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By Luke Fullbrook | In Nutrition | on December 31, 2014

This blog has been prompted by genuine concern, a concern about people’s health and mental attitude towards food.  I am constantly having conversations with people about their nutritional regimes and an alarming number of these people are restricting calories, either because they believe it is the best way to loose fat or they have paid someone for these plans and this information.  If you believe it is as simple as – calories in minus calories used = weight loss/gain – you are stuck in the eighties.  Even worse than this, if you are a PT recommending ‘severe’ calorie restriction as a tool for fat loss you need to go and work for a well-known brand of slimming clubs.  Nothing in fat loss/muscle gain is that simple; trust me I’m in the trenches’ dealing with the fallout from this nonsense.

Let me give you a few real life examples of why it is not quite so clear cut.  Firstly, I have never come across an overweight client who eats too many calories; in fact they normally eat a lot less than the recommended daily amount.  They are just eating the wrong types of calories (yes that’s right I said types of calories – all calories count but not all are equal!).  They are also not spreading out their calorie intake equally.  Quite often my clients’ calorie intake will increase when they start their nutritional regime with myself.  That’s the first important point for you to understand.

The second point you need to understand is that you are going to lose weight if you restrict your calories.  I said ‘weight’, not fat.  You will eat into muscle tissue, and down regulate your metabolism which means you need fewer calories each day and end up making the problem worse.  Muscles, burn calories just by being there.   Of course you’re going to lose weight if you have a shake for breakfast, one for lunch and a normal dinner, you’re putting less energy in than you are using.  What do you think happens though when you start to eat normally again.  Millions of you out there will have experienced it, you pile it back on and more besides.  Why?  Simple, the human body is not stupid, and you cannot trick it.  It is constantly in survival mode and its main job is to protect the brain.  So you starve it for months on end, and then start to eat like you did before.  What’s its survival mechanism going to tell your body to do with all the excess energy –STORE!

Let’s say I hypothetically put you on a nutrition regime, a 1,000 kcals a day.  You can eat what you want, a 1,000 kcals of Mars bars, McDonalds, Cream Cakes, Pies, whatever you want.  As soon as you’ve consumed a 1,000 kcals for the day though, that’s it.  Guess what, you’ll lose weight, not fat.  You will be unhealthy and what people call ‘skinny fat’.  And ladies, I promise you this is not a good look, far from it.  Then you stop the nutrition regime and eat normally, you’ll put it all back on and more.

Body composition change or fat loss is all about up regulation and down regulation of enzymes, hormones and metabolic pathways.  Simple depriving your body of energy is only going to do more harm than good.  Remember, there is no magic pill or short cut to this body you are after.  Now let me explain a little further about calories, and their impact on weight loss.

Let’s talk about macronutrients and calories.  So you should know, if you have been reading my blogs, about protein, fats and carbohydrates.  Protein is the building block of our bodies and produces 4k/cal per gram; fats keep our joints healthy (amongst various other complicated signalling tasks) and yield 9k/cal per gram; carbs are our main fuel source and give us 4 k/cal per gram.  So from the figures given you can understand where the ‘low fat diet’ came from.  Cut the fat out and you’re taking in fewer calories.  However, fat and protein especially ‘essentially fatty acids’ are very important as our bodies cannot produce them, the same with ‘essential amino acids’.  The biggest problem isn’t the calories but where they come from, the people I see are eating a higher percentage of carbs, around 65% (sometimes more).  So if they were only taking in 1,500 kcal a day, 975 k/cals are coming from carbohydrates.  This is far too much and means they are not getting in enough protein or fats.  What does this do?  Well, if you read the last blog about insulin you’ll know – an increase in blood sugar and abundance of energy that will get stored as body fat and nothing to maintain or grow new lean muscle tissue.   Simple solution, increase the amount of calories from fats and proteins, bring the total amount of calories consumed to 2,500 k/cal per day, this will cause no weight increase and would up regulate their metabolic rate.

I’m now going to give you more reasons as to why eating processed food is worse than eating whole foods.  2,000 k/cals of prime organic rib eye steak will be digested differently to 2,000 k/cal of cheap bargain bucket burgers.   It’s what you eat and where those calories are coming from rather than just looking at the label and the calorific value.

So let me break it down into some very simple bullet points:

  • The thermic affect (which I have touched on in previous blogs) is different for each macronutrient as is processed food compared to whole foods.
  • Macronutrient ratios will determine hormone response.
  • A protein calorie is not the same as a carbohydrate calorie and is not the same as a fat calorie.
  • The total amount of calories you eat in a day DOES MATTER. If you are over eating you will gain weight, but that weight gain can either be lean muscle tissue or fat.  That’s all dependant on the ratios of the macros.

So STOP starving yourselves, eat more whole foods and get the ratio of macronutrients right for you and your body type.  Again, this is what a good PT will do for you and why the ‘good’ ones get results and results that last.  If your PT or nutritional coach tells you to cut your calories, ask them to explain why.  If you’re an 18 stone male, and doing 4/5 intense classes a week and you’re asked to restrict your calories to 700 a day, ask for your money back and report them for attempted murder (and that is just one example of the terrible guidance that some people are paying for).

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