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January 3, 2023
Sugar Burner vs. Fat Burner: Which One Are You? (5 Signs to Look For)
Obesity is more than a phenomenon, it’s an epidemic: as of 2020, 41.9% of the US population is living with obesity (1).
And it’s not just a problem that’s limited to the US. More than one billion people are obese worldwide, and the numbers are continuing to grow. In fact, the WHO predicts that by 2025, around 167 million people will suffer from detriments to their health due to being obese or overweight (2). The side effects go beyond physical health, too—health issues related to obesity cost the US a whopping $147 billion per year (3).
As shocking as these numbers may sound, it’s no surprise that adult obesity rates increased from 13% in the 1960s to the astounding numbers they’ve reached today (4). As our collective waistlines have expanded, the American food industry has transformed, creating the very problems that fuel our ever-rising weights. Processed food became a cornerstone of everyday life, and added sugars began sneaking into the majority of what we eat. Both have been linked to obesity in studies (5, 6).
As if that weren’t enough, seed oils—with their high rates of obesity-causing trans fats and omega-6s—became a widespread staple and now show up in the vast majority of restaurant and grocery store food (7, 8).
The good news? There’s a solution: a fat-burning diet.
This might sound obvious. After all, most of us associate fat burn with weight loss. But would it surprise you to know that most Americans actually get their fuel from sugar instead of fat? It’s true…more often than not, people’s bodies are running on glucose (a type of sugar from carbs) rather than fat. That is unless you switch your body over to a state called ketosis…
When your body is in ketosis, it’s burning fat—or more specifically, fatty acid substances that are called ketones. When your body burns fat instead of relying on sugar, weight loss becomes easier (9). Making this happen takes intention, but it’s easier than you might think. Here’s what to know…
Sugar Burner vs. Fat Burner: What's the Difference?
So what does it mean to be a sugar burner? It’s what happens when the body gets the majority of its fuel from sugar, which leaves stubborn fat unused and tough to shed (10).
The body gets this sugar—also called glucose—through carbohydrates. Since the average American diet is loaded with carbs, your body is likely to experience high blood glucose levels as a side effect.
This way of eating began in the 1960s when Western scientists believed that a high-fat diet was linked to high cholesterol. This fat-free boom went on for decades…fueling the message that “Fats are bad. Carbs are good.” During this era, the human body began relying on energy from glucose (which is much easier to access) rather than fat.
Luckily, this changes when your body kicks into ketosis. When you follow a keto diet, your body runs out of sugar to seek fuel from, and your body starts creating fatty acid substances that are called ketones. Since its sugar fuel has run out, the body then turns to the fats to get the energy it needs.
When this happens, you’ve become a fat burner—and losing weight is suddenly easier than before. When you’re in ketosis, your body will keep creating ketones for fuel when you’re fasting or sleeping. All that stubborn fat that you’ve been wishing away can become a thing of the past. And the best part? It won’t even feel tough. Those familiar sugar cravings that we all recognize will become a thing of the past.
5 Ways to Know If You're a Sugar Burner
There are telltale signs that your body is likely fueling on sugar…
1. Feeling Hungry Every Two Hours
When your diet has too many refined carbs, you’ll experience periodic hunger due to constant blood sugar spikes and dips (11). You’ll have phases where you feel energized and your appetite is low, and then that will suddenly give way to an abrupt rush of hunger when your glucose energy runs out (12). Fat burners, on the other hand, usually feel dependably full between meals (13).
2. Relying on Caffeine to Get Through Mid-Morning and Afternoon Slumps
When you’re relying on sugar for fuel, your body is more likely to experience intense energy swings as your blood sugar spikes and dips. This means that those mid-morning and mid-afternoon slumps will hit hard. You might find yourself reaching for caffeine every time it strikes. You might even tell yourself that you just need it to “hold yourself over,” not realizing that you’re totally dependent on those midday cups of coffee! Fat burners, on the other hand, get to stay energized thanks to the fact that ketones are a powerful source of brain fuel (14, 15, 16). Fat burners have commonly reported feeling more energy and focus (17, 18).
3. Sudden Mood Swings When Blood Sugar Dips
As your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day, so too can your mood. When you’re a sugar burner, your brain relies on glucose as its power source. When your blood sugar is low, you may experience sadness, anxiety, stress, and irritability (19, 20). Because blood sugar dips can be sudden, these bad moods may sneak up on you and feel like they appeared out of nowhere.
4. Struggling With Weight Loss
Some sugar burners develop insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain (21). Switching over to being a fat burner can help reverse insulin resistance, and can make weight loss much easier overall (22, 23, 24). Since sugar burners may feel frequently hungry, even if they are regularly eating, it can be much harder to restrict calories (25). Meanwhile, many fat burners report feeling less hungry overall, and may not even need to bother with counting calories (26, 27, 28).
5. Frequent Energy Crashes, Even When You’re Not Exercising
While fat burning provides a steady flow of consistent energy, life as a sugar burner can mean constant fluctuations between feeling awake and crashing (29). When you’re reliant on the sugar from carbs for energy, your body is at the whim of glucose busts and booms.
Potential Risk Factors of Being a Sugar Burner
Being a sugar burner is more than just a nuisance that sabotages your energy levels and weight loss goals—it’s also a health risk. When your body gets most of its energy from glucose, you are at an increased risk of obesity, and in turn, cardiovascular disease (30, 31).
Constant blood sugar spikes also increase your risk for insulin resistance, which can ultimately turn into prediabetes. This puts you in the danger zone for developing type 2 diabetes. And much like obesity, these conditions can put you at risk for heart disease, even at a young age (32, 33, 34). In fact, if you have diabetes, you are two times as likely to experience a stroke or heart disease than someone who doesn’t have the condition, and at an earlier age (35). A diet heavy in glucose from carbs can cause excess triglycerides in the body, which can also increase your risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (36).
How to Become a Fat Burner
Ready to start burning fat? A direct way to do this is to get your body into ketosis, the metabolic state in which your body has high levels of those coveted ketone fatty acids (37). And you can make that happen by following the keto diet and making a few lifestyle changes.
In the process of kick-starting ketosis, you’ll eat a low-carb diet so that your body will run out of glucose to consume for fuel (37). Once your body realizes it doesn’t have enough glucose to power your system, your insulin levels will decrease. That’s when your body’s fat stores will release fatty acids, which will be transported to the liver and turned into ketones (38). Then, after an adjustment period, your weight loss will accelerate, your energy will skyrocket, and you’ll become a fat burner.
In order to enter ketosis, you’ll usually need to eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day, but the exact amount depends on each individual. Some people will need to eat as few as 20 grams of carbs per day (39, 40).
This means you’ll need to highly reduce if not completely eliminate many carb-heavy foods from your diet, including (41, 42):
- Soft Drinks
- Sugary Candy
That said, there are a lot of delicious foods you can eat while achieving ketosis, including:
- Grass-Fed Meat
- Unsweetened Plant-Based Milk
- Vegetables like Asparagus, Broccoli, and Cucumber
- Plain Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Most people are sugar burners, which means their body gets its energy from glucose derived from carbohydrates.
- Becoming a fat burner, which means your body gets energy from fats, offers many benefits, including weight loss, increased energy, and a lower risk of certain health conditions.
- Signs that you’re a sugar burner include feeling hungry every few hours, needing caffeine to get through midday slumps, sudden mood swings when your blood sugar dips, difficulty losing weight, and frequent energy crashes even if you’re not exercising.
- Being a sugar burner comes with health risks, including increased risk of obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- To become a fat burner, eat a low-carb diet and send your body into ketosis: a process in which it will source energy from fatty acid substances called ketones.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.