Why Weight Loss isn’t Just About Calories

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There was a time where I was consuming 1,200 calories a day, tracking every morsel that went into my mouth, and obsessing about food preparation, dieting, and weight loss. Now, there are days when I consume around 3,000 calories and don’t track my foods, yet I’m smaller than I was back then, and I effortlessly maintain a steady weight and feel great. If my previous messed-up self can get out of the funk, you can, too. Your body is not a machine. Your thoughts, emotions, activities, hormonal profile, circadian rhythm, food choices—they all have an impact on your energy requirements and therefore how many calories your body needs.

Heck, as I write this I’m legitimately hungry like I haven’t eaten in days, whereas yesterday, a similar day in terms of activities, I couldn’t be bothered to eat. What’s up with that? The classic “eat less, exercise more” approach to weight loss is based on a calories-in-calories-out mentality: the idea that losing weight is simply a matter of consuming fewer calories than you burn. But our bodies are far more complicated than that. First, your body has varied hormonal responses to food. Take protein, for example. It stimulates the release of glucagon, a hormone that, among other things, signals the body to burn stored fat. Or consider fructose: It fails to lower the hunger hormone ghrelin, so after eating a giant bowl of fruit salad, we’re generally just as hungry, even though we’ve consumed all those calories.

So the specific foods we eat can help or hurt our weight-loss efforts by affecting our hormones. Second, the ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that you consume has an impact on your appetite and your weight. Fat is more satisfying and makes you feel fuller longer than carbs or protein, so when you get a greater percentage of your total calories from fat, you can eat less without feeling hungry. At the same time, when you’re eating high-fat and in a fat-burning state, your body can handle more calories than it can on a low-fat diet—in other words, you can eat more and still lose weight effortlessly.

Third, your metabolic rate—how much fuel your body needs for basic functions, like keeping your organs working and maintaining a stable temperature—drops during caloric restriction. In other words, when you consume fewer calories, your body reduces how many calories it needs. Weight loss occurs at first, but only until your body is able to function on that new calorie amount; then the weight starts to come back. The more you restrict calories, the lower your metabolic rate goes in response, until weight loss is practically impossible. Fourth, your environment and emotions may affect how much you eat.

For example, writing this post has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Not because I don’t know the material—I can spew this stuff any day—but because I’m putting myself out there in the world in a way I never have before. That’s scary! And, like a lot of people, I react to fear by overeating. Eating makes me feel good, so when I feel scared, the easiest thing for me to do is eat. But over time, I’ve learned better ways to cope than turning to food for comfort. With these four facts in mind, it’s clear that there’s much more to weight loss than calories in, calories out. Supporting hormones, balancing macros, and boosting metabolism are also very, very important pieces of the weight-loss puzzle.

A keto diet supports a positive weight-loss experience and lifelong maintenance because it so perfectly meets these requirements. (We’ll explore how exactly keto does all this in my other blog post) A little note to my fellow dieting/body hating/weight-loss lifers: I’m crossing my fingers and toes that by this point, you’ve had a couple of light bulb moments when it comes to food, nourishment, and self-care. I’ve done a lot of not-so-awesome things to my body in the name of weight loss, and they damaged my relationships, sex drive, metabolism, sanity, ability to have more than one bowel movement a week … the list goes on. Learn from my mistakes and take a saner approach to weight loss, supporting your body through the transition in a healthful way.

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