Working out, hard. Sweating often. High intensity, all the time. Eating small meals, often. Low calorie, low fat, calorie counting. Frequent hunger, cravings, energy highs and lows. You’re following mainstream nutritional advice, but the number on the scale doesn’t budge, and for some reason continues to increase. The government says we need to eat less and move more; the media says ‘It’s all about Calories In vs. Calories Out.’ That’s just what you’re doing… except it’s not working… Why is the guidance not working?
The government says we need to eat less and move more; the media says ‘It’s all about Calories In vs. Calories Out.’…That’s just what you’re doing… except it’s not working…and the reason is metabolic – CiCo doesn’t work for those with damaged metabolisms.
What if the problem wasn’t your good intentions, but rather the guidance itself? What if Calories In vs Calories Out (CiCo) is the problem? Is something so ingrained in our thinking to the point its dogma is actually false?
Yes, kind of.
This oversimplified way of looking at body weight and composition can work for some; it’s usually one of the main reasons a sedentary individual initially loses weight. It works for the already skinny runners and elite athletes. Most of us however, are unsuccessful and the reason is metabolic – CiCo doesn’t work for those with damaged metabolisms.
Metabolism refers to the breakdown of food in the human body and its subsequent transformation into energy. In Physiology it’s the body’s chemical processes, the digestion of food, and the elimination of waste.1 It’s how we deal with what we eat.
CiCo refers to the first law of thermodynamics: the change in internal energy of a system is equal to the heat added to the system minus the work done by the system.2 Simply, the change in our body weight is equal to the amount of energy we consume minus the amount of energy we spend. Thermodynamics is physics – the study of matter and its motion through space and time along with related concepts such as energy and force.3 By following physics it appears crystal clear that as long as we consume less energy than we burn we’ll lose weight.
Calories are used to measure the energy value of food. Although it’s easy to find the caloric value for most foods, it’s important to know that a calorie isn’t a calorie; our bodies react to calories from carbs, protein, and fat very differently. Carbohydrates, long regarded as the body’s ‘preferred choice’ for fuel, are uniquely insulinogenic – they raise blood glucose levels, which is toxic to the human body, which then stimulates the pancreas to release insulin to bring blood glucose levels back down to a normal level of one teaspoon of glucose. This is especially true for carbohydrates from processed and refined sources, such as grains and sugar. Fat and protein, on the other hand, don’t stimulate insulin production when consumed. Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcal/g each, while fat contains 9 kcal/g. Because fat has more calories it’s usually omitted when one is looking to lose weight.
To you elevated blood glucose levels feel like a rush of energy after a meal which fades quickly due to insulin release. Insulin can bring blood glucose levels too low which results in feeling tired; to compensate your body demands more food in the form of cravings or hunger pangs. Your content, full stomach isn’t actually needing food it’s your cells that are hungry.
Over time our cells become resistant to the insulin because of overexposure due to excessive carbohydrate consumption… our metabolism becomes severely damaged, weight gain occurs… and eventually Metabolic Syndrome. This process takes decades, however it explains why we all tend to gain weight as we age.
Between meals our fat cells release fatty acids via the blood stream to feed all of the cells in our bodies. Cell membranes are permeable, allowing this transfer of fatty acids into a cell to be used as fuel. When we eat carbohydrates the release of insulin to combat raised blood glucose levels tell our fat cells to temporarily shut and hold onto fatty acids until it deals with the rush of glucose in our blood stream. Our cells gobble up the sugar instead to allow blood glucose levels to return to normal. Then, our fat cells open up for business allowing the release of fatty acids to again feed us. This is the reason humans aren’t perpetually hungry – our fat cells are feeding the rest of our cells to allow us to get on with our daily business.
Over time our cells become resistant to the insulin because of overexposure due to excessive carbohydrate consumption, so our body thinks that releasing more insulin will solve the problem. It isn’t. Our cells are starving because fuel can’t get in properly and insulin is searing through our veins often, at increasingly high quantities. Our body is a mess, our metabolism becomes severely damaged, weight gain occurs and continues, and eventually Metabolic Syndrome. This is of course a process that takes decades, however it explains why we all tend to gain weight as we age. This is also how our metabolism becomes damaged rather than slow down. And this is why, no matter how often you sweat and how much of it you do, you will not lose weight. Caloric expenditure in this case is useless.
Insulin, nicknamed ‘the fat storing hormone’, is the main culprit, but there are other hormones that contribute to CiCo’s failure; leptin the ‘satiety’ hormone, ghrelin a ‘hunger’ hormone, androgens like testosterone, oestrogen, human growth hormone, and cortisol a ‘stress’ hormone all as a result of diet and lifestyle, can affect our ability or inability to lose weight no matter how few calories we eat and how many we burn. Hormones may be the reason why you run long distances but you’re gaining weight. Hormones may be the reason you sweat your butt off in the gym and see no results. Hormones fall under a branch of science closer to humans – endocrinology. Not physics.
The good news is that CiCo can work, but you need to make and adhere to big dietary changes. By following a well-formulated real food Paleo diet; lower in carbohydrates, moderate protein, and high in healthy fats, you can reverse years of metabolic damage rather than continue to destroy it and increase insulin sensitivity. You’ll heal your metabolism and then you too can benefit from Calories in vs. Calories out.
- Human Metabolism: Facts and General Information. (n.d.). In Disabled World. Retrieved from http://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/metabolism/
- Nave, C.R. (2014). First Law of Thermodynamics. In Hyperphysics. Retrieved from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/thermo/firlaw.html
- Physics. (2015, May 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Physics&oldid=664075357