Calorie. Just hearing that word used to be enough to send me into a cold sweat.
You see, I had gained 68lbs while pregnant with my second baby and I could NOT get it back off. Obviously (to me back then) I was eating too many calories in a day, but whenever I tried to eat way less I was starving, and it made me want to eat soooo much more. It was this vicious cycle that was beyond frustrating and I felt like a total failure every day that my weight didn’t budge.
I became obsessed with calories. They were literally the only thing I cared about when it came to food. Not ingredients, not quality or even flavour. If it was low cal I was into it.
Sidenote: how crazy is that? Calories are the measure of energy that our body needs just to exist. It’s like being afraid of putting gasoline in your car….
Anyway…maybe you’re in that head space right now? Maybe you were? If you have dieted at ANY point in your life, I’m sure you can relate to the calorie obsession. So here’s why it’s so frustrating: Calories don’t dictate weight loss/weight gain. Not in the long term. They just don’t.
That old, ‘exercise more eat less’ strategy? It’s a total myth you guys! It’s taken me a loooooong time to come to terms with this and it may be hard for you to accept too, but read on and I’ll do my best to bring you to the light side (we have way better food here).
Using the calorie explanation of weight loss means accepting that if your body burns 2000 calories a day, and you eat 2000 calories a day your weight will stay static. If you then eat 1500 calories a day, you will go into a calorie deficit and lose weight. If you continue to eat 1500 calories a day you will continue to lose weight. With me so far?
Okay, so this theory assumes one very important thing: that your body will continue to burn 2000 calories a day even though you’re only eating 1500. The problem? That turns out not to be true!
What?! Restricting food doesn’t work? I know right.
Your body is ridiculously smart, and it does it’s very best to keep you alive (not such an easy task these days), so when your body realizes that you are consistently taking in LESS than you are putting out alarm bells go off. This is because if you continue to operate on a deficit, eventually you will run out of stored energy and you will die.
Now obviously your body doesn’t realize that when you reach XXXlbs you’ll stop the deficit, so it takes matters into its own hands. That means lowering the amount of calories burned in a day. So now, your body is burning 1500 calories a day instead of 2000. Your body is actually even a little conservative so if you keep the deficit up too long it lowers even a bit more, say to 1400 calories per day (just to be safe). Now, even though you’re eating LESS than you were when you were burning 2000 and eating 2000, you’re actually in a surplus and you can start seeing weight come back on!
Mind blowing, right?
This is what happened with those contestants on The Biggest Loser. There was a study that came out a little while ago (a year? Two? Somewhere in there) showing that the contestants who had lost all of this weight using the calorie myth (increasing exercise dramatically and eating less) had pretty much gained it all back. The worst part? They weren’t back to eating horribly or sitting on the couch for the entire day.
What had happened, was that they had gone back to real life where you can’t work out 6 days a week for 3+ hours. They were still eating their new diets (for the most part) and staying low cal. So why had all the weight come back? Their metabolisms had down regulated so much that even eating way less food than they ever had before put them into a calorie surplus so great that the weight came piling back on. Their bodies were in survival mode burning as few calories as possible.
The scary part is, upregulating the metabolism is insanely hard to do. There aren’t enough studies showing that it can even be done successfully in the long term. This is why chronic dieters end up having an EXTREMELY hard time losing weight in the long term. Their bodies just do NOT want to burn more calories in a day, and you can only eat so little and keep going.
This is why in long term studies, 99% of diets based on the calorie equation eventually fail. The weight always comes back.
So then what works? You need to look at the HORMONES underlying weight gain and fat burning. Your body uses hormones to control basically everything, and storing energy away for later is no exception. Turning on the hormones to burn stored fat instead of storing more is critical if you want to achieve long term fat loss.
How do you do that? Stay tuned for part 2 of this post for the detailed explanation or download my Starter Guide free HERE
Originally published at medium.com