When embarking on a journey of fat loss, a lot of you follow the rule ‘calories in vs. calories out’. You start eating less and exercising more. While it does make sense to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, the science behind it means it’s important where those calories come from for it to work, and if coming from the right places, do you need to be in a big deficit at all?
The equation: calorie in vs calorie out
The body is not a simple mathematical equation. 1+1 does not always equal 2. Sometimes it equals 3. Sometimes it can even equal 0. And sometimes the 1 in the equation isn’t actually a 1 at all. Confused yet? Well, you should be, because this is how complex the human body and its processes can be, hence why the calorie in vs. calorie out rule isn’t as simple and effective as it leads people to believe.
What is a it?
First off, let’s explain what a calorie actually is. It’s not a tiny gremlin that sneaks into your closet and sews all your clothes up tighter, but it is in fact a unit of measurement. 1 calorie is the amount of energy that is needed to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. But the food which we consume has far more of an effect on us than just giving us energy. All food is processed differently in the body. Different foods activate and go through different metabolic pathways, and different foods directly affect different hormones, which regulate the body’s growth, sexual development and function, and the physical and chemical processes of the metabolism (super important if trying to lose fat and/or increase muscle mass). So are all calories equal? No. Will 1500 calories of candy have the same effect on you as 1500 calories of vegetables? No. And let me explain why.
1. Each macronutrient has its own role to play in the body. Fat consumed in the right form and amount is vital for brain health, absorption of certain vitamins, and for healthy cells – literally, every single cell in the body is made up of fat. Fats are also calorie-dense, so 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories in comparison to 4 calories per gram in both carbohydrates and protein.
2. Carbohydrates, when consumed, are turned into glucose and glycogen, which is the body’s main and preferred source of fuel – all of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy. When small amounts of carbs are eaten, the small amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream is used fairly immediately for energy. If large amounts of carbs are eaten, glucose enters the bloodstream rapidly causing insulin levels to soar to aid help to clear the excess glucose from the blood. Once all glycogen stores are full, the body will store excess glycogen as fat.
3. Protein is important for growth, tissue repair, immune function, and the making of essential hormones and enzymes. When you eat high-protein foods the digestive process breaks down the protein chains into amino acids. These amino acids then enter the bloodstream where they are transformed into more than 50,000 new body proteins. There are 10 amino acids that the body cannot make on its own and these are known as essential amino acids, as it is essential we get them through our diet. The body also cannot store excess amino acids the way it can carbohydrates and fat so you must supply your body with adequate amounts of protein EVERY time you eat.
Macronutrients are not created equal either
Now to break this down even further, not all macronutrients are equal either. There are good fats and bad fats, there are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates, and there are complete proteins and incomplete proteins. They all have the same amount of calories but have different effects on the body. This leads me to the point that the “calories in, calories out” way of thinking doesn’t account for all these other effects of foods. Weight will be lost in a calorie deficit diet, as long as all your internal processes are being fed the required nutrients and are working in an intended manner. Nutrient deficient diets, unbalanced diets, or diets filled with too many bad fats, simple carbohydrates, and incomplete or limited proteins, can cause your body’s processes to not function optimally. It can have long-term detrimental health implications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, inflammation, arthritis, depression, poor quality of sleep, infertility, and the list goes on.
So the key to fat loss isn’t just as simple as eating less than you burn, because if that’s the only rule you follow, you can do some serious damage to your health if the source of your calories isn’t from good, whole foods. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet of good fats, complete proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
To burn fat you want to be able to burn more at rest, not just when you are being active, so think of your workouts and your diet as a catalyst to turning your body into a fat-burning machine! Make smart choices about what you use to fuel your body and you’ll never have to count another calorie in your life!
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