“Losing weight is simple, it’s all about calories in versus calories out.” My high school friend was giving me a lesson on the law of thermodynamics. “I can eat whatever I want as long as I burn more than I take in,” he told me.
The conventional wisdom is that the law of thermodynamics governs all things weight loss. The theory treats the human body like a math equation: calories in minus calories out equals a gain or loss.
But, if it’s that simple, why do all of the classic diets and weight loss programs that adhere to this policy of chemistry lead people to massive failure?
Because it’s not that simple.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out the bogus comparison of fat loss and the law of thermodynamics.
3500 calories equals one pound of body fat. If you cut 100 calories from someone’s diet — a few bites of dinner — they’d reduce their caloric intake by 182,500 calories over a five year period. If we put a male at 5’8″ who weighed 165 pounds on that diet, they’d lose 52 pounds over 5 years. If they overate by the same amount — a few bites of food — they’d be obese?
That’s what the math says. Of course, it’s an exaggeration of the model but it makes the point crystal clear.
The body is not a math equation, it’s a complex biological system. And that system is regulated by hormones that interact with different types of foods in different ways. There’s also that thing called genetics. And all of this begs the question, is a calorie even a calorie?
A calorie is not a calorie.
That’s an easy way of saying that all calories are not created equal. Nor are they treated equally by the body. A calorie of sugar is not seen by the body the same way a calorie of fat is.
Without getting into too much science, eating a calorie of sugar triggers hormones that signal fat cells to store fat. A calorie of fat does not trigger the same hormones. You see where we start to run into issues?
To continue, a calorie of high fructose corn syrup does not trigger the hormones responsible for satiety. A calorie of protein, however, does. Do you see where that might be important?
And then there’s the fact that some foods require that the body to burn more calories while digesting them than other foods, so the net calories end up being different.
This is where my friend, and all of the people who spout the calories-in, calories-out mantra fall short.
Calories matter, they’re just the least important factor.
The calories-in, calories-out dogma hypothesizes that the only thing we have to change is the quantity of what we eat. You can take all of this bad stuff you’re eating — the chemicals, the toxins, the added sugars, and the hyperpalatable food products — and just eat less of them. And boom!, weight loss.
And that’s absolutely true. You can eat nothing but donuts — 1000 calories worth — per day and lose weight.
So what’s the problem?
Calories-in, calories-out fails because it doesn’t offer a sustainable model. Reducing quantity alone doesn’t work for a few different reasons: it doesn’t regulate the hormones responsible for fat storage, fat release, and appetite, it doesn’t fix your busted metabolism, it doesn’t address addiction, it doesn’t address micronutrient density (the ultimate hunger trigger), and it says nothing about sleep, stress, or recovery.
As I said before, you’re a complex biological system, not a math equation.
You can just reduce intake and make some progress, that’s not in question. But, the wheels will come off that bus eventually. And worse, 90% of the people who try to use that model end up gaining back more weight than when they started because the end usually centers around days or weeks of binging as their body desperately tries to get what was being withheld.
The good news is that if you shift your focus toward the things that actually matter and treat your body like the complex biological system it is rather than a calculator, you can lose all of your excess weight without counting a single calorie.
How you can lose weight without counting calories…
There’s two paradigm shifts that I’ve identified that are important to doing this successfully. One is: My lifestyle doesn’t keep me from eating the foods I love, it keeps me from eating the foods that don’t love me. The other is: You don’t lose weight to get healthy, you get healthy to lose weight. Both of these paradigm shifts — along with others — are noted in The Rebooted Body manifesto.
The first shift is about identifying the foods that don’t love your body. These foods throw your hormones out of whack and junk up your immune system. They make you store fat and prevent you from burning it. They trick your brain into thinking that you’re eating something relevant when you’re really eating something empty.
The second shift is about focusing on creating an optimal system with the understanding that if we’re successful in healing the damage our past eating has done to our body, our body will respond by shedding excess fat. We’re not unhealthy because we’re fat, we’re fat because we’re unhealthy.
When you eat the right foods, you naturally don’t overeat. And when your hormones and metabolism are functioning properly, you can sustain a calorie-deficit — without hunger — as your body makes use of stored fat for fuel. This is an impossibility within the calories-in, calories-out model.
What would you rather do?
Would you rather follow dogma that requires you to have super-human willpower, stave off hunger, and exercise constantly (and that statistically leads 90% of people to failure)? Or, would you rather lose weight comfortably, without a lot of exercise, and while repairing your body’s systems and improving key health markers?
The choice is yours.
I’m not saying that a program like Total Body Reboot is easy — it certainly has its challenges — but instead of having a 90% failure rate it has a 90% success rate. And it leaves you with a lifestyle that’s permanently sustainable rather than leaving you holding another diet yo-yo toy to play with from time to time.
Image courtesy: Adrian Sifre