I have read about half of Jonathan Bailor’s book The Calorie Myth, and there’s just so much in there that makes sense.
With the traditional physics slant on calories, 3500 calories equals 1 pound. The concept is, calories in, calories out. They argue that if you have 2000 calories that go into a system, you must burn 2000 calories out to have equilibrium. They posit that if you have 500 calories extra per day, that you will gain 3500 calories in 1 week – and the reverse is true – if you have 500 calories less per day, you will burn 1 pound off of fat in a week.
The overall problem is this is a physics approach to the equation rather than a biochemical. What we are finding a lot more of these days is that calories in/calories out is not 100% of the math equation. It is part of the equation, but it’s not the whole story.
I’ve lived this. Time and time again. Here’s how it works:
- You go online and find out that your body with your weight burns 2500 calories per day.
- You decide to cut your calories to 1500 per day and exercise 250 calories per day, creating a deficit of 2.5 pounds per week.
- The first 1-2 months you lose a lot of weight which makes your math make sense, but mysteriously, after so much time, your weight loss slows. A lot.
- You decide to cut calories even more, and exercise even more. You lose a little more weight, then it slows again.
- You stall. You cannot lose more weight. You get discouraged and have a “cheat” meal. This cheat meal then goes to a cheat weekend. You are then back to 2500 calories per day. The calorie counter online tell you that 2500 calories is what you burn. This time around, you are steadily gaining back all the weight you lost eating 2500 calories.
Congratulations! You’ve wrecked your metabolism and stressed your body! Woohoo!
There are a lot of overweight people in this country at the moment. Obesity is an epidemic. This will lead to epic healthcare costs, and it has already.
People are upset because healthcare costs go up. If you pay in $300 per person, that’s $3,600 per year, or perhaps 40 years of working puts it at $144,000 in per person. Well, today, 1 in 3 get cancer. 1 in 7 get diabetes. Heart disease is a killer. How much does cancer cost? You could be looking at $500,000k easily. Then, think of the $50,000-$100,000 per heart surgery. Then, the surgeries for amputation, the costs of kidney issues.
The point above, is that while everyone over the cost of 40 years might be paying in $144,000 – the average usage over that time may now be over this, meaning you may still have 20 years of life after working where another $250-$500k may be used, if not more.
Healthcare is a crisis here, to the point where it’s now in the realm of national security.
If we want to lower healthcare costs in this country, we have to look obesity in the mirror and understand how to defeat it. And we must spread the knowledge to those who have been struggling.
I’m now a self-proclaimed “weight loss expert”, having lost 104 pounds. I have another 60-80 to go, depending on what my body tells me is the end state. This may take another 12-18 months, but I’m dialed in and laser-focused.
And I’m going to tell you that the calories in/calories out is….partially bullshit.
- The nutritional information you see on packages can be off by 10%. And, they are averages. Meaning, if you count every morsel of food for 2,000 calories one day, you could have had 1,800 to 2,200.
- You can’t really tell exactly how many calories your body burned. Even with the best fat % machines in the universe, there is still error. Meaning, calories burned per fat cell versus muscle cell is different. Your brain may use 100 calories more one day than the other. If you go walk 10,000 steps today, exactly how many calories did you burn? The point is, if the math online told you that you burned 2,000 calories – and your watch told you that you burned 300 calories walking, well….you could have burned 1600 that day total or 2400. There’s really no way to know.
- Before we knew what a calorie was, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes were not issues – for virtually anyone.
- Drinking 2200 calories of coke in a day is not the same as eating 2200 calories of vegetables, meats, and healthy foods. This sentence alone should help you understand the fallacy of the calorie in/out myth.
From my perspective, let me summarize how I’ve lost weight so far.
- Increased water intake first
- Overcame some bad habits like smoking, drinking, and ordering in food
- Developed new habits like food prep
- Changed my macros
- Increased exercise, but do not overdo it.
- Paid very careful attention to reducing all sugars/starches
When I first went to a trainer, I was eating 1600-1800 calories a day. I had been running 3-4 times a week 2-3 miles at a time. I had taken off 25 pounds in 2 months, but the last month prior to going to the trainer, a familiar thing happened. I got hurt. My foot felt like it was fractured again. Determined to push through, I continued to walk 5 miles a day….hobbling. The limp eventually created back spasms and put me in urgent care. Unable to move, I gained 10 pounds back in 2 weeks despite not really changing my food intake drastically. It’s when I finally decided to go to a trainer.
My work ethic for weight loss has been the same for the last 25 years. Except this time, THIS time, things worked out differently.
One thing I had overlooked my whole life was macro concentration. Here’s the summary of what nutrition meant to me then:
- You should eat 4-6 smaller meals per day to keep your energy up
- Calories in/calories out is king. Eat whatever, as long as within your calories.
- Complex carbs were great for energy
- The more you run, the more you lose weight
- No pain, no gain
- It doesn’t matter what you eat, only the calories. Eat lots of fruit!
- Fat makes you fat! Low fat stuff is better for you!
Long story short – the 7 items above were my lifelong philosophy which caused me lifelong obesity. Yes, I had days, weeks, or months where I ate what I looked like, but what many of you never saw in this 40 year old was essentially 6-8 months of dieting every year. Lots of sweat, tears, and pain. And weight continued to go on. I’d lose 20-30 pounds, only to then go off my diet due to a stressor and gain 30-40 back in 2 months. No one sees that – they just see someone who is too lazy or stupid. The ignore the work and efforts….quite simply put, people can be mean and – in reality – the ends justify the means. People see you and it does not matter any circumstances – you are obese and it was your fault.
That might be true – but it’s also quite true that you’ve also been taught wrong your whole life. And, your efforts are there, but the execution is faulty due to methods taught to you.
Yes, there is a better way.
The genesis of my problems were I had bad information my whole life that became my habits. What’s the saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
So let me tell you about the x and y factors here:
Hormones and macros.
While calories tell a portion of the story, let me tell you what I feel makes up true weight loss:
- Controlling hunger – you cannot do long term weight loss without controlling hunger. You can only be starving for so long before you snap. This is not will power, it’s survival instincts.
- Proper macros – no, you can’t drink 2200 calories of soda a day.
- Proper sleep – this significantly affects hormones.
- Proper hydration – I drank 3-4 diet sodas a day my whole life. Now I drink 4-5 quarts of water.
- Reduction in added sugars/starches – start looking at food labels. I think the American Heart Association recommends no more than “25 g of added sugar per day”. So, eat your veggies, fruits – and pay attention to labels and treats.
- Reduced stress – cortisol holds on to your fat
- Weight training – build more lean body mass to increase the size of your hemi.
- Proper nutrition – eating proper foods is like rocket fuel for you to do shit.
- Good habits – these will breed better habits, and these habits ultimately will create your healthy lifestyle
- Reduction in “food chemicals” – reduce processed foods, as much as you can. I will always have some processed foods, but reduce them where you can.
- Calories within a certain range – While Jason Wittrock ate 4,000 calories a day for 21 days on keto and lost 2 pounds, he also has 6% bodyfat year round and works out an hour a day. His point was to show you that calories were not THAT important. If you have the right foods going in, it’s almost impossible to overeat. Processed foods mess with your governing switches on telling you when you are full. So, I don’t think you should have 1,000 a day…but I also don’t think you should eat 4,000 per day. Pick a number and stay within 200-400 calories of that number with healthy foods. Let your body do the rest.
Notice that calories ARE on here, but they are not nearly a primary focus of mine anymore. One day, I might be over by 500 and lose a half pound. Another day, I could be under by 500 and wake up 3 pounds heavier. You can’t look at the scale daily without perspective. I do it as a form of accountability, not to track my real weight real time.
I wrote the above up about a year ago, and they stands the test of time for me. I had recently been asked to go on a trip with my friends to Atlantic City. Unfortunately, that’s not me anymore. It would have been 10-15 drinks a day, 4,000 calories of food, 3-5 hours of sleep, and feeling miserable when waking up. It’s just not me. It was me in college – but it wasn’t me in high school, and it isn’t me now. I’d like to run a 5k at the end of july, and begin my process of races through the rest of my 40s and 50s. Eventually, I’d like to try some half marathons and maybe even a triathlon that won’t kill me. Ironman – never. But could I do 6-10 miles of running, 1 mile of swimming, and 30-40 miles of biking? I don’t see much of an issue with that when I’m down another 80. Today – I can do 4-5 miles of running, 1 mile of swimming, and 25 miles or so of biking…at 268 pounds. Imagine when I’m 180 or 190? Anyway – habits will continue to snowball.
I’m finding hormones have a very, very important role in weight loss and weight gain. Let me go over this a little here:
- Insulin. The 4-6 small meals a day is bullshit. Essentially, you end up spiking your insulin and crashing it – keeping you in fat storage mode and making you hungry literally all day. You want to curb insulin spikes, do reduction in sugars/processed foods helps this a lot.
- Glucagon. When your blood sugar dips a little, this hormone is fired up to break down fat cells. This cannot happen when insulin is present.
- Sleep hormones. This can provide proper rest and repair of your body.
- Cortisol. When you are stressed, cortisol also blocks fat release. Think of ancient times when you were starving or chased by tigers and shit. Holding on to fat stores meant holding on to energy. Today, this is our bosses in our faces, 2 hour commutes, screaming kids, financial stresses – and over training our bodies.
To produce hormones, you need fat and cholesterol. Extremely low fat diets severely messes with your hormones.
We have fats, proteins, and carbs that go into us. I can tell you, if you are overweight, you should track everything in your “My Fitness Pal” app on your phone for 2 months and find out what your macro intake is. I can tell you that prior to a trainer adjusting my macros, I was usually 50-70 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and the rest fats. I usually demonized fats as unholy. Well, as it turns out, a lot of important vitamins and minerals we need – NEED fat to digest. They are appropriately named “fat soluble vitamins”. So, when you cut fats out of your diet….you have problems producing the correct hormones as well as have problems getting your vitamins and minerals absorbed.
Your “low fat diet” is making you fat.
I can tell you this. Lots of diets work. Short term. I can also tell you this. In the last 19 months of “dieting”, I averaged probably about 2300-2400 calories per day. My online calculators came back with about 2400-2600 calories per day I burned. So lets do some quick math.
104 pounds over 19 months = 5.47 pounds per month. Now, mind you, I’ve put on 20 pounds of muscle and 20+ pounds of water. So lets suggest there was 125 pounds of fat loss. 6.57 pounds per month. Each month is about 30 days, so this is .22 pounds per day. If each pound is 3500 calories, that means I needed a 770 calorie deficit per day to lose that weight in that time. I can tell you, I did not average 770 calories less per day of a deficit. Or maybe I did? Maybe the online calculator was off? Maybe I exercised a lot more than I thought?
My body started to do its job – properly. Why was this deficit any different than any other time I did calorie deficits?
I would also tell you, the biggest asset you have on ANY diets is lack of hunger. My diet up until keto was not a diet as much as it was eating much better. I reduced a lot of the shit, but more importantly, when I adjusted my macros to 40 percent carbs, 30 percent fats, and 30 percent fat, I started adjusting a lot better to nutrition. I increased fiber as well. Some tips?
Tips on a “standard” diet?
- Start with 2-3 cheat “meals” per week. Still stay within your calories for the day and try to stay within the macros. This allowed me to eat 2 sliced of pizza on a Saturday night when I wanted. This counted as a “cheat meal”.
- Take a look at sugars in everything. You really have no idea how many grams you are eating in things, and this causes insulin spikes.
- Ensure you have lots of water, fiber, and vegetables. Ensure your grains/cereals/rices/pastas are measured out, as these can be easy to over eat.
- Minimize steady state cardio. I used to think if I ran 10 miles a week, it would help. It does in the short term, but long term it creates a lot of stresses on your body. Look into strength training. This helps regulate your hormones as well with testosterone and growth hormone.
I recently started doing keto, and those of you doing it also realize the massive benefit is lack of hunger. Some tips with keto?
- Eat LOTS of veggies. These are usually pretty damn good with butter and spices.
- Fat does not make you fat. Get over this and enjoy. I feel like more fat has helped with me absorb those “fat soluble vitamins” and I FEEL amazing.
- Eat only when hungry. I ate a big lunch yesterday and knew I had zero interest in dinner. My dinner was a handful of macadamia nuts with 2 oz of cheddar cheese.
- Try intermittent fasting. This helps with growth hormone and weight training.
- Don’t worry about calories. Some days you will have less, others more. Worry about carbs.
- Your strength and power will decrease, but keep up with it. Most of it will come back. If you enjoy steady state cardio, you are then running on your 20,000-100,000 of calories around your waist rather than the 2,000 in your glycogen stores.
Overall, the point here is that calories in/calories out is just a fraction of the weight loss strategy. All of those years I ate 1500-1800 calories and ran 10-12 miles a week….and I simply could have eaten 2400 calories and enjoy a big ass steak and enjoy a 2 mile walk with my dog? All of those years of starving my face off unnecessarily?
To conclude – look at the list of 11 items above. Sure, maybe have your calories at 2,000 or 2,500, but do not think this is 100% of the equation – like I did for so many years.
Below is my keto lasagna. Dear God this is amazing, I’m going to make this up tonight. My life has changed so much when I realized I didn’t need to be hungry when losing weight – it mostly came down to understanding the reduced sugars and EATING 🙂
Make no mistake. Losing 104 pounds has not been EASY. It might be the hardest thing I have ever done. But it’s not been by starving myself or destroying my body in the process. You need to develop positive habits, reduce bad habits, and envision what you want your life to be like. This is not a “get rich quick” scheme, it’s about feeding my body the right fuel and taking care of it. And weight loss just happens as a byproduct!