Is Weight Loss Simply Calories In VS Calories Out?

“It’s just calories in vs calories out.”

While the simplicity of this statement is appealing, there’s a lot more to successful weight loss than decreasing your caloric intake and increasing your exercise to create a caloric deficit. Why doesn’t this theory of simple math hold up?

  1. Not all calories are equal. Fats contain 9 calories/gram and carbohydrates contain only 4 calories/gram, but increasing your carbohydrate intake (especially processed carbs) by 1% increases your risk of obesity, while increasing your fat intake by 1% decreases your obesity risk. Different macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) are metabolized differently in the body and set off different chain reactions. Some promote weight gain, while others support weight loss. No single group is strictly good or bad, but processed carbohydrates are more likely to promote fat deposition when eaten in excess.

  2. Your energy expenditure (calories out) isn’t static. Restricting your caloric intake results in a proportional decrease in energy expenditure. This makes you feel cold, tired, and weak, and makes it more likely you’ll regain the weight you do lose.

  3. Your metabolism is also heavily influenced by many hormones. Ignoring a hormonal imbalance and focusing solely on calories alone won’t get you very far.  

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So, if it’s not all about calories, what’s preventing you from losing weight when you’re eating nutrient-rich foods and exercising regularly?

The three of the most common weight loss obstacles I encounter in my practice are: high stress, poor sleep, and eating too frequently.

Prolonged stress increases hormones (namely cortisol) that promote cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and disrupt hormone signalling (of insulin, thyroid, and growth hormones) to increase fat accumulation, especially in the abdomen. Higher cortisol levels also increase your risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Lowering and managing your stress is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and support weight loss! Exercise, deep breathing, meditation, and time spent outdoors are all helpful.

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Similarly, lack of sleep can throw a wrench in the works. Even just one week of insufficient sleep can increase fat mass. Over the long term, too little sleep promotes increased hunger, disrupts blood sugar regulation, and promotes loss of muscle-mass rather than fat-mass. So, what’s the magic number? This can vary, but 7 hours nightly is a good rule of thumb.

And finally, when you eat is as important as what you eat. Our bodies rely heavily on insulin to regulate blood sugar levels and fat storage. Eating too frequently – snacking consistently or eating late into the evening – leads to chronically elevated insulin (and eventually insulin resistance) which promotes weight gain and impairs weight loss. Your body needs breaks between meals. Cutting out snacks and fasting overnight for a 12-hour period can be good places to start. Although, certain conditions (eg. diabetes, hypoglycemia, and pregnancy) can require more frequent nutrient intake, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

If you’ve been working hard to lose weight with little success, take a look at your stress level, sleep, and meal timing. And if you’d like some additional support, seek out a Naturopathic Doctor, we’re always here to help.

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