There’s no doubt that calories in vs calories out is the foundation of weight maintenance and weight loss. Yet, anyone who’s been on a diet and drastically cut calories, logged every morsel that’s passed her lips, knows the frustration and truth of being confronted with the math not working out when standing on the scale and not seeing the number that she had hoped for.
So what’s that about? How is it that we can live in a calorie deficit and not lose weight?
Truth is that although calories are in fact the way that we gain and lose weight, BUT there are many things happening within our bodies that are so complex – that we really don’t know why two people can eat and do the same things, and while one person will lose weight, and another won’t.
In this episode of the Done with Dieting Podcast, we’re going to get a little technical so that we can understand what other things influence our body’s ability to lose body fat.
You are listening to the Done with Dieting Podcast Episode number six.
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Sherman, former corporate high tech executive turn life and weight loss coach. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was searching for that perfect diet, the one that would finally be the golden ticket to lose the weight that I so desired.
Fast forward past tons of failed diet attempts, exercise fads and painful lessons learned, and although I still have not reached the state of Nirvana, body love, my relationship with food exercise in my body is infinitely better than it was not only when I started this journey, but even as recently as three years ago.
The journey that has allowed me to ditch my scale, stop logging my food and exercise, eat food that I didn’t prepare and easily maintain my weight – something that I never thought was possible for me.
I created the Done with Dieting podcast to give you simple, easy to do and sustainable strategies to help you do the same without all of the drama that I went through.
If you’re a woman who’s looking to create a better relationship with food and her body, get off the diet roller coaster and free up a bunch of headspace spent on calories, how you should look what you should eat and beating yourself up for not doing what you think you should be doing. You are in the right place.
Let’s get started.
Hi there, and welcome to the show.
So today’s podcast episode is going to be a little bit different than the other podcasts that I’ve been doing. It’s gonna be a little bit more sciency or technical in nature.
But I think that it’s really super important that we talk about this topic, which is calories in versus calories out. Because I know that I got stuck in this idea when I was a new dieter.
I know so many people that I talk to on a daily basis, talk about calories, and talk about what calories are in food, how many calories I’ve burned when I’ve exercised. And so what I’d like to do in this episode is kind of deconstruct the idea of calories in versus calories out, and see how calories in versus calories out can be a little bit misleading, and how there are many more things that go into the weight loss equation than just calorie balance.
So I remember when I started my journey to lose weight, I had joined a gym, and part of the gym membership, I had access to their website, which had a food logging tool on it.
It was so eye opening to me because I didn’t know anything about food composition. I didn’t know anything about proteins or fats or carbohydrates. And so I started logging my food. And I learned so much.
And I still think today that folks who are beginning to understand what’s in their food, it is super important to understand what makes up the food that we eat. I remember being so amazed when I found out that two tablespoons of peanut butter was 200 calories.
I remember also looking at the calorie counts that were on the exercise machines, and realizing how much work I needed to put in in order to burn off those 200 calories. And so because I was in this mindset of calories in versus calories out, it really gave me an appreciation for changing my eating habits. Because I had just started working out, and I wanted to make sure that the work that I was doing in the gym, I wasn’t counteracting through making poor food choices.
And so it totally makes sense that we would naturally come to the conclusion that when I eat I’m putting calories into my body or using the calories in equation of calories in versus calories out. And when I exercise I am moving, I’m burning calories, I am taking calories out of my body. And so of course we’re going to equate eating with exercise. It just is a natural conclusion.
But I’m going to suggest that for women over the age of 45, we really need to decouple exercise from calories out. However, I’m also going to introduce today the idea that not all calories are created equal. And so the calories that are in a chicken breast are going to have a different impact on our body than the same number of calories that might be in a brownie.
So a few years after I was logging my food on the gyms database, I started questioning like Well, okay, I know how many calories I’m eating through logging the food, but I didn’t really know how many calories I was burning. And so I was really only looking at one half of the calories in versus calories out equation. Since then we’ve had just an explosion of fitness trackers.
The first one to arrive on the market was called the Bodybugg. And I was one of the first people to get one. I loved my Bodybugg. In fact, I think I spent something like $500 on it, it was so super expensive, but I loved it.
I loved it, because for the first time, I could easily look at my day, and point out exactly where I went to the grocery store. For example, I could see exactly what I did when I exercised, I could see exactly how many calories I was burning when I was sitting at my desk in front of the computer. Or when I was sitting on the couch watching television.
It was a clear visual representation to me of the idea that movement matters that when we do something. That something is better than doing nothing.
And so for me those initial days of wearing the Bodybugg on a daily basis, it was really motivating for me because I wanted to see those steps, I wanted to see that movement, I wanted to see that graph.
And I didn’t want to see those short little lines that showed that I was only burning like one or less calories per minute, or whatever it was, I can’t even remember now.
And while I was motivated to move more and eat according to the number of calories that my body needed for that activity level, eventually that dropped off, there were days that I just wouldn’t log my food. Because one, it was confusing. I wasn’t sure what I was eating, maybe I had gone out to dinner, or maybe I’d gone to a party and lost track of the food there or gone to a friend’s house and really wasn’t sure what was in a specific meal.
And so for those days, then food tracking didn’t work too well, we can use these tools to help motivate and keep us accountable. But depending on these tools and the complexity of them, we really can’t depend on them to help us lose weight long term.
And anyone who has logged their food for long periods of time knows the frustration and anxiety of being on plan of going out and exercising on a daily basis and eating the number of calories that they are quote unquote supposed to and not see the scale validate their efforts.
So what’s really going on here?
Well, first, we do know that calories in versus calories out is the foundation of weight maintenance, weight loss and weight gain. Yet it isn’t always the truth. It isn’t always the fact that moving more and eating less is the answer to sustained weight loss.
So let’s break this down a little bit starting with the calories in side of the equation.
So first, what is a calorie? Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy. Historically, scientists have defined calories to mean a unit of energy or heat that can come from a variety of sources.
As far as nutrition goes and the discussion of our podcast here is calories come from food. Calories are in what we call macronutrients. There are three different macronutrients which are fats, proteins, or carbohydrates.
When we talk about macronutrients, we’re talking about nutrients that we need in macro form. We also have micronutrients. Now, micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals that we need in lesser quantities. And micronutrients don’t have calories, where fats, proteins and carbohydrates do have calories.
Now here’s the thing: each one of us needs a different amount of both macro and micronutrients. And this is one reason why diets don’t work for all of us because each diet prescribes a different level of macronutrients and micronutrients. This is why a one size fits all approach doesn’t work for the masses. Each of our bodies are completely different in how they function. And for women over the age of 45, this is even more drastically true.
Okay, so let’s evaluate calories in versus calories out from the standpoint of each of our different health habits. And when I’m talking about health habits, I’m talking about eating, moving, sleeping and stress management.
How do each of those play into our metabolism and our ability to lose or gain weight?
So let’s start with calories out, also known as our total daily energy expenditure.
There’s actually a nice little acronym for this called TDEE. And so TDEE is made up of a couple different aspects. The biggest part of total daily expenditure is for sure, our resting metabolic rate that takes up anywhere from about 65 to 75% of total calories.
And what our BMR, or our metabolism is, is, like if we were sitting around in bed or lounging around on the couch all day, how many calories would our body need just to keep us warm, as well as keep our heart beating and our organs moving and thinking?
The rough rule of thumb there is probably somewhere around our weight times 10. Or if you take your weight and put a zero on the end, that’s the number of calories – give or take – that your body needs just to function on a daily basis.
Now, as I said, metabolism only accounts for 65 to 75% of our total daily calories. So what makes up that other 35 to 25%? For everyone, it’s different because we all metabolize food differently, we all are more or less active.
And so the next largest piece to that is physical activity. And physical activity is broken up into two different pieces, what we call non exercise activity thermogenesis and exercise.
So let’s talk about non exercise activity thermogenesis first, or as we also can call it NEAT and NEAT accounts for anywhere between 10 to 30%. Now, why is that so different? It’s because some of us have more active lives.
So meaning that we move around a lot during the day. If your job is something like a desk job, then you probably aren’t doing a lot of movement during the day. And therefore your job is a little bit more sedentary. So you’re not doing a lot of movement. And so NEAT would be a smaller percentage of your total daily calories.
Now, when it came to looking at my activity on the Bodybugg, it was actually fascinating to be able to see that non exercise movement, right. And so it really proved the point that some movement is better than no movement, because we can see it in the graph that just by moving around all day that we are burning more calories.
Now exercise accounts for part of that activity level on top of our metabolism. But we think that exercising is going to burn so many calories. But when you really look at the number of calories that we’re burning in a day, the exercise really is a very small portion of that.
So for most women, we should be eating somewhere around 2000 calories per day, that number will go down based on our age. So it’ll decrease a little bit as we get older and a little bit more sedentary. But then it’ll also go up as we are heavier, because it takes more energy to move a larger body.
And so those calories that I’m talking about right now are really just maintenance calories, any exercise we want to be eating even more.
The last piece that goes into the number of calories that we burn on a regular basis, is what we call a thermic effect of food. And it’s probably exactly what it sounds like. It’s the number of calories that we burn, just through eating and digesting our food.
Now back in the 70s or 80s, there was a huge thing all about negative calorie foods, the idea being that we would burn more calories by eating the certain foods, foods like apples or celery, that by chewing and digesting these foods, we would burn more calories than is actually in the food itself.
And so let me just say that there is no such thing as negative calorie foods. But there is a process that takes place when we eat food that allows us to use some of that food in terms of digestion. And so what I want to introduce to you right now is the idea behind what we call thermic effect of food. And for each of the different macronutrients we have a different percentage of calories that our body uses of that macronutrient to be used to process that food.
So let’s talk about each of those, and what happens.
So starting with fat, if we eat 100 calories of fat, our body uses about 3% of those calories to process that fat and make it into dietary fat or energy. Fat uses the lowest percentage of calories to process that nutrient.
From there, we have carbohydrates. Now, carbohydrates are just a huge food group. Carbohydrates have been demonized. And I just want to let you know that carbohydrates are not bad. Broccoli and spinach are considered carbohydrates. In addition to brownies and cakes, sure, those are carbohydrates too. But there’s a huge continuum of carbohydrates. And we don’t want to get rid of carbohydrates.
In total, the thermic effect of carbohydrates ranges anywhere from 7 to 20%. And why that’s such a huge difference is because of how readily broken down those carbohydrates are when we eat them.
So for example, processed carbohydrates, or simple carbohydrates, are going to be absorbed into the bloodstream much more rapidly and easily than, complex carbohydrates. The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates being that simple carbohydrates have fewer glucose molecules, whereas complex carbohydrates have longer chains of glucose molecules. So the body has to work harder to break those larger chains down into smaller pieces that can then pass through the stomach lining.
Foods that are more whole, or closer to nature, are going to use more calories to process and digest those foods, than the foods that are simple in nature. The foods that are easier to break down. And so that’s one reason why we want to eat whole foods instead of the more refined carbohydrates or processed carbohydrates like cookies, cakes, flour, and things like that.
Protein, our last macronutrient is a little bit more complicated for our body to break down and pass across the stomach lining. The building blocks of protein are what are called amino acids. And so what has to happen is our body needs to break those amino acids down in order to pass them through the stomach lining. And so protein actually takes somewhere around 30% of the calories. So if I was to eat 100 calories of protein 30 of those would be used in breaking down the protein into individual amino acids, and absorbing those into our system.
And so why I’m telling you all this is because when we talk about calories, what we’re really talking about is just a unit of measure the unit of measure that that food produces in a lab to increase the temperature of water. And when we take thermic effect of food into play, we know that our body uses some of those calories to process those foods.
And now I think it’s really important to point out that food logging isn’t necessarily accurate, because our bodies are organic beings that are not built in a lab.
And there’s still a lot that we don’t know about how the body gains and loses weight, we have a really good idea, but clearly, we don’t know exactly what is all going on there. Because if we did, then weight loss wouldn’t be a mystery. And clearly it is.
I also want to offer you that food manufacturers can be off on their nutritional labels by somewhere upwards of 20%. And it totally makes sense. like think about if you are making cookies, for example, you work out the ingredients and you mix everything together. But at the end of the batch, when you’re scraping up those last cookies, they’re not going to be as large or they’re not going to have as many chocolate chips as the first ones did.
And so food manufacturers also receive a little bit of grace from the government so that they can have a little bit of off-ness like how many beans was actually in that chili? Or how many you know, noodles did you actually have and so some of that is done by weight, but not all of it actually is so be aware that food labels, as much as companies tried to be accurate, sometimes it’s just not possible.
And so to think about logging your food and having that be, you know, perfectly accurate, it’s, it’s really doing us a disservice because we may be eating more or less than we actually think we are.
Okay, so that’s eating and movement.
What about the things that we do that don’t have any calories, things like sleep and stress management?
So let’s start with sleep. We know that sleep doesn’t actually have any calories, right? That our body naturally burns calories when we sleep. But you know, how much does sleep aid in our body’s ability to lose weight? And we really don’t have a ton of data on this, we know that when we sleep, we’re stationary. So we’re certainly not moving. But we know also that when we sleep, our body is resetting our cellular system.
But even more importantly, when we don’t sleep well, it impacts every other area of our life.
When we don’t sleep well, our cells don’t process energy correctly. And because of that, we may find ourselves hungry in the afternoon. Because the brain knows that the easiest way to get energy is through sugary or starchy carbohydrates. We may find ourselves craving foods that we normally wouldn’t be the craving.
Additionally, when we don’t sleep well, we don’t have the energy to exercise, we just feel lethargic, we don’t feel like moving. Right? And we’re probably a little bit more lethargic during the day, not getting up and not moving as much. We may not even realize it.
But knowing that if we don’t sleep well, that that’s going to impact our energy, also, our mood, we might be more likely to stress eat. For example, because when we don’t sleep well, we probably aren’t really in a very good mood. When we don’t sleep well, we are making poor choices when it probably comes to eating. And although I wouldn’t say that sleep is something that we do, we know that not getting enough can certainly get in the way of weight loss.
And so the final question is, you know, how does sleep affect our weight? And to be honest, we really don’t know.
We do know that if there’s one thing that’s going to stop weight loss in its tracks. Regardless of how perfect you are with your exercise and eating habits. We know that stressing out about your weight loss, or what number is going to be on the scale is going to stop weight loss in its tracks.
We also know that women over the age of 45 become more sensitive to stress. And so how we think about our problems is going to for sure impact whether we gain or lose weight. Not only in the actions that we do if we decide to eat a little bit more, or we decide that we’re not going to exercise or move because of it, but then also just the physical stress because our body creates a hormone called cortisol, which is the belly fat hormone.
During periods of high stress or chronic stress, we will produce this hormone and chances are that we will put on weight around our midsection. Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone. It’s the hormone that when we’re under stress, and we feel anxious, that it readies the body to run away from a saber toothed tiger.
In modern day even though we don’t have to run away from saber toothed tigers, our brain is still on the constant lookout for things that are going to kill us. Things like social isolation or rejection or losing something that’s important to us how we think about those problems outside of our weight are for sure going to impact how we take care of ourselves, and also how our body responds to them.
We can’t discount stress management as well as sleep management for being healthy.
Okay, so now that I’ve told you all of this really great and fascinating information about calories and your body and how it works, what do we do with it? What do we do with this information?
So the first piece is food logging. I think that it’s great for awareness, but it’s really not an amazing long term tool to use. Because no one wants to be on their deathbed thinking about logging into My Fitness Pal. Right?
And so for me, I started thinking about what I wanted to be able to do long term, and how I wanted to be thinking about food and exercise and my body when I was older, like in five, or 10, or 15 years, and I knew that I didn’t want to be logging my food anymore, it just didn’t seem like it was sustainable.
I had to start trusting myself around food. And what that means is trusting that I would be able to eat an appropriate amount, and not eat the entire box of cookies. And so it started out really small. But eventually I got there and I got there through starting to get in touch with my hunger signals. And by slowly weaning myself off of food logging, and questioning myself when it was time to eat was I hungry, and then stopping when I was satisfied.
Now the other aspect to calorie balance is the energy out piece, or fitness trackers. Now I think fitness trackers are great. And in fact, I wear one. And if it keeps you motivated, I think it’s fantastic.
But be aware that trackers don’t necessarily know your metabolism. And it doesn’t necessarily know how many calories you’re burning through digestion, or potentially what your body makeup is, meaning how much muscle you have, how much fat you have. Or if you’re genetically pre determined to burn sugar or fat.
For each one of us, our genetics determines how our metabolisms work in general, so trackers aren’t necessarily accurate.
And just as a side note here, THEY quote unquote, they say that we gain or lose a pound of fat by eating or creating a deficit of 3500 calories. That’s where the whole, we need to create a deficit of 500 calories per day, seven days a week equals 3500 calories. So we don’t know that that number is even correct for everyone. It’s kind of crazy.
So anyway, trackers can definitely motivate us to become more active. And I think that that’s in fact, a fantastic thing. But be aware, though, of the why behind why you’re exercising.
I know that for myself, there was a period of time when I was absolutely fanatical about exercise, I felt like I needed to do it. And it wasn’t because I wanted to. It wasn’t that it was bringing great enjoyment in my life. It was just that I was afraid that if I didn’t, I would gain the weight that I didn’t want to gain.
And so at one point, I even had an injury, I had twisted my ankle or something like that. And so I was unable to run or strength train. And quite honestly, I was barely able to walk but I did it anyway. And I was completely freaked out for fear that I would gain weight because I wasn’t able to keep up my normal exercise routine. And so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to you. I don’t recommend that to anyone that we would work out through an injury.
So I want you to start thinking about your attitudes and beliefs around exercise and whether if a friend told you the things that you think to yourself, would you be worried about her.
And so the other aspect to consider in relation to exercise is that women over the age of 45 become way more insulin sensitive, and also more reactive to stress. And this is an extremely important point.
I know that when I was first starting to track my calories, that it started getting really easy to lean into the whole move more, eat less diet advice. I mean, that’s what we’re told, right? That the way to lose weight is to eat less and move more.
But that only works to a certain point.
Exercise starts out as stress management tool, however, it can quickly turn into a source of unnecessary stress. And so I’d like you to think about an upside down bell curve.
Not moving our bodies is for sure stressful. We may not think that it is. But our body knows that if it has pent up energy that it needs to burn that off. And we need to burn off that steam and we will feel better. And maybe we won’t feel better while we’re doing it. I don’t know that any of us actually likes it in the moment. But for sure it feels good afterwards.
And while some is good, the concept of more is better doesn’t actually apply here. So there’s a law of diminishing returns and at a certain level which is totally unique to you and your body. The more we exercise, the less good It does, and it can actually become harmful.
So as we lean into cutting more and more calories from our diets and become stricter and stricter with our food rules, and at the same time moving more, spending more time on the treadmill at the gym, and then feeling guilty for resting or eating a treat, that creates more and more stress on our bodies. And not only the physical stress of eating less and exercising more, but then the mental stress of feeling like we need to do it in order to lose the weight that we desire. And the urgency that goes along with needing to get that extra weight off fast. All this does is it creates more and more stress. And stress is the last thing that we need, when we’re trying to lose weight, stress will stop weight loss in its tracks.
And so what this means is that we cannot use the calories in versus calories out approach anymore, in order to like really maintain or lose our weight. And what I mean by that is that we can no longer overeat foods that we really know that we shouldn’t be overeating. And then over exercise to compensate for those calories that we took in. It just doesn’t work for us anymore.
Because for us women over the age of 45 exercise becomes a stress.
And so the last point I want to make is that we don’t want to downplay the importance of managing your stress, which we can do through physical activity and also managing your mind in terms of how you think about your problems. And part of that is making sure that you get enough and good quality sleep at night. So again, making sure that you get enough sleep, which is unique to your individual body.
Sometimes, in fact, I’ll even suggest to my clients that they get an extra hour of sleep over an hour of exercise, just because sleep is that important. But anyway, so that’s what I wanted to leave you with today.
So remember that food logging is great trackers are great, but they don’t give us the whole picture, the whole picture that includes the quality of food that we’re eating and our digestion, how our body is functioning, and our hormonal response to that food, as well as our exercise, our quality of sleep, how we’re managing our stress, and then how we think about all of those things.
So that’s all I have for you today. I hope you have an amazing week, and I will see you next time. Bye-bye.
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