CALORIES IN CALORIES OUT
Eat less calories than you burn and you will lose weight, right? Yes, and no. Technically it’s true but there are enough contributing factors to make the statement “Calories In – Calories Out” (CICO) an unworkable philosophy for weight loss.
One problem is that not all calories are created equal.
- If we consume 100 calories of Skittles (a simple carbohydrate) our body sends out an insulin response and whatever calories are not immediately needed will be turned to fat. If we were to consume 100 calories of sweet potato (a complex carbohydrate) those calories will be slowly absorbed and used as fuel throughout the next few hours.
- It takes energy (calories) to digest food. This is called thermogenic effect. Some foods have a higher thermogenic effect than others. Skittles has almost no thermogenic effect so all 100 calories become instant fuel or fat. The complex carbohydrate will need about 20% of its calories to digest and make the food ready for use leaving 80% of its calories for fuel or fat. This is its thermogenic effect. The thermogenic effect of steak (a protein) can be as high as 30% leaving the remaining 70% for fuel or fat.
- High-quality calories that come from foods that are rich in nutrients, like broccoli, leafy greens, avocados, nuts, chicken, eggs, and beef trigger the release of hormones that tell the body to burn fat. The foods we eat also directly affect the hormones that control when and how much we eat.
A few more reasons CICO doesn’t work:
- We eat at least as much for nutrition as we do for calories. If your body is getting enough calories but not nutrition it will signal our brain to keep consuming food. That is why we can mindlessly consume empty calories, like a bag of chips, but when we consume a few whole foods we feel satiated.
- There is no accurate way to know how many calories our bodies need today and if we did it would be different tomorrow.
- Even if we could know, and did consume the needed calories, if we consumed too many of those calories at one time, or later in the day when we didn’t need the fuel, some of those calories will be turned to fat anyway.
- We can stay within our needed caloric intake (if we knew what that was) and still cause the metabolic damage that dieting causes. This can happen if we go long periods of the day without eating, or if we don’t eat enough at the times of the day that require more calories, like before and after a workout. When we do not get calories when we need them our metabolism slows down and our body sloughs muscle tissue.
- The body tries desperately to maintain its fat mass. If we were to cut calorie intake by 10%, it would only work for some time until our metabolic rate would adapt and we would stop losing weight. Then we would have to cut calories again, then again, resulting in diminishing results each time.
- Low calorie dieting is stressful on both our mind and body and can cause an increase in cortisol, which in turn causes an increase of fat, especially belly fat.
- Calorie counting can cause an unhealthy obsession with food.
- It is very difficult to gain excess fat on real food. It is processed foods, especially sugar, that causes body fat. No one becomes addicted to real food like steak, vegetables or blueberries.
So what is the answer to weight loss? It is to eat only real food and eat frequently because: WHAT WE EAT AND WHEN WE EAT IT is the secret to a lean life and a healthy relationship with food.