Have you heard people saying “I am not eating much, but I can’t lose any kilos”? Has this happened maybe to you as well? There are a lot mis-conceptions around the calories-in-calories-out concept and as with most things we need to strike the right balance in order to keep our body working as good as a Swiss watch.
Let me invite you to a little trip today to the world of metabolism.
What does metabolism mean?
Metabolism describes all the chemical processes that go on continuously inside your body to keep you alive and your organs functioning normally, such as breathing, repairing cells and digesting food.
All these processes require energy. The minimum amount of energy your body requires to survive is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Your BMR may account for up to 80% of your body’s daily energy requirements, depending on your age and lifestyle. A slow BMR means a slow metabolism, and unfortunately there are many lifestyle choices that can mess-up our metabolism.
It is not about calories-in vs. calories-out
"In order to lose weight our energy expenditure needs to be higher than our calorie intake."
You have heard the model of course that states that losing weight is just simple maths right? If only it was so simple. If this was true I really wonder why we have an obesity epidemic and so many people yo-yo dieting or are unable to lose those unwanted kilos.
When it comes to our metabolism there are many variables at play. Let’s have a closer look.
Hormones are very important. If your hormones are messed up then it will be very difficult to keep a healthy metabolism.
The most important one is insulin. If you are insulin resistant and have an insulin level greater than 5 mIU/L you are pre-disposing yourself to store fat. This is because in a state of insulin resistance the cells reject using the sugar that is floating in the blood and since high blood sugar can be lethal it will be stored as fat. You can read more about IR in my recent blog here.
The second hormone is cortisol. Cortisol is our stress hormone that ensures we are alert in the face of danger. Unfortunately too many people are in a chronic state of stress which only leads to overeating, being tired, angry and eventually to disease. Pulling your hair so to speak means we are in a constant fight-or-flight mode which messes up with our metabolism. Consider not sleeping for example. When we don’t sleep properly we not only wake up grumpy, moody but also with high levels of cortisol. In this state it has been proven that it is very difficult to control your metabolism and lose weight!
So you fixed your hormonal issue and still struggling to keep your energy levels or lose kilos? This would require burning the food you eat in order to produce energy and keep your BMR up and running, right? What do you require for this to happen? Nutrients!!
You see the body does not know anything about calories. This is a human derived concept. The body only knows about energy and nutrients. If there is demand for energy (simplified statement) it will try to break down the food and produce energy (also called ATP). However in order to efficiently do it, there MUST be enough nutrients available. There are so many vitamins and minerals involved in every single metabolic process in the body that a deficiency in just one vitamin can cause a serious side-effect to your metabolism!
It is not the same to eat 1000 Kcal of pasta and 1000 Kcal of steak and a salad simply because of the difference in the nutrient content. And being deficient for example in magnesium will lead to a less effective energy production line. It will lead to a broken metabolism.
- The calories-in vs. calories-out theory is busted.
- Hormones such as insulin and cortisol have a strong influence on our metabolism.
- Nutrient deficiencies playing a big role to our BMR.
It is all about adaptation
You need to be healthy to lose kilos, and even more importantly you need to have a healthy metabolism. Are you eating too little calories? Your body will adapt. Are you eating too many calories? Your body will also adapt.
The reason we are unable to lose kilos is that our body adapts. It adapts to the state we are in, and tries to address the issue in the best way it can. We have high sugar? Then it stores it. Are we stressed-out? The elevated cortisol levels will cause cravings for sweet, fatty and salty foods. This means, forget your perfect meal plan for the week.
Too few calories
Eating too few calories can cause a major decrease in metabolism. Although it is true that a calorie deficit is needed for weight loss, it can be counterproductive for your calorie intake to drop too low and/or for too long. When you dramatically lower your calorie intake, your body senses that food is scarce and lowers the rate at which it burns calories. Controlled studies in lean and overweight people confirm that consuming fewer than 1,000 calories per day can have a significant impact on your metabolic rate.
It is quite amazing to observe how increasing calories by have more healthy nutritious meals can actually lead to sustainable weight loss.
Too much cardio
In the same way the body adapts to less of something it also adapts to too much of something else. And in this case it is important to mention too much cardio. You cannot unfortunately out-run a bad diet.
Although I am a supporter of running 1-2 times a week, cardio will not result to weight loss. It will help at the start but once your body gets used to the demand, it adapts, so there will be less energy required for the same outcome. You will then either need to start running faster or longer which is not the best approach (in my perspective) since there are much better ways to keep the stimulus high and keep burning fat (even after you have finished your workout). This is called HIIT.
When trying to lose kilos don’t start reducing your calorie intake. Instead try the following steps :
- Fix your insulin levels by following a low-carb diet. Ensure you get all the nutrients you need everyday.
- Sleep better and control your stress levels.
- Incorporate intermittent fasting into your day.
- Do strength training 2-4 days a week.
- Eat until satisfied but not full.
- If you are doing all the above you will reach your ideal weight with no problem.
You might still need to be in a slight calorie deficit to lose the last few kilos, but since it is difficult to be exact with your calories I would suggest that you just listen to your hunger. That should be more than enough.
I hope it is now clear why you never want to restrict your calories as a strategy to lose weight. Focus on your lifestyle and your overall health!