Have you ever tried to lose weight and nothing’s changing? Or, maybe you started to lose some weight but then it stopped despite your best efforts? No, you’re not defying the laws of physics. It’s just that “moving a little more, and eating a little less,” while easy enough to understand, is not that simple when it comes to our metabolism.


For years, “Energy Balance” (i.e. Energy in – Energy out) has been the most accepted method to determine how much you need to consume to gain or lose weight. However, there are some important factors that most of us do not consider when adding up the calories every day in our little apps.


Reason #1

Calories on food labels are misleading and often inaccurate, often by as much as 25%! That’s a BIG difference when trying to lose weight. It’s not that the government or food companies are intentionally messing with the labels (well, maybe the food companies are). It’s because calculating the exact number of calories in a food is very complicated. It’s almost impossible to get the precise amount accurate on a food label, especially when you factor in the process to create many of the foods we see today in our grocery stores. For example, the calories of an apple are far easier to tabulate than the calories of frozen meal.


Rule #2

The amount of calories in a food is not the number of calories our body absorbs, stores, and uses. Example, we digest FEWER calories from minimally processed foods because they take longer to digest. Conversely, we absorb MORE calories from highly processed foods since they are easier to digest (usually due to lack of fiber). Even how we cook food, or not cook it, greatly affects our digestive systems ability to absorb calories. This caveat even applies to healthy foods as well. A good example is peanut butter and peanuts. Our bodies absorb 38% fewer calories from peanuts compared to peanut butter because of the extra step the body has to go through to physically break down the fats.


All this is to say that Energy in = Actual calories eaten – Calories not absorbed


Energy OUT is another big factor when one tries to calorie count in order to lose weight. There are 4 reasons for this:


#1 Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

This is how much energy your body burns just to keep you alive. On average, your RMR burns off 60% of the calories you consume in a day. Your physical size and body composition (fat and muscle) will greatly determine your RMR. The bigger you are the higher your RMR. However, despite what any machine tells you there is roughly a 15% margin of error for your RMR. So, if you’re 200lbs your RMR could vary by nearly 300 calories, up or down.


#2 Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE)

That’s right, your body burns calories to…burn calories! Protein has the highest thermic effect where more than 35% of the calories from protein are burned versus only 5% from fats. Again, minimally processed foods also burn more calories than highly processed foods when digested.


#3 Physical Activity (PA)

This is any activity that you are intentionally doing to change your body composition. Lifting weights, going for a 5 mile run, yoga class, etc. are all forms of physical activity.


#4 Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

This encompasses ALL the movements you do throughout the day. From getting out of bed to put your shoes on to fidgeting while at your desk. Those who have more NEAT typically have less body fat.


So, the grand equation to mathematically determine your energy OUT is……


Changes in Body Composition = (Calories IN – Calories ABSORBED) (RMR + TEE + PA + NEAT)


Side note: Increasing physical activity (PA) can greatly increase the number of calories eaten. Conversely, decreasing you PA can decrease the number of calories absorbed, RMR, and NEAT.


Stay tuned next week where dive deeper in your metabolism and how to increase lean muscle and decrease body fat.



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