How many times in your life have you heard or read a version of the following?
To lose weight you need to “EAT LESS AND EXERCISE MORE”
To lose weight you need to “CREATE A CALORIE DEFICIT”
To lose weight ‘CALORIES OUT MUST EXCEED CALORIES IN”
To lose a pound of fat you need to “CREATE A 3500 CALORIE DEFICIT BY EATING LESS AND EXERCISING MORE”
To lose weight “YOU NEED TO FOLLOW THE LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS”
To lose weight “EAT WHAT YOU WANT, JUST BURN OFF THE CALORIES WITH MORE EXERCISE”
To lose weight “YOU NEED TO EAT LESS FAT BECAUSE IT’S HIGH IN CALORIES”
Following this advice usually leads to frustration, fatigue, failure and, hold your calorie-counter,….. WEIGHT-GAIN!
Why doesn’t this advice promote fat-burning metabolism?
Why is it so ineffective?
The laws of thermodynamics do not state “energy in equals energy out”, or that “a calorie-deficit in the human body elicits fat-loss”.
The laws of thermodynamics are not about weight-loss in the human body. The laws are about energy in a closed system that is in thermal equilibrium. Our bodies are not a closed system in thermal equilibrium.
The advice is inaccurate and a tremendous over-simplification of fat-burning in the human body. There are many contributing factors to weight-gain yet we consistently only offer one solution to those who desire weight-loss. When this weight-loss advice doesn’t produce results, we tend to blame the person for “eating too much and/or not exercising enough.”
For weight-loss success we must focus on fat-burning metabolism, in other words, what causes our bodies to store fat, and what causes our bodies to burn fat. Creating a calorie-deficit is not the key for enhanced fat-burning metabolism.
If you decide to continue to count calories, keep in mind that the total calories you consume are an estimate, the total calories burned via metabolism are an estimate, and the total calories burned during exercise are an estimate. How sure are you that you have created a calorie deficit when all the data in your equation is only an estimation? Even if you have created a calorie deficit, and maintain that deficit overtime, what if it doesn’t even translate into fat-loss? If you indeed create and maintain a calorie-deficit, why are you not losing fat as promised by your nutritionist or physician? Why are you not losing one pound of fat whenever you create a 3500 calorie deficit?
Carbohydrate, fat, and protein calories are not created equally. For example, approximately thirty percent of the calories consumed in the form of protein are used up in digesting the protein to convert it into fuel for the body to utilize.
If creating a calorie-deficit does not mean you burn more fat, then why bother counting calories? Should you base your diet and exercise decisions on calories consumed and burned if it serves no clear fat-burning benefit?
The type of food you eat, and when you eat, is significantly more important than the number of calories consumed. Don’t make important diet decisions based on the calorie content of the food choices. Instead, choose healthy proteins and healthy fats to lower insulin levels, balance hormone levels, and promote fat-burning metabolism. Eat low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as non-starchy vegetables, and avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates such as grains, pasta, corn, rice and potatoes, to balance your blood sugar levels. The body can not burn fat effectively if your blood sugar and insulin levels are elevated, regardless of the number of calories consumed.
Exercise benefits for improved body composition are well-known, however, basing the type of exercise and the duration of exercise on “calories burned” will also not translate into more fat-burning. Frankly, exercise benefits on muscle mass, bone density and fat-burning have essentially nothing to do with the calories burned during the exercise session. This is why research finds short-duration, high-intensity exercise more beneficial for fat-burning than long-duration, low-intensity, and even more frequent exercise. Excessive, prolonged aerobic exercise in an attempt to “burn more calories” puts the body into stress-mode. Chronic stress results in muscle-loss and fat-storage. We want to weigh less because we have less fat, not because we have less muscle.
The calorie-deficit model for weight-loss completely ignores the impact of multiple hormones on our metabolism. Hormones such as cortisol, thyroid, growth hormone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, adrenalin, leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and glucagon play crucial roles in body composition and fat-burning versus fat-deposition rates.
The release of these hormones by various glands in the body are not influenced by the number of calories consumed or burned. The type of food we consume influences the balance of several of these hormones, while the number of calories consumed does not influence hormone balance or fat-burning metabolism. A Paleo diet will help moderate insulin, glucagon, growth hormone and testosterone to augment fat-burning and muscle-building metabolism. We consistently lower body fat percentages with Paleo diet plans regardless of total calories consumed. On the contrary, following a low-calorie, low-fat diet to lower calories consumed will disrupt the production of fat-burning hormones.
Studies and clinical results with “iso-caloric diets”, (diets with the same number of calories yet different composition of fat, protein and carbohydrate), reveal enhanced fat-burning with low-carbohydrate diets despite identical calorie counts.
Additional studies and clinical results find that higher calorie, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for fat-loss than high-carbohydrate, lower-calorie diets. Clinically, we find low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, and higher-fat diets gives us the best fat-burning metabolism results. Certainly, this would not be the case if it was “all about the calories”.
Conversely, the easiest way to increase fat-storage in the body is by eating low-calorie, high-glycemic carbohydrates instead of higher-calorie fat and protein foods. Remember, eating healthy fat does not make you fat. You need to eat healthy fat to burn fat. Eating more healthy fats from avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, olive oil, as well as fats in free-range poultry, grass-fed beef, and fatty fish, offer tremendous health and fat-burning benefits.
Trying to lower your calorie count by substituting healthy fat with “low-fat foods” leads to an increased consumption of partially hydrogenated oils, trans-fats and sugars, all of which contribute to fat-storage. Consuming “low-calorie” carbohydrates often elevate blood sugar, insulin levels, and inflammation, all of which ramps up fat-storage. Again, don’t let the calorie count be your guide to healthy food choices!
Remember, the body will only burn fat effectively when blood glucose and insulin levels are under control. Total calories consumed or burned are not the keys to glucose and insulin balance in the body.
It would be nice if the simplistic calorie-deficit theory was all we needed to know to maintain a healthy body weight. Unfortunately, not only is the theory erroneous, but following this advice inevitably leads to a combination of a low-calorie diet with excessive exercise. A low-calorie diet in combination with prolonged exercise is not only difficult to maintain, it is literally the most unsuccessful fat-loss program available!
Instead, follow our anti-aging diet, supplements, exercise and hormone therapy programs to maximize fat-burning metabolism and to enhance body composition, regardless of your age.
Forget about the calories and get results!
2 thoughts on “WHY YOU SHOULDN’T COUNT CALORIES TO LOSE FAT”
Great article. What are your thoughts on this scenario — you exercise hard but don’t take in enough carbs to restore your glycogen levels. What happens then? Does your liver create glucose during the night to compensate, raising insulin and retarding the nighttime growth hormone pulse?
Related question — can an evening glycogen deficit lead to a serotonin deficit lead to inferior sleep with a smaller GH pulse, and thus less fat burning.
I ask because I’m trying to understand things that I’m reading, much of which seems unclear to me.
After several weeks on a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high fat diet, you become more efficient at fat burning metabolism. In other words, you become keto-adapted. Once keto-adapted, you stabilize blood glucose levels, become more insulin-sensitive, and are able to tap into stored body fat for a consistent fuel source. When you become more efficient at fat burning, you can fuel brain and muscle with ketones and fatty acids and become much less reliant on ingesting more carbohydrates to raise your blood glucose level. You become a fat-burner instead of a sugar-burner.
The glucose produced by the liver during gluconeogenesis is a relatively low level and should not cause insulin spike or GH suppression.
If keto-adapted, and ultimately insulin-sensitive, your blood glucose and insulin levels are stable allowing normal GH release despite glycogen reserve status.
You are correct, the reading on these topics is confusing. For example, we all tend to focus on carbohydrate replenishment after exercise to restore glycogen levels and to get the post exercise anabolic response from insulin. When keto-adapted, we become more efficient at muscle protein synthesis and require only a low level of insulin to get the job done.
Best way to become a more efficient fat burner is to limit carbohydrate intake for several weeks to under approximately 50 grams daily. Focus on low glycemic carbohydrates such as non-starchy vegetables and limited fruit such as berries. Some people benefit by limiting the carbohydrate intake to a narrow window during the day, i.e. noon to eight pm. Others find restricting carbohydrate intake to the last meal of the day works well for them. Simultaneously, it is important to increase healthy fat intake with grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, as well as fat contained in grass-fed beef, free-range poultry/eggs, and seafood.