Calories and Weight Loss

When it comes to body fat, weight management and body change, the topic of calories in vs. calories out has been an ongoing debate. Some professionals argue it’s all the only way to think about weight loss. But is it? Other professionals feel this thinking is oversimplified and lacks depth. 

The fundamental concept in weight management from a scientific standpoint says:

When you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. 

When you take in fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.

But does this account for the body’s internal functionality such as hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and other health issues that might affect metabolism? Then there are claims that maybe certain foods or diets give you a metabolic advantage towards weight loss or its management.

As a certified nutritional coach here is my take on this simplified energy balance equation. The concept of eat less, move more, only deals with the calories you eat and calories you burn. Let’s start with how we think about food. This starts in the brain, which, constantly monitors and controls how the body decides on calories in and calories out. The brain represents the body’s control center, monitors and sends messages to your gut, muscles, bone, brain cells, fat cells, thyroid, liver and more to help keep that delicate balance between hydration and energy. 

When you consider calories you must also account for age, height, preferred bodyweight, and gender. 

Factoid: Did you know the FDA allows inaccuracies of up to 20% on nutritional fact panels, and research has identified that restaurant nutritional information may be off as much as 100-300 calories per food item? 

Let’s get real and say out loud, “If you could be 100% exact about what you were eating, you still wouldn’t have an exact caloric number. This number is an illusion in the mind of scientists and dieters. This moving target is not capable of telling you your absorption rate across food types. You may be asking yourself why that is. It’s a good question. We absorb calories uniquely based on our individual gut bacteria, cooking style, fiber content, and amount of heat used in preparation. 

Think of calories in – calories out as a starting point.  If you have been to a nutritionist or a registered dietician you know that you can count calories, use portion sizes, they may ask you to eat slower, fill your plate with 50+ percent fruits and vegetable, lean protein, limit saturated fats and fat generally, and the list goes on and on in the name of health and weight loss.

The bottom line goes something like this, if you aren’t losing weight, you either need to decrease your calories or increase your activity level. Right! But what you may not have considered are factors such as:

. Consistently get a good night sleep, which in turn can regulate hormones, improve recovery rate, and actually boost your metabolism

. Minimize you stress. Easier said than done in this crazy globally connected world i.e., learn the art of breathing. Meditate, unplug and really relax

. You can follow all the well established standby tips such as park your car and walk to the destination, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the stairs at lunch, have standing meetings or get a standing desk top to work from

. Spike your workout, change up your workout, use low intensity, high intensity, try HITT training, and the list goes on

. Eat high quality, dense foods. Eat more protein and fiber, or maybe increase complex carbohydrates and lower fats 

. Journal and determine the frequency and timing of your meals and snacking behavior to learn what might work best for you

. Evaluate your nutritional balance and deficiencies for more energy in everyday life

. Assure your thyroid is within the normal range and there are no medical issues such as diabetes

Your weight comes down to it being a hassle or a series of dilemmas. If you can’t seem to move that needle, entertain the following train of thought:

. How are your moods, hunger and stress?

. What medications are you taking that could increase calorie absorption?

. Decrease in physical activity due to injury, late nights or lack of sleep

Factoid: Hormones are intricately associated with all body functions, yet people don’t gain or lose weight due to hormones. Hormones do influence energy, for example in the case of thyroid or insulin resistance or other hormonal issues.

. Assure your internist checks all your hormone levels to allow your body the opportunity to function effectively. If you are directed to take hormones or medication you may have to make adjustments once you see how they influence your energy cycle

. If you have drastically reduced your calories and you are still not losing, it typically comes down to how you estimate your calories. Any leftovers, kid food sharing, any sampling, tasting and late night snacks

. Be acutely aware of portions and any small slips you didn’t calculate

Factoid: There are no CHEAT DAYS when managing your weight. Sorry! This type of diet strategy usually bumps up the overall caloric intake for the week, cancelling out all your hard work.

. Diets are diets. Plant based, Paleo, limiting processed foods, high-density foods, low-density foods, Keto, limited food choices, and liquid diets, just eat fewer calories. Just rethink what works best for your lifestyle, food preferences, and activity level

. Do not increase your calories due to an increase in activity level. First wait and see if you are able to lose weight with the new level of activity. If not, no increase is needed

Food Deprivation 

Have you ever heard yourself or others say, “I eat nothing as it is, I can’t eat any less than I am now”.  I have said it and I have heard it from my clients. This is the number one reason individuals tend to fall off the wagon, kicking that diet to the curb. Or here is another one, “I can’t drop lower than my set point.”  Ha ha ha ha! You create and recreate your set point all the time. You have physical, psychological, and emotional set points and there are not set points you can’t reset.

By reframing how you think about diets and experimenting with different techniques, you can find a safe and consistent method to lose and manage your weight. And you will own a personal secret strategy for moving the needle on your scale.

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