its not just about calories image

It’s not just about calories!

I am going to touch on a very controversial subject. For years the notion of calories in calories has been the fundamental principle many health experts, doctors, dieticians etc have stuck to as an explanation as to why we as a nation are getting fatter and how you should get leaner. Whilst the laws of thermodynamics that lead us to the calories in calories out concept certainly have a place, is it true that the only reason we either get fat, get lean or stay the same is our approach to calorie intake?

Since the professor of medicine at the University of Michigan in the late 1920’s Louis Newburgh, argued that the obese have a “perverted appetite”, this approach has been set in the education of many health professions. Some people do just overeat, however the simplicity of this argument does not hold up in most cases, especially when you consider why so many people are getting fat, if it was as simple as just reducing what we eat why do so many people have trouble achieving success?

Newburgh however travelled and lectured to the medical community teaching that obesity is simply an issue with the mind of the individual, essentially assuming that every individual that gets obese is greedy. This approach was not backed up by any scientific literature yet was taken as gospel and still is.

6 reasons the calories argument should not be taken as gospel.

Our bodies are different

Why is it that a starving mother and son in Africa, both with malnutrition and barely eating any calories per day, yet the mother is still fat? Is she eating all the food in the village secretly at night and leaving none for her child. Of course she is not, it would be against her motherly instincts. For some reason when she does eat food it is being directed straight to her fat cells. Simply from this you can see that there has to be something happening within the body to influence how we deal with the energy coming in.

Counting calories is an impossible task

Eating just 20 calories per day less will mean you lose 50lbs over 20 years, that is the equilavent of three crisps! So all you have to do is find out what you expend in one day, assuming it is exactly the same each day and then eat exactly the right amount of calories to your overall expenditure to ensure you drop body fat. Simple!! So if this concept was true then those that have a consistent body weight must be managing their calorie intake to ideal amounts every day. Or is our body adjusting metabolism to our intake on a daily basis?!

A calorie out of the body is not a calorie in the body

1 gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories and 1 gram of protein also provides 4 calories. However protein requires more energy by the body to break it down and process it compared to carbohydrates, therefore how many calories are you actually taking in? Another reason why calorie counting is impossible. Focus should be on the types of food that you are eating.

This is documented as early as 1825 with the work of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarian a lawyer and politician whose passion was food and drink. In his book he noted with more than 500 companions he went to dinner with were obese, each and every one of them declaring their devotion to bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. His conclusion in his book was that there were two general reasons people get fat. One is a natural predisposition to fatten and then other was the starches and flours which man uses at the base of his daily nourishment.

Low calorie diets cause rebound fat gain

This is a common thing you see. Someone goes on a 500calorie per day diet, sheds a lot of weight some fat and some muscle tissue, only to put it straight back on and more. This is a common thing in dieters. Why does this happen?

When we starve the body of calories for an extended period of time it has been shown that the body reacts by slowing us down, decreasing our metabolism and dropping our overall body temperature. At this stage you become very inefficient at burning fat and when you do increase your calorie intake very efficient at storing fat. Although a diet can work in the short term, a lifestyle change and education on what to eat is needed to prevent the dreaded rebound effect.

The influence of hormones

This is probably the most significant area in my view for fat loss. I have some clients that eat amazingly well, train their bums off and achieve slower results than others doing the same thing. How can this be? There are many hormones in our body that influence what happens to the food that we eat and the fat we burn, from insulin from carbohydrate consumption, ghrelin that helps regulate appetite, cortisol a stress hormone that can breakdown tissue and increase abdominal obesity, androgen hormones that can help build muscle, burn fat and increase insulin sensitivity, external toxins and hormone mimickers from the environment that increase fat storage through disruptions in normal endocrine function, liver function and gut health. It is the skill of a trained practitioner in functional lab testing and a well thought through nutrition, lifestyle and exercise plan that can manipulate these areas to help reduce body fat.

Just because sally has skinny legs does not mean Sandra can get skinny legs

Whilst I am of the belief that there are certain ways of reducing leg fat through optimal nutrition, lifestyle and exercise manipulations and that when it seems you have hit a plateau with leg fat the investigation into gut health, liver function and toxin exposure is able to drop body fat off legs further, some people are just designed to have skinnier legs than you, just like some women will have bigger breasts than other women.

The main point I am trying to get across here is the notion of biochemical individuality. Both our hormones will affect what happens in our body and what are we naturally suited to. Some people do well on high protein diets, some high fat and some high carbohydrate, the skill is to make lifestyle adjustments to find out what works for you. If a food or activity makes you feel bad then it probably is not for you at that time.

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