You know those magazine articles where they interview some expert who says to lose 1 pound a week you need to cut 500 calories a day? Inevitably the magazine then provides various ways to reduce calories, including switching to diet soda, loading up on whole grain “goodness,” and choosing “light” products.
Well, a government-based study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and published in the journal Lancet has some interesting math for you.
They claim if you cut 250 calories daily, you can lose 25 pounds over three years. And trimming just 10 calories each day helps you lose 1 pound over 3 years.
Are you excited yet? I didn’t think so.
A Better Way for Fat Loss & Fast Metabolism
When my clients eliminate food intolerances and choose the right foods, they lose up to 7 pounds the first week alone. With results like those, I can’t imagine anyone getting worked up losing one paltry pound over 3 years.
That would be like saying if you saved a dime every day, you’d have over $100 in 3 years. In other words: big deal.
Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and writer for Women’s Health magazine, appeared on “The Early Show” to argue this revised calorie counting proves more realistic for most people.
Glassman also offered suggestions to implement these new caloric reductions. She suggested cutting calories from foods that quickly turn to fat (such as refined sugar), exercising, personalizing your diet, and eating consistently throughout the day to rev up your metabolism.
All well and good, but her bottom line is numbers. What the Lancet article and Glassman didn’t seem to get is that your body is a biochemistry lab, not a bank account.
What I mean is that calories certainly play a factor in fat loss, but thousands of other biochemical actions also contribute to that loss. When you solely obsess about calories, you miss the big picture.
Looking at the Bigger Fat Loss Picture
Rather than being fixated on numbers, I look at where those calories come from and what hormones they trigger. Eating 500 calories of wild salmon and spinach, for instance, will create an entirely different effect on your body than 500 calories from pizza.
How? Carbs spike insulin levels, and one of insulin’s chief duties involves storing fat. So even though you were careful to only consume 500 calories, the pizza is going to spike and crash your blood sugar, which will eventually raise insulin levels, trigger cravings, and make you fat.
The protein and good fat in salmon, on the other hand, will keep you satiated for hours. That’s because protein and fat decrease ghrelin, your hunger hormone, and increase cholecystokinin (CCK), a neurotransmitter that tells your brain you’re full.
Protein and fat also stimulate glucagon, insulin’s sister hormone that actually releases fat for your body to burn for energy.
Calories do matter. But for fat loss and fast metabolism, where those calories come from matters far more.
Exercise the Calories Away? Think Again
There’s more bad news for calorie-counting obsessive people. Decreasing your caloric intake will eventually lower your resting metabolic rate (RMR). In other words, your biochemical machinery slows down to compensate for the decreased calories, which means you stop losing weight.
When this happens, people typically either cut their calories even further (and again, your body eventually adapts) or they start exercising more.
Every so often I get a magazine writer ask me how many calories you can burn doing a certain exercise for a period of time. These writers miss the bigger picture.
I often see people overestimate how many calories they burn when they exercise. For instance, let’s say you walk an hour on the treadmill. The digital tracker says you burned 420 calories during that vigorous walk.
Here’s the thing. You would burn about 100-200 calories by simply sitting on your butt doing nothing. That’s your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or the amount of calories your body requires to simply function. So in reality, you burned around 300 calories during that hour’s walk.
Not bad, but not the number you anticipated. Too many people justify those calories with post-gym fro-yo, which will spike your blood sugar and store the fat you worked so hard to burn.
Don’t get me wrong. I want you to exercise for numerous reasons: to boost your metabolism, for instance, build muscle, and spike fat-burning hormones like human growth hormone (HGH). But you can’t out-exercise a bad diet no matter how many calories you burn, nor can 30 minutes on the treadmill repair food intolerances that stall fast fat loss.
1-2-3: Keep it Simple
Rather than obsessively count calories, I have a much simpler dietary formula to burn fat:
- For 3 weeks remove the 7 highly reactive foods: eggs, soy, gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, and sugar/ artificial sweeteners. Then for 1 week each, challenge gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs.
- Start every morning with a protein smoothie. Blend plant-based (but not soy) protein powder with frozen berries, kale or other leafy greens, and flax or chia seeds in unsweetened coconut or almond milk.
- Make your meals lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, fibrous legumes and other starches, and good fats. You’ll burn fat, give your body the nutrients it needs to function optimally, and have steady energy throughout your day.
Add some burst training and weight resistance, get 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night, and control your stress levels. No need to count calories, points, or anything else. And you can save the math for the next Barney’s Warehouse Sale.
Dr Kevin D Hall PhD, Gary Sacks PhD, Dhruva Chandramohan BSc, Carson C Chow PhD, Y Claire Wang MD, Steven L Gortmaker PhD, Boyd A Swinburn MD. Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight. The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9793, Pages 826 – 837, 27 August 2011.