Willett, W, Mozaffarian, D & Hu, F 2013, ‘Changes in water and beverage intake and long-term weight changes: results from three prospective cohort studies’, International Journal of Obesity, vol. 37, pp. 1378-1385.
Qin, B, Panickar, K & Anderson, A 2010, ‘Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes’, Journal of Diabetes Science & Technology, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 685-693.
Randolph, D & O’Connor, P 2017, ‘Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep deprived young women’, Physiology & Behavior, vol. 174, pp. 128-135.